July 5th, 2020

Resource decisions in a crisis


By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on June 18, 2020.

Lorne Fitch

PROFESSIONAL BIOLOGIST

“Never waste an opportunity offered by a good crisis.” Machiavelli, the author of “The Prince” (1532), seen as a reference for unscrupulous politicians, appears to be the go-to guide for our premier.

Premier Kenney and his cabinet must also be reading Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine,” for ideas. She describes the use of “shock therapy” to exploit a crisis to push through controversial and questionable policies. When citizens are distracted emotionally and physically, most are unable to engage and develop an adequate response, or to resist effectively. >It is a deliberate technique to discourage legitimate dialogue and to brutally force acquiescence.

The pandemic is being used to push through radical pro-corporate measures that are major concessions to the energy, forestry and mining sectors. Among other things this strategy includes:

– The cessation of environmental reporting and monitoring requirements, which provide the benchmark for performance measures.

– Speeding up approvals, even though no evidence exists that past review practices held up industry, which will ensure no public intervention occurs.

– Rescinding rules for coal mining in the foothills and mountains, risking the integrity of the headwaters and the source of water for most Albertans.

– Promoting a 13-per-cent increase in timber harvest, even though logging may not be sustainable at present levels.

– Investing in questionable oil and gas companies and projects that private investors won’t touch.

– Failing to diversify Alberta’s economy beyond extractive industries, which ignores the province’s future.

– Cutting 184 parks and provincial recreation areas, especially in the foothills, clearing the way for industrial development and privatization.

– Ignoring extensive public consultation, advice and progress related to land-use plans, which alienates concerned Albertans.

This tsunami-like unravelling of environmental policies and regulations by the Alberta government is ideological, not logical or rational. The presumed cure (getting rid of anything perceived to impede business and diminish corporate profits) is many times worse than the illusionary problem. Implementing the playbook of corporations by dismantling the guard rails of environmental protection works for investors, but fails to protect the public interest.

Presenting this as it’s either the environment or the economy is a Hobson’s choice, a false and misleading dichotomy. We can’t ignore the economy, but to ignore the environment (or give it lip service instead of real protection) will bite us badly. Reputationally Alberta will suffer when ethical investors bail from a Wild West business model (as some already have). Landscapes with ecological integrity protect and buffer us from floods, drought and biodiversity loss as well as provide a suite of economic advantages for recreation, agriculture and tourism. Squander that and we undermine the most sustainable parts of our economy in favour of a short-term liquidation sale.

We can choose to cut more trees, mine more coal or extract more oil and gas, but we can’t have all of these and still retain functional, ecologically-intact landscapes. A gain in any of the former is a loss in the latter. It’s not even clear if more cutting, digging or drilling is economically beneficial for Albertans, given the dismal track record of undercharging for rents, royalties and reclamation levies. We taxpayers are already stuck with the bill for abandoned wells because of this flawed governance.

Even before this unprecedented unravelling of decades-old regulatory tools (which had the benefit of public consultation), there were many metaphorical land-use fires burning in Alberta. Now the Alberta government is acting like a pyromaniac, lighting more fires and handing out more matches, rather than using the tools available to manage and control the existing fires.

Aldo Leopold, the dean of ecologists, described an oak tree outside an old farm house. The tree had provided shelter, shade, bird song and esthetic appeal but it had been girdled and was dead. Leopold observed, “Girdling the old oak to squeeze one last crop out of the barnyard has the same finality as burning the furniture to keep warm.” A free-for-all of logging, mining and drilling to bail the province’s economy out, one last time, is the same as girdling the oak tree.

When ideology prevails over planning, we should fear the results. Instead of an imperious bit of blind political wand-waving (with the backing of industry), Alberta needs a systematic assessment of resource availability coupled with analysis of compatibility with other provincial responsibilities such as maintenance of water quality, watershed protection to ameliorate floods and drought, fish and wildlife protection (including species-at-risk recovery) and impacts on existing recreation and business interests. That type of public interest planning would help us understand what is in the realm of the possible for resource development, provide a measure of the impacts and consequences, assess mitigation and address true cost accounting.

Axing environmental protections, assuming this will be our economic salvation, isn’t a strategy – it’s a surrender. To do so in a pandemic, without considering the consequences, is putting the cart before the horse, or the coal mine before the loss of native trout, logging before downstream flooding, and more oil before air and water pollution.

Lorne Fitch is a professional biologist, a retired provincial fish and wildlife biologist and a concerned Albertan.

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5 Responses to “Resource decisions in a crisis”

  1. IMO says:

    Thank you, Lorne Fitch, for encapsuating the concerns shared by many Albertans.

    • Southern Albertan says:

      Agreed….could not be said better. Many of us are concerned, and alarmed, as to what amounts to the Kenney UCP neo-liberal, authoritarian (dictatorial) ultra right wing populist, ‘shock doctrine,’ skullduggery politics going on. Trouble is, a lot more Albertans, need, to be concerned. Will, and when, will that happen?
      Some of us knew that if the Kenney UCP won the election that ‘things’ would get ‘bad, really bad.’ And they are. Awful!
      As was mentioned, Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” is well worth reading and is exactly what’s going on in Alberta right now. Shame on the Kenney UCP!

  2. biff says:

    great letter – and the greater issue, then, is not how it makes us feel, but will will this make enough of us act? how do we stop the destruction? how do we stop the scamming and theft of public money? it is not through elections.

  3. Dennis Bremner says:

    Perhaps we need a “Public Relations Bureau” and duplicate BCs amazing Green talking points?
    After all, BC is seen as the Green Pot smoking Capital of Greendum, yet has the largest Coal export facility on the waterfront in all of North America. They export more coal then Mexico and have surpassed sales of Coal from the largest Facility on the US West Coast to become the “King of Coal and everything that is Green”. BC also clear cuts more acreage than many provinces put together every year, but still gets to save the one tree the hugger sits in, and continues to get Green savers of the planet status.
    Daily BC sends hundreds of tonnes of raw sewage into the ocean, but “were green because we tried to stop the Pipeline.
    I think BC Public Relations Teams advantage is they had access to BC Bud along time ago and their hallucinations translated into better PR then Alberta could ever muster.

    We need better PR!!

  4. biff says:

    just need to add a great big 🙂 to fescue’s comment, which appeared after the following post!
    bc is a toxic cesspool. indeed, they do a great job promoting itself as ecofriendly. coming from the east, i was easily fooled; since living here, and being able to visit bc readily, i was shocked at just how pathetic their environment record is. we can consider victoria, the capital, where untreated sewage blows mightily into the ocean daily with no end in sight. we can look at hope, bc, where a foreign country’s company gets to steal oodles of fresh water from hope’s aquifer (the town gets next to nothing for the rake, save for a handful of dumb jobs). we can consider the effects teck mining has had on bc, as well as teck’s fallout in upstate america, such as washington state and idaho, where lead and other heavy metal pollution continues to leave a toxic legacy.
    let us not forget the mount polley disaster and the wicked tailings spill with thanks to imperial metals, another longstanding legacy of bc’s bogus environmental record. that one received little or too little press, and far too little compensation and ownership and clean up from imperial metals. these are only a speck of the environmental issues that plague bc. so, d.b, you are correct, bc is a backwash and liars and polluters no matter how they try to spin themselves. but, this does nothing to undermine the the value of the letter from mr. fitch: in fact, it adds to the urgency of the message.


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