Tag Archives: Natural security

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

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 



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 



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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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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