(Van Morrison, Into the Mystic, 1969.)
Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.
This post is really just about two ideas: 1) that it is time to stop preaching to the choir on climate change and start talking one-on-one with citizens, and 2) that the infinitesimally tiny forces of love and compassion, and even tinier when viewed through a secular lens, are nonetheless the only forces we've got.
So ... and the rest is window dressing.
Old guys do start to meditating on final ends eh? It's natural I think. I knew a preacher once named George Beall. We had a look at The Book of Job together. I used to call him End-all, and he didn't mind the joke ... So here's David Suzuki's new book, The Legacy being reviewed by someone in Australia: The disciple of nature. There's no need to wonder why much is said about Clive Hamilton's Requiem For A Species, and nothing about Flannery's new book beyond the title (which I seem to have forgot) ... is there?
I have ordered a copy, hoping it has more punch than the film: Force of Nature.
I was watching another movie, Winter's Bone, and at the end, over the credits is Marideth Sisco and her band singing Farther Along, an old Baptist tune that we used to sing in some churches I have attended. Strange that it had been in my mind already. The line, "While there are others living about us, never molested, though in the wrong," was the hook (based on my 10/10/10 experiences y'unnerstan').
The joke is generally on me, or seems to be, these days ... In the early 70s I went on my first 'business trip.' It was to London for a few months. I was unfaithful to my wife while I was over there, at least several times, and when I got back I found that she had copied the lyrics to Dancin' In the Moonlight (which at the time I thought was a Van Morrison tune) on a piece of paper on the desk in the hall. My mind fixated on the line, "We get it on most every night," and I jealously took her up on it ...
So here I am almost 40 years later still figguring it out. This story may explain why Hanif Kureishi figures prominently here this week.
I got his book from the library: Intimacy: a novel; and, Midnight all day: stories. I can't remember how it got on my list ... Maybe it was when I was watching a movie he wrote My Beautiful Laundrette and maybe I got curious ... Anyway, the book is awful. So awful that I began to wonder if he was such an artist that he could somehow combine Camus' L'Étranger with Paris Hilton! I began to read more carefully. It's a dog's breakfast, too many bad grammatical constructions with no purpose to call it 'art' or 'literature'. Still, such frankness and candour as he reveals a superficiality that makes me gasp, makes me angry, makes me look (wait for it) deep inside myself for echoes & reflections (if you will permit the contradictory image here, simultaneously superficial and deep).
A-and then there is another movie he wrote: Venus. Maybe he has his clever moments? Maurice's final words to Venus, "Now, we can really talk." The scene is exquisite. Maybe it's the director's hand. In the end I can't think about it any more and wonder if this is mere troll art - "To thine own self be ... enough?" - and go off to dig up some photographs:
There was something about Vaclav Smil ... I mentioned Global catastrophes and trends (2008) last week. So I went back for another, this time from 1997: Cycles of life : civilization and the biosphere. I'm reading it now. It's as if it was written by a different man? Maybe there were some hard miles inbetween? Maybe he's doddering? Maybe he likes to have it both ways? I can't make him out.
I did skip to the last chapter and found that he wraps it up with the Noosphere (so to speak) - a notion he attributes to Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945) but which I thought originated with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Who knows? Their lives overlapped, maybe they also intersected? Aha! Wikipedia clears it up. Smil is right, it was Vernadsky, and Chardin picked it up from him apparently. OK then.
At least both of these men thought they knew what they were talking about. Those were the days before the spirit died, or before we knew it was dead, or something like that. It seems to me that our rocket scientist James Lovelock peered through his thick glasses at the ashes of the Noosphere and called it Gaia instead - a lame imitation.
I saw Van Morrison with my son in Vancouver when he opened for Bob Dylan. I can't remember when that was? Late 90s sometime musta bin? We had just about front-row seats and could see clearly. He seemed stiff and fat I do remember, and I was wondering what he was up to when I noticed how tight he kept the band.
Yeah, I wish I could give you Honey just one sweet kiss and Blue Money, just to play us all on outa here ... but YouTube is all over Van Morrison, their DRM detection is working fine ... ok, here, a version of Blue Money at least ...
Indeed, I wish something could take us all right on outa here gentle reader. Indeed I do.
I imagine that the view from the American Senate and from the deck of a yacht is about the same, do you think?
A few threads:
The 'action/inaction' aka 'egregious dereliction of duty' on the part of the k-k-Canadian government:
From Rabble (or via Rabble) comes news of Feds failing to meet legal obligations regarding oilsands, report says. The report is from the Pembina Institute. Here it is: Duty Calls: Federal responsibility in Canada's oil sands. It itemizes the legislation that Stephen Harper & Jim Prentice are walking around as they continue in their mad pursuit of economic growth.Another ray of hope from the UK - Crude Awakening:
On a similar & related issue here's what Les Whittington wrote in The Star, and a report from Mining Watch. And here's the report they are talking about: Corporate Social Responsibility: Movements and Footprints of Canadian Mining and Exploration Firms in the Developing World which unfortunately doesn't name any names. And here's Bill C-300 An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries. Write your MP. I did and Maria Minna unequivocally supports the bill and will vote for it.
One name for the list is Pacific Rim Resources aka Pacific Rim Mining Corp. and their Chairman Catherine McLeod-Seltzer, a third generation miner. There seems to be a dynasty, the McLeod dynasty ... Here's a 2009 report: El Salvador: Pacific Rim Mining Co. Shares Up, Tensions Remain High in Cabañas.
The blocks marked out on the map: El Dorado, Santa Rita, Zamora ... what is it but serial rape? But these are Cartesian, secular, and rational actions, not like the Conquistadores, eh?
Gustavo Marcelo Rivera Moreno was disappeared, tortured and murdered on June 18th 2009 and his body was thrown down a well. Dora “Alicia” Recinos Sorto, was shot to death on December 26 2009 and left where she fell. The child she was carrying at the time was shot too. The child survived. And there have been more than these three - or four if you count that Alicia was pregnant when she was killed.
So ... how can you connect these brutal murders with Pacific Rim Mining Corp. and its Chairman Catherine McLeod-Seltzer and its President Tom Shrake? The short answer is, "You can't." Their arrogance in suing the local government over cancelled licences is not murder evidence. Indeed, if they were smart (as well as greedy) they would be doing everything in their considerable power to stop any such warfare. That they are apparently not working to stop it is not murder evidence either. That their moral hand wringing seemed tardy is not evidence of anything either.
Here they are, the dead and the living:
Oh yes, the 'egregious dereliction of duty' I mentioned. This post has gotten entirely too long so you will have to be satisfied with a cliff-hanger of a rant by Gerald Caplan. He doesn't even mention Copenhagen or climate change, but hey, it is appearing in the Globe and Mail after all, isn't it eh? Nevermind the Queen of Sheba, how about Parzival & Feirefiz.
¡Ya Basta!And the very next day, in k-k-Canada:
The organization is The Crude Awakening. Here are a few of their videos: Get Over it, which really is worth a two minute watch - getting at 'pathological climate syndrome' (even obliquely) as it does, & Stand Your Ground.
As with the Greenpeace action at Kingsnorth, the tactics are very well thought out and clever and prepared for. In particular the business of communicating, at once in secret and out in the open. And damn if it didn't work!: Coryton Refinery Oil Blockade, as one fellow says, "Yes, it looks like we've had a decent day." Indeed they did, God bless 'em.
"We need to do this. We need to do this day in and day out, and people around the world need to do it as well. Because governments have shown that they're not tackling this issue, so we actually have to do it. We have to put our bodies on the line as it were and get in the way and say, 'We're not going to let this happen anymore, no more.'"
Call me a dirty old man if you like (which is perfectly OK) but there is another lesson in these pics which I would point out: If you want to get the fierce young men in kilts on the go it doesn't hurt to have lovely young nubiles dancing nearby.
As reported by Climate Action Network Canada and at Allan Lissner's site, on Sunday October 17th two groups, Environmental Justice Toronto & Indigenous Environmental Network, came to Yonge and Dundas Square to invite people passing by to ask them why they protest the tar sands and start a conversation. This seems to me to be the nut of it, right here. So much of what goes under the banner of 'activism' is mere 'preaching to the choir' which at this stage of the proceedings is worse than useless. And yet the action was not reported beforehand (or not to me at least or I would have been there) and I have only seen this one report.I was going to say something about the need for a proper communications tool on the Internet (that is, one that actually works for the people and not against them) - it will have to wait.
Nonetheless, as I compose this nonsense I am shambling about my sunny apartment in a grotesque sort of samba, and applauding.
Just one more thing before I go ... here we are ... Oikos has added another event to their November lineup: Gathering Strength in Times of Climate Change: a Spiritual Response. Despite looking like a possible harmonic convergence of new-age numbies I recommend it because it is the very first time I have seen any recognition of what I call 'pathological climate syndrome' and it is very important indeed that we are compassionate to one another as well as to the vast multitudes of sinning and injured, injured and sinning.
They would not have you to stir forth to-day.
Plucking the entrails of an offering forth,
They could not find a heart within the beast.
Julius Caesar II,2.
... Jezebel the nun, she violently knits a bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits at the head of the chamber of commerce.
There was an excellent Bob Dylan search database on the Internet, run by a guy, Foggy I think he called himself. Then the anal retentives at Sony clamped down and not only the search features disappeared, but the quality of the lyrics deteriorated to a point that makes them worthless. If you know the tune have a look and consider Tombstone Blues ... Do they imagine, these muggles, that this behaviour increases the value of their 'product' or increases sales? Doh!? And who cares anyway?
Here I sit so patiently, waiting to find out what price ... you have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice.
When that steamboat whistle blows I’m gonna give you all I got to give.
... can't seem to stop. My friends at Dicionário inFormal sent two memorable phrases this week: estar na onça: to be in the thick of it, to be in deep shit, 'onça' being wild cats, jaguars & pumas and the like; and, Corrão!: Internet slang for 'run for it!' or 'get outa here!'
1. The disciple of nature, Jo Chandler, October 16 2010.
2. Farther Along.
3. Dancin' In the Moonlight, King Harvest, 1973.
4. Canadian mining firms worst for environment, rights: Report, Les Whittington, October 19 2010.
5. From Crude Awakening to Climate Camp, direct action needs a new story, Paul Morozzo, October 19 2010.
6. El Salvador: Pacific Rim Mining Co. Shares Up, Tensions Remain High in Cabañas, Jason Wallach, 18 September 18 2009.
7. If Stephen Harper’s an economist, I’m the Queen of Sheba, Gerald Caplan, October 22 2010.
The disciple of nature, Jo Chandler, October 16 2010.
