Up, Down, Appendices.
Late late yestreen I saw the new moone,
Wi the auld moone in hir arme,
And I feir, I feir, my deir master,
That we will cum to harme.
Child's Ballad 58: Sir Patrick Spens.
What was showing last week, as we approached the new moon, was about the opposite - that is, an old moon with the new moon in her arm. I ran out of smokes a few nights back and just before dawn I walked out to the all-night store and there it was, just about like in the picture. The 'in her arm' aspect is determined by earthlight apparently - if enough is reflected back from the earth to dimly light the dark side.
But what interests me is another notion - whether the cup formed by the crescent will hold water or not. The terms 'hold-water moon' 'dry moon' 'wet moon' 'turned up' 'on her back' 'Cheshire moon' 'horned moon' or 'hornéd moon' are around this kind of image. 'On her back' is evocative enough. 'Cheshire moon' is literary I guess; 'hornéd moon' definitely is.
"Stand up moon, lay down sailor; lay down moon, stand up sailor."
Depending upon where you take your point-of-view the moon is 'wet' when the crescent holds water (viewed as the moon) or 'dry' when the crescent holds water (viewed as an earthling) ... and so forth. More interesting might be to consider the dynamic - which way is it tending or tipping? But I am not on the farm, I am too lazy to go out and look night after night ... whatever.
All silly superstition of course (except for tides and who knows what else). Trying to read the future in entrails of one kind and another, be they the phases of the moon or an animal slaughtered for the purpose as in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar mentioned here a few weeks ago.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod was one of the stories that never was read to my children. In the same category as Winnie the Pooh. The reason may have been that it is just a bit too practical as a lullaby, a bit too obviously manipulative to make the cut. Everyone Knows What A Dragon Looks Like was more our style; The Elephant's Child; The Jumblies and such like.
The defeat of Proposition 23 in California seemed to be overshadowed in the media by 'waning' Democrats and 'waxing' Republicans (and Tea party running dogs of course). And when it was mentioned, as in this NYT editorial, it was seen as some kind of reason for optimism.
Here's another take on it by John Kemp: California voters back weakened climate law. I am not smart enough to know how true this may be, but it has that certain 'ring' and I am working on it.
If a full political spectrum could be devised, the Republicans would probably be to the right of the Democrats, but they would both be so close to the centre of the spectrum as to make no difference. Consider economic growth for example, both of these parties see growth as the only way 'out' of the current economic mess, and yet even just considered as an arithmetic proposition, growth cannot possibly continue on this finite planet of ours. Can it?
Canada's Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, was actually acting like one this week - and then he quit! He cancelled the Prosperity mine at Fish Lake, BC. I thought maybe he was playing a balancing act and that in a few weeks he would endorse some other grossly destructive project and do a little Ottawa flim-flam have-it-both-ways dance. Instead he quit to be another VP at CIBC. And we are back to John Baird ... oh well.
What will Bairdy do about Sandy Pond in Long Harbour then? You would think that with the experience of ERCO behind them the good citizens would not be so enthusiastic about trading a few roads paved and a Fire Hall built for having Vale as a neighbour? This must be the moon 'on her back' I suppose? Is that it?
If you take a close look at this chunk of topo map you will see 'Waste' heaps noted beside the harbour - that would be phosphorus slag from the 70s I expect. Why is it still there I wonder? Read this bit of history ... puh-leeze!
I am so fucked up that I take a grotesque & wierd pleasure in debunking points that need no debunking - it's just that stupid headline a few weeks ago in the Globe about 'teenage girls will save the world' won't get out of my head. You can watch this fairly silly & over-dramatic video, or this one in which Elizabeth Gardiner of The Canadian Mining Association, oh so sweet and plump, explains why "... in the end it's really the safest option." Bollocks!
Gordon Campbell quit this week too. Whatever else he may have done he got one thing right: he brought in a carbon tax and championed the fight against climate change. This puts him on a very short list of k-k-Canadian politicians eh? He's the one should be a VP in some damned bank - for my money that is.
OK, here's a few bits of Chinua Achebe from Home and Exile, 2001:
"An account of the voyage to West Africa in 1561 by the English ship captain John Lok gives us a taste of this writing at the early stages of the tradition. This is what it says about Negroes:
... a people of beastly living, without a God, lawe, religion ... whose women are common for they contract no matrimonie, neither have respect to chastitie ... whose inhabitants dwell in caves and dennes: for these are their houses, and the flesh of serpents their meat as writeth Plinie and Diodorus Siculus.They have no speach, but rather a grinning and chattering. There are also people without heads, having their eyes and mouths in their breasts."I dunno ... this woman doesn't look 'common' to me? Oh yes, totally stuck in obsession & appearance, so it is, so be it ...
The photographs were taken from a remarkable collection documenting a trip through Segou Niger in 2006: Segou, Festival sur le Niger.
Back to Chinua Achebe some pages farther on:
"As we have seen, Captain John Lok's voyage to West Africa in 1561 provided an early model of what would become a powerful and enduring tradition. One of his men had described the Negroes as 'a people of beastly living, without a God, laws, religion.' Three hundred and fifty years later we find that this model, like the Energizer Bunny, is still running strong, beating away on its tin drum. 'Unhuman' was how Joyce Gary, in the early part of our own century, saw his African dancers. One generation before him, Joseph Conrad had created a memorable actor/narrator who could be greatly troubled by the mere thought of his Africans being human, like himself: 'Well, you know, that was the worst of it — this suspicion of their not being inhuman.'
A more deadly deployment of a mere sixteen words it would be hard to imagine. I think it merits close reading. Note first the narrator's suspicion; just suspicion, nothing more. And note also that even the faint glimmer of apparent charitableness around this speculation is not, as you might have thought, a good thing, but actually the worst of it! And note finally, the coup de grace of double negation, like a pair of prison guards, restraining that problematic being on each side.
Hammond and Jablow tell us that African characters in all the fiction they studied are invariably "limited to a few stock figures [and] are never completely human." And the quite reasonable conclusion they drew from this was that the writers of this fiction had presumably come to see their contrived portrayal as 'the only way to write about Africa.'"
The thirteen word quote is from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The Africa That Never Was by Dorothy Hammond & Alta Jablow, 1992, is pricey and the library won't circulate their copy. It will have to wait.
But, can you imagine a 'more deadly deployment of a mere sixteen words'? I can. And in the same way that his febrile and indignant rhetoric goes too far, does Achebe's analysis stop too short do you think? It does so deserve 'close reading' but hasn't had it yet from our Chinua Achebe by my reckoning.
