Environmentalists as Scapegoats for the Economy
by Kