Tag Archives: Chris Wood

Canada’s Harper Government’s ‘Maginot’ Security Plan

Roberts Bank Superport near Vancouver, Canada, is one of the exports . © Deborah Jones 2015

“The current government is not Canada’s first to go AWOL in protecting natural security. Indeed, as a colonial, second-generation industrial power, Canada was built largely by converting natural capital to private fur and timber, later pulp and fossil fuel, fortunes” — Chris Wood. Above, Roberts Bank Superport near Vancouver, Canada, includes North America’s busiest single coal export terminal. © Deborah Jones 2015

CHRIS WOOD: NATURAL SECURITY  
June, 2015

Canada’s heavy-handed ‘security’ strategy is a sham. 

That statement may be true in a number of readings, ranging from motive to likely outcome (more inflamed zealots with an excuse for violence on Canadian soil). But the sense in which I mean it is this: Canada’s strategy is not securing the foundation of the nation’s wealth or prosperity or the freedoms those assets support. To the contrary.

Behind its constant drumbeat of threat and necessary repression, the Conservative Party of Canada-led government has all but given up defending the most fundamental security its citizens enjoy: their natural security.

Now that security is beginning to break down.

Recently, we saw the results when wildfires accomplished what a generation of activists have failed to: force some tar sands operators in Alberta to suspend activity.

It broke again down in the small town of Cache Creek, British Columbia, where flash flooding tore out building lots, damaged scores of homes and left half a dozen condemned in destruction the province’s Premier called “unbelievable.”

Not really. Canada’s natural security is showing signs of stress from coast to coast. 

It broke down big time a couple of years ago this month, when another near-flash flood inundated Calgary’s financial and Stampede districts. That breakdown eventually cost Albertans $5 billion.

The tab from the ” snowmageddon” in the Maritime provinces this past winter has yet to be calculated. The one from flash frosts in southern Ontario’s temperature-sensitive fruit industry is still unfolding.

The current government is not Canada’s first to go AWOL in protecting natural security. Indeed, as a colonial, second-generation industrial power, Canada was built largely by converting natural capital to private fur and timber, later pulp and fossil fuel, fortunes.

In a massive journalistic project for the Vancouver-based Tyee Solutions Society, an independent, non-profit journalism generator, I examined 25 years of Canada’s environmental record in close detail. That record (available here in searchable form with numerous links) reveals a quarter-century retreat from bold-sounding declarations of standing on guard for the world’s second-largest national territory. 

Since 1989, five Prime Ministers from three parties have occupied the official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. Every government has enacted impressive-sounding laws to protect air and water, species and entire ecosystems, and even to help protect the planet’s oceans, atmosphere and climate. 

And every government has failed to fully, or occasionally at all, implement and enforce those laws. For more than a quarter century, Canada’s national government has turned critical components of natural security defence for which it is Constitutionally responsible, over to provincial governments — despite evidence from its own Auditor General that this has resulted in soaring non-compliance.

In 2011, Environment Canada acknowledged that it was not enforcing half of the few laws for which it retained nominal responsibility. The same agency has admitted to Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment — an independent officer of Parliament — that it has no idea of the condition of most species and ecosystems under its protection. In 2012, the current government dropped century-old legislative protection from more than 90 per cent of the country’s waterway and lakes.

This is the equivalent of ordering all of Canada’s border guards to go home, grounding its coastal air patrols, sending the Royal Canadian Mounted Police back to their barracks, switching off every air-defence satellite and letting even Canada’s spies and internet nannies take the rest of their careers off.

It is a form of unilateral disarmament that puts at risks values that are only beginning to be quantified. But the numbers being reached by economists who look closely at what intact, fully functional ecosystems provide us, are staggering.

The Mackenzie River Valley is reckoned to provide the country with natural services worth some $571 billion a year — thirteen and a half times the region’s official GDP of $42 billion. Toronto’s trees kick in benefits in health and air quality that exceed that city’s promotion and development budget. 

Then there is the sobering fact that the entire planet is running what might be called a natural security deficit. Two thirds of the biosphere’s life-support systems, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, were being drawn down at unsustainable rates a decade ago. The human economy has devoured the temperate zone’s most productive ecosystems: its deltas and plains and forests and shallow seas. 

Our appetites have only increased. They are being turned now on places that once seemed hard to get to, like Canada’s north — and the last extant expanses of life-support ecosystems on the planet. 

The economists have put a value on those too. They calculate that the earth’s biosphere as a whole contributes services worth US$127 trillion to humanity (2011 estimate). That’s a bit less than twice the global economic GDP that year of roughly $72 trillion.

But in fact, the value of our natural security is both incalculable and by definition greater than all of the material and financial assets it underwrites. At the extreme, without the life-supporting ecosystems that form our biological habitat, all the rest of our wealth, our homes, our cars and toys, as well as most of our hopes and dreams and very possibly we ourselves as a species, disappear.

Our natural security is provided by densely interconnected and interactive living biological and geo-physical systems, working in constant autonomous motion. Imagine a vast bio-physical game of Jenga, with a lot of its structure still obscure. We are pulling out the pieces from the game… with no real idea when the whole thing will come tumbling down — or whether we’ll be able to survive the wreckage when it does.

Canada’s government is focused on enhancing police powers and projecting its small and thinly equipped military abroad in order, it claims, to preserve its citizens’ security. 

It should read the history of the Maginot Line: the vastly expensive, strategically pointless, fortification that France built along its border with Germany in the 1930s. 

The Canadian government is building one of its own. Less imposing, and even more beside the point.

 Copyright Chris Wood 2015

For more information about Canada’s environmental stewardship, visit: Bottom Lines: A Quarter-Century Report on Canada’s Natural Security: bottomlines.tyeesolutions.org 

 

chris1

Chris Wood is a founding writer with Facts and Opinions. He is the author of the Natural Security column and occasional long-form Think magazine pieces, and contributes the odd blog entry.

Wood writes about the issues of human social survival in the 21st century. His 40-year career has spanned award-winning work in radio, newsmagazines, books and the internet. He is the author or co-author of seven books, most recently Down the Drain: How We Are Failing To Protect Our Water Resources, with Ralph Pentland (Greystone, 2013).  After growing up near Hamilton, Ont., and later living for periods of time in rural Ontario, the Maritimes, Toronto, Dallas and Vancouver, his home is now on Vancouver Island with  his writer/marketer wife, Beverley Wood, and their two middle-aged bull terrier dogs. Currently, all are on an extended research and study term in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 

Read more about Chris’s work, or book him as a speaker, at www.bychriswood.com 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

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Fracking: Canada’s top court to review Alberta’s duty to citizens

Gas flare from drill rig near a home in Hythe, Alberta, Photo by Greg Locke © 2009

Gas flare from drill rig near a home in Hythe, Alberta. Photo by Greg Locke © 2009

By Chris Wood

Does a Canadian provincial government have any responsibility to protect your natural security? Nope. Nada. Rien. It can pretty much do as it likes, wrecking your water and any other part of the environment that it likes in the process. And you can just go pound sand.

That, in non-legal language, was pretty much what an Alberta Court ruled in the case of Jessica Ernst, a former oilfield biologist who lost the use of the water wells on her small ranch east of Calgary after a gas company hydro-fracked several drill-holes nearby. Ernst had appealed for help to the Alberta public agency that supposedly oversees its oil and gas industry, and was not only turned away but vilified for her efforts. The provincial court upheld the agency’s dismissal of Ernst’s complaint.

It was an astonishing ruling, but it’s about to get a second look. The Supreme Court of Canada has now agreed to hear Ernst’s appeal of the Alberta ruling. Its verdict, of course, is months away and impossible to predict. But the high court has already overturned a series of attempts by the federal government to illegally circumvent Canadians’ Charter-guaranteed Rights and Freedoms. It now has a chance to re-affirm that provinces also have an obligation to protect their citizens, and cannot simply set that duty aside in order to provide carte blanche to corporations.

To meet Jessica Ernst and learn more about her case and the risks and alleged benefits of hydro-fracking, read my article Risky Business: The facts behind fracking,  on Facts and Opinions. (subscription required)

References:

Risky Business: The facts behind fracking,  by Chris Wood, Facts and Opinions (paywall)

Search for “Ernst” for background and links to previous judgements in the Bulletin of Proceedings, Supreme Court of Canada, May 1, 2015

Landmark Fracking Case Gets a Supreme Court Hearing, The Tyee : http://thetyee.ca/News/2015/04/30/Ernst-Heads-to-Supreme-Court/

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

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Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical: Galileo v Copernicus, the rematch

CHRIS WOOD: NATURAL SECURITY 
May, 2015

Pope Francis. Photo presidencia.gov.ar

Pope Francis. Photo presidencia.gov.ar

It’s hard to know what to make of the news that Pope Francis is planning an encyclical on climate change. On one hand, any intervention that pushes us to save the climate our species grew up with is a good thing. On the other, he stands on so much baggage it’s hard to keep a straight face. 

But let’s not stumble over centuries of graft, complicity in genocides, doctrinal misogyny and overlooked pedophilia. Let’s not even dwell on the fact that one of Francis’ predecessors persecuted Galileo for suggesting the sun didn’t orbit the earth. Instead, let’s think of the coming encyclical as a 21st century version of Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses — in reverse. 

Luther may or may not have nailed them to the door of a church in 1517, but his itemized charges echoed across a continent. They called out the Roman Catholic Church of the day for its many mercenary sins, from loan-sharking, to the sale of indulgences — ‘get out of purgatory free’ cards, popular among well-to-do sinners. Luther’s protest note fired the opening shot in the Protestant Reformation that ultimately split European Christianity in two. 

Pope Francis’ encyclical — whose contents have been widely telegraphed — will do to today’s most rabid Protestants what Luther did to the Catholic Church of old. It will call out its extremists for their greed and selfishness. 

In a contest of cosmologies unseen since the Holy Mother Church stopped (mostly) burning heretics at the stake, the encyclical will oppose two views of humanity’s place in creation as different as Galileo’s and Copernicus’. Only this time, the Pope is on Galileo’s side.

Catholicism has always been a bastard stew deeply infused with pagan roots and spices. Its promiscuous embrace of older mythologies has been the secret of much of its success. Many of the faiths it absorbed were rooted in the divinity of nature. Animism and pantheisms held ‘sacred’ animals and places. Francis’ church retains this DNA; the very word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’ or ‘all encompassing.’ 

Protestantism, by contrast, was conceived in the rational, humanist values of the Enlightenment. Like Copernicus, its adherents viewed man as the moral centre, sole measure, and highest purpose of existence. Everything else was for us to exercise “dominion” over, and turn to profit. It’s no accident that so many founding thinkers of today’s market liberalism were early Protestants: the Thomases Malthus and Hobbes, John Locke and Adam Smith. 

Paradoxically, the scalpel that irrevocably excised the human animal from nature’s figurative bosom belonged to a French Catholic: René Descartes. The irreconcilable dualism he imagined between the human essence, and everything else, laid the foundation for European and later American alienation of man and his works from the habitat that sustains them.

Martin Luther, 1528. Artist:  von Lucas Cranach der Ältere

Martin Luther, 1528. Artist: von Lucas Cranach der Ältere

Economic liberalism and Protestantism have had an ongoing non-exclusive affair ever since. It is again no accident that both find their most unrestrained positions in America, where the worship of the atomistic individual (on which they agree) has become national faith. Its creed: ‘It’s all about me.” 

Forget for a moment the blood and hypocrisy-stained backdrop of Francis’ encyclical. On the basis of documents released by the Pontifical Academy of Natural Sciences, and statements from Vatican insiders, he will rebuke as greed and selfishness the anthropocentric conceit (in several senses of the word) at the heart of market liberalism. He’s unlikely to say, but won’t be unaware, that the staunchest defenders of “It’s all about me” — and the global citizens most resistant to climate reality — are America’s radical Protestants. 

The Pontifical Academy is down with science. Last month it released a document on Climate Change and the Common Good. “Although we are an inseparable part of the living world, entirely dependent on it for every aspect of our lives,” the Academy warned, “we are destroying it with blinding speed.” This, it added, constitutes human society’s top “moral and ethical issue.”

Not for that portion of American Protestantism variously described as evangelical, fundamentalist, Dominionist, Social Conservative, and simply loopy. Their burning issues are more likely to be gay marriage and abortion. (Well, they share that with the Vatican at least). And getting rich. 

Personal wealth, according to ‘Prosperity theology,’ is the convenient belief that wealth is virtue, so the wealthier you are, the more virtue you possess. This idea has been traced to the pioneering televangelist power couple Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. It is kept alive in the likes of Pastor Creflo Dollar (really), who only recently abandoned a plea to his Atlanta mega-church parishioners to buy him a new private jet (he agreed to suffer with his present older plane). These believers are ideological bed-mates with some of America’s most extreme vendors of neoliberal Kool-Aid. Among the social-conservative Christians who populate middle America’s business class, Ayn Rand is a secular saint. 

The Heartland Institute, funded by the libertarian Koch brothers, is sending a “pre-buttal” (really, that’s what they’re calling it) embassy to the Vatican to talk Pope Francis out of it. One of those who plans to lecture the Pontiff is Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

The Alliance is one of countless micro-faiths left over from Luther’s Big Bang. Like many others, its interest in fact ends on the affirmation that “the Bible … is the sole, absolute, inerrant epistemological basis for mankind for all knowledge of all things, seen and unseen, and that all claims of truth and moral duty that contradict it are false and harmful.” The Prime Minister of Canada adheres to this Alliance.

The Alliance does as much denying as affirming. In its “Biblical Perspective of Environmental Stewardship: Subduing and Ruling the Earth,” it declares:

We deny that an infinitely wise Designer… of the Earth would have made it susceptible to catastrophic degradation from … small causes. [Take that, tiny CO2 molecules.]

We deny that the Garden of Eden represents the whole Earth and that the instruction to “cultivate and guard” [it] ought to … mean that man is to “serve and protect” … or… “worship and protect” the Garden or the Earth. [Up yours, Gaia.]

We deny that man’s accountability to God justifies abolishing private property.. adopting collectivist economic institutions, or delegating to civil governments … ownership or control of land, natural resources, or private property.

That last bit sounds a bit post-Biblical to me, but I’m no scholar. More positively, the Alliance is for “cost/benefit analysis” (Affirmation 22) and DDT (No. 25).

In this ‘theo-con’ Christianity, God wants you to get as much bling as you can. And go ahead and rip up the planet; other critters are only there for us to use. Even possibly “abuse” (yes, the Cornwall group goes there). And don’t worry, God won’t let the planet burn out.

Against that, the Pope is expected to call his faithful to what the Vatican has coined, “integral ecology.”  

Papal trial balloonist Cardinal Peter Turkson tested the phrase in a recent address. It means, he said, “fidelity to the demands of the threefold relationship within which each of us stands and upon which each of us depends for life itself: our relationship with the Creator, with our neighbour, and with the natural environment in which we live. To neglect or violate one of these relationships is an offence, quite literally a sin.”

I’ve heard this before. A Dene administrator explained it to me with the benefit of a whiteboard in a band office near Great Bear Lake, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, once. The creator, other people, and the Earth sat at the corners of a triangle. To be a dene, a proper man, was to be at the centre of the trinity — in balance with all three.

We spin around the universe; the universe does not revolve around us. The Enlightenment’s inbred offspring have devolved into distorted pretenses of men; their faith is sociopathy. Somewhere in the Mother Church (whatever her past and present faults) flows the blood of Gaia and of Pachamama.

 Copyright Chris Wood 2015

References and further reading:

 
 

 

chris1

Chris Wood is a founding writer with Facts and Opinions. He is the author of the Natural Security column and occasional long-form Think magazine pieces, and contributes the odd blog entry.

Wood writes about the issues of human social survival in the 21st century. His 40-year career has spanned award-winning work in radio, newsmagazines, books and the internet. He is the author or co-author of seven books, most recently Down the Drain: How We Are Failing To Protect Our Water Resources, with Ralph Pentland (Greystone, 2013).  After growing up near Hamilton, Ont., and later living for periods of time in rural Ontario, the Maritimes, Toronto, Dallas and Vancouver, his home is now on Vancouver Island with  his writer/marketer wife, Beverley Wood, and their two middle-aged bull terrier dogs. Currently, all are on an extended research and study term in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 

Read more about Chris’s work, or book him as a speaker, at www.bychriswood.com 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

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When will the penny drop at Davos?

