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Canadians Ignore the Warning Lesson of Haiti’s Environmental Destruction At Our Peril

2012/01/12

Today marks two years since the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti where more than 200,000 died and an estimated 1 million were left homeless. We are used to hearing that Haiti is a very poor country, yet rarely do we hear that at one point in its history, Haiti was the wealthiest colony in the New World. The coffers of its colonizer, France, swelled with the riches extracted from Haitian sugar cane and coffee plantations.

So how have things gone so wrong for this country? Years of economic and political chaos in Haiti have led to environmental devastation and crushing poverty. The two are inextricably linked.  But it doesn’t have to be this way. Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, which Canadians are familiar with because of its popularity as a winter holiday destination. The DR was colonized by the Spanish, and luckily for its population, the Spanish were more focused on extracting gold from Mexico than developing plantations in the Dominican.  Haiti, which was three quarters covered with forests when Europeans first came, is now 99% deforested. In contrast, the Dominican Republic remains one third covered in forests.  Haiti’s lack of trees contributes to mud slides, flooding, and soil erosion that greatly increase the suffering of the Haitian population during natural disasters like hurricanes and tropical storms which hit the island regularly. Their neighbours in the Dominican Republic generally suffer far fewer deaths during these disasters.  Reforestation efforts in Haiti are hampered by the widespread poverty and lack of alternate fuel sources; without other alternatives, desperately poor people cut down any trees that have been planted to use in heating and cooking.

source: NASA

Haiti’s environmental destruction serves as a warning lesson that the destruction of our natural environment comes with a price that future generations will bear. It underscores the need to follow and strengthen environmental regulations – not undercut them.  Here in Canada, Alberta is flush with oil money at great expense to its natural environment and to First Nations. The Alberta oil sands have been called the “dirtiest project on earth”. George Monbiot, a British author and environmental activist, describes the oil sands this way:

Canada is developing the world’s second largest reserve of oil. Did I say oil? It’s actually a filthy mixture of bitumen, sand, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals. The tar sands, most of which occur in Alberta, are being extracted by the biggest opencast mining operation on earth. An area the size of England, of pristine forests and marshes, will be dug up, unless the Canadians can stop this madness. Already it looks like a scene from the end of the world: the strip-miners are creating a churned black hell on an unimaginable scale.

A snapshot: before and after tar sands development

This week saw the start of the environmental review of the Northern Gateway Pipeline  (see The Real Radicals Are Those Who Pollute Our Air and Water and Destabilize Our Climate, Mr. Oliver ). The pipeline would carry tar sands crude from Alberta through the pristine Great Bear Rainforest and First Nations land. The Harper government, along with the astroturf group Ethical Oil (started by a Harper staffer), have come out singing from the same page this week, trying to smear Canadian environmental groups and First Nations as being funded by “foreign interests” while at the same time defending the right of foreign oil companies to both appear at the review, and fund a $100 million dollar pro-pipeline PR fund. I guess the irony of accusing indigenous people who are standing up for land they have lived on for millenia, certainly long before there was a Canadian government, as being supported by foreign interests, is lost on the Harper government.The Vancouver Sun put it this way yesterday:

And before we wax too sanctimonious over our high ethical standards, EthicalOil.org – and Prime Minister Harper – might ponder a few other matters:

How and why, for example, did Canada recently slide from first place to sixth place on Transparency International’s corruption index?

Why is half of the RCMP’s national anti-corruption unit stationed in Calgary, headquarters of the petroleum industry? Is it true that there are 30 corruption investigations active in Canada right now?

When foreign-controlled oil companies provide all-expenses-paid tours of Alberta’s oilsands for provincial energy ministers just before they sit down to discuss Canada’s energy policy, is this an example of “foreign billionaires” trying to influence our domestic policy agenda?

Where, indeed, does EthicalOil.org’s funding come from?

Here’s one of Ethical Oil’s spokespeople, Kathryn Marshall, on CBC’s Power & Politics yesterday. She’s happy to spout the industry/Harper government talking points over and over, yet is incapable of answering the question “does any of Ethical Oil’s funding come from Enbridge?”

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While Haitians’ environmental situation has been caused by centuries of economic and political chaos, Canadians know better.  In the 21st century, none of us can claim that we don’t know that there is a price to be paid when we destroy the environment for short-term material gain.  We live in a stable democratic country, one of the richest in the world.  Canada can do better. Let your elected representative know that Canadians choose the path of long-term economic and environmental stability for us and future generations.

More links:

The Real Foreign Interests in the Oilsands

Northern Gateway Review Process Marred by Controversy

Spin Cycle On Pipelines, “Foreign Interests” Hits Warp Speed

Environmentalists, Other Radicals, Threaten the Pipeline

Joe Oliver Says He’s Only Opposed to Foreign Environmentalists

Chinese Money and “Ethical Oil”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2012/01/12 12:42 pm

    Excellent post, Christine!
    DaveW

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