Opinion

Wild Pacific Salmon Face Upstream Battle for Survival

Salmon have been swimming in Pacific Northwest waters for at least seven million years, as indicated by fossils of large saber-tooth salmon found in the area. During that time, they’ve been a key species in intricate, interconnected coastal ecosystems, bringing nitrogen and other nutrients from the ocean and up streams and rivers to spawning grounds, feeding whales, bears and eagles and fertilizing the magnificent coastal rainforests along the way.

Climate Refugees? We Don't Have a Plan for That

justin-trudeau-climate-refugees

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maintains relatively high popularity numbers here in Canada, they pale in comparison to the borderline rock star status the Canadian Prime Minister currently has on the international stage. Most recently, he was in New York to address the United Nations’ General Assembly and attend the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants.

It’s the first-ever summit of its kind because there hasn't been a refugee crisis like this in our lifetimes — or in the UN’s lifetime. You’ve heard the facts by now. Right now, more than 65 million people have been forced from their homes. That’s more than at any other time since the end of the Second World War. And there’s no end in sight.

In his speech at the summit on Monday, Trudeau took a bow for Canada’s efforts to take in refugees. Yet when the applause died down, he emphasized how that isn’t enough.

I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that Canada’s engagement must not stop at resettlement,” the Prime Minister said. “Now is the time for each of us to consider what more we can contribute. So, in Canada, we’re looking at our options.”

So what are those options? How can we address the forces that are driving people from their homes in the first place?

National Energy Board is a Captured Regulator in Urgent Need of Overhaul

National Energy Board panel

This op-ed originally appeared on the National Observer.

After more than a year I decided to withdraw as an expert Intervenor at the National Energy Board hearing into Trans Mountain’s Expansion Project. I came to the discouraging conclusion that the Board was on a predetermined course of action to recommend approval of the Project. The Board did this by narrowly scoping its list of issues, removing cross-examination, and refusing to compel answers to information requests made by myself and most other Intervenors.

Corporations cannot regulate themselves. Their first priority is to maximize returns for their shareholders. Regulation is an accepted method in Canada to ensure private interest is not achieved at the expense of the public interest. Government steps in and establishes a regulatory framework to protect public health, safety and the environment as well as to attain objectives related to the nation’s economic and social goals.

Regulatory capture takes place when the regulator ceases to be independent and advances the commercial interests of the industry it is charged with regulating. The Board’s behaviour during the Trans Mountain hearing not only turned the process into a farce, it exposed the Board as a captured regulator.

Feds Appoint Chair of B.C. Industry Group to Panel Reviewing Environmental Assessment Process

The federal government has appointed the founding chair of a vocal B.C.-based industry advocacy group to a four-member panel tasked with reviewing Canada’s environmental assessment process.*

The panel is part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attempt to make good on his campaign promise to restore credibility to environmental reviews of major energy projects — but the appointment calls into question the credibility of the panel. 

Tweet: New EA review panel member leads an industry advocacy group w close ties to @BCLiberals http://bit.ly/2cH6u5H #bcpoliThe appointee, Doug Horswill, is the founding chair of Resource Works, an industry advocacy group with close ties to the BC Liberals that aggressively advocates for the interests of extractive industries in B.C.

David Suzuki: Cultural and Ecosystem Diversity Key to Resilience

It’s been shocking to watch news of the Brexit vote in Britain, Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. and the ongoing threats and violence against ethnic minorities in many parts of the world. I’m not a political or social scientist, but my training as a biologist gives me some insight.

When I began my career as a scientist, geneticists were starting to analyze the molecular properties of single genes within a species. When we started looking at highly evolved species such as fruit flies, we thought we would find that their genes had been honed through selection over time, so they would be relatively homogeneous within single species. Examining one kind of protein controlled by a specific gene, we expected to find them all pretty much the same. Instead, we learned there was a great deal of heterogeneity, or diversity. A gene specifying a protein could exist in a number of different states.

This is now called “genetic polymorphism” and is considered to be the very measure of a species’ health. Inbreeding or reduction of a species to a small number reduces genetic polymorphism and exposes harmful genes, thereby rendering the species more susceptible to sudden change. In other words, genetic polymorphism confers resilience by providing greater possibilities as conditions shift.

Inuit Fight to Protect Territory from Oil Industry's Seismic Blasting

Seismic blasting in the Arctic

The Arctic’s Baffin Bay and Davis Strait region is home to seals, bowhead whales, polar bears and up to 90 per cent of the world’s narwhals. The area’s marine waters also provide habitat for 116 species of fish, such as Arctic char, an important dietary staple for Nunavut’s Inuit communities.

Although the area is crucial to Inuit for hunting and other traditional activities, the federal government has approved underwater seismic blasting by a consortium of energy companies. They plan to fire underwater cannons from boats to map the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits, in preparation for offshore drilling.

The blasting, approved by Canada’s National Energy Board in 2014, is meeting fierce opposition.

Half Measures Aren't Enough to Save Canada's Caribou

Alberta is home to two of Canada’s imperilled caribou populations, the southern mountain and boreal woodland herds. Both are threatened with extinction.

Under the federal Species at Risk Act, the boreal woodland caribou recovery strategy requires provinces to develop range plans by 2017, outlining paths to recovery. Because caribou need large, intact areas, degraded habitat must be restored so industrial and natural disturbances affect no more than 35 per cent of each range.

The challenge to recover caribou is not Alberta’s alone; it is a national undertaking. Boreal caribou are threatened in every province except Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Federal assessments show high levels of oil, gas and forestry activity mean no boreal herd in Alberta is likely to survive without significant changes in habitat management. In 2011, the range of the Little Smoky herd was assessed as being 95 per cent disturbed by industrial activity, and oil, gas and forestry have since caused further damage.

Fracking, Industrial Activity Threatens Blueberry River Nation's Way of Life

Industrial activity has profoundly affected the Blueberry River First Nations in northern B.C. A recent Atlas of Cumulative Landscape Disturbance, by the First Nations, the David Suzuki Foundation and Ecotrust, found 73 per cent of the area inside its traditional territory is within 250 metres of an industrial disturbance and 85 per cent is within 500 metres.

In other words, in much of the territory, which once supported healthy moose and caribou populations, it’s difficult if not impossible to walk half a kilometre before hitting a road, seismic line or other industrial infrastructure. Local caribou populations are threatened with extinction mainly because of habitat disturbance caused by industrial activity and ensuing changes to predator-prey dynamics.

The Future of Hydro in a Warming World

W.A.C. Bennett Dam

People have harnessed energy from moving water for thousands of years.

Greeks used various types of water wheels to grind grain in mills more than 2,000 years ago.

In the late 1800s, people figured out how to harness the power to produce electricity.

Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, hydropower has expanded, producing about 17 per cent of the world’s electricity by 2014 and about 85 per cent of renewable energy — and it shows no signs of slowing.

According to the online magazine WaterWorld, “An expected 3,700 major dams may more than double the total electricity capacity of hydropower to 1,700 GW within the next two decades,” — including in my home province of B.C., where the government has started a third dam on the Peace River at Site C.

Hydropower is the most important and widely used renewable source of energy,” the U.S. Geological Survey says.

But how “green” is hydropower and how viable is it in a warming world with increasing water fluctuations and shortages? To some extent, it depends on the type of facility.

The Grizzly Bear Trophy Hunt is B.C.’s Great Shame: Martyn Brown

By Martyn Brown for the Georgia Straight.

“Harvest.” Such a beautiful, bucolic word.

Imagery abounds.

Golden fields of swaying wheat. Lush green vineyards of plump, perfect grapes. Acres of apples, all red and delicious.

Harvest: so suggestive of humans in harmony with the Earth.

So redolent of life.

So much more super and natural than, I don’t know — slaughter? — the word that more accurately describes British Columbia’s annual grizzly bear trophy hunt.

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