In possibly his last book, the scientist, environmentalist, elder and activist goes out shouting.
David Suzuki is an outspoken disciple of the natural world, disinclined to subscribe to either the unnatural or the supernatural. Scientist, environmentalist and activist, he is also an avowed atheist. But when questioned about where he looks for hope on a damaged planet, he immediately recounts a miracle of the fishes.
It's quite a recent miracle, and occurred not far from where Suzuki lives on the Pacific coast in Vancouver, Canada. The story is of the Pacific sockeye salmon, the species most highly prized by the Canadian fishing industry. Every year, around this time, millions of the bright red creatures swim in from the ocean, converging on the coast to determinedly fight their way up river systems, leaping against the current to find their spawning grounds deep inland.
The biggest sockeye salmon run in the world is on the Frazer River in Suzuki's home province of British Columbia. ''Before white people arrived, it's estimated that there were well over 100 million sockeye salmon running up the river each season,'' says Suzuki. "All the native communities up and down the river depended on them for their nutrition."
But over the years human impacts have taken their toll on ocean and river environments, and then a major landslide blocked the flow of the Fraser. Fewer and fewer salmon found their way up the river. "Last year was the smallest run in known history, just over 1 million sockeye came up the river," he says.
The Canadian government set up a commission of inquiry to try to figure what had gone wrong.
"And then this year, we got the largest run in 100 years," Suzuki exclaims down the phone. An estimated 30 million salmon fought their way up the Fraser, with recreational and commercial fishers overwhelmed by the bonanza. "What the hell is going on? Nobody had a clue what happened," says the scientist.
Suzuki does not enlist the story in a comforting way - he is not using it as a parable illustrating improvement in environmental conditions in the broader sense. Indeed he's convinced that the opposite is true. And in terms of the salmon, the commission inquiring into the sockeye decline has been warned by scientists not to be distracted by what might turn out to be an anomaly.
What the fish do tells us, Suzuki says, is that humanity still has a lot to learn about mysterious Mother Earth. "Nature shocked the hell out of us. The lesson to me was that nature could still be forgiving if we just give her a chance."
Suzuki is on the phone from home on the Vancouver waterfront, packing his bags for his umpteenth trip to Australia - his "second home" - where the popularity of his documentaries and books over 30 years has given him superstar status, although he has faded a bit from sight as he has moved into his eighth decade. He is 74 years old.
While older audiences and twentysomethings still know his name from television programs, the next crop of teenagers don't. This he hopes to remedy with what may well be his last book - a slim, eloquent work distilling a lifetime of knowledge into a lesson aimed at galvanising a new generation with the message that it is not too late for action.
As he confronts what he calls the "Death Zone," Suzuki feels a powerful need to share his reflections on his journey and that of the human species. And he's determined to go out shouting.
"As an elder, I am impelled by a sense of urgency that comes from the recognition that my generation has induced change and created problems that we bequeath to my children and grandchildren and all generations to come," he writes in the introduction to The Legacy: An Elder's Vision for Our Sustainable Future. "This is not right, but I believe that it is not too late to take another path."
Suzuki's book weaves together scientific lessons; life experience; reflections on love, money and human frailties; social commentary and spirituality. According to the foreword, written by another famous Canadian, author Margaret Atwood, it is a gift of hope - "our chance, if we will take it - for 'opportunity, beauty, wonder, and companionship with the rest of creation'."
Hope, or the lack of it, are resounding themes in the climate discussion these days - the polar extremes neatly enunciated in the recent offerings of two prominent Australian contributors to the international conversation. At one end there's Professor Tim Flannery's new book, Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope; at the other commentator Clive Hamilton's bleak Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change.
Despite opening and closing his book with reveries on humanity's power and capacity to recognise and redress environmental damage, the 100 pages of observations and anecdotes Suzuki lays out in between don't really resonate much hope. Indeed, his summaries of the challenges to the biosphere make grim reading.
At the core of his message is an attempt to put the rise and rise of modern humans into context, in history and nature.
"Within my living memory, the human relationship with the planet has transmogrified - we have become a force like no other species in the 3.8 billion years of life's existence on Earth," he writes. "And the ascension to this position of power has occurred with explosive speed. It took all of human existence to reach a population of 1 billion early in the 19th century. Since then, in less than two centuries, it has shot past 6.8 billion."
He emphasises when we talk that he sees the issue not as one of population, but of disproportionate consumption of resources by countries such as Australia, Canada, the US and parts of Europe. "It's a function of numbers plus how much each of us uses. Twenty per cent of the world uses 80 per cent of the planet's resources. And we say they are the problem? One species - us - is single-handedly altering the biological, chemical and physical properties of the planet in a mere instant of cosmic time."
By the time he wraps up with a declaration that with awareness and humility, and some remembrance of "who we are, why we are here, and where we belong," humans are capable of rescuing a healthy planet, it rings - at least to this reader - a bit hollow. An observation to this effect opens our conversation. "Given what you write, what you believe, what you fear - how can you say you still have hope?"