'Griot' seems like it should translate literally to 'crier' but this is not mentioned anywhere, Achebe uses this word a few times. ...
Nevermind my stupid quibble - this book of Chinua Achebe's was a 'good read' as they say, and left me feeling optimistic. He gives his list of the African canon which I will include in some future post (when I have read more of it).
One item I followed up right away: The Gentlemen of the Jungle, from Facing Mount Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta. Facing Mount Kenya is another that this Toronto Public Library does not circulate.
Bill McKibben seems to be coming onto my wavelength & musing about what must be in their minds: Hot Mess: Why are conservatives so radical about the climate? ...
I am not so different from a honey-bee or a bluefin tuna, I too am proceeding towards some not-so-distant vanishing point on the horizon, where the tracks meet. Just a bit different though since I am looking more-or-less straight at it, being human and all.
For weeks and weeks in the spring every Globe video was preceeded by this: Blackberry shill:
Every generation gets a chance to change the worldWhich, I'll admit, was a step up from these: David Keith's carbon sequestration shill, or Doug Hamilton, Laura Lucier & Bob Thirst shilling phoney Gaelic spirit, Mo shùile togam suas indeed! Fuck you in your glass eyes!
Pity the nation that won't listen to you boys and girls
'Cuz the sweetest melody is the one we haven't heard
It's not a hill it's a mountain
As you start out the climb
Listen for me I'll be shouting
Shout into the darkness squeeze out sparks of light
You know I'm gonna go crazy if I don't go crazy tonight.
Not much of a step though - Blackberry & UCal - same shit, different page.
But you know, watch the honey-bee program. The bees die one-by-one. Those who died in the holocaust did it one-by-one too. They say we have a billion hungry people on the planet now - each of them just about as alone in their hunger as one of those honey-bees in its death.
I spent a fair bit of time this year watching a tree outside my window grow & change:
Look how the branches arch together & interlace in the central space between the trunks ... maybe you look maybe you don't, and if you do look maybe you understand maybe you don't. How do the branches wave and twist in the wind of storms coming in off the lake? How can changes in the light from one second to the next be so complete? There is a clue in the clouds in the second picture but that's it.
Tell you what, I smoke, cigarettes, lots of 'em! I like the ones that say, "WARNING TOBACCO SMOKE HURTS BABIES" or the ones that advertise the hydrogen cyanide in 'em. In the last year or so, since I tried to quit (starting here) I have managed to up my intake to two packs a day, maybe I will make it to three while the money holds out,
a-and the only reason I'm not an alcoholic is that I suffer from gout. I don't know how dad managed alcoholism and gout together; he was more of a man than I am is all that I can think about that one.
I was sitting in the sun on a park bench yesterday, beginning to read Tsitsi Dangarembga's The Book of Not, when I noticed a butterfly go by. November 6, I kid you not (though the leaves are falling too these days and it might have been almost anything). And so, into the class of protean actors, along with honey-bees and bluefin tuna, slipped this flimsy fluttery thing.
So ... discount and ignore all of the shit in this blog if you know what's good for you, ok?
I found this in the NYT today (apropos of Daylight Savings Time, "spring ahead, fall back," which particular hubris I happen to detest):
How It Happens
The sky said I am watching
to see what you
can make out of nothing
I was looking up and I said
I thought you
were supposed to be doing that
the sky said Many
are clinging to that
I am giving you a chance
I was looking up and I said
I am the only chance I have
then the sky did not answer
and here we are
with our names for the days
the vast days that do not listen to us
William Stanley Merwin.
What about Matthew 5:22? The King James has it, "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
What's a 'raca' exactly? Only used once in the whole shebang. Here's a few ideas, about amounting to 'numbskull', or Wendell Berry's Tennessee 'witty' and I have heard somewhere that certain fundamentalists (in the true sense of 'fundament' I guess) make raca/raka/racha into faggot, and somehow turn it on its head and base a whole homophobic ideology on this very same Matthew verse - but that's just a rumour.
There is quite a range of translations right up to the newest of the New Age gibberish in the New Living Translation which goes like this: "But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell."
Looks like we lost the "without a cause" in favour of zero tolerance for anger. Not surprising. When they were small my kids picked up something about it in Sunday school and then started giving me shit for swearing at other drivers in traffic - a happy memory.
There is a range; Amish shunning needs to be included, and all of the various modes of misunderstanding from accidental to wilful, and all of the bourgeois ways of not seeing what is before your eyes. You almost need one of those taxonomic binomial keys we used to use for plants ... Are the leaves bilobed and serrated?
Still and all, I like Gurdieff's 'orthodoxhydooraki' & 'heterodoxhydooraki', from the Russian durak/fool according to Wikipedia, making the ortho-do and hetero-do about equivalent.
Till clombe above the eastern bar
The horned Moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, .
Then up it raise the mermaiden,
Wi the comb an glass in her hand:
‘Here’s a health to you, my merrie young men,
For you ner will see dry land.’
Up started the mermaid by our ship,
Wi the glass and the comb in her hand:
‘Reek about, reek about, my merrie men,
Ye are not far from land.’
‘You lie, you lie, you pretty mermaid,
Sae loud as I hear you lie;
For since I have seen your face this nicht,
The land I will never see.’
We hadna sailed a league but ane,
A league but barely three,
Till all we and our goodly ship
Was all drowned in the sea.
Child's Ballad 58: Sir Patrick Spens.
A mermaid with a comb and a mirror? Sounds like Yemanjá to me.
1. Hot Mess: Why are conservatives so radical about the climate?, Bill McKibben, October 6 2010.
2. Wynken, Blynken, and Nod / Dutch Lullaby, Eugene Field, 1889.
3. The Gentlemen of the Jungle, from Facing Mount Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta., 1938.
4. California voters back weakened climate law, John Kemp, November 3 2010.
4a. Proposed Regulation of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), October 2010.
4b. California Air Resources Board (CARB).
4c. Recommendations of the Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee (EAAC), March 2010.
4d. Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee (EAAC).
5. New Energy Outfoxes Old in California, NYT Editorial, November 3 2010.
6. Canada blocks development of major gold-copper mine project in B.C., Jonathan Fowlie, November 3 2010.
6a. Taseko Mines.
7. ERCO and Long Harbour, Melanie Martin & Martha Lake. 1974 & 2006.
8a. To Bee or Not To Bee, The nature of Things CBC January 7 2010.
Hot Mess: Why are conservatives so radical about the climate?, Bill McKibben, October 6 2010.
One interesting fact heading into the mid-term elections: Almost none of the GOP Senate candidates seem to believe in the idea that humans are heating the planet. A few hedge their bets—John McCain says he’s no longer sure if global warming is “man-made or natural.” (In 2004, he told me: “The race is on. Are we going to have significant climate change and all its consequences, or are we going to try to do something early on?”) Most are more plainspoken. Marco Rubio, for instance, attacks his opponent Charlie Crist as “a believer in man-made global warming,” explaining, “I don’t think there’s the scientific evidence to justify it. The climate is always changing.” The most likely cause of that change, according to Ron Johnson, who is leading the Senate race in Wisconsin: “It’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity.”
The political implications are clear. Climate legislation didn’t pass the current Congress, and it won’t have a prayer in the next one. If the Republicans take the Senate, James Inhofe has said that the Environment and Public Works Committee will “stop wasting all of our time on all that silly stuff, all the hearings on global warming.” And in the House, Representative Darrell Issa says that he would turn his Oversight and Government Reform Committee over to the eleventeenth investigation of Climategate, the British e-mail scandal. But, for the moment, it’s less the legislative fallout that interests me than what this denial of climate change says about modern conservatism. On what is quite possibly the single biggest issue the planet has faced, American conservatism has reached a near-unanimous position, and that position is: pay no attention to all those scientists.
The few exceptions prove the rule. Ronald Bailey, the science writer at Reason, converted a few years ago to belief in global warming and called for a carbon tax. His fellow libertarians weren’t impressed: Fred Smith, the head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, suggested that Bailey had been “worn down by his years on the lecture circuit.” Jim Manzi, a software exec and contributing editor at National Review, wrote a piece asking conservatives to stop denying the science. Even though he’s also downplayed the risks of warming, it was enough to earn a brushback pitch from Rush Limbaugh: “Wrong! More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not likely to significantly contribute to the greenhouse effect. It’s just all part of the hoax.” For the most part, even Manzi and Bailey’s own colleagues pay them no mind: National Review maintains a Planet Gore blog devoted to—well, three guesses.
In any event, the occasional magazine column has had no impact at all. Only 10 percent of Republicans think that global warming is very serious, according to recent data. Conservative opinion has been steadily hardening—for decades Republicans were part of the coalition on almost every environmental issue, but now it’s positively weird to think that as late as 2004, McCain thought it would make sense for a GOP presidential candidate to position himself as a fighter for climate legislation. And all of that is troubling. Because we’re going to be dealing with climate change for a very long time, and if one of the great schools of political thought in this country has checked out completely, that process is going to be even harder. I don’t have any expectation that conservatives will mute their tune between now and November—but it is worth thinking in some depth about what lies beneath this newly overwhelming sentiment.
One crude answer is money. The fossilfuel industry has deep wells of it—no business in history has been as profitable as finding, refining, and combusting coal, oil, and gas. Six of the ten largest companies on earth are in the fossil-fuel business. Those companies have spent some small part of their wealth in recent years to underwrite climate change denialism: Jane Mayer’s excellent New Yorker piece on the Koch brothers is just the latest and best of a string of such exposés dating back to Ross Gelbspan’s 1997 book The Heat Is On. But while oil and coal contributions track remarkably close to political alignment for many senators, they are not the only explanation. Money only exerts political influence if it can be connected to some ideological stance—even Inhofe won’t stand up and say, “I think global warming is a hoax because my campaign treasurer told me to.” In fact, some conservatives have begun to question endless fossil-fuel subsidies—since we’ve known how to burn coal for hundreds of years, it’s not clear why the industry needs government help.
Another easy answer would be: Conservatives possess some new information about climate science. That would sure be nice—but sadly, it’s wrong. It’s the same tiny bunch of skeptics being quoted by right-wing blogs. None are doing new research that casts the slightest doubt on the scientific consensus that’s been forming for two decades, a set of conclusions that grows more robust with every issue of Science and Nature and each new temperature record. The best of the contrarian partisans is Marc Morano, whose Climate Depot is an environmental Drudge Report: updates on Al Gore’s vacation homes, links to an op-ed from some right-wing British tabloid, news that a Colorado ski resort is opening earlier than planned because of a snowstorm. Morano and his colleagues deserve their chortles—they’re winning, and doing it with skill and brio—but not because the science is shifting.
No, something else is causing people to fly into a rage about climate. Read the comments on one of the representative websites: Global warming is a “fraud” or a “plot.” Scientists are liars out to line their pockets with government grants. Environmentalism is nothing but a money-spinning “scam.” These people aren’t reading the science and thinking, I have some questions about this. They’re convinced of a massive conspiracy.
The odd and troubling thing about this stance is not just that it prevents action. It’s also profoundly unconservative. If there was ever a radical project, monkeying with the climate would surely qualify. Had the Soviet Union built secret factories to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and threatened to raise the sea level and subvert the Grain Belt, the prevailing conservative response would have been: Bomb them. Bomb them back to the Holocene—to the 10,000-year period of climatic stability now unraveling, the period that underwrote the rise of human civilization that conservatism has taken as its duty to protect. Conservatism has always stressed stability and continuity; since Burke, the watchwords have been tradition, authority, heritage. The globally averaged temperature of the planet has been 57 degrees, give or take, for most of human history; we know that works, that it allows the world we have enjoyed. Now, the finest minds, using the finest equipment, tell us that it’s headed toward 61 or 62 or 63 degrees unless we rapidly leave fossil fuel behind, and that, in the words of NASA scientists, this new world won’t be “similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Conservatives should be leading the desperate fight to preserve the earth we were born on.
Trying to figure out what is happening in the conservative movement requires more than just recording inanity. John Raese, who is leading the Senate race in West Virginia and who says proudly that he was “a tea partier before the Tea Party existed,” recently declared that “one volcano puts out more carbon dioxide than everything that man puts out.” This doesn’t tell you anything about volcanoes. (Actually, humans emit about one hundred times more carbon than volcanoes.) It tells you that, buried beneath the nonsense, there’s a powerful structure of argument, one that needs to be taken seriously.
Part of the conservative creed has always been that markets, left to themselves, accomplish most tasks more efficiently than government regulation. That’s true, of course, just as it’s true that markets don’t do everything you want. (That’s why we have cheap deregulated airlines and yet retain the Federal Aviation Administration.) But conservatives have grown more insistent on the deification of markets in recent years; Rand Paul is ever less an outlier. If markets do damage, that’s okay—it’s creative destruction à la Schumpeter.