 

WEF publicity photo/Michael Buholzer

WEF publicity photo/Michael Buholzer

It’s not unusual for environmental risk to come up at the World Economic Forum, held this month in Davos, notes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood. “What appears to be harder for the high-net-worth and high-power-quotient individuals meeting in the Alps to accept, is that the rising incidence, mounting costs and escalating risk of natural security failures proceed directly from the very system that the World Economic Forum was invented to promote,” he writes in his new column, Davos: Pantomimes of Concern From the One Percent. Excerpt:

The one percent are meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this week—or at least, that fraction of the one percent that retains either a trace of social conscience or an instinct for personal survival that entails more than a private army and a fortified island somewhere.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is the one annual event at which the rich and powerful gather to consider the prospects for further expanding and entrenching the free market, neo-liberal economy that has made them the masters of their universe and ours. And as in other years, they will consider the threats that haunt their agenda.

The conversation-starter for that discussion is a single, colourful graphic (see illustration, below) locating nearly 30 “risks” to the globalized economy along axes of likelihood and impact. They include low-likelihood, high-impact eventualities like the use of weapons of mass destruction, as well as high-likelihood but low-impact risks like failures of urban planning.

But here’s the thing: of the 25 risks that the WEF planners ranked as either highly likely, or likely to have a high impact (above 4.5 on either scale of zero to six), or both, more than half (13) are consequences of local and global-scale failures of natural security.

Some are straightforwardly so. Water crises, biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and extreme weather events, are all direct manifestations of our biophysical habitat strained to breaking point. The strangely neutral phrase, “Failure of climate-change adaptation” is a technocrat’s portmanteau for everything from droughts enduring decades to abandoned coastlines to super-storms to mortality-raising heat waves and cold snaps. Log in first to continue reading Davos: Pantomimes of Concern From the One Percent (subscription*)

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers like you. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Thank you for your patronage. Please tell others about us.

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Chris Wood: Look to the books, not diplomacy, for the climate game-changer

Natural Security columnist Chris Wood is not impressed with this week’s much-trumpeted deal between China and the United States. He writes: “optimists greeted with hosannas the announcement that the Presidents Obama of the United States and Xi of China had agreed to a common statement setting out their respective goals to contain and eventually reduce their combined greenhouse gas emissions. The popular headline word was “game-changer.”

 

chris1

Chris Wood

“Sorry, but it was nothing of the sort. As numerous pundits pointed out, in restating China’s intention to allow GHG emissions to rise until 2030 before they begin to decline, and putting into words the reductions that are anticipated from U.S. actions already taken, the statement quite literally changed nothing.”

Change is indeed afoot — but it is coming from an entirely different direction, Wood argues. Excerpt of his new column, The Real ‘Game-Changer’ was not in Beijing. Has the ‘Anglosphere’ lost its Mojo?

Once upon a time an amalgam of rigorous, inquisitive candor about the physical world, and a deep delusion about superior racial entitlement, delivered control of two of the four continents that were up for colonial grabs in the 18th century to Britain.

Britain’s legal and political philosophy, its English language, and to a large extent genetic descendants of its families, dominate North America and Australia to this day. Europeans, Latin Americans, and others outside this socio-political clan have resented their exclusion and berated the ‘anglo’ model of cut-throat corporate permissiveness — what used to be called laissez-faire and is now re-branded for global distribution as neo-liberalism.

That fewer descendants of Empire persist in their delusions of racial superiority is a welcome development. But it’s worrying to see the Anglosphere also abandoning its realism about the physical world.

Exhibit A in this regard is climate change. … log in to read column  (paywall*)

Click here for Chris Wood’s Natural Security column page,  or here to subscribe or purchase a $1 site day pass.

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising, and reader payments are essential for us to continue our work. Journalism to has value, and we need and appreciate your support (a day pass is $1 and a monthly subscription is less than a cup of coffee). 

 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

 

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Humans have the tools to avoid eco-geddon: Chris Wood

Earth at dawn from the International Space Station. Photo by Reid Wiseman, NASA, public domain

Earth at dawn from the International Space Station. Photo by Reid Wiseman, NASA, public domain

Systems approaching the brink display some common features, and sometimes thresholds give advance warning, writes Chris Wood in his new Natural Security column. They recover more slowly from disruption; “in-state fluctuations” become wilder and less predictable; conditions “flicker” rapidly from one state to another. But by opening our eyes to these and other signs, we may be able to determine where some of the riskiest thresholds lie — and how to push them, and ourselves, back from the brink of “eco-geddon.” We have the tools, he argues: the question is whether we have the will. An excerpt of Isn’t It Hysterical? The cliff is ahead. We have the tools to see it (subscription*):

The single most useful thing that many national governments could do for their natural security today is to start by taking a good long look at it. 

How does this come up? Funny story. I learned a new word recently. This doesn’t happen as often as it used to in my line of work, so I enjoyed it. The word? ‘Hysteresis.’ 

The term seems to have a range of definitions, some more negative than others: it can mean a deficiency or lack, for example. But its dominant meaning is of a lagging effect: when something in a system’s past influences how it responds to the present. All of human history, it turns out, really has been as hysterical as some of our darker comics suggest.

But so are ecosystems at scales all the way up to the global. That is: incremental damage can accumulate over time, rendering an ecosystem imperceptibly less robust until a critical threshold tips it, usually irreversibly, into a new state … log in* to read Isn’t It Hysterical? The cliff is ahead. We have the tools to see it.

Click here for Chris Wood’s columnist page,  and here is F&O’s page to purchase a subscription or $1 site day pass 

 

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. We do need and appreciate your support (a day pass is a buck and monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee), but if you’d like to give us a try before throwing pennies our way, email Editor@factsandopinions.com, and I will send you a complimentary day pass. 

 

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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Clam Rolls, Ocean Acidification — and Solutions

© Deborah Jones 2014

© Deborah Jones 2014

Oddly, the new column by Natural Security columnist Chris Wood brought to my mind a sign outside a university chemistry lab when, a lifetime ago, I was studying biology. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate,” it quipped. It’s a bit of goofy scientist humour — but reading Wood’s piece, I thought, he is part of the solution — because he clearly lays out the problems we face, and presents the solutions needed. The problems of preserving a livable earth are not trivial — but they are, in theory, solvable ones, argues Wood. An excerpt of his new column, Clam rolls:

 

© Bryan Bruchman

© Bryan Bruchman

Ever had a clam roll? I know, sounds like a straight line. But in the Canadian Maritimes a clam roll is a load of breaded, deep-fried clams in a hot-dog bun, usually with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise. Enjoy one, if you get the chance, because the lowly clam is the latest canary to show signs of expiring in our climate mine.

The excess carbon dioxide humanity is releasing into the atmosphere doesn’t all stay there. A great deal gets absorbed into the oceans, where it is making them observably more acidic. That is bad for all shellfish: acidy water corrodes their calcium carbonate shells (also a reason to enjoy oysters while you still can.) But biologists have now discovered that clams, which typically burrow into the mud at the bottom of the Bay of Fundy for protection from predators, are avoiding doing so — evidently sensing that the seafloor’s more acid condition will dissolve their shells. This dilemma — be eaten or dissolved by acid — helps explain a decline in clam populations.

At the other end of the scale, consider a document leaked from the United Nations’ Environment Program — the organization that produces those once-every-five-years global compendia of climate science — in the last few days. It confirms that the clams’ dilemma is being replicated around our planet, that we humans stand to lose much more than our regional cuisine, and that the singular reason for all of this is one we are well aware of: carbon. … log in first (subscription required*) and click here to read Clam Rolls.

Click here for Chris Wood’s columnist page here is F&O’s page to subscribe or purchase a $1 site day pass

 

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work.

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We can climb out of the hole we’ve dug: Wood

Tug on Fraser River

Wetlands are at risk, but proven measures to preserve them show a way forward. Above: a tug works the Fraser River Delta, where Canada’s West Coast meets the Pacific. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2014

“It’s one of those authorless pieces of universal wisdom: When you find yourself at the bottom of a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging,” writes Chris Wood. We have dug ourselves to the bottom of a hole — but there is a way out, he argues. An excerpt of this week’s Natural Security column, Stop Digging!:

 

We are not only in a hole… we may be digging our way through an ecological safety margin, a range of resilience in natural systems that we are putting under increasing stress, with a rising risk of breaking through at any moment into a new natural regime that is not compatible with much of our existing economy.

So, let’s stop digging.

This is not nearly as crazy as it sounds. In fact, in a variety of ways and places we have certainly tried to stop digging.

We have set aside big chunks of flourishing ecosystem as parkland, as public forest land, as greenbelt or ecosystem refuge. (Not nearly enough to constitute a prudent reserve of natural services, but at least a start, a few pennies in the piggy.)

Then temptation arises. Someone points out that if we dig just a little deeper, there’ll be oil. Or gold. Or gas. Or copper. Resolve weakens and we pick up the shovel …  log in first (subscription needed*) to read Stop Digging!

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*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

 

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On Israel

Is-wb-gs-gh_v3To simply report on news about Israel is to enter a minefield. To comment is to invite extreme reactions of a sort experienced in few other issues. This week F&O columnists Chris Wood and Jonathan Manthorpe enter the fray with thoughtful, informed essays:

Israel at the Boundary, by Chris Wood (Free public access)

A friend — I hope I may still call him one — recently chastised me for selectiveness in my criticism on social networks of Israel’s Gaza campaign, and my comparative silence about the horrors occurring in Syria and Iraq. The unspoken implication that there was something particular about Israel that inclined me to single it out, embedded another: that the something particular was Israel’s Jewishness. The suggestions are sufficiently morally impugning, and implicate enough of my personal friendships, that they deserve a thoughtful response. 

Hamas Leads Gaza Down a Dead-end Street, by Jonathan Manthorpe (Subscription)

Not the least of the problems of finding any kind of solution to the plight of the Palestinians is that the Hamas zealots who control Gaza are incompetent terrorists and jihadis. Hamas’ sole strategic objective, the purpose of its jihad, is to overrun Israel and drive its 6.1 million Jewish residents into the sea. This latest month-long conflict shows Hamas has no capacity to do that and has no idea how to go about it.

 

Related reading:

The Cold War 2.0, by Jim McNiven (Free public access)

For 40 years, one big contest played out in the world. It was a kind of arm-wrestling match between the Soviets and the Americans. I use the word ‘Soviets’ to distinguish one contestant from its successor of sorts: today’s Russians. Eventually, the Soviets could not keep their end of the game going and walked away from the table, into history. The last decade of the century was one where there was but one superpower — and it wanted to party. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought that party to a halt. It signified a new game was beginning; not one of two superpowers engaged while the rest of the world largely stayed out of the way, but one where arm-wrestling was replaced by a kind of hide-and-seek.

The Decline in Global Violence, By Andrew Mack (Free public access)

In the new Human Security Report, The Decline in Global Violence: Evidence Explanation and Contestation, global security specialist Andrew Mack examines a critical question: Has the long-term threat of violence — war, terrorism, and homicide —  been decreasing or increasing worldwide? For some, the answer seems clear. Many in the strategic community concur with General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has said today’s world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.”  But Mack writes that there is little evidence to support them.

 

Jon Stewart Learns What Happens When You Criticize Israel (F&O Blog with video, free)

 

 

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

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Israel at the Boundary

Facts and Opinions’ Natural Security columnist Chris Wood reported from the first Palestinian intifada in 1988 for Canada’s Maclean’s magazine. The fierce global debate over Israel’s latest conflict with residents of Gaza prompted him to reflect on the alleged ‘double standard’ of criticizing Israel amid the region’s wider violence.

PikiWiki_Israel_30033_Olive_tree

Olive tree in Israel. Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons

CHRIS WOOD 
August 6, 2014

I have been privileged (and I don’t use the word lightly) as a reporter to witness a moderately wide range of human sorrows. One of my most vivid memories is of the hospital in Gaza City, so overwhelmed by the injured at the hands of Israeli Defence Force beatings, and so undersupplied, that a reeking yellow stream of blood, urine and puss oozed thickly down a bare concrete hallway.