"That's all I have left in the end," comes the bald reply down the line. "The curves are all very, very clear. We are heading for a very major extinction crisis, and we are absolutely foolish if we think, as the top predator on the planet, our species, won't also be hit."
Suzuki says he is just finishing reading Hamilton's Requiem. "And it is absolutely incontrovertible what he is saying. And you look at our inability to respond, and it is pretty depressing."
"But when people say, 'Well, how can you hope?', all I can say is that we don't know enough to be able to say it is too late. That is just as arrogant as the people who say, 'No, there's no problem, everything is fine.' We don't know. Nature may be far more forgiving than we deserve, and I'm sure she has got a lot of surprises up her sleeve. Some of [those surprises] are going to be very, very bad. But I'm hoping some of them will be very, very good. And if we give her room, I think she will be more generous that we deserve."
While Suzuki embraces the role of elder, and a sub-theme of the book is an appeal for more regard for the insights earned by older generations, and indeed for those of of older cultures, there is nothing sanguine or resigned about his tone, little sense of any twilight calm. He's still raging full throttle against what he regards as assaults on nature, and still fighting for a recasting of paradigms to give reverence and priority to natural systems rather than human ones.
"We have come to think that we are so goddamned important that we take these human constructs - like corporations and the economy and currency and markets and capitalism and borders around our cities and properties and states ..." He blusters then finds his way again. "We take these human creations as being the highest priority. But these are the thing that are going to take us down."
In his book, which is styled in the tradition of the university professor delivering accumulated wisdom in one last lecture, Suzuki reflects on how ancient peoples believed in dragons and demons and sacrificed animals, wealth, even other human beings to appease them. "But now, like the dragons and demons of old, the economy has come to be treated as if it were a real entity before which we must bow down and sacrifice things of value like the air, forests, oceans, and entire ecosystems."
The scientist has been frequently derided by politicians and business people for espousing economic heresy. He has been counselled that only by ensuring the health of the economies might societies be able to afford to care for environment.
He refuses to wear it. "By elevating the economy above ecological principles, we seem to assume that we are immune to the laws of nature," Suzuki argues. But as biological creatures whose survival relies on supplies of untainted air, water and food, failing to safeguard systems which provide them "is suicidal," he insists.
"Nature doesn't give a shit about human borders or human constructs," he says, launching into a withering assessment of the "craziness we saw in Copenhagen" last December at the United Nations climate summit. "One hundred and ninety-two countries dealing with the atmosphere as if we can deal with it through 192 national borders. And each of the 192 countries has its own economic priorities that dictate how to respond to everything. It's madness."
There's nothing mellow about this old man.
THE world according to Suzuki is built on his experiences as a boy, his formative years spent roaming and exploring an idyllic, wild mountain enclave in less than ideal circumstances.
Although he was second-generation Canadian-born, his grandparents had emigrated from Japan, and when World War II broke out the Suzuki family was incarcerated in a camp in the Rocky Mountains. "There I fished, gathered mushrooms and flowers for my mother, and encountered without fear wolves, bears and elk," he writes.
There's a photograph of him, aged about eight, by a river with his father, smiling widely as he proudly displays a handsome catch of trout to the camera.
In this latest book he doesn't elaborate on the flip side of this time, as he did in previous writing, including in his 1987 memoir Metamorphosis - the filthy conditions of the camp, the seizing of his family's property, his classification as an "enemy alien," and the lifelong scarring of being marginalised by friends and community.
Rather, he focuses on what the experience taught him about the interconnectedness of things, and the joy and comfort he found in the natural world. He ends the shorthand account of his boyhood with a quote from biologist Rachel Carson, the author of the seminal Silent Spring, whose words would rouse him to environmental activism, as they did so many others. "There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after the night and spring after the winter."
After the war, Suzuki's parents became farm workers in southern Ontario, and "I fell in love with insects, particularly beetles, and spent countless hours wading through my magical swamp." This passion led him into science and genetics, only to find that for a while, immersion in scientific process and the breaking down of nature to its working parts obscured the view of it as a cohesive whole, threatening to quash his sense of wonder.
He found it again when he read Carson's 1962 book on the ecological ramifications of DDT and other pesticides. "Galvanised by Silent Spring, we realised the consequences of powerful technologies and exploding demands on nature: disappearing forests, pollution, threatened species," he recalls in Legacy.
During our interview, he volunteers that the pivotal moment for him in terms of understanding the consequences of rising greenhouse gases came in 1988, on his first trip to Australia.
"Australia had a new group called the Commission for the Future. I was invited to come and meet scientists. I had known about warming, and I thought it was a slow-motion catastrophe. I thought it was maybe a century away, and we had time." He left Australia a worried man, armed with a new sense of urgency.
He channelled his energies into a radio series called It's a Matter of Survival for Canadian public radio. "I interviewed over 140 scientists and experts from all around the world. Having all that expertise telescoped into a six-month period, I suddenly saw with absolute clarity that the planet was falling under the depredations of human beings. That was the series that radicalised me. It said we can't piss around. This isn't about protecting pretty animals. This is about the survival of human beings. It got the biggest response of any series we had done - over 160,000 letters."
His great dismay, 20 years later, is that the public interest he tapped into then didn't translate into meaningful action at a political level. He has watched with increasing anger as powerful vested interests have campaigned to erode public faith in the warnings from scientific academies and authorities, and to inhibit or derail the evolution of mitigating policy strategies.
"Today, there are corporations that are bigger than many governments in the world. They may produce something we need, make something very useful, but they exist to make money, and all kinds of things happen in the name of money. Follow the money trail and it is crystal clear that corporations and rich neo-conservatives are funding a campaign that is what I call an inter-generational crime in the name of profit now. In the name of short-term profit they are knowingly leaving enormous problems for all future generations."
Suzuki closes his book with a photograph of himself with a toddler and a large crab - "introducing my grandson to another species", says the caption.
He laments that his grandchildren will not pull fish from rivers as he did, and that their neighbourhoods don't have wild places for them to play, so they won't know the glories of undamaged environments. As an old man, he still finds great comfort even in diminished nature. "I'm influenced by my father, who got very interested in Shinto nature worship, even though he was born in Canada. He always said, 'David, when you die, your atoms don't disappear, they just get redistributed to all the web of living things.' He asked me to spread his ashes on the winds at a place he loved. Our place. So that 'whenever you hear the wind on the trees or see the salmon in the ocean, you will know that I am there'. I totally believe that. I'm an atheist, but I think that there is certainly a need for a sense of spirit that says we emerged out of nature and when we die we return to nature. We seem to have forgotten that, tried to remove ourselves."
His book grapples with the big questions but is resigned to the unknowns.
"You need to be humble, to understand that there will always be forces affecting us that we can never understand or control. If that's spirit, then that is what we need."
David Suzuki will speak in Ballarat, at 5pm tomorrow (visit breaze.org.au) and in Melbourne at BMW Edge on November 18 (wheelercentre.com).
[but it seems it was October 18 not November and it is over already]
Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonderAdditional Verses:
Why it should be thus all the day long,
While there are others living about us,
Never molested, though in the wrong.Refrain:Sometimes I wonder why must I suffer,
Farther along we’ll know more about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why.
Cheer up my sister, live in the sunshine,
'Cause we’ll understand it all by and by.
Out in the rain, the cold, and the snow,
When there are many living in comfort,
Giving no heed to all that I know.
Tempted and tried, how often we question
Why we must suffer year after year,
Being accused by those of our loved ones,
E’en though we’ve walked in God’s holy fear.
Often when death has taken our loved ones,
Leaving our home so lone and so drear,
Then do we wonder why others prosper,
Living so wicked year after year.
“Faithful till death,” saith our loving Master;
Short is our time to labor and wait;
Then will our toiling seem to be nothing,
When we shall pass the heavenly gate.
Soon we will see our dear, loving Savior,
Hear the last trumpet sound through the sky;
Then we will meet those gone on before us,
Then we shall know and understand why.
Dancin' In the Moonlight, King Harvest, 1973.
We get it on most every night
And when that moon gets big and bright
It's supernatural delight
Everybody was dancin' in the moonlight
Everybody here is outta' sight
They don't bark and don't bite
They keep things loose, they keep things light
Everybody was dancin' in the moonlight
Dancin' in the moonlight
Everybody feelin' warm, and right
It's such a fine and natural sight
Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight
We like our fun and we never fight
You can't dance and stay uptight
It's supernatural delight
Everybody was dancin' in the moonlight
Dancin' in the moonlight
Everybody feelin' warm, and right
It's such a fine and natural sight
Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight
Canadian mining firms worst for environment, rights: Report, Les Whittington, October 19 2010.
OTTAWA—Canadian mining companies are far and away the worst offenders in environmental, human rights and other abuses around the world, according to a global study commissioned by an industry association but never made public.
“Canadian companies have been the most significant group involved in unfortunate incidents in the developing world,” the report obtained by the Toronto Star concludes.
“Canadian companies have played a much more major role than their peers from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States” in these incidents, says the Canadian Centre for the Study of Resource Conflict, an independent, non-profit think tank.
The problems involving Canada’s mining and exploration corporations go far beyond workplace issues. “Canadian companies are more likely to be engaged in community conflict, environmental and unethical behaviour, and are less likely to be involved in incidents related to occupational concerns.”
The research surfaced as a long, fierce political battle over legislation to tighten federal government scrutiny of Canadian mining operations abroad comes to a head. Bill C-300, a private member’s bill put forward by Toronto Liberal MP John McKay, will be voted on in the Commons next week.
The proportion of incidents globally that involve Canadian corporations is very large, according to the report. “Of the 171 companies identified in incidents involving mining and exploration companies over the past 10 years, 34 per cent are Canadian,” the Centre found.
It said the high incidence of involvement of Canadian companies is in line with the Canadian industry’s dominant position in global mining and exploration.
But “this does not make the individual or corporate violations any more ethically acceptable, especially considering the efforts in recent years taken by industry and government to improve” the practices of the Canadian industry, the Centre said.
The Centre’s research was paid for by the Toronto-based Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC). It was completed in October 2009 but was not publicly released.
The study said the leading causes of incidents involving Canadian mining companies were related to community conflict, including “significant negative cultural and economic disruption to a host community, as well as significant protests and physical violence”.
The second most common cause of incidents involved environmental degradation, followed by unethical behaviour, which the Centre defines as operating in a state that is under embargo or careless disregard for human rights or local laws.
The report notes that the Canadian government and the industry have devoted considerable time and money to instilling principles of corporate social responsibility in the mining sector.
“However, when one examines the current empirical reality, the results reveal a less than ideal picture of corporate social responsibility in the Canadian extractive sector.
“Clearly, the Canadian mining and exploration community needs to shift its current strategy if it is to improve its relationships with communities, governments, civil society and risk mitigation.”
Of the incidents reported, gold, copper and coal mining were most often involved. The four “hot spot” countries with the most incidents were India, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Regionally, however, Latin America had the most incidents, followed by sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
The Centre said the majority of incidents arose from reports by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Many in the Canadian mining industry accuse some NGOs of harbouring an anti-mining bias that has led to exaggerated and unsubstantiated allegations against Canada’s companies operating in developing countries.
Bernarda Elizalde, PDAC’s director of sustainable development programs, said, “These are allegations and they aren’t proven cases.” She also noted that the incidents involving Canadian companies work out to only six a year.
The research, Elizalde said, did not provide any fresh information. “There’s nothing new because we know there are some things we need to improve” in the industry’s operations abroad, she said in an interview.
The study showed that what are often seen as human rights problems are actually problems arising from a company’s interaction with the community where it is operating, Elizalde said.
“So what we’re trying to do is provide the tools to the companies to understand how they can start improving their relationship with communities and how they can be more inclusive and be respectful and it’s an awareness that we’re creating but it’s a step-by-step process.” Improvements will take time, she said.
The report was commissioned as part of the industry’s research arising from consideration of Bill C-300, she said. But, once PDAC received the study, it was decided not to make it public because more research was needed, Elizalde said.
On Tuesday, supporters of McKay’s legislation to tighten regulation of Canadian mining firms operating abroad will be on Parliament Hill to lobby for passage of the bill. First introduced in May 2009, the bill has made it further along in the legislative process than most private member’s proposals. But the final vote on Oct. 27 is expected to be very close.
The bill’s supporters say it is needed to curb a long history of abuses in the developing world involving Canadian mining companies. But the industry has waged an all-out campaign against legislation it says would damage its commercial interests, subject it to unfair accusations and attempt to enforce Canadian policy in sovereign nations.
From Crude Awakening to Climate Camp, direct action needs a new story, Paul Morozzo, October 19 2010.
The climate protest movement can regain momentum by showing it's worth getting out on the streets for the environment
One of the strange and worrying things about the past year is that even as evidence of the impact of climate change mounted, the direct action movement seemed at times to have subsided. Does Saturday's "Crude Awakening" blockade of Coryton oil refinery (watch the video above) mark a return to form and potentially a new direction?
In 2009, activists had a clear story to tell. In the middle of the climate crisis the government was pushing new coal-fired power stations and runways. While it's true that Climate Camp wanted to make broader points about the conflict between capitalism the biosphere, having a clear, less abstract story to tell helped people engage with what after the 2008 Kingsnorth Climate Camp looked like the beginnings of a significant social movement. After Heathrow plans were dropped and Kingsnorth was long grassed, this narrative was lost.
Then came the darkness of the Copenhagen climate summit and the tragically successful intervention of the climate sceptics, starting with "climategate" and followed by the IPCC's mistake over melting Himalayan glaciers. The damage has been profound. Many in the media now feel they've "done" climate change and much coverage is skewed as credible, serous scientists are placed on an equal footing with climate sceptics in the interests of "objectivity". There is no doubt this has had a negative impact on climate activism.
In terms of the grassroots direct action movement, four things have since happened that might re-energise the movement. First the meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April which attempted to outline a global social movements' response to the failure of Copenhagen. Then the BP oil spill, also in April, which showed the world the reality of our new oil future, as the big oil companies move into more extreme and damaging environments such as the Arctic, the Canadian tar sands and deep ocean oil. Then there was the RBS Climate Camp, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. This was virtually unnoticed in the English press, but the audacity of camping in RBS's front garden and how this opened a conversation about banking and oil left many feeling upbeat.
Finally there is the simple reality of climate change. The Russian drought, the continuing collapse of the Peterman glacier, the likelihood that 2010 will be the hottest year on record. While some turn their heads away, behind them a storm is brewing. Many still see this and are motivated to act.
The Crude Awakening marked a departure for mass direct action. Activists were determined to use tactics that would enable them to actually shut infrastructure down. In the course of a normal day at Coryton oil refinery, which is responsible for 22% of the UK's forecourt demand, 700 full oil tankers normally leave the site. The long queue of tankers that was blocked for seven hours on Saturday is no small achievement. This was more than symbolic protest as the Crude Awakening protest directly impacted on the oil system.
The movement faces many challenges. It has to do more than organise a series of spectacular interventions. Events are critical, but it is essential that energy goes into the day-to-day activity that sustains and keeps a network alive. The movement again has to find story to tell. This might be about oil, a story of vast corporations fighting for survival, accessing new oil because of melting caused in part by the damage they've already done. And finally, the movement has to persuade people that in an era of cuts and recession, the environment is still worth getting out on the streets for. People are already doing this, arguing that the cuts agenda and the collapse of the ecological systems that sustain us are two sides of same "growth economy" coin. More obviously, they point out that the government is reducing the tax burden on the oil companies while cutting the services the poorest require.
We live in the age of social media – what some call clicktivism – and this can make the sometimes frightening activity of protest and direct action seem outdated. But the direct action movement, from Climate Camp to Liberate Tate, is using such "weak tie" social media to get people engaged with activity that creates the strong ties and bonds forged in struggle. And in our collapsing world it is struggle we need more than ever.
El Salvador: Pacific Rim Mining Co. Shares Up, Tensions Remain High in Cabañas, Jason Wallach, 18 September 18 2009.
At the recent Pacific Rim Mining Company shareholders' meeting in Vancouver, BC, shareholders voted to extend repayment on $6.7 million of stock-like warrants for another year. About $800,000 of the extended warrants belong Pacific Rim Executive Board members themselves, so the move sent a clear signal to investors that the company is committed to carrying through with its $77 million investment arbitration claim against the government of El Salvador.
Pacific Rim has spent millions on exploration costs in hopes of re-opening the El Dorado mine in eastern El Salvador, close to the town of San Isidro. The company's hopes were all but dashed in July 2008 when massive public outcry against the mine forced then-President Tony Saca to suspend permits for Pacific Rim's continued operations there.
If the warrant extension was intended to increase investor confidence in the company, then the move seems to have paid off. Pacific Rim (PMU) shares on the AMEX have shot up 50% in the three weeks, from 20 cents to just around 30 cents per share. The price flirted with its year-to-date high reached in June, shortly after the company officially filed its CAFTA claim.
The rise in Pacific Rim's share price also comes after the company issued its first public statement in response to right-wing extremist attacks against local residents opposed to Pacific Rim's El Dorado mining project. Local resistance to the mining plan has been intense, and not without cost for activists. In July, Marcelo Rivera, a community leader in the anti-mining movement, went missing. His body was found dumped in a well weeks after his forced disappearance near his home town of San Isidro.
Later in July, Fr. Luis Quintanilla narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt when a group of masked and armed men stopped him and forced him from his car. And reporters from the respected Radio Victoria—from the town of the same name—made public that they had suffered a gruesome volley of written and texted death threats related to their mining coverage. The radio station itself was sabotaged and was forced off the air for a few days in early August.
Upside Down World reported in August that throughout the violent actions that rocked the Cabañas region in recent months, Pacific Rim maintained a curious silence. For Salvadorans who lived through twelve years of war during the 1980's and 90's, silence is often interpreted as consent.
In the Pacific Rim statement, company President Tom Shrake expressed "outrage" at Rivera's murder. But the statement was issued only after the Business and Human Rights Resource Center requested comment from the company, and its August 20 release date was nearly three weeks after Rivera's highly publicized funeral snaked through the streets of San Isidro.
"There is no place in the mining debate for threats upon people's lives and safety," Shrake explained in the statement.
While the Shrake statement does not openly acknowledge the broad violence targeted at mining opposition, the CEO take pains to distance his company from some of the more sundry characters who have emerged as a result of the violent attacks. For example, Shrake specifically notes that his company has no connection to Oscar Menjívar, who is currently in jail awaiting arraignment for the shooting of prominent anti-mining protest leader, Ramiro Rivera. (No relation to Marcelo.)
Shrake does not mention the connection between Menjívar and multiple attacks upon anti-mining campaigners stemming back at least two years, including a machete attack on Santos Rodriguez that resulted in the loss of two fingers. Menjívar was arrested, but never faced charges in the attack. The National Roundtable Against Metal Mining has called Menjívar a "hitman" for powerful pro-mining interests. Activists strongly consider that Menjívar's services are being "outsourced" by higher-ups, though the intellectual authors of these attacks have not been identified.
It is well known that Pacific Rim has offered "development grants" to local political leadership as part of a good neighbor program launched by the company to enhance its corporate image in Cabañas. Activists plan to press for a full accounting of the grants.
Stalled Investigations, Coordinated Resistance
Authorities in El Salvador have arrested four gang members for the murder of Marcelo Rivera. They allege his death resulted from a drunken brawl that spiraled out of control. Activists have rejected this account, since Rivera was a widely-esteemed community leader who was known to have sworn off alcohol years ago.
The Attorney General of El Salvador, Astor Escalante, has indicated his satisfaction with his office's investigation of the Rivera case. But, in a recent meeting with activists in his San Salvador office, Escalante hinted that he was reluctant to pursue leads that link local officials and Pacific Rim with Rivera's killing and other recent incidents.
He noted that his office is also charged with defending El Salvador against the Pacific Rim arbitration claim, and he did not want to leave his office open to accusations of persecuting the company before the CAFTA arbitration panel. He did note, however, that the government had contracted a law firm to defend El Salvador in the arbitration hearings. Earlier statements by Funes Administration officials had hinted that the government would seek a negotiated settlement.
Pressure on the Pacific Rim is likely to increase in coming days. José Angel, Director of the Vancouver-based United Latin America Solidarity Coalition told UDW about a series of events planned, including an open forum in October that will shine a spotlight on Pacific Rim's conduct in developing the El Dorado mine project.
"We have invited a representative from the National Roundtable Against Metal Mining, and we've invited Pacific Rim to send a representative as well. It's important that people here know what [Pacific Rim] is doing in El Salvador," said Angel.
Angel plays with the Salvadoran musical group Cutumay Camones and says the group has planned a week of concerts and actions in October that will raise awareness about opposition to the El Dorado mine and Pacific Rim's arbitration suit against the Salvadoran government. The concerts, scheduled for October 10 in Edmonton and October 17 in Vancouver, will be followed by a protest in front of Pacific Rim headquarters on October 16.
If Stephen Harper’s an economist, I’m the Queen of Sheba, Gerald Caplan, October 22 2010.
Stephen Harper likes to be described as a “trained economist.” Do you believe him?
Would you believe this government if it said this was October?
The opposition parties have only one hope in the election that will come next spring. They must make the Prime Minister’s credibility the ballot question. They must convince Canadians that the only salient issue is whether they believe Stephen Harper when he describes his past record and insists only he can offer the kind of economic management the country needs.
The ammunition to bury the Conservatives is overwhelming. Yet a majority of Canadians still don’t see it. The Harper government has endured as awful a political summer and early autumn as possible, the victim of a barrage of self-inflicted wounds. Yet polls show the government is now hovering in the mid-30s while the Liberals limp in between 28 per cent and 32 per cent and the NDP is still stuck at around 16 per cent. It makes no sense but it’s true.
This means another minority government for Mr. Harper. While this is far from the majority he yearns for, given his track record it’s a miracle. It shows what a waste Michael Ignatieff’s interminable summer on the BBQ circuit actually was and the apparent impossibility of the NDP benefiting from the failures of its opponents.
The only hope for the opposition is that most Canadians aren’t yet paying attention. Maybe they’ve sensibly tuned out the cynicizing political spectacle that Ottawa presents. Maybe they’re just not fully aware of the Conservative record. The slam dunk case that the Conservatives have no credibility and have forfeited the right to be trusted by Canadians has, obviously, not been made.
The Liberals have just produced a propaganda video that’s running on their website. Incredibly, instead of focusing on Harper's mountain of vulnerabilities, the video implicitly portrays Mr. Ignatieff as a foreign dilettante, exactly as the Conservatives want him. What a waste.
A month ago I thought the Liberals had finally gotten smart. They had united against the government’s ploy to abolish the long-gun registry. Then they shrewdly kept the census fiasco alive. These were attacks on the Harper government’s major Achilles heel: its credibility.
In aiming to abolish the gun registry, a sophomoric law-and-order government repudiates the police chiefs and the Mounties who strongly endorse it. In championing angry rural Canadians, it ignores surveys showing almost half of rural Canadians support the registry, including more than half of rural women. It has not the slightest interest in the easy changes that would make the registry less inconvenient.
The government’s out-of-the-blue attack on the long-form census showed the world it couldn’t trust anything the Harper gang ever says on any subject, including October. This was a crisis wholly invented by the Prime Minister, devoid of a shred of commonsense or rational justification, that succeeded magnificently in uniting almost the entire country against him. Every single explanation for this incomprehensible initiative was somewhere between a wild exaggeration and a total lie. In the process, the Prime Minister, fronted by Tony Clement (the Rob Ford of Parliament), undermined the value of the census, lost a top-notch civil servant, and made themselves a laughingstock around the world.
They also gave the world an entirely new principle of democratic governance. In the history-making words of Mr. Clement: If only one Canadian complained about the census, that’s good enough to kill it. This followed the revelation that the vaunted thousands of daily complaints about census intrusiveness proved in reality to be maybe 25 to 30 messages a year related in any way to the census. Thousands daily? A fraction of 30 annually? Doesn’t matter. The principle stands. One is enough. The consequences of this new proposition have not yet been fully reckoned. What does it mean, say, for elections and income taxes? What will happen to PoliSci 101?
Every reader will have her/his own best examples where the Harper government forfeited any claim to credibility. Look at any activity of his government. Look at the Prime Minister’s speech to the United Nations in September in his determined pursuit of a Security Council seat, where he placed his government firmly in the mainstream of Canada's international priorities for the past half-century, most of which he has attempted to reverse, beginning with respect for the UN itself.
He tried to impress the General Assembly by pledging $30-million in new money to the badly under-funded Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria at the very time it was revealed that his government last year spent $100-million on advertising its own glories.
When Canada was humiliated by losing the Security Council seat Mr. Harper had worked so assiduously to win, he 1) insisted the UN was not worthy of Canada, 2) blamed the defeat on the all-powerful Mr. Ignatieff, and 3) attributed it to his government’s lofty democratic principles such as de-funding organizations that dare disagree with it. I am reminded of the man accused of returning a badly damaged sculpture he had borrowed. As he told the judge, 1) he never borrowed it, 2) it was broken when he got it, 3) it was in perfect condition when he returned it.
Or look at Stephen Harper’s rhetorical embrace of our troops compared with the disgraceful treatment his government metes out to needy soldiers when they come home. This issue alone deserves an entire election campaign.
Or the government’s absolute insistence on accountability and transparency from every organization it’s out to skewer while remaining the least transparent and accountable in our history. Easiest thing in the world to document.
But surely the government is most vulnerable in the area that, with awe-inspiring chutzpah, they tout as their greatest asset – economic management. Amazingly enough, they want this to be the ballot question. The Conservative spin begins with The Big Joke that the Prime Minister is a “trained economist,” a myth repeated by lazy reporters. This bit of folklore is at the heart of the government’s case for its credibility. Can they get away with it? Will the opposition let them get away with it? Tune in next week to find out.