But even if you accept that process absolutely within the economic sphere (and very few of us do, which is why Rand Paul just might lose), it doesn’t follow that it works outside of it. Destruction of the planet’s fundamental physical systems isn’t creative—it’s just destruction. If Microsoft disappears, innovators will take its place. If Arctic ice disappears, no young John Galt is going to remake it in his garage. The essential question is: Is the environment a subset of the economy, or is it the other way around? Or, more combatively, you really think you can out-argue physics? Hayek’s good, but atmospheric chemistry is a tough opponent.
If conservatives acknowledged the crisis, they could make a powerful contribution to the solution. One option for tackling global warming is for the government to regulate just about everything. Or, we could limit government’s role to simply imposing a price on fossil fuel that reflects the damage it does. This wouldn’t even need to be a traditional tax: One proposal gaining ground is to take every dollar produced by such a levy and rebate it to each citizen, using government as a kind of pass-through. You’d get the signal from your electric bill to start insulating, and the numbers on the gas pump would urge you in the direction of a hybrid car, but most people would come out ahead. It’s a plan designed with real deference to a conservative understanding of human nature.
Instead of that kind of debate, though, most of the movement has decided to describe any regulation of carbon as eco-fascism. (Recently, for instance, a British green group released a purportedly tongue-in-cheek video in which environmentalists blow up people who don’t believe in global warming. According to some right-wing websites, the video wasn’t merely a vile political stunt but a preview of impending government policy.) As Christine O’Donnell put it in her attack on the nanny state, “You’re not the boss of me.” But here’s the thing: Carbon dioxide mixes easily and freely in the atmosphere. If the climate change you caused followed you around like Pigpen’s cloud, then no problem. But it doesn’t—your Navigator drowns Bangladeshis. Given the magnitude of the changes now underway, and the way they will foreclose individual choices unto the generations, it’s possible to argue that this is the greatest attack on freedom we’ve ever witnessed.
In response, there’s a kind of right-wing nationalism that demands we take no action until China, India, and the rest have played their part. But that doesn’t even make mathematical sense—China’s per capita emissions are one-quarter of ours. If leadership in the world means anything, then that imposes certain burdens on us. But it feels like resentment is becoming the leitmotif of conservatism, in a way that makes it ever more cramped and ever less noble. In this worldview, environmentalists are seen as scolds or even traitors. A recent poll asked right-wing bloggers to name the worst people in American history. President Obama came in second. The victor? Jimmy Carter, ten spots ahead of John Wilkes Booth (Al Gore was thirteenth, tied with Al Sharpton, Noam Chomsky, Jane Fonda, and Harry Reid). If Jimmy Carter was the worst guy the country ever produced, we’re doing pretty well—but surely it was his nagging reminders that there were limits to our national power that account for his ranking. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote an embarrassed piece earlier this fall about the failure of conservatives to take climate change seriously—it was the ’70s, “a great decade for apocalyptic enthusiasms,” that turned many of them off, he concluded. That’s not much of an argument—it’s like saying “conservatives mostly got it wrong on civil rights, so let’s never listen to them again about liberty and freedom.”
I hold out no particular hope that anyone in the conservative movement will listen to me. But I do hold out some hope that, over time, the conservative intellectual tradition will come to grips with climate change.
There are already parts of the generally conservative body politic that have begun to get the message. Our religious institutions, for instance, which send hundreds of thousands of Americans overseas every year to do relief and mission work. Those good-hearted people are starting to understand that development can’t happen in a world wracked by increasing climatic chaos. The leaders of many evangelical seminaries and some of the country’s largest churches have signed a letter calling for action on global warming with “moral passion and concrete action” and explaining that “Christians must care about climate change because we are called to love our neighbors.”
The military has also started to pay close attention. Earlier this year, the Quadrennial Defense Review noted that climate change could “act as an accelerant of instability or conflict.” The authors were looking ahead to destabilizing events similar to this year’s flood on the Indus—the sharpest blow that Pakistan has suffered in years (which is saying something) and precisely the kind of catastrophe every climate model predicts will become more common in a warmer, wetter world.
What missionaries and militaries have in common is that they have to deal with reality. In fact, that was always the trump card of conservatism: It refused to indulge in sentimentality and idealism, insisting on seeing the world as it was. But, at the moment, it’s the right that is indulging in illusion, insisting, fists balled up and face turning red, that the reports from scientists simply can’t be true.
I understand why those reports are bad news. Dealing with climate change really will be the most difficult thing we’ve ever done. (Too many progressives are clinging to their own illusion that we can simply rip the internal combustion engine out of our economy, toss in a windmill, and carry on as before.) The only thing harder than dealing with it will be not dealing with it and inheriting a world radically changed.
Conservatives in much of the rest of the world have figured this out. The new Tory government in England is doing at least as much as its Labour predecessors; in Germany, Angela Merkel is presiding over one of the greatest renewable-energy buildouts ever. And eventually, I imagine, American conservatism, too, will come around and make its vital contributions to the task of figuring out what needs to be done to protect the civilization we should cherish. But we don’t have until eventually. We have, the scientists say, a very short time to make very big changes. So let’s hope the fever passes quickly.
In the meantime, many of us are rolling up our sleeves and getting down to work. On October 10, in thousands of communities around the country, we’re holding a Global Work Party to put up solar panels and dig community gardens and lay out bike paths. We don’t think we can stop climate change this way—that will take action to reset the price of carbon. But we do think we can show the way. Not with a Tea Party, but with a work party. Which, in a different era, would have appealed to conservatives above all.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod / Dutch Lullaby, Eugene Field, 1889.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—
Sailed on a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew.
"Where are you going, and what do you wish?"
The old moon asked the three.
"We have come to fish for the herring-fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we,"
The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe;
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew;
The little stars were the herring-fish
That lived in the beautiful sea.
"Now cast your nets wherever you wish,—
Never afraid are we!"
So cried the stars to the fishermen three,
All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam,—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home:
'Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed
As if it could not be;
And some folk thought 'twas a dream they'd dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea;
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one's trundle-bed;
So shut your eyes while Mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:—
The Gentlemen of the Jungle, from Facing Mount Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, 1938.
Once upon a time an elephant made a friendship with a man. One day a heavy thunderstorm broke out, the elephant went to his friend, who had a little hut at the edge of the forest, and said to him: “My dear good man, will you please let me put my trunk inside your hut to keep it out of this torrential rain?” The man, seeing what situation his friend was in, replied: “My dear good elephant, my hut is very small, but there is room for your trunk and myself. Please put your trunk in gently.” The elephant thanked his friend, saying: “You have done me a good deed and one day I shall return your kindness.” But what followed? As soon as the elephant put his trunk inside the hut, slowly he pushed his head inside, and finally flung the man out in the rain, and then lay down comfortably inside his friend’s hut, saying: “My dear good friend, your skin is harder than mine, and there is not enough room for both of us, you can afford to remain in the rain while I am protecting my ‘delicate skin from the hailstorm.’”
The man, seeing what his friend had done to him, started to grumble; the animals in the nearby forest heard the noise and came to see what was the matter. All stood around listening to the heated argument between the man and his friend the elephant. In this turmoil the lion came along roaring, and said in a loud voice: “Don’t you all know that I am the King of the Jungle! How dare any one disturb the peace of my kingdom?” On hearing this the elephant, who was one of the high ministers in the jungle kingdom, replied in a soothing voice, and said: “My lord, there is no disturbance of the peace in your kingdom. I have only been having a little discussion with my friend here as to the possession of this little hut which your lordship sees me occupying.” The lion, who wanted to have “peace and tranquillity” in his kingdom, replied in a noble voice, saying: “I command my ministers to appoint a Commission of Enquiry to go thoroughly into this matter and report accordingly. . . . I am sure that you will be pleased with the findings of the Commission.” The man was very pleased by these sweet words from the King of the Jungle, and innocently waited for his opportunity, in the belief that naturally the hut would be returned to him.
The elephant, obeying the comand of his master, got busy with other ministers to appoint the Commission of Enquiry. The following elders of the jungle were appointed to sit in the Commission: (1) Mr Rhinoceros; (2) Mr Buffalo; (3) Mr Alligator; (4) The Rt Hon. Mr Fox to act as chairman; and (5) Mr Leopard to act as Secretary to the Commission. On seeing the personnel, the man protested and asked if it was not necessary to include in this Commission a member from his side. But he was told that it was impossible, since no one from his side was well enough educated to understand the intricacy of jungle law. Further, that there was nothing to fear, for the members of the Commission were all men of repute for their impartiality in justice, and as they were gentlemen chosen by God to look after the interests of races less adequately endowed with teeth and claws, he might rest assured that they would investigate the matter with the greatest care and report impartially.
The Commission sat to take the evidence. The Rt Hon. Mr Elephant was first called. He came along with a superior air, brushing his tusks with a sapling which Mrs Elephant had provided, and in an authoritative voice said: “Gentlemen of the Jungle, there is no need for me to waste your valuable time in relating a story which I am sure you all know. I have always regarded it as my duty to protect the interests of my friends, and this appears to have caused the misunderstanding between myself and my friend here.He invited me to save his hut from being blown away by a hurricane. As the hurricane had gained access owing to the unoccupied space in the hut, I considered it necessary, in my friend’s own interests, to turn the undeveloped space to a more economic use by sitting in it myself. . . .”
After hearing the Rt Hon. Mr Elephant’s conclusive evidence, the Commission called Mr Hyena and other elders of the jungle, who all supported what Mr Elephant had said. They then called the man, who began to give his own account of the dispute. But the Commission cut him short, saying: “My good man, please confine yourself to relevant issues. We have already heard the circumstances from various unbiased sources; all we wish you to tell us is whether the undeveloped space in your hut was occupied by any one else before Mr Elephant assumed his position?” The man began to say: “No, but—” But at this point the Commission declared that they had heard sufficient evidence from both sides and retired to consider their decision. After enjoying a delicious meal at the expense of the Rt Hon. Mr Elephant, they reached their verdict, called the man, and declared as follows: “In our opinion this dispute has arisen through a regrettable misunderstanding due to the backwardness of your ideas.We consider that Mr Elephant has fulfilled his sacred duty of protecting your interests.As it is clearly for your good that the space should be put to its most economic use, and as you yourself have not reached the stage of expansion which would enable you to fill it, we consider it necessary to arrange a compromise to suit both parties. Mr Elephant shall continue his occupation of your hut, but we give you permission to look for a site where you can build another hut more suited to your needs, and we will see that you are well protected.”
The man, having no alternative, and fearing that his refusal might expose him to the teeth and claws of members of the Commission, did as they suggested. But no sooner had he built another hut than Mr Rhinoceros charged in with his horn lowered and ordered the man to quit. A Royal Commission was again appointed to look into the matter, and the same finding was given. This procedure was repeated until Mr Buffalo,Mr Leopard, Mr Hyena and the rest were all were accommodated with new huts. Then the man decided that he must adopt an effective method of protection, since Commissions of Enquiry did not seem to be of any use to him. . . .
Early one morning, when the huts already occupied by the jungle lords were all beginning to decay and fall to pieces, he went out and built a bigger and better hut a little distance away. No sooner had Mr Rhinoceros seen it than he came rushing in, only to find that Mr Elephant was already inside, sound asleep. Mr Leopard next came to the window, Mr Lion, Mr Fox and Mr Buffalo entered the doors, while Mr Hyena howled for a place in the shade and Mr Alligator basked on the roof. Presently they all began disputing about their rights of penetration, and from disputing they came to fighting, and while they were all embroiled together the man set the hut on fire and burnt it to the ground, jungle lords and all. Then he went home, saying: “Peace is costly, but it’s worth the expense,” and lived happily ever after.
California voters back weakened climate law, John Kemp, November 3 2010.
California voters on Tuesday rejected a measure to suspend the state’s innovative climate change law. But the state’s emission trading scheme has been substantially diluted to buy off opposition from energy-intensive industries and allay fears about job losses.
If it is true that “as California goes, so goes the nation”, the past 10 days have confirmed the lack of political support for tough emissions curbs.
The survival of California’s cap-and-trade scheme has kept alive hopes for enacting a patchwork of state and regional schemes in the absence of a federal program. Supporters hope establishing even a diluted system will lay the groundwork for a program that can be toughened as the economy improves.
But the state government’s last-minute decision to give away most emissions allowances rather than auction them suggests voters and politicians are not ready to embrace the steep increase in energy prices needed to decarbonize the economy.
“NO” ON 23
Proposition 23 would have suspended the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) until the state unemployment rate fell below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. Proposition 23 would have effectively killed the law because unemployment is currently over 12 percent and has only rarely dipped below 5.5 percent in the last three decades.
Voters rejected it by a wide margin following a heavily funded campaign pitting clean technology companies, environmentalists and moderate lawmakers against parts of the oil refining sector. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, “No” votes led “Yes” votes by 4.2 million to 2.6 million (61 percent to 39 percent), according to the Los Angeles Times.
Supporters of emissions trading spent heavily in the final weeks of the campaign, often portraying Prop 23 as the creation of out-of-state oil companies and a threat to the creation of a high-technology clean technology industry based in the state. The refiners have had the last laugh, however. They may have lost at the ballot box, but their lobbyists won in the halls of the state government in Sacramento.
On Oct. 28, just days before the vote, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which is responsible for designing a cap and trade system, released its proposed implementing regulations, buying off opposition from refiners and other energy-intensive industries by granting them a large number of free emissions allowances.
CARB over-ruled its own Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee (EAAC), which had recommended all or almost all allowances should be auctioned to raise revenue and avoid windfall gains to recipients of free allowances, which have proved controversial in Europe.
EAAC had recommended free allocation only for the purpose of addressing emissions leakage associated with energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries, and then only in circumstances when the alternative of some form of border tax adjustment is not practical. In most cases the committee thought border adjustments would be feasible and preferable.
EAAC recommended against using allowance revenues to compensate electricity and gas companies or their customers (except for a small number of poor households which should receive financial assistance to avoid undue hardship).
Instead, the committee argued that 75 percent of auction revenues should be returned to households in the form of lump sum payments or cuts in income and sales taxes. The remaining 25 percent should be devoted to supporting low-income households, hard-hit communities, environment remediation programs, and public and private investment in emission-reducing technology.
EAAC ended up supporting a version of the cap-and-rebate system, which gained traction in Washington as federal climate legislation began to falter.
All of that has now gone, to be replaced by a traditional scheme, which benefits industries most directly affected through a generous allocation of free allowances.
Electric distribution utilities will receive free allocations to limit price increases for ratepayers (proposed Section 95892, California Code of Regulations). Most manufacturing and energy-producing companies will also receive free allocations corresponding to between 40 and 85 percent of their requirements through 2020.
The most generous assistance is targeted for oil and gas producers, steel, paperboard, glass, ceramics and chemicals sectors, which could receive up to 85 percent of their requirements free through 2020. Cement makers would receive even more help. Also protected are food manufacturers, brewers, refiners, smelters and turbine manufacturers (Table 8-1, Section 95870).#
CARB is worried about excessive volatility in emission allowance prices. To ensure emissions prices do not fall too low, stunting the development of clean technology, the proposed regulations set a floor on prices by fixing a reserve price for auctions. Minimum auction prices will start from $10 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2012, rising by 5 percent in real terms each year (Section 95911).
CARB is also anxious about the fallout of prices rising too quickly or spiking. So some allowances will be held back for a “price containment reserve”. The reserve will hold 1 percent of allowances in 2012-2014, rising to 4 percent of all allowances in 2015-2017 and 7 percent in 2018-2020.
Reserve allowances will be auctioned at $40-50 in 2012, rising 5 percent in real terms each year, which is meant to act as a safety valve (Section 95913). The aim is to avoid sudden price increases that would test political support for the system.
While most analysts focused on the public battle over Proposition 23, it is clear the real battle was fought in private by regulators, environmental groups and industry lobbyists over allowance allocations. Energy intensive industries were granted free allowances in return for an understanding they would not campaign to overturn the whole program by backing Prop 23.
Watering down the system and grandfathering in much of the state’s heavy industry was the price for allowing cap and trade to survive in California and keeping prospects for regional schemes such as the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) alive.
It was not necessarily a bad deal for environmentalists and supporters of emissions markets. Passage of Proposition 23 would have been a disaster for them, dooming the concept at state, regional and federal level. The current regulations at least set up a system that should achieve emissions reductions by 2020. If public acceptance rises, they could be tightened substantially in the following decade.
The vote on Proposition 23 and concessions made to industrial interests and energy companies to secure their support (or at least acquiescence) confirm that public support for emissions curbs is fairly widespread, but not very deep.
Cap and trade programs can survive, but only if powerful vested interests are co-opted and bought off in advance, and emissions prices do not rise too far too fast.
Proposed Regulation of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), October 2010: http://www.arb.ca.gov/regact/2010/capandtrade10/capv1appa.pdf,
Recommendations of the Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee (EAAC), March 2010: http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/eaac/documents/eaac_reports/2010-03-22_EAAC_Allocation_Report_Final.pdf.
Author: John Kemp
John joined Reuters in 2008 as one of its first financial columnists, specialising in commodities and energy. While his main focus is on oil markets, he has written broadly on the emergence of commodities as an asset class, regulatory issues and macroeconomic themes. Before joining Reuters, John spent seven years as a senior analyst for Sempra Commodities (now part of JP Morgan) covering base metals and crude oil. Previously, he worked as an analyst on world trade, banking and financial regulation for consultancy Oxford Analytica.
New Energy Outfoxes Old in California, NYT Editorial, November 3 2010.
There are several ways to look at Tuesday’s overwhelming endorsement by California’s voters of the state’s global warming law: as a vote for clean energy over dirty, as a rebuke to carpetbaggers, as proof that good things can happen when a political leader — in this case, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — leads.
State voters rejected a proposition by a vote of roughly 60 percent to 40 percent — backed mainly by two out-of-state oil companies, Valero and Tesoro. It would have effectively killed the law known as AB 32. The law is aimed at reducing California’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 80 percent at midcentury by requiring cleaner cars, more energy efficient buildings and renewable fuels.
The oil companies and a few allies ran a scare campaign that warned Californians that AB 32 would drive up energy prices and cost jobs — “a loss of two blue-collar jobs for every one green job created,” it claimed.
What the companies had not reckoned on was a fierce pushback from Governor Schwarzenegger, or the deep pockets of the state’s wealthy venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, who believe there is a lot of money to be made — and jobs to be had — in a clean energy economy. The facts, so far, support them. Over the last five years, new green jobs have grown in California 10 times faster than the state average; the clean technology sector has attracted nearly $9 billion in venture capital and created dozens of new businesses.
The pro-AB 32 forces were so persuaded that the law was good for California’s economy that they outspent the oil companies — $31.2 million compared with $10.6 million. That war chest paid for mass mailings, nearly three million telephone calls to voters and TV commercials that extolled the promise of green jobs and urged voters to reject the oil companies’ “job-killing dirty energy proposition.” About 3,000 volunteers took the case door to door.
California has been far ahead of the rest of the country on environmental issues. And it long ago cast its economic future with high-tech industries. But politicians in Washington — who have made no progress on climate change and clean energy — should take a lesson from the pro-AB 32 campaign.
Supporting clean energy is not only essential for the environment and good for the economy. When voters have the facts, it can also be a political winner.
Canada blocks development of major gold-copper mine project in B.C., Jonathan Fowlie, November 3 2010.
VICTORIA — The federal government on Tuesday blocked the controversial Prosperity gold-copper mine project in B.C.'s Chilcotin, citing what it labelled to be "significant" environmental concerns.
Announced by federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, the decision overrules the B.C. government, which had given full approval for the major project to proceed.
"We believe in balancing resource stewardship with economic development," Prentice said in a written statement.
"The significant adverse environmental effects of the Prosperity project cannot be justified as it is currently proposed."
B.C's Minister of State for Mining Randy Hawes called Ottawa's decision "disappointing," but said he is not yet ready to declare the project dead.
"We should go back and take a look and see if there's a way that this can be represented and restructured in a way that could work so that it could gain the approval," Hawes said, adding he had already talked to the company behind the project, Taseko Mines.
"I frankly think what they [the federal government] want to see is some changes and some restructuring of the project, if it's possible," he added.
Taseko Mines had been proposing an open pit mine at a site near Williams Lake, promising that the estimated $815-million project will create hundreds of new jobs in the economically struggling region over a minimum 22-year mine life.
The company has already spent $100 million and 17 years on this project to get approvals.
In its decision, the federal government pointed to the fact the mine would result in the destruction of Fish Lake, Little Fish Lake and portions of Fish Creek.
A federal review panel that looked into the project had already determined the project would result in: "significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, on navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights or title."
The news hammered shares of Taseko Mines, which fell 25 per cent to $4.89 (U.S.) in after-market trade in the United States.
Local municipal governments were in favour of the mine, but first nations that consider the proposed mine area part of their traditional territory had been expressing strong opposition because the project would require the elimination of a 111-hectare fish-bearing lake.
On Tuesday, Williams Lake Mayor Kerry Cook called the decision very disappointing.
"We've supported the project from the beginning. The reason why we've supported that is we felt there was far more opportunities with a 'yes' decision," she said, adding there had been hope the mine would bring jobs, training opportunities and other business opportunities to the area.
"Now what we're really going to have to do is look a little bit harder to find those opportunities with a 'no' decision," she added.
"We're going to survive this. There's no doubt about it."
The Tsilhqot'in First Nation, which had long opposed the project, celebrated the decision.
"The federal government has honoured its Constitutional duty to protect First Nations rights and its responsibility to protect the environment. The government should be commended for recognizing that this project did not represent the best way to create jobs and economic growth," Tsilhqot'in National Government Tribal Chief Joe Alphonse said in a written statement.
"The Tsilhqot'in Nation understands the need for jobs in the region and believes it can work with municipalities and others to build on the environmentally friendly economic activities."
Premier Gordon Campbell could not be reached for comment Tuesday, though in a high-profile speech last month, he argued forcefully the project should be allowed to go ahead.
"When you have a project like the Prosperity Mine, which has gone through process after process after process, consultation after consultation, 17 years, received environmental approvals, received support, we should actually get on with sending the message that mining is here in British Columbia," he told delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference.
"We're going to do it responsibly, and this government says let's get on with the Prosperity Mine in this province."
On Tuesday, New Democratic Party leader Carole James said the federal government's decision raises serious questions about B.C.'s environmental assessment process.
"I think it shows the province is tossing aside any environmental issues when it comes to economic development in B.C.," she said, adding she believes the federal government made the right decision.
"They had no other choice but to reject this project when you look at the First Nations concerns, and when you took a look at the environmental impact of eliminating an entire lake in the Williams Lake area," she said.
ERCO and Long Harbour, Melanie Martin & Martha Lake. 1974 & 2006.
One of the industries which the Smallwood government managed to lure to the province with the promise of cheap power was the Electric Reduction Company of Canada Industries Limited (ERCO). The company was formed in Buckingham, Québec, in 1897 to manufacture elemental phosphorus for the North American match industry. Phosphorus is commonly found in inorganic phosphate rocks and in all living cells, and is used in many common products such as foods, cleaners, animal feeds, and fertilizers.
In 1901, the company became a subsidiary of the English multinational chemical company Albright and Wilson Ltd., which was in turn purchased in 1978 by a Houston-based company named Tenneco. ERCO was the only Canadian producer of elemental phosphorus and industrial phosphates.
In 1965 the provincial government launched a campaign to promote the province to international business. Newspaper advertisements were run in seven countries, extolling the virtues of Newfoundland: its prime location on shipping lanes between North America and Europe, its ice-free ports, and especially, its cheap hydro-electric power. One of these advertisements interested Albright and Wilson, which was looking for a place to produce phosphorus more cheaply than it could in England or Québec, the site its North American phosphorus plant.
The deciding factor was cheap power. Phosphorus production is an energy intensive process, and electric power accounts for one third of the cost (at one time, fourteen percent of the electricity used on the island, the same power use as St. John’s, was consumed by ERCO). Elemental phosphorus is produced industrially in electric furnaces by heating phosphate rock, sand and coke at temperatures of 1450 °C. The carbon monoxide can be used as a fuel. In England, electricity prices were tied to volatile and inflationary coal, oil, and atomic energy prices. Hydro power was the preferred choice and happened to be exactly what the Smallwood government had on offer: low, fixed prices on long term hydro-electricity contracts. By July 1965, Smallwood was personally in contact with Albright and Wilson. A power contract between the company and the Newfoundland Power Commission was in place by May of the following year: ERCO would pay 2.5 mills per kilowatt hour for 25 years, half of the real cost.
Other factors also influenced ERCO’s decision to locate in Newfoundland. The location was ideal for shipping phosphorus to England, and Long Harbour was an ice-free, deep-water port. Also, Long Harbour was near a supply of silica, one of the raw materials of phosphorus production, from the community of Dunville. However, cheap power was not the only subsidy that ERCO received from the government. In addition to the low fixed rate for electricity, ERCO received over $10 million in electrical subsidies from 1968-1972. The Newfoundland government provided ERCO a $15 million bond issue and promised assistance in building infrastructure (roads, water, housing). The federal government provided the company with a $5 million grant, built a wharf, and paid $2 million for a road between Long Harbour and the mill. The silica, supplied by Dunville Mining Company, was also highly subsidised, at 10 cents per ton. By comparison, silica was sold for $4.30 per ton in the United States at the same time.
