Editor's comment: The Dominion of man over the natural world is nearing completion. Notice, one reason for the highway is to get at material needed to make batteries for hybrid vehicles, widely considered by modern society as a "green" endeavour! Sadly, our assault on Mother Earth will only cease when human populations themselves, through one means or another, are brought within sustainable proportions. l.p.
"Conscientious" investments and the tar sands connection by Larry Powell
ROBLIN, Manitoba, CA: I doubt that few investors with a social conscience would assume that the ethical funds they hold would be helping pay for such projects as the Alberta oil sands.
I certainly didn't - turns out, I was wrong!
All five of Canada's major banks lend money to tar sands operators. And all five are actually included in the portfolios of the many ethical investment funds in this country. As if that isn't enough, so too is at least one major corporation, Suncor Energy, which actually extracts the tar from the sands!
Ethical Funds lists Scotiabank, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Suncor Energy among its top ten holdings. The investment company adds, RBC, for one, "provides significant capital to the oil and gas and other smokestack industries." Suncor describes itself as a "pioneer" and one of the biggest players in the development and upgrading of the Alberta oil sands. So far this year, the company has been producing, on average, more than a-quarter-of-a-million barrels of oil per day.
Last spring, a US-based environmental group, Rainforest Action Network, (RAN), listed the five major Canadian banks; RBC, Toronto Dominion (TD), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal (BMO) as investors. At that time, RAN reported that investment totalled almost $50 billion (correct).
For years, critics have been pointing out the profound impact which development of the sands is having on the environment and the health of people, both regionally and globally. Some even describe it as the "dirtiest project on earth!"
The Alberta-based Pembina Institute says, of all the provinces, Alberta was responsible for over half of the increase in all greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2008 - about 52%! (The tar sands, of course, were operating, full-bore, during that period.) Pembina predicts that, given the projected growth of the sands, their already substantial emissions will nearly triple by 2020! The 25 year-old Institute researches and advocates for "sustainable energy solutions that will protect the earth's living systems - air, land and water."
Meanwhile, millions of hectares of pristine boreal forest are being bulldozed to make way for more and more tar sands plants. According to Greenpeace, this could soon amount to an area twice the size of New Brunswick!
The National Academy of Sciences in the US reports that oil sands development has been contaminating the Athabasca River watershed, downstream of the sands, to a greater degree than earlier thought. It warned that oil sands development was elevating levels of poisons in the Athabasca River and its tributaries that were "likely toxic to fish embryos."
Fish with large lesion caught in the Athabasca watershed.
What does the ethical investment community have to say?
I contacted Robert Walker, Vice President of ESG Services of Vancouver, to comment on this story. His firm manages several "sustainable" or "social investment" companies, including Ethical Funds.
As he puts it, "Every major bank in Canada has exposure to oil sands."
Ethical Funds lists "respect for the environment" and a pledge that "disadvantaged communities should not bear the brunt of adverse environmental impacts" among its "core values."
So just how does it justify this state of affairs?
In Walker's words, "Note that we do not describe the companies in our Funds as ‘ethical’. This is not our claim."
Walker recognizes that the companies in question have a chequered reputation in managing their social and environmental responsibilities. But he says his industry is constantly "engaging" and "pressuring" them to do better. It even hands out and publishes report cards on their performances in this regard. All this, he believes, will gradually help convince them to change their ways.
Walker believes banks like RBC can play "a pivotal role in encouraging their clients to tackle climate change."
He concludes, "We are at least partially responsible for progress that banks like RBC are making in this space."
Despite these reassurances, it's not clear just what "progress" Walker can point to; whether his industry is, in fact convincing the banks to become better corporate citizens; or why, as he suggests, it would not be logical for the average investor to conclude - if these companies are embraced within ethical funds' portfolios - that they are, in fact, ethical!
In its defense, RBC does sponsor the "Blue Water Project," through which it promises millions of dollars to help protect watersheds and ensure access to clean drinking water. It's doubtful, however, any of that money has gone toward protecting the Athabasca watershed, the deterioration of which the bank has surely played a part, albeit indirect.
So is the Blue Water Project an example of the bank's good intentions? Or hypocrisy?
If tar sands investment can be considered "ethical," I find it rather hard to imagine what would not!
If you believe, as I do, that our investment money should be going to less harmful and less polluting ventures than this, I'd urge you to do something about it, also.
As a result of all of this, I have chosen to shift my modest investments away from those involving the tar sands and, into less harmful ventures.
Manitoba Water Stewardship's Hydrologic Forecast Centre has issued a high water advisory for the Assiniboine River and its tributaries, from the Shellmouth/Russell area to Headingley, as a result of ice jams.
Shellmouth Dam (above) in more normal times. Also see photo (below) just below the dam. Pics by l.p.
· The Assiniboine tributaries and the main river remain well within their banks at most locations. However, due to the recent heavy snow followed by a sudden drop in temperatures, ice jams and flooding are occurring at various locations downstream of the Shellmouth Reservoir, Miniota and in the Brandon area. · This local ice-jam flooding is expected to continue at locations on the main river and some larger tributaries like the Souris and the Little Saskatchewan rivers until the freezing process stabilizes in the next two weeks.
· Communities in the Assiniboine Valley, especially in low-lying areas such as Russell, St. Lazare, Miniota and Brandon, should be aware that ice-related flooding could occur.
· The Shellmouth Reservoir has been declining since late September when the outflow was 3,360 cubic feet per second (cfs). Today the flow is 1,600 cfs and the level of the reservoir is 428 metres (1,404.22 feet). The inflow into the reservoir is 1,570 cfs. The outflow will be kept constant at 1,600 cfs for the next few weeks to ensure the reservoir is at an acceptable level before next spring.
· Manitoba Water Stewardship is closely monitoring river and lake level conditions.
Weather - The weather forecast calls for clear periods for southern Manitoba and temperatures remaining in the -10 to -20 C range for the next five days. This should help reduce ice jams and related flooding.
San Francisco, CA – November 30, 2010 – Centre for Food Safety.
Genetically Engineered Sugar Beet Seed Crop Must be Removed!
Finds Government and Monsanto rushed to illegally plant herbicide resistant crop.
Cdn. Biotechnology Action Network
Press Statement, December 1, 2010: Yesterday a US federal district judge ordered Monsanto's genetically engineered sugarbeet seedlings be uprooted. This is the first court-ordered destruction of a GE crop in the US. The decision (November 30, 2010) follows a challenge from farmer and environmental groups based on the risks of contamination. The judge noted that non-GE crops were at risk and that the US Department of Agriculture, by allowing September plantings, tried to circumvent his prior ruling that the sugarbeets were illegal, pending an environmental assessment.
Below is a letter from CBAN to Canadian sugar company Lantic, and a press release from US group Center for Food Safety which represented groups in the legal challenge.
******** LETTER FROM CBAN TO LANTIC:
President and CEO, Lantic Inc.
4026, Notre-Dame Street East
Montréal, Québec, H1W 2K3
Fax: (514) 527 1318
RE: Request for Lantic to phase out GE sugar following US court-ordered destruction of Monsanto's genetically engineered sugarbeets
December 1, 2010
Dear Mr. Makin,
We are writing to bring your attention to the new court-ordered destruction of genetically engineered (GE) sugarbeet seedlings in the United States (November 30, 2010) and to ask that Lantic plant only non-GE sugarbeet seeds in 2011, reversing your 2009 decision to process GE sugar in Canada.
Lantic Inc. is currently the only Canadian sugar company that processes GE sugarbeet. This is an unacceptable situation for Canadian consumers.
In correspondence in 2009, CBAN warned Lantic that the the GE sugarbeets were highly controversial, were accompanied by many serious concerns, and would meet with widespread consumer opposition. We requested a meeting to discuss these issues and repeatedly provided information about the risks of GE sugarbeets to Lantic and to the Alberta farmers who grow sugarbeet for Lantic. Though this correspondence was met with silence from Lantic, we hope you will now pay sufficient attention to this critical issue in order to phase out your use of Monsanto's genetically engineered sugarbeet.
We request that you take urgent action to ensure that sugar in Canada is reverted to its previous non-GE status. We trust that Lantic will want to avoid being isolated globally as the only producer of GE sugar. For your information, please find below a US press release describing the court decision in brief.
Sincerely, Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
Action Also Aimed at Reducing Greenhouse-gas Emissions: Selinger
A unique pilot project at Netley-Libau Marsh, supported by $150,000 in provincial funding, will explore ways of preventing pollutants from getting into Lake Winnipeg while at the same time reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, Lk. Wpg. Greenpeace Photo Premier Greg Selinger announced today.
"In partnership with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the University of Manitoba, we are announcing funding to support the further development of a green,
bio-energy project which builds on actions we have already taken," said Selinger. "This is a made-in-Manitoba solution to help Lake Winnipeg by keeping pollutants out, while at the same time providing a green solution to offset coal use."
The project will see the harvest of about 200 hectares of marsh grasses. Research has shown that pollutants, such as phosphorus, are stored in the marsh grass and, as part of the project, the
grass will be turned into a clean, bio-energy product. This product can be used to burn green biomass and reduce the burning of coal. At the same time, the pollutants would not get into the water of the marsh or Lake Winnipeg.
"The results from this pilot project could become a critical part of efforts to reduce nutrients flowing into Lake Winnipeg," said Henry David Venema, International Institute for Sustainable Development's director of Sustainable Natural Resources Management and the Water Innovation Centre. "This Netley-Libau project is a practical example of the bio-economy concept and we are excited about the partnership and the opportunities it presents."
Once fully developed the project could:
· produce approximately 3,000 tonnes of biomass;
· offset approximately 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, and
· capture and recover approximately eight tonnes of phosphorus and remove 30 to 40 tonnes of nitrogen, the equivalent produced from the waste water of a town of 20,000 people.
"Netley-Libau is the largest coastal marsh on the continent and restoring and managing vegetation in the marsh is critical to the health of the marsh and Lake Winnipeg," said Dr. Gordon
Goldsborough, professor of biological sciences at the University of Manitoba.
Through the Sustainable Development Innovations Fund, the Manitoba government has provided approximately $100,000 to IISD over the past five years to support initial research of the Netley-Libau biomass harvest project.
Other support from or action by the Manitoba government to help reduce nutrients getting into Lake Winnipeg includes:
· passing the most comprehensive legislation in the country to protect surface and groundwater from the impacts of phosphorous;
· investing millions of dollars for waste-water treatment infrastructure upgrades to remove nutrients;
· introducing the first-in-Canada ban on phosphates in dish detergent;
· instituting a moratorium on hog expansion in areas near Lake Winnipeg;
· introducing the first-in-Canada ban on lawn fertilizers containing phosphorous;
· introducing new buffer zones protecting water from spreading nutrients like phosphorous and an outright ban in sensitive areas;
· instituting a major initiative to protect wetlands and riparian areas by providing incentives to farmers to protect these sensitive lands;
· starting a wetland restoration initiative to restore Manitoba's two largest marsh wetlands, Netley and Delta;
· banning new sewage ejectors provincewide and banning septic fields in provincial parks and sensitive areas within a new enforcement initiative; and
· funding for research, planning and work with inter-jurisdictional partners to help keep phosphorous out of Manitoba's watershed and help Lake Winnipeg.
EDITOR'S NOTE: It's stories like this which remind me of one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place. Disgusting, rotten things go on in this world which too many mass media, including those in my own country, are too cowardly to even shine a light on. But the cowardice isn't limited to the media.
A bill in the House of Commons, designed to clamp down on Canadian-based mining companies who commit acts abroad similar to this one, was recently defeated. Some Honourable Members, representing mining constituencies, apparently afraid they would offend their voters if they supported it, stayed away when the vote was taken! Such courage! Such principle! l.p.
Earlier this week, we let you know about a proposed new Alberta's Parks Act that would have set a dangerous precedent for provincial parks. You wrote in, and Cindy Ady, Alberta's Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation listened -- she is withdrawing the legislation.
Public opposition was key to the decision, said the Minister: “What I have heard throughout debate on Bill 29 is that people are passionate about parks, and I respect that passion”. THANK YOU for writing! Your letters made the difference.
While we celebrate this victory, there's still work to do – Alberta intends to introduce new legislation in the spring, after public consultation. CPAWS will continue to push for legislation that puts the ecological integrity of parks first.
Donate to CPAWS
CPAWS has worked relentlessly against Bill 29 since it was introduced on November 4th. We’ll continue to speak out for the protection of Alberta’s precious parks and wilderness areas. Every dollar helps us make victories like this one possible.
Consumption of Properly Prepared Turkey Products Remains Safe
Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) is working with federal officials of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) at a quarantined turkey-breeding operation in Manitoba. Manitoba has a comprehensive federal-provincial-producer plan to respond to avian influenza and the plan is being implemented.
· Some Manitoba turkeys have tested positive for an H5 strain of bird flu. There is no evidence this is the Asian strain of H5N1 influenza and it is considered highly unlikely it will be. There is no indication of any human illness.
· The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will lead the response to this situation. Veterinarians and other specialized staff from MAFRI are working closely with CFIA and assisting with the response.
· Workers at the breeding operation are being contacted and offered preventive antivirals.
· Further testing by federal officials is continuing with the support of MAFRI.
· The risk of impacts on humans is considered very low at this time.
· Human consumption of turkey products continues to be safe if the meat is properly prepared and cooked.
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). Nov 23 - '10
Protestors were on hand this morning for the official opening of the Monsanto Canada’s new $12 million Canola Breeding Centre at at the University of Manitoba. One student, Alon Weinberg, says there is little to celebrate with the opening. In his words, "Monsanto’s operations poison the environment with chemicals, steal from farmers their age-old right to save seeds and threaten biodiversity by proliferating genetically engineered crops."
Calgary -- The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s national board of trustees is voicing outrage...
EDITOR'S NOTE: In response to CPAW's request, I wrote a letter to Alberta's elected officials which is reproduced, directly below. After that, you will see a response from an Opposition member in Alberta. l.p.
Dear Mr. Chase,
Having lived in Calgary for 10 years, I had the opportunity to visit many of your beautiful parks.
I would plead with you to take pity on their vulnerability and err on the side of conservation, not
I plead with you, please withdraw this Parks Act Bill!
Thank you very much for speaking out about Bill 29. With your permission, Mr. Chase would like to table your letter in the Legislature as being opposed to Bill 29 and your email will become part of the permanent record of the Legislature.
I look forward to hearing from you.
HARRY CHASE, MLA
Shadow Minister for Children & Youth Services; Education; Advanced Education & Technology; Tourism, Parks & Recreation
Calgary Varsity Constituency
Dear Editor, When a hollow man like Jim Prentice can don a phony cloak of "green," take on a sacred trust as this nation's "Minister of the Environment," then hightail it off to a cushy job with "CIBC" (which is helping to bankroll the Alberta tar sands, the world's dirtiest energy project), be afraid. Be very afraid.
Jim Prentice, Climate Criminal
Dead ducks in an Albrta tar pit. (Vancouver Sun photo)
As Prentice skulks off into the night with visions of money bags dancing in his head, he gets a pat on the back from Stephen Harper and a free pass from a polite media.
Fish caught near tarpits - Jason Franson CP
Preoccupied with political "process," "strategy" and "positioning," news outlets obviously no longer believe they have any duty to actually hold the ethical behaviour of our leaders up to any kind of public scrutiny. That would just be wrong! Instead, they pontificate on how the balance in the cabinet might now be affected or, if Prentice might now be positioning himself to become Prime Minister!
(Remember my reference to "hypocrites and opportunists? I rest my case.)
One newspaper fit for fish-wrap actually referred to this traitor as the "epitome of public service" and a "capable" leader! Yet this is the same climate criminal who, while in office, did squat on the carbon file, the most important if the climate change genie is to be put back in the bottle. Squat. Nothing. What can be done?
Before the story of Prentice's departure broke, it hadn't really occurred to me that companies involved directly in tar sands extraction, along with big banks who lend money to them, would even qualify as "ethical" fund investments. (And who would?)
The Don of Canada's Climate Criminals Upon checking my own, I discovered, with dismay, that they included both!
So I have now personally set the wheels in motion to divest myself of any financial holdings I may have in the development of that despicable project known euphemistically as "the oil sands."
If you want to be remembered as a friend of Mother Earth, rather than one who stood by while the Harpers and Prentices of the world acted as accomplices in her demise, I hope you'll do likewise.
Larry Powell is a blogger and activist near Roblin, in western Manitoba.
A couple more climate crooks. Sen. Duffy (l.) & Sen. Wallin (r.).
Also conveniently neglected by Prentice/Harper et al in this scenario are the indigenouse people living downstream from this incredibly destructive project. Here is an excerpt from a submission by the Indigenous Environmental Network. l.p.
"Fort Chipewyan, which is located on the shore of Lake Athabasca and downstream from numerous tar sands mines, has been described as ‘ground zero’ for the devastation caused by Alberta’s oil boom. A local doctor has raised concerns over alarmingly high rates of what should be very rare bile duct cancers in the town, as well as reported abnormal rates of immune-system related conditions. A study commissioned by the Alberta Health Services confirmed in 2009 that there were indeed elevated cancer rates in the community.
"High levels of dangerous toxins in the Athabasca River have been found in areas downstream from tar sands developments. A study in 2007 commissioned by the local health authority of Fort Chipewyan revealed high levels
of arsenic, aluminium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, phosphorous, selenium, titanium, and phenols in the water. It found high levels of arsenic, cadmium, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and resin acids in the sediment, as well as high levels of mercury in tested fish." ======= COMMENTS: Larry - I read your letter. This is a shameful act. And replacing the environment Minister, we have none other than Mr. Baird. Now that is a joke.