Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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Growing up: Three rivers get legal rights

Whanganui River, New Zealand

Glimmers of hope.  Details here.

Mind you, human rights tend to be honoured a lot more on paper than in practice.  So it will be with river rights.  Rivers, lakes, oceans and their defenders will continue to face countless challenges and battles.  But at least now two rivers have some legal rights to defend.

Meanwhile in the USA, rivers have no more rights than do sewers or highways, both of which purposes they serve.  In sharp contrast, corporations in the USA won long ago the same legal rights as individual citizens, which they deploy to commit horrible crimes against humanity and nature, including the poisoning of rivers, lakes and oceans.  Of course, unlike actual human persons, corporations regularly get away with murder.

In Canada the picture isn’t much better.  The late Conservative regime decimated environmental protections for all but 159 lakes and rivers in this country, leaving more than 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers wide open to destruction.  Breaking election promises to reverse their predecessors’ crimes against nature, instead the current Liberal regime is deferring to corporate pressure to maintain the status quo.

In such a grim context, the hard-won court decisions in New Zealand and India represent a huge step forward, rare signs that we can act sanely and respectfully in relation to the natural world, our life support system.


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Oil crimes: Who needs a Trump?

In Saskatchewan’s second major oil spill, crews are still trying to identify where the rupture occurred in a tangle of pipelines from the Alberta tar sands that cross this land.  Oil Pipeline Spills 53,000 Gallons on First Nations Land.

tar-sands-moonscape

Tar sands, Alberta, Canada

Meanwhile, in Washington DC President Trump has just re-opened the door to the infamous Keystone XL pipeline, which his predecessor had temporarily blocked.  The new president also promised to accelerate construction of bitterly fought Dakota Access Pipeline.

In Ottawa, the Liberal government recently rubber-stamped two dangerously invasive pipelines in Canada: Kinder Morgan’s line to the Pacific coast and Enbridge’s expansion of Line 3 to the U.S. midwest.

Prime Minister Trudeau also welcomed the Keystone decision.  “I’ve been on the record for many years supporting it,” he said in Calgary.  “We know we can get our resources to market more safely and responsibly while meeting our climate-change goals.”

Soon the world’s dirtiest oil will flow more abundantly than ever from the Alberta tar sands.

We are told by the oil cabal, its collaborators in government and big media that Canadians need it.  But notice where it’s going: to the Pacific Ocean and to the USA, in both cases for sale far, far away.  It will leave behind: mountains of broken promises to First Nations and the rest of us, a moonscape in northern Alberta, toxic spills and explosions along the routes, and countless tons of life-destroying greenhouse gas.  Hidden somewhere in there, we are told, is a fair bargain.

In Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley welcomed all three pipelines.  At the same time, her NDP government reneged on a promise to charge oil companies higher provincial royalties for the oil they plunder.  “It is not the time to reach out and make a big money grab,” she told reporters, “because that is just not going to help Albertans.”

Ah.  But then soon after and with no apparent shame Notley said, “We’re at the point now where the Alberta economy needs to be enjoying the benefits of a higher return for our oil and gas…  That is definitely something that will happen as a result of the Keystone.”

With Liberals and social democrats like these running things, who needs a Trump?

Across Canada, the US and planet earth, our only home, the battle goes on.

 


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Life endures. But it needs a little help.

line-9-map

Governments come and go.  But life endures, as long as earth, water and air can sustain it.

All of these face escalating assaults by powerful corporations whose twin obsessions, power and profit, are fundamentally, irredeemably anti-life.

People who defend the essentials of life from theft and degradation need and deserve any support the rest of us can offer.  On Turtle Island/North America, often it’s indigenous peoples who live on the front lines, and thus are called to lead some of the most intense struggles.

Standing Rock has the highest profile right now, but there are others just as crucial, though less widely known.  Some context:

In Canada last week the federal Natural Resources Minister announced that his government does not require First Nations consent to proceed on natural resource projects.

This arrogant statement directly contradicts the Liberal government´s promises to follow Supreme Court rulings and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which require “free, prior, and informed consent” of Indigenous Nations to any natural resource projects affecting their traditional and treaty territories.

At the behest of its partners in the oil/gas industry, this government is poised to approve, among other dangerous pipelines (see below), the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline to carry toxic crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Pacific coast for shipping abroad.  It would pass through – invade, really – the territory of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

The Minister’s casual dismissal of the government’s legal obligations provoked strong reactions from First Nations, including this one from Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon: “Consent, it’s what we are demanding, and he will never get our consent, not for something like this.  What if we gave Canada 20 Standing Rocks?  I wonder if his position will change then.”

In late November this issue will be tested at the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of yet another pipeline, Enbridge’s Line 9.  It is due to carry tar sands bitumen and fracked oil to Montreal, crossing more than 120 vital waterways and 830 kilometers of land along the way, including territory of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, without their consent.  (Neither does the project have consent from millions of Canadians who live along the route, the most densely populated in Canada, but the government blithely ignores this too.)

Since the Supreme Court agrees to hear only a small fraction of the cases submitted to it, clearly it considers this one vital to the people it is meant to serve.  So should we all.  Given the catastrophic impacts of mining and transporting tar sands and fracked oil, the fate of this case has profound implications for First Nations, for Canadians, and ultimately for all life on this earth.

Details on the case and how to support it are here.

For an eloquent view of why these struggles keep happening, meet Seneca First Nation biologist Henry Lickers, chapter 1 in Bold Scientists.  An excerpt is here.

 

 


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Crude crimes: Another pipeline spill, another “Plan B.”

Last Thursday 200,000 liters of crude oil spilled into the North Saskatchewan River, soaking wildlife and forcing cities to shut off public water supply.  Details here.

Husky Energy victims, N SaskA great blue heron, victim of Husky Energy.  (Photo: Lend a Paw Animal Rescue/Facebook)

The pipeline started to leak on Thursday July 21.  It continued to spill into the river for four days, 200,000 litres of toxic crude oil, before perpetrator Husky Energy shut it down.

This is the latest of dozens of catastrophic pipeline spills across North America in the past three years.  But right on cue and with dazzling gall, Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley leapt to defend the indefensible.  “Even with this spill it remains the case that absolutely the safest way to transport oil and gas is by way of pipeline,” she told the Canadian Press.  “Had a spill occurred on rail there might well be injuries involved.  In everything you do there are risks, but I would suggest overall the risks [of pipelines] are low.”

In the sheltered halls of power perhaps, but for the rest of us out here in the real world, this is crude bullshit, insult piled on injury.  Of course hauling crude oil by train has also proven catastrophic.  Ships too.  There is no safe way to extract, move, refine or use this stuff.  It’s a disaster, start to finish.  Only safe solution: Leave it in the ground.

Speaking of no safe way, how does this one rate?  TransCanada’s Terrifying “Plan B”.

How do the executives, investors and their government enablers continue to profit so richly from their serial crimes against nature and humanity?

Why are they not in jail?


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The Forces of Know

In darkening times, bright sparks of inspired resistance.  In this case, to dangerous pipelines that threaten earth, water, air, and life.

In northwestern Canada, people of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation are resisting not only a proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline and coastal shipping terminal, plus a voracious transnational corporation and two enabling governments, but also the toxic ideology that drives these entities.  At its stone cold heart it has only one premise: there is no person or thing on earth, in the sea or sky that can’t be bought and sold.

Despite escalating attempts to buy them off, apparently the majority of Lax Kw’alaams people hold to deeper values and a longer view.

Lax Kw'alaams resistLax Kw’alaams: Just say no.  Photo: The Guardian.

Henry Lickers also takes a longer view.  He’s a Seneca First Nation biologist at Kawehno:ke, Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, not far from another pipeline that people are fighting in eastern Canada.  In writing Bold Scientists, I explored with him the deep gap that separates his point-of-view, in line with the Lax Kw’alaams’, from the powerfully seductive one that drives the surrounding society.  He replied, in part:

“Our society is responsibility-based, so that means I’m responsible for taking care of the environment.  The outside society is rights-based – this is my land, so I have a right to do what I want with it…  So we’re always in this fight with Canada or the US – over here we’re talking about our responsibility to protect the environment, and over there you’re saying it’s your right to do what you want.  That’s not a good way to function, especially in relation to the environment.  You should be aiming really high to protect your environment.  Oh no, you say, that would cost too much, it can’t be done at present, et cetera.  Is it any wonder the world is going the way it is?”

For more on Henry Lickers’ life and work, see Bold Scientists, chapter 1, When the river roared.  Excerpt here.

Two more responsibility-based initiatives oppose yet another dangerous pipeline, Line 9.  It’s a 40-year-old pipeline that’s due to transport high volumes of corrosive tar sands bitumen and volatile fracked shale oil from Sarnia, Ontario to refineries in Québec.  Along the way, the pipeline crosses many First Nation territories, municipalities, and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people in the most densely populated region of Canada.

The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation have launched a landmark challenge to Line 9 at the Supreme Court of Canada.  It’s an initiative that could have enormous impact.  It’s also a costly proposition to take on wealthy corporations and governments.  Support is needed, and welcome here.

And Tar Free Toronto, a citizens’ group, has launched a petition to the Prime Minister of Canada, demanding a halt to Line 9.  https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-248

Further information on the campaign: Write to tarfreetoronto@riseup.net

Pass this message along.  Keep the sparks flying.

 

 

 

 


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A serious food fight: GMOs in 4 countries

Salvadorn farmers vs MonsantoSalvadoran farmers vs GMOs. Photo: mintpressnews.com.

The United States: On March 15, a bill was narrowly defeated in the US Senate that would have blocked any state or local government from regulating or even requiring labeling of food products containing GMOs (genetically modified – or manipulated, more to the point – organisms.)  The House of Representatives had already passed a version of this repressive bill last year.

What are these people afraid of?  Knowledge. The more the rest of us know, the better decisions we can make. Opponents of the bill dubbed it the DARK Act – Deny Americans the Right to Know. The right to know is inherent in mandatory GMO labeling laws passed by Vermont and at least two other states so far. Vermont’s law survived a major corporate legal challenge last year and should come into force this July. Maine’s and Connecticut’s are expected to follow soon after.

Healthy food campaigners know from experience that the powerful corporations who co-wrote the DARK Act with their hirelings in Congress will keep trying. They need to keep us in the dark on GMOs, as on so many other crucial facts.

How far will they go? This far at least, as in their campaign to defeat a state-wide mandatory labeling referendum in Washington State: Opponents of GMO Labeling Broke Washington’s Campaign Finance Law. The real surprise is that they got caught.

Canada: 64 countries have instituted some form of mandatory GMO labeling. In Canada, we have none.  Over the past decade, several private members bills to that end have been defeated in Parliament.

A new citizens’ initiative, a petition to the Prime Minister, is currently circulating on Change.org: Label GMOs.

Initiated by Barbara Drury, a farmer in the Yukon, Label GMOs has already gathered over 30,000 signatures. You can add yours here.

Russia: Moving well beyond debates on labeling, the government of the Russian Federation is in the process of actually banning all GMO foods. Why and how this extraordinary initiative came to pass is a fascinating story, told here.

And the next step for Russia?  Become the world’s primary source of non-GMO food.  It follows rather organically, doesn’t it?

El Salvador: With less than half the area of Canada’s second smallest province (Nova Scotia), El Salvador is the most densely populated (currently about 6.4 million) country in Central America.  Its farmers, most of them working small parcels of land, face enormous obstacles just to survive, let alone thrive.  And like farmers in most countries, they also have to contend with relentless pressure from the agents of corporate agriculture to cede control of their seeds, methods, independence, and livelihoods.

Even so, against overwhelming odds Salvadoran farmers continue to defy not only one of the most powerful and aggressive corporate entities on the planet, but also an even larger and more insidious threat, the web of international trade agreements that are being spun over our heads and behind our backs. To these corporate-dictated, made-in-USA entanglements, we are endlessly told, resistance is futile.

Apparently not.

If the Salvadorans can do it, can we not?

 


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A dirty deal

In the previous post I mentioned the extreme dangers that secretly-negotiated, corporate-dictated international trade deals pose to our fragile planet, and our efforts to defend it.

A nightmarish example of such a deal is the prettily named Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), recently signed by – among other perpetrators – a representative of the former Northern Republican (aka Conservative) regime in Canada, just before they got the electoral boot.

Please note: The TPP is not a done deal for Canada until the newly constituted Parliament ratifies it.  As of now, the Liberal majority looks alarmingly prepared to do so, but with enough public pressure, who knows what might happen…

Due to lack of time and space, I didn’t provide details on the actual dangers of the TPP to the earth and its inhabitants.

Well, here they are, in a new report just released: the dirty details of a very deadly deal.

Tar sands 3

Tar sands: a former landscape in Alberta, Canada