Construction of the plant began on August 1, 1966, with Smallwood presiding at the official sod-turning ceremony. At its peak, the construction phase employed 1,300 people. Smallwood himself stipulated that 90 percent of the workers had to be Newfoundlanders. Engineers and managers were hired internationally. The plant was completed in 1968 at a total cost of $40 million.
Included in the cost were two ships built at a cost of $4 million each to transport liquid phosphorus, the Albright Explorer and the Albright Pioneer. They were designed and launched in England. These specialised vessels were the first of their kind. They carried 5,000 tons of phosphorus in four 1,250 ton tanks equipped with electrically-heated water jackets that kept the phosphorus liquid for pumping. The phosphorus was also kept in inert gas and under water, as it is highly flammable in the presence of air.
In December 1968 the plant went into production, powered by electricity from Bay d’Espoir. It was equipped with two 60-megawatt furnaces, among the biggest in the world at the time. The plant’s output was rated at 180 tons of phosphorus a day. The process used phosphate rock from Florida, coke from the United States and Canada, and silica from Dunville. The product, liquid phosphorus, was then pumped into the two vessels and transported across the Atlantic to Portishead, near Bristol. The first load was shipped March 1969. Albright and Wilson’s phosphorus furnaces in England were shut down after the opening of the Newfoundland plant, and its British factories were used strictly for the discharge and storage of phosphorus shipped from North America.
From its opening, the ERCO plant at Long Harbour experienced difficulties. Environmental and health-related problems appeared months after it went into production. In early 1969, fishers in Placentia Bay reported finding dead fish in the area, especially herring, but also cod and lobster. In what became known as the “red herring scare”, the Placentia Bay fishery and the ERCO plant were both closed. The plant closed voluntarily on May 2, 1969, and the fishery was ordered closed on May 4 by Jack Davis, federal Minister of Fisheries. During this period of closure and government investigations, ERCO lost $52,000 a day. The investigations revealed that untreated effluent or wastage from the plant was to blame for the damage. In herring the exposure caused internal bleeding the explanation for the discolouration. Cod were afflicted with a form of meningitis, causing erratic behaviour and death.
ERCO suction-dredged the ocean bottom of Long Harbour and installed pollution-prevention equipment at a cost of $1 million in an attempt to address the problem. The plant remained closed for six months while the anti-pollution water purifiers were installed. The plant now operated on a virtually closed system, with no noxious discharge to the sea. On June 16, 1969, fishing was once again permitted in Placentia Bay. Four hundred fishers were affected by the month-and-a-half closure. During this period they received 80 percent of their typical income from the federal government, and eventually ERCO paid out $300,000 in compensation.
The “red herring scare” was only the beginning of ERCO and Long Harbour’s pollution problems. Despite ERCO’s claims that it adhered to the most stringent guidelines in Canada, air pollution was also an issue. Fluoride emissions from the plant’s smokestacks severely damaged nearby vegetation. It did not recover until after 1976, when ERCO installed additional scrubbers. A source of continual annoyance for local people was a very fine coke dust, and ERCO was blamed for the growth of moss on roofs, windows, and siding. A graduate student in lichenology hired by ERCO concluded that the moss was a common local variety, not attributable to the plant. However, smoke from the plant did cause other environmental damage. Deformed moose and rabbits were found near the plant. Snowshoe hares were dissected and tested, and high levels of fluoride were found in their bones.
Human health was also at risk. Prior to 1978, ERCO sold some of its slag (a by-product of the phosphorus production process) locally as building material, to be used as flooring in basements. However, the slag contained uranium and thorium, which was found to emit radon gas, a carcinogen. It is especially poisonous when contained in enclosed spaces. ERCO had to pay for the removal of all the material. A provincial health study conducted by the province’s chief medical officer examined the effects of phosphorus on plant workers. It was estimated that 15 percent of workers on disability were suffering from a condition called fluoricosis, which causes muscle problems, joint pain, and stomach ailments. It was later concluded that there was no cause for concern over cancer rates in the Placentia Bay area, which were in line with the rest of the province.
One of the chief reasons ERCO established a plant in Newfoundland was cheap power. The Newfoundland government had a long-term fixed-rate power contract with ERCO, which also meant the province would continue to absorb costs as the price of electricity rose. By 1980, this was too much for Newfoundland’s finance minister, who complained that electrical subsidies paid out to ERCO, as well as to the two pulp and paper companies, were too high, totalling $18 million annually. He stressed that ERCO should share costs more reasonably with the province, or pay more for its electricity. ERCO agreed, and in the fall of 1980, the power contract was renegotiated to 8 mills per kilowatt hour, with an annual increase to 32 mills by 1993.
At its peak in 1981, the Long Harbour plant employed almost 500 people. In May 1986, ERCO laid off 80 permanent employees to cut operating expenses. These layoffs were attributed to a reduced international market and lower prices. Despite this, in 1987 ERCO announced that it intended to spend $34 million on a four-year modernisation and expansion of the Long Harbour plant. This would boost production by a third, increase the value of its exports from $55 to $73 million, and employ 240 people in construction for several years. It would also increase Canada’s presence on the international market, as phosphorus was the country’s largest chemical export at the time.
Two years later, in early 1989, ERCO announced that it would close its Long Harbour operation. The company claimed it was no longer economically viable to operate the facility. A new method of manufacturing phosphoric acid and other phosphorus chemicals had been invented, which cost 20 to 30 percent less than the Long Harbour process. The United Steelworkers Union, representing 240 production workers at the plant, was not satisfied with the official explanation from ERCO. Long Harbour was filling near-capacity orders; the union wanted to know why the smaller and less efficient plant near Montreal was not closed instead. It was speculated that political interests were involved, with the federal government being heavily dependent on support from Québec. Whatever the motivation for the closure, the effect on the Placentia Bay area economy was significant: the loss of 290 jobs and $4 million a year that the plant brought to the area.
Residents expressed concern about the environmental damage done to the area long after the plant’s closure. In 1993 the company claimed it spent $29 million cleaning up the site, but that figure includes severance packages, shut-down costs, pensions, legal and consulting fees.