Big Industry has committed some of the most atrocious crimes against the environment in Canada and around the world with little fear of reprisal. This is Part Two of a two–part series highlighting some small and large-scale instances of industrial–environmental greenwashing and misdirection in an attempt to better hold conglomerates accountable to the Canadian public.
The Industrial Bait and Pollute
Like an environmental fairy tale, it has been thrust into our consciousness for more than a generation – carpool, recycle, take shorter showers, unplug electronics, and shop green, we’ve all got a part to play in conserving the planet for future generations.
The Citizen’s Guide to Pollution Prevention – a report from the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy published in collaboration with the federal government, is a perfect example of this institutionalised emphasis on the role individuals are to play if the devastating effects of climate change are to be mediated.
Swelling with inspiring language and motivational quotes garnered from collage dorm-room posters – Ghandi’s “…be the change…” leads the charge, the guide is framed as a selfless tool “designed to give citizens (you!) the knowledge to start realising your pollution prevention goals” by engaging the “citizen chain of change.”
After sifting through the guff however, it becomes apparent that the guide is little more than a re-packaged reiteration of the age-old business-first-environment-second paradigm, which posits that the best way for individuals to combat global warming is to act and think small-scale by making trivial little changes to their daily routines.
It asks of its readers the usual. Decrease waste by choosing products with recyclable packaging – reduce toxins by buying mercury free-products – conserve water by turning off the tap – use efficient transportation by carpooling, biking, or taking public transit – reduce energy consumption by turning off unnecessary lights – and of course, openly support “greener” government developments and policies.
If we do things such as these, individuals and big industry can continue their respective levels of intake and growth, while enjoying a “sustainable consumption [that] not only prevents pollution, but also combats climate change.”
Except we can’t, and it won’t – not because being environmentally conscious about how we live and shop as individuals isn’t important, but because we have crossed an ecological threshold that requires much more drastic measures to mediate.
Just stop think about what is happening to our planet.
Over 97 per cent of the world’s top scientists agree that global warming is not only a reality – it is an anthropologically prompted (man-made) one. What’s more, the rate of heat building up on Earth over the past decade – 30 per cent of which materialises deep in our oceans, is equivalent to the detonation 4 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs per second.
Of course, this doesn’t mean an environmentally conscious person can’t make a difference – it means that we concerned citizens need to look beyond the individual, fusing our conservationist efforts into a more collective movement that challenges the industrial sectors of the economy which most contribute to our roasting planet.
After all, when the pollutants from a single year of tar sands production are greater than the greenhouse gas emissions of all the cars being driven on Canadian roads, is carpooling really going to make a drastic difference?
When over a dozen freshwater lakes are quietly re-classified as toxic dumpsites for mining corporations, does more infrequently watering your lawn or taking the occasional shorter shower really make an overwhelming contribution to water conservation?
And when – as Part 1 of this series pointed out, 98 per cent of industrial manufacturers in North America greenwash their products by embellishing how sustainable they truly are, does shopping “green” really help anything?
In reality, all the fairy tales, “citizen chain[s] of change” and greenwashed consumer goods, these are nothing more than petty attempts by industrial lobbyists – and at times the Harper Administration, to misdirect the populous away from the havoc resource extraction and manufacturing are wreaking on the Canadian environment.
Oil and gas, pulp and paper, mining, logging, plastics, chemicals – thanks in part to the deregulation of industrial sectors such as these – Albertan industry contributed 48 per cent of total national emissions in 2011 alone, Canadian emissions have grown 24 per cent since 1990, making Canada the most polluting of all the G8 countries.
All the while Canadian media coverage of climate change has fallen by 80 per cent since 2007 – the year Harper’s administration put restrictive informational policies in place, government scientists continue to be relentlessly muzzled, and since 2008, well-funded industrial lobby groups such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers have been granted more than 2,700 meetings with federal officeholders.
Big industry – with help from a petro-obsessed government, has effectually engaged in media censoring, government lobbying, greenwashing and “things you can do to help” list-making in order to propagandise, misdirect, and scam the citizenry into thinking that all will be well if we keep playing our small parts – pretty little lies that for the most part serve to keep us distracted from the bigger conservational picture.
Yet buried under all this rhetoric is an unconformable environmental truth. If we want to work at reversing the affects of climate change, it’s going to require more than inconveniencing our daily routine by stopping off at the bottle depot. It’s going to require sacrifice, discontent, and a willingness to put our planet before our pockets.
So launch a blog, organise a protest, write angry letters, start a local advocacy group, push the boundaries by mobilising loudly – fighting with dollars, words, actions, and votes – to remind our current government and its industrial allies that we the concerned citizenry can see right through all the greenwashings and misdirections.
What is best for the Canadian industries, and what is best for the Canadians citizenries are not necessarily one and the same. And as prominent academics and journalists are increasingly labelling Canada as “a rouge and reckless petro-state,” the time for industry-centric bottom-lines, apathetic good intentions, and lacklustre individual efforts has long past.
As a single denied pipeline or chemical dumping proposal can do more for the combating of global warming than a lifetime of recycling, carpooling, and “green” shopping ever could, it's time for concerned citizens to critically redefine how we engage in activism and environmentalism for a future that requires more from humanity than we are currently giving.
The longer we delay addressing environmental problems, the more difficult it will be to resolve them. Although we’ve known about climate change and its potential impacts for a long time, and we’re seeing those impacts worsen daily, our political representatives are still approving and promoting fossil fuel infrastructure as if we had all the time in the world to slow global warming.
We can’t say we weren’t warned.
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