Editorial by Tom Harris
July 8, 2015
‘Marching with the enemy’
Imagine pro-tobacco groups wanted to participate in fund raising marches for cancer research. ‘We want to help defeat cancer too,’ the tobacco advocates announce.
Anti-cancer campaigners would never march in solidarity with tobacco promoters. They know that if smoking increased, cancer rates would undoubtedly rise as well. Marching arm in arm with those working against one’s interests is irrational.
This logic does not seem to have occurred to the groups concerned with social justice and wildlife protection who participated in the July 5 “March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate” in Toronto. They were, in effect, marching with the enemy, groups such as and Citizens’ Climate Lobby which unwittingly encourage outcomes that are harming the poor and disadvantaged, biodiversity, and endangered species.
For example, by promoting the idea that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be reduced to prevent dangerous climate change, climate mitigation activists support the expanded use of biofuels. This is resulting in 6.5% of the world’s grain being diverted to fuel instead of food, causing food price spikes that are a disaster for the world’s most vulnerable people.
The growing demand for biofuels is also creating serious problems for indigenous land owners in developing countries. In a February 2015 open letter to the European Parliament endorsed by 197 civil society organisations from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, it was asserted:
“The destruction of forests and fertile agricultural land to make way for oil palm plantations is jeopardising the food sovereignty and cultural integrity of entire communities who depend on the land as their source of food and livelihoods.”
Replacing virgin forests with monoculture plantations to provide palm oil for biodiesel greatly reduces biodiversity over vast regions.
In another attempt to reduce CO2 emissions, hundreds of thousands of industrial wind turbines (IWT) are being constructed worldwide. For example, the Ontario government is erecting 6,736 IWTs across the province, the most recent as tall as a 61 story building.
Only 4% of the province’s power came from wind energy in 2013 and 1% from solar, yet together they accounted for 20% of the commodity cost paid by Ontarians. Despite massive government subsidies for wind power, electricity rates in Ontario have soared, mostly affecting the poor and seniors on fixed incomes.
IWTs kill millions of birds and bats across the world. Ontario’s situation has drawn the attention of the Spain-based group, Save the Eagles International, which, on May 23, issued the news release “Migrating golden eagles to be slaughtered in Ontario.” They showed that some of the turbines planned for Ontario are being placed directly in the path of migrating golden eagles, which are already an endangered species.
The consequences for people living near IWTs can be severe as well. Besides a significant loss in property value, health concerns abound.
A particularly tragic example is occurring in the West Lincoln and surrounding regions of Southern Ontario. There, despite the objections of local residents, wind developers have received approval to install at least seventy-seven 3 Megawatt IWTs, each up to 609 ft. tall, the largest such machines in North America.
One resident, Shellie Correia of Wellandport has a particular reason to be concerned.
Her 12 year old son Joey has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and it is crucial that he live in an environment free from excessive noise. But as a result of Ontario’s Green Energy Act, the primary focus of which is climate change mitigation, an IWT will be sited only 550 metres from their home.
Correia explained in her January 2015 presentation before the government’s Environmental Review Tribunal, “On top of the incessant, cyclical noise, there is light flicker, and infrasound. This is not something that my son will be able to tolerate.”
But the approvals go ahead anyways. As Correia told the Tribunal, “No one was able to help, because of the Green Energy Act.”
The drive to reduce CO2 emissions makes it difficult for developing countries to finance the construction of vitally-needed hydrocarbon-fueled power plants. For example, in 2010 South Africa secured a $3.9 billion loan to build the Medupi coal-fired power station only because developing country representatives on the World Bank board voted for approval. The U.S. and four European nation members abstained from approval because of their concerns about climate change. They apparently wanted South Africans to use wind and solar power instead, sources too expensive for widespread use even in wealthy nations.
Finally, because of the belief that humans control climate, only 6% of the one billion dollars spent every day across the world on climate finance goes to helping vulnerable people cope with climate change today. The rest is spent trying to stop phenomena that might someday happen. This is immoral, effectively valuing the lives of people yet to be born more than those in need today.
In all of these cases, climate mitigation takes precedence over the needs of the present. Groups such as Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Oxfam Canada, and Great Lakes Commons, all of which participated in Sunday’s event, must distance themselves from climate activists, not march with them.
Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition.