Say no to everything ? Absolutely if it is based upon flawed processes and flawed science

4 minute read

Having been deeply involved with the review process for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion proposal for over 2 years as a researcher for the District of North Vancouver, and on the occasion of the NEB approval of this project (this was anticipated long ago despite the “consultation”), I  feel it is time to write about my experiences with this and other processes and provide my thoughts on the reasons why so many projects are now feeling such intense public pressure. Despite the characterization as the”say no to everything crowd“, the criticisms of these projects are  legitimate and form the basis for a well-informed backlash. Please read on.

Reading my morning paper or watching TV, I find it curious that when industry is challenged on a project, they become defensive and resort to condescending remarks in an attempt to discredit criticism. Statements like, …”it’s time to have a mature conversation about oil exports…“, ( Jock Finlayson, Business Council of BC)  or  describing  anyone who dares to raise a concern as “…environmental radicals…” (former Finance Minister J. Oliver) and my favourite, “the say no to everything crowd” (recent TV ad),  exposes the cavalier attitudes of industry and government towards anyone who challenges them.

Having worked as a Professional Biologist for over 35 years with scientists and professionals from many other disciplines on various issues, (including the Trans Mountain Pipeline), I can assure you that  rigorous scientific scrutiny and informed discussion occurs on these projects and that serious flaws in the science and process have been exposed as a result.  These are legitimate criticisms  based on research and facts.

So, do I say no to everything?  Absolutely!

I say no to everything that has a biased and flawed review process. I say no to everything that is rife with political lobbying and interference that gags and suppresses science, restricts open dialogue and attacks opponents. I say no to everything that does not consult with First Nations, communities and individuals in a meaningful way and discounts environmental concerns as superfluous  and  brushes them aside with condescending, patronizing remarks. I say no to everything that is based upon incomplete or missing research and takes our natural environment for granted and only considers it as something to be exploited and does not provide environmental full cost accounting and neglects the downstream impacts.

So who else is saying no?  Scientists from many professional fields have reviewed recent projects and have challenged or, in some cases, refuted the claims made by industry in their project applications and are publicly stating their concerns with the science and process.  As a result, the public has become better informed and organized. The concerns are legitimate and  growing and a distrust has developed towards our regulatory system and industry.

For example, with respect to the oil spill risk in Burrard Inlet,  scientists have challenged and found fault with the Trans Mountain application with respect to: the oil spill modelling, air quality modelling/predictions; incorrect characterization of the ecology of the Inlet and shorelines; ignoring the sinking characteristics and the fate and behaviour of diluted bitumen in aqueous environments;  the inadequate containment and response capabilities or the impossible clean-up of spills, especially over the mudflats of the Maplewood Conservation Area and; ignoring  the long history of not consulting or involving Local Governments in emergency planning.

These criticisms are not unique to the Trans Mountain Pipeline application. The Site C dam is another example. Recently the  Royal Society of Canada  publicly supported the call to suspend the Site C dam construction (Peace River, BC, Canada). In addition, 250 scientists have released a “Statement of Concern” for Site C .

Further, substantial concerns have been raised by professionals regarding the Prosperity mine proposal that include:

Yes, the “mature conversation” is long overdue because the industry and our governments have not provided it or engaged in it.   This has been lacking for a very long time. The fact that industry and our Ministers makes such childish statements or run such TV ads shows their arrogance and displeasure with public scrutiny. Worse, are the millions of dollars industry spends on schmoozing and lobbying government in secret. The public have grown skeptical and for good reason.

In British Columbia, we are about to be saddled with several very expensive mega-projects (list below) with significant risks, none of which has presented any business case to justify them nor have they provided a process for public scrutiny  or  conducted any proper economic or environmental full cost accounting with impacts .

Unfortunately, the “say no to everything” list is quite long because of the thoughtless attitudes and the legacy of the”approve everything at all costs crowd” with no scrutiny that has prevailed for over 150 years across Canada. In some cases this toxic legacy has lasted for decades, impacting both human and environmental health. Another sad example of this legacy is the mercury contamination in the  Grassy River First Nation territory that was dumped into the river in the ’60s from upstream mining. (and guess who pays for this clean-up?; the Canadian taxpayer, but that is a topic for another time.) So in response, the youth of Grassy Narrows have released a beautiful song about their community and their pride. They will lead the change – Power to them!

These criticisms are not necessarily a rejection of all projects nor a criticism of the workers in these projects. The blame lies with the industries and our governments’ policies and legislation that perpetuate these inequities, deficiencies and one-sided processes.  This a rejection of the process and the lack of proper, open assessments.

The LNG project is a good example. The multi-billion dollar project is basically supported in concept but the process has lacked transparency with respect to the business case, science and whether the new Lelu Island port is the best location. So the project remains controversial and it appears the “no crowd” has interfered again, but in reality the scrutiny will ensure that the project is viable, done right and not based upon electioneering and political baffle-gab.

In summary, our governments have not been forthcoming or transparent with many projects with respect to the process, science, economics, full cost environmental accounting  or involvement of First Nations and the public.

  • Site c – relates to LNG  – economics not presented no process, science lacking
  • Trans Mountain Pipeline – seriously flawed and biased process, science lacking and political interference with many professionals now in opposition.
  • Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline – seriously flawed and biased process, science lacking and political interference with well-informed opposition
  • Prosperity Mine proposal – seriously flawed process , science lacking and political interference
  • LNG (liquefied natural gas) at Lelu Island:  The process, economics and science are lacking. The environmental assessment has been questioned by 130 scientists Lelu Island .
  • Port Mann bridge replacement – no process, a 10 lane bridge just appeared circumventing any previous planning
  • Massey Tunnel replacement – another mega bridge planned – no process, the decision was made without input

Until these deficiencies are fixed and confidence is returned, there will be a resounding NO every time.

_______________________________

Cover Photo: Fish Lake near Williams Lake, BC. The Prosperity Mine application was seriously proposing to drain this entire lake for a tailings pond until opposition mounted and the Feds denied the approval based on faulty science – yet the BC government still supports it.

fish lake to be drained

Photo – Fish Lake: Vancouver Sun, January 14, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

God is grating cheese.

There is a very uneasy feeling throughout the world regarding the perception of Islam. Like a blanket of grey cloud on a cold, dark, December day, it feels ominous and depressing.  Common folks who quietly watched the news each night from the comfort of their couches and have kept their thoughts mostly to themselves and paid little attention to Islam, are now immersed in the wretched Islamic atrocities that have been increasing around the world in recent decades.   The Islamic extremists who were once considered the fringe of Islam are now seen to be potentially everywhere and are perpetrating insane brutality in Nigeria.

As the atrocities mount, one begins to question what the Quran is really teaching and how the Islamic clerics around the world are interpreting it, especially some Ayatollahs (the supreme clerics) and other Islamic leaders in Africa, the Middle East and European countries.  The Islamist men who fear and maim school girls and resent and prevent women from attaining an education think they must uphold some sick interpretation of Islam to suppress this apparent outrage (as taught by clerics). Their depravity allows them to kidnap girls to be sold into sex-slavery or to shoot them to discourage others and can force others into submission or kill them without conscience.

There are two very different and conflicting messages coming from Islam at home and abroad. We hear our local Islamic community condemning these groups stating it is not Islam and yet, on the other hand, it is the supposedly learned Islamic clerics who teach and encourage their followers to kill the infidels  in the name of Islam. How can school girls and their education possibly or democracy be such an affront to Islam?  This form of Islam is very twisted and sickening.  As Ricky Ricardo would say, “Islam, you have some ‘splainin’ to do.”

In our free and democratic society we must accept all religions and allow free association to practice and worship. However, no religion has the right to supersede our charter of rights and freedoms and infringe upon human rights. All religions must worship and behave within the law and respect others. Our democracy respects the rights of others to speak freely and associate with like-minded people, such as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose followers, the “pastafarians” wear the spaghetti colander on their heads as a religious symbol. (It is an actual registered religion in BC and some States – Spaghetti). Who are we to judge and tell them they are wrong?

Islamists, however do not accept this principle. Their mantra is, convert to Islam or die. It is when religion goes bad that things get ugly. Their ideology is as bizarre as the Pastafarians, but at the opposite end of the bizarre scale. The Islamist trample and kill and are simply evil, whereas the Pastafarians are a harmless satirical group poking fun at Christianity and enjoying the culinary pleasures of life. So when  the Islamist suicide bomber shouts “God is great..”, as they pull the cord, perhaps they exploded too soon and the sentence was cut short. What they meant to say was, “God is grating cheese” in reverence to the Flying Spaghetti Monster; after all isn’t that just another interpretation of the same God just as Islam, Judaism and Christianity profess to worship the same God?  Perhaps a nice plate of spaghetti and meatballs is awaiting the martyrs in heaven.  And speaking of satire, is Islam so weak and fragile that it cannot withstand a cartoon?

The extremists appear to be living in the dark ages spewing ignorant, abhorrent and misguided ideology, afraid of school girls and cartoons. They do however, make one wonder which form of Islam is really the mainstream. Is this the true undercurrent of Islam waiting to surface? Is the ideology used to butcher people in Nigeria the ultimate form of Islam for the Caliphate and the world? I don’t think so. I prefer to believe that of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, these fanatical few are really the twisted and bizarre minority, but deadly in their ideology.