That was in 1988, before Israeli-Palestinian relations reached their present abyss. Perhaps the experience has affected my judgment in the present. But I find that reality has a way of doing that to me. 

A friend — I hope I may still call him one — recently chastised me for selectiveness in my criticism on social networks of Israel’s Gaza campaign, and my comparative silence about the horrors occurring in Syria and Iraq. The unspoken implication that there was something particular about Israel that inclined me to single it out, embedded another: that the something particular was Israel’s Jewishness.

The suggestions are sufficiently morally impugning, and implicate enough of my personal friendships, that they deserve a thoughtful response. 

There is something different about Israel. But it is not its Jewishness. To the contrary, it is Israel’s very us-ness, if I may coin a word: the very extent to which its democracy, its internal respect for free speech, its advanced engagement in an international commerce ruled by law, its accomplishments in science, all of these, have placed Israel in the family company of the decadent but still relatively free, peaceful and, in principle, egalitarian ‘western’ political tradition. It is Israel’s virtues that make it different from Syria or Iraq.

And from other places. We need to be a little candid about the world. The idealized notion nurtured by international good-works activists that the common dreams of the family of man — peace, a safe home, a future for the kids — will eventually overcome retrograde local battles over differences of superstition, if we just hold enough global conferences and expand our personal networks widely enough, struggles to find footing in the real world. 

That place holds plenty of horrors. Iraq and Syria are just a start. Nigeria (where girls are being kidnapped and boys murdered wholesale), Honduras (where the graduates of America’s jails murder and extort wholesale), the miserable kleptocracies of North Korea and Zimbabwe. The places that are off the media radar just now but will be back as soon as Gaza has reached its best-before date, their despair fully intact: Haiti, South Sudan, the Congo. 

The cultural and social boundaries between that world and ours in the ‘west’ are invisible, mobile, permeable — but they are also real. Our western Euro-heritage however is not used to observing boundaries: it has spent the last 500 years violating them in the most predatory ways possible. In a variety of subdued fashions we’re still at it: Euro-Canadians, colonial Canadians, are still trying to tell their historic victims, the continent’s first nations, how they ought to run their communities. 

I’m an old-fashioned, small-l ‘liberal.’ I believe that the European Enlightenment tradition, and until recently its distinctive formation in Canada, surveyed a way of human existence better by far than social rule by theocracy or ideology, let alone by individual men claiming direct lines to God.

But I am not naïve enough to mistake that tradition or its conclusions for universal truths. (They are no longer especially universal even in the ‘west.’) And both my reading of history and my observations over a lifetime of reporting disabuse me of the illusion that ‘we’ know anything sufficiently better to justify forcing it on ‘them’.

Only the naïve or arrogant imagine that we who live in countries that are respectful of civil rights and freedoms (most of the time), where differences are solved at negotiating tables, in ballot boxes or court-rooms, have the power or title to enjoin those values on places running hot with fierce disdain for them.

We cannot, and to pretend otherwise is a waste of time.

But there lies the rub with Israel in its present policy. It is a country that most of the time looks like a western ‘us.’ It presents itself as a rule-of-law, democratic, civil-rights-respecting place so convincingly that many in Europe and North America embrace it unconditionally.

Yes, there is a double standard in expecting something better from Israel than the rule of the AK-47 and RPG that is in force in the badlands of the world. It is an expectation that Israel itself not only created, but claims. 

In the former Palestine however, Israel’s actions have blurred the boundary between the arguably ‘civil’-ized world and the world of warlords. It is a pointlessly futile game of infinite regression to justify the present campaign by tracing the perverse lineage of eyes gouged out yesterday in return for eyes gouged out the day before. Since at least 1988, Israel has held the overwhelmingly dominant power in its relationship with its occupied territories; only it has been in a position to change the dynamic, and it has declined to do so.

Or that is my observation. But the issue attracts so much comment in the rest of the west precisely because while Syria and Iraq were never part of the family, Israel was, and it is no longer clear on which side of the boundary it is going to wind up.

Copyright Chris Wood 2014 

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work.

 

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