Daily Archives: August 22, 2011

Tar Sands Protest in Washington


Scores of people have been arrested at a protest in front of the White House against further development of Alberta’s tar sands, specifically a pipeline to transport more of the toxic product into the U.S. Time has a story here.

Canadians may not see themselves this way, but we now rank among the world’s worst environmental villains, thanks primarily to the Harper government abrogating its responsibilities under the Kyoto Accord: instead of being 6% below 1990 CO2 emissions as our treaty obligations require, we are currently almost 30% above them. Now Harper is aggressively pursuing his promise to make Canada an “energy superpower” — that is, to make Alberta an energy superpower — by escalating production of the world’s filthiest oil from the tar sands. Every day, somewhere in the world, there is a protest going on outside a Canadian consulate or embassy to protest tar sands development. Canadians may have become irresponsibly complacent about our good standing in the world as peaceful, reliable, and always honest brokers. Most of that reputation has been squandered in just the last few years. Per capita, we are in the top three of worst carbon polluters in the world. In terms of gross tonnage, we are always in the top ten — and we have by far the smallest population compared to the other nine. Villains is not a bad way to describe us.

Just how dangerous are the tar sands? James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institue says that if the development of the tar sands continues, then it means “game over for the climate.” (An interview with Hansen published today here.)

The underlying social problem appears to be primarily a generational one. The needs and expectations of the Baby Boomers define just about every social issue, and they undeniably drive the political agenda because they are such a large cohort and they vote in large numbers. However, their grandchildren, commonly known as the Millennials, seem to have a very different set of expectations, and they certainly will have to address the mess they are about to inherit. The triumphalism of North American “conservatism” is a mug’s game, and on some level “conservatives” must know that. Once the Boomers are gone, so goes the grasping panic that sustains our consumer society, which Baby Boomers seem to regard as a cradle-to-grave entitlement. One way or another such a society is doomed because it is not sustainable: we don’t have the resources, which are finite and are quickly being exhausted, and the effects upon the environment are catastrophic. With any luck at all, the Millennials will embrace the prospect of the change that must come rather than simply be victimized by the environmental and social disasters that will inevitably make change necessary. The very near future, therefore, is not the Conservative Party of Canada. It is much more likely the New Democratic Party (see Quebec) and the Green Party. The only prevailing issue is how much more political, economic, social and environmental damage the Conservatives and their American siblings the Republicans can inflict before they are done. Indications are that there is no limit to the damage they are willing to inflict.

Frye, as we’ve seen, includes care for the environment as a manifestation of primary concern. Here he is in “Canada: New World without Revolution” expressing an attitude that may well articulate the outlook of those who would have been his great-grandchildren:

Ecology, the sense of the need for conserving natural resources, is not a matter of letting the environment go back to the wilderness, but of finding some kind of working balance between man and nature founded on a respect for nature and its inner economies.  As part of natural human ecology, of conserving not only our natural but our cultural and imaginative resources.  Again, this is not simply a matter of leaving alone everything that is old: it is a way of life that grows out of a sense of balance between our present and our past.  In relation to the natural environment, there are two kinds of people: those who think that nature is simply there to be used by man, and those who realize that man is himself a part of nature, and will destroy himself if he destroys it.  In relation to time and human history, there are also two kinds of people: those who think that the past is dead, and those who realize that the past is still alive in us.  A dead past left to bury its dead ends in a dead present, a society of sleepwalkers, and a society without a memory is as senile as an individual in the same plight.  (CW 12, 441)