Just as the Nazis swept Europe while the world dithered, the evil in Nigeria is advancing unchecked. We stood and spoke in solidarity with France but what of the thousands (and counting) who continue to be literally slaughtered in Nigeria in the name of Islam? We cannot repeat our failure as we did by turning our backs on the Rwanda Genocide. I am expecting that we will hear about some action, military or otherwise, that the UN will sanction – but if nothing is done, then we have some serious soul-searching to do.

This is not a war with Islam. It is a war with terrorists who misuse Islam. So get off the couch and let your thoughts be known to our Governments and express the democracy that can change the world; “The pen is mightier than the sword”.

(p.s. I began the first draft just before the atrocities in France. It seems more poignant than ever now)

Net Geners: Critical thinking? What’s that?

Can you express yourself or understand ideas in under 140 words or much less? Most who tweet or post would say yes.  Net Geners (the generation that has grown up immersed in the digital age) are consumed with texts, tweets and posts and respond with a 15 second attention span or less. The apparent need for instant gratification without any investment of thought leads to no thought at all. Just make a comment, leave and move on. The access to instant information and then automatically taking it at face value without further research and then promptly forgetting it has led to short attention and reading spans  that ultimately eliminates critical thinking and learning. (Shallow Thinkers). The following article, if you take the time to read it, is a good analysis of the pros and cons of the digital world and its effects on learning and how it can be better utilized to educate the next cohort of students, the “Net Geners”. A good read for teachers. (Net Geners).(University observation)

Nevertheless, it is apparent that the instant access to information  is a good and bad thing. The ease of access to information is empowering and can quickly boost learning.  The danger arises when one relies on the instant search result and takes the information at face value with  no further thought or research. Unfortunately this is the trend. Posts on Facebook often have widely circulating claims and “facts” that are instantly re-posted as true and somehow make their way into the cyber world of believable BS.

The worst of it is that the digital world is a distraction and leads to very little face to face communication.  You will often see friends sitting together but are lost on their devices in different worlds, removed from each other missing the moment. Gossip, innuendos, stupid tweets and trivia somehow have become important to this generation.  The next text message must not be missed. Distracted driving now causes more crashes than alcohol impaired driving. There is a constant need to be “in the know’ – but to know what? Is there a meaningful conversation in this or any conversation at all?

The internet, social media and instant information is a good thing if it is used properly. Facebook, Twitter and Blogs are good ways to discuss ideas, promote dialogue and link people if articles are factual and written with respect to promote discussion without vitriol comment or hatred.   Twitter is useless or empowering. The instant spread of information to thousands, perhaps millions of people regarding events or ideas is democracy in action. As with new technology, time will iron out the problems and we will move on to use it more effectively. Those who continue to be mired in the shallow aspects of the technology will be left behind by those who can use it as a tool to learn and communicate quickly and effectively.

I often wonder how this might have affected me when I was in high school or university. I spent hundreds of hours with the slow laborious task of researching and reading journals for my projects.  I often had to physically move through 3 floors of the university library thumbing through the catalogue system or I had to actually go to another university to find and read a promising journal. It forced me, however, to read, think, analyse and sort through scientific information, but in a slow and methodical fashion. What if I had the internet, Google Scholar and access to university libraries, experts and journals from around the world, almost instantly? If I was able to apply the same critical thinking process and patience to the e-world of the internet, the access to knowledge would have expanded my world in a way I could not have imagined.  The key is how one thinks and uses the information with patience to read and question. This combination of skills could enable the new net-savvy students to be the most educated and connected generation.

Unfortunately, I believe patience and critical thinking are missing with the Net Geners.  This is the challenge for our educators, otherwise we will see a shallow generation emerge that is more concerned with the next tweet, email or post rather than experiencing, thinking and communicating about the world around them in a meaningful way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too much stuff

What does success mean to you? For most people, and I bet this includes you, success is measured by the accumulation of monetary and material things. So when in our evolutionary history did this start? Why would this accumulation of things become our measure of a person? Humans have lived in family and societal associations for hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps for a couple of million. The group worked together sharing knowledge to ensure survival and with that came innovation, invention and advancements that made life a little bit easier with small incremental improvements over the eons.

In essence we still do this, but on a grand and rapid scale.  While competition and innovation creates new and better things, how many brands of shampoo do we really need?  We now believe that we need all this stuff to survive. Good advertising does this. And with that comes increasing volumes of waste, garbage and accumulation of pollutants around the globe. Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean there is a gigantic gyre of minute pieces of plastic floating around, heavy metals contaminate our food and oceans, we create immense volumes of garbage and our atmosphere is filling to dangerous levels of CO2.  The trap of consumerism and our insatiable appetite for more stuff ensures this will continue. The following animated, award-winning documentary puts our craving for more stuff in perspective. You will see yourself in it (I did). (story of stuff).

Continue reading

The Hammer: First Nations’ title to the land

Before there was European contact within BC, (Alexander MacKenzie had yet to traverse across the landscape – 1792), the King of England passed a Royal Proclamation in 1763 regarding aboriginal rights in his new territory that would eventually become Canada. Basically this proclamation states that the aboriginal people hold “title” to the land unless it is expressly ceded in a treaty. (Royal Proclamation-1763)

Since then, most provinces have signed such treaties, except in BC. The First Governor, James Douglas ignored this process and each successor deliberately refused to negotiate and develop treaties. The Chiefs of several nations in BC even asked the government of that time to negotiate treaties, but were rebuffed.  The arrogant attitudes of the colonial government (to not so long ago) towards fair treaties has left BC with few treaties in place. The  aboriginal people, therefore, have not ceded title to their land.

Then, for over 150 years, a dark history developed in Canada resulting from the Federal and Provincial laws and policies that promoted systematic discrimination against the aboriginal people. The Federal government openly tried to erase the aboriginal cultural from the land. Some call it attempted genocide. The First Nations people, however, endured and survived the abuses. They persevered and have rebounded with an engaged youth and a renewed cultural appreciation that we now embrace.

Until today, the definition of “title” and what that means was not defined in court.  A few landmark cases have upheld this concept, most notably the Delgamuukw case 1997, that reaffirmed aboriginal right to land (Overview: aboriginal rights to land), (Legal : aboriginal rights to land & limitations). Today, however, marked a historic decision (8-0 ruling) from the Supreme Court of Canada , that defines what ‘title’ actually means, what land it applies to and the rights that First Nations have to use the land. It is far too sweeping to discuss here except to say it changes significantly how the Federal and Provincial governments and project proponents have to deal with  First Nations. In effect large swaths of land have, and will, come under the control of First Nations in BC.  There is not only a duty to consult (which was not consultation at all) and accommodate First Nations – they now require the consent of First Nations. 

It would seem that First Nations really do hold the hammer.  The 1763 Proclamation set the stage that led to today’s court ruling. While there are many ramifications, the most recent one has to do with the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipelines. There are no treaties on those lands and today’s ruling ends the archaic days when the all-mighty corporations, with government blessings,  could run over local interests. (the approval process for the 1952 Kinder Morgan pipeline project took just one day).

Despite the very legitimate concerns for the environment supported by science, it is very clear that the Federal Government does not care about the natural environment. With their disturbing attack on citizens and gutting legislation that stands in the way, the Federal Government has decided to take the unacceptable risks and have approved the Northern Gateway pipeline. Their real problem however, and perhaps the insurmountable problem, is not with the environmental opposition, (although it is big), but with the First Nations objections. This is the real battlefield now.  This is a very difficult time for First Nations people with much at stake with some potential benefits for struggling communities as well. So while environmental concerns are foremost and tens of thousands of citizens stand with First Nations, let’s hope the First Nations folks are true to their word and are not eventually bought out. Does everyone have a price?  Time will tell.

Have the guts? – a social comment.

In preparation for my article, please read the following post that made its rounds recently on Facebook with many likes.

Image

Do you agree?  I don’t.

There is some sentiment to these statements and our governments certainly could do better with respect to the opening remarks, but this post goes too far. It portrays an underlying, callous, disregard for others trapped in extreme poverty, famine, disease and war-torn countries. There is a sickening feeling in this post of a condescending, arrogant attitude that Canadians should ignore those who are in dire need of our help abroad and that we should cut our funding to help them. In Canada, we have the lowest contribution to foreign aid per GDP of any  G-8 nation. We already under-fund our foreign aid – does that make you happy?

The post says, “Have the guts to re-post this?” I wonder if the author and supporters of this post have the guts to actually stand by a starving child and watch him die in his mother’s arms. I wonder if they have the guts to watch people waste away and slowly die due to horrible disease infections. I wonder if they have the guts to tell these children and parents that they don’t deserve an education, vaccination, clean water or food; – I think not.

This is not about funding one program at the expense of the other. Our aid programs come from a caring society to help at home and abroad. It is about the efficient use of funds for both.  We should instead prioritize government expenditures to eliminate money wasted on partisan government advertising, self-serving projects, kick-backs, patronage appointments, contract scandals and the seemingly endless waste that goes on every year according to our own Auditor General’s annual reports. How about allocating all those lost tens of millions to better support our seniors, mentally ill, homeless, First Nations AND fund a caring well run foreign aid program too.

I tend to think that most Canadians actually do care and that they would be humbled by the atrocities that our foreign aid workers endure in their attempts to help others on our behalf. As the post says, 99% won’t re-post this; not because they don’t have the nerve, but because they don’t agree with this post and do care about what happens in the world.

And for the record, I donate to charities at home and abroad – and, to challenge you, I just donated $100 to UNICEF for enough “survival packs” to supply a family of four with clean water for one year and vaccinate 73 children for measles, tetanus and polio. UNICEF – survival packs: check it out

Have the guts to re-post this? – I just did.