STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Time for Canada to take a Hard Look at Environmental Record

Posted by mhudema on July 1, 2008

Historic eco-decline sends sobering message
Canadians need to take a hard look at events that continue to unfold
Frants Attorp
Special to Times Colonist

It’s time to rewrite Canada’s history books. Not because our children shouldn’t learn about Louis Riel, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway or the two world wars, but because the most significant events — the ones that eclipse all others — happened just recently and continue to unfold.


– The collapse of the East Coast cod fishery. Five hundred years ago, explorer John Cabot returned to England from the Grand Banks with news that codfish ran so thick they could be scooped up in wicker baskets. He had discovered the most amazing fishing grounds the world had ever seen, waters so teeming with life that many colonies were established just to harvest the incredible bounty.

After the Second World War, with the advent of industrial trawlers, the annual cod catch reached unsustainable levels. It slowly declined and in 1992, amid much finger-pointing, the fishery was closed. It shows no signs of recovery.

– The decline of the wild Pacific salmon. This year, for the first time, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has asked First Nations to ration their catch of Fraser River sockeye. Commercial and recreational fishermen may be shut out due to plummeting numbers. Coho and chinook are also disappearing from the Strait of Georgia.

Some blame rising water temperatures, others pollution and poaching. Farther up the coast, more troubles, including sea lice from fish farms, are threatening wild salmon populations.

The end of the wild Pacific salmon would have dire consequences for the entire West Coast ecosystem. Eagles, bears, whales and even rainforests all depend on the salmon.

– Dying forests. A mountain pine beetle infestation that has ravaged an area of B.C. the size of England is creeping into Alberta. The infestation, expected to kill most of our mature pine forests, is largely blamed on global warming and is now contributing to the problem that caused its outbreak in the first place. Favourable conditions such as mild winters could help the spread across Canada’s northern boreal forest, one of the most important stores of carbon on the planet.

– The toxic oil sands project. This has been called the most destructive project on Earth.

A recent study indicates future expansion will deplete the Athabasca River, the only abundant source of water in the area. Used water is left in giant tailings ponds so toxic that birds die when they land on the surface. Chemicals leak into the river, polluting everything downstream.

Huge tracts of boreal forest are destroyed as oil companies scramble to dig up an area the size of Florida. Acid rain pours down on Alberta and Saskatchewan. First Nations people nearby are experiencing increased disease and claim wildlife has become too toxic to eat.

Greenhouse gases from the project are spiraling out of control, setting a deadly example for the rest of the country to follow.

Journalist William Marsden, author of Stupid to the Last Drop, says Alberta will eventually become uninhabitable, with the south transformed into a desert and the north into a treeless, toxic swamp.

– Arctic meltdown. The Arctic is experiencing some of the most rapid climate change on Earth, with 2007 setting the record for the lowest amount of summer sea ice ever measured. Continued decline of sea ice will affect the production of algae which live beneath the ice and form the base of the Arctic food chain. This would ripple up the food web, affecting fish, seals, whales and polar bears.

The loss of heat-reflecting ice and the release of billions of tons of methane gas from melting permafrost could tip the planet into runaway global warming that will be impossible to stop. But rather than a massive effort to slow the warming, there is a mad rush to claim more Arctic territory so everyone can drill for more oil.

– Dirty money. Environmental destruction is the greatest moral issue of our time. What are we going to tell our children and future generations — assuming, of course, there is a future for humans on this planet? “I regret you can’t breathe the air, drink the water, and grow your food, and I’m dreadfully sorry you have cancer, but I really wanted a bigger house and a new SUV?”

Much of today’s wealth comes from dirty money because it was generated by crimes against nature. And here it is almost Canada Day with the usual question calling for an answer. Am I proud to be Canadian? Not bloody likely! In fact I am deeply ashamed — ashamed to be human.

Frants Attorp is an educator and environmental writer who lives in Victoria.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008

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