Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Seasick or Seachange: The G8 and G20 Summits

Only when the last tree has been cut down;
Only when the last river has been poisoned;
Only when the last fish has been caught;
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
- Cree Prophecy, oft-quoted as the rallying cry for the environmental movement

A belated happy World Oceans' Day. A plume of oil 228 km away from its source in the Gulf of Mexico has been found, and scuba divers are encountering oil masses the size of softballs. This oil spill is seven times the size than that of the Exxon Valdez, and is still growing. So far, 9.5 million litres of oil have been spilled into the Gulf.

ABC News has shown footage of the first days of the oil spill, which BP chose not to make public, which documented far more oil leaking than initially admitted by the oil company. Human error and omission on the part of BP has exacerbated the scope and size of the oil spill because of their slow response time, poor management of containment measures, and inability to coordinate clean up efforts with the thirteen American natural resource agencies, waiting for instruction from this British oil company. The Americans have written a letter to BP saying they have two days to contain the spill.

As oil begins to wash up on shore, white Florida beaches and marshes are blackened. Generations of fish will have birth defects, or not be able to reproduce, and coral will die, as far away as Cuba, suffocated by a coat of oil. A genie in the bottle has been let loose by unregulated offshore drilling, a legacy of the Bush era, and Barack Obama is powerless to defend American natural resources against British corporate interests, and force this renegade oil well to be capped.

When I was a child, I was given a technicolour atlas of Canada, and told that we had the second largest land mass in the world, and more resources than we could possibly ever use - that we were awash in timber, fish, and wheat. In my lifetime, I have seen cod disappear on the east coast, wild salmon become scarce on the west coast, and pine beetles ravage west coast forests. Americans are facing the probable extinction of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, and this oil spill will have repercussions as far away as Vancouver.

Several months ago, while I stood in line at the grocery store, I overheard a child say that we will not have fish in twenty years. He may be right. We can extract oil, but we can never generate life, or recreate ocean species, and our oceans have changed their temperature and acidity by absorbing our greenhouse gases. A revered Canadian journalist Alanna Mitchell writes brilliantly about this in her book 'Seasick'. She titled her book after witnessing the reaction of an oceanologist, who upon hearing of the radical chemical alteration in the world's oceans, threw up, and was sickened for weeks by thoughts of the scientific repercussions on the reproductive capacity of ocean life in the increasing number of dead zones.

In Canada, one million wild salmon swam upstream this year in British Columbia's Fraser River, when ten million were expected, shocking the First Nations communities and fishing industry. The government has launched a formal enquiry into the salmon farms, agricultural run off, and changing temperatures of the oceans, yet refuses to regulate oil sands' tailing ponds, which leak millions of litres of toxins into the once pristine Athabasca River. Upon hearing of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil industry representative said that it will make Canadians think of the oil sands as a cleaner source of oil, as if leaching toxins into the Athabasca River is better than spewing oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Are not all water systems interconnected?

As PM Harper spends $2.1 million to build a Fake Lake as a backdrop for journalists to sell off the 'Muskoka Experience' to international interests for the G20, I have witnessed climate change in this lake district firsthand. There have been two hurricanes within the past five years in Muskoka. A century old tree fell down within two inches of a neighbouring cottage, and entire swathes of old growth forest have been ripped up throughout this region. Historically, there have never been tornadoes of this magnitude in Northern Ontario - this is a direct result of climate change, and our unlimited desire for oil. Meanwhile, PM Harper is touting Huntsville and the rest of the Muskoka Lakes region as a tourist destination, encouraging more traffic, exurban expansion, Big Box Stores, and oil consumption, both on and off the water.

During the past ten years, I have watched Muskoka become a suburb of Toronto, and lose much of its rustic charm. You can buy pillows embroidered with Muskoka chairs made in China in its gift shops, purchase pre-fabricated birch canoes, and watch Sea Doos roar through shallow inland bays, tearing up clam beds in their wake. Tourist traffic can protect a region through revenue, but in many cases throughout Muskoka has not, as some of those who vacation there have no vested interest in preserving its natural beauty, environment or heritage, as they are just passing through, interested in cottage culture as a commodity, far more than the actual experience.

In a few years, I honestly wonder what natural resources Canadians will have left after the Conservative and neoliberal 'Open for Sale' agenda has taken full affect. As world leaders ask that the environment be included on the agenda of G20 international trade summit, and PM Harper refuses this request, this media spectacle is a harbinger of what we will leave future generations- a Fake Lake with plastic Muskoka chairs, a small pool with chlorinated water, and a sky with artificial stars as a backdrop for TV journalists as they describe our Canadian natural vistas - when a short walk away is Lake Ontario, one of our great inland seas, which we have done little to protect environmentally, and in which many of its 179 fish species have become extinct (see FishNet for a fascinating art project on this issue). In America, Jean Baudrillard may have it right- all we may have left is the false front of what was once culturally important, and contained our heritage, like the storefronts along main street in the Wild West movies, or the view of a kiddy pool version of Muskoka Lake, from a dock no longer owned by us.

I would hope that the G8 and G20 Summits become a forum to discuss global fiscal initiatives to enter a post carbon future, including curbing transportation emissions, to protect the world's natural resources for future generations, but this discussion did not happen during Copenhagen, and has been suppressed once again. In effect, $1.1 billion in security measures have been paid by Canadian taxpayers to hold 18 hours of meetings to privatize our assets and sell off our natural resources to resolve our debt, while incurring a debt of over $2.1 billion for the summit. Dissenting voices have been discredited by the media as 'protesters' rather than as peaceful citizens with a sincere desire to represent our country's best environmental and social interests. Business as usual in the suicide economy is the agenda in these summits, despite the possibility of economic growth through the international coordination of sustainable environmental policies, and development of green technologies.

Whether oil is absorbed as carbon from the air into our oceans, or exists as greenhouse gas emissions in our air, we need to discuss going toward a post carbon future to protect our health, and this carbon orgy must come to an end. With a Fake Lake as a backdrop to our media campaign for the G8 and G20 Summits, PM Harper, and our leaders, are about to sell off our country's natural resources, and right to self-government through the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, as if our country is a tourist attraction for the fire sale of our citizens' hard earned assets. Politically, our land, air, and water should be protected by us, because they belong to all Canadians as our birthright, beyond present federal policy and corporate agenda, or we will be left with only memories of what was once our country, like the fading technicolour on the resource rich map of my childhood.

O Canada, I stand on guard for thee.

This article is dedicated to my nieces, Jesse and Sally, to whom I read on the dock each summer.

Live feed footage of Gulf of Mexico oil spill, link to
Alanna Mitchell, 'Seasick', link to http://www.mcclelland.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780771061165
Claire Ironside and Angela Iarocci, ' FishNet Art Project on Species in the Great Lakes', link to http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/whatson/freshground/fishnet.cfm
David Korten on the Suicide Ecoomy, “Economies for Life”, YES!Magazine, Living Economies Issue. Fall 2002, link to http://peoplenotprofit.org/livingeconomies.htm
Jean Baudrillard on the 'aesthetics of disappearance' in America, Excerpts 2 Link to http://www.egs.edu/faculty/jean-baudrillard/articles/america-excerpts-2/
Important information on the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Link to http://www.canadians.org/trade/issues/EU/index.html
and Maude Barlow explains how the proposed Canada-EU trade agreement would deprive all levels of government of their ability to invest money in local economies, through programs such as Ontario's Green Energy Act. Link to http://www.canadians.org/tradeblog/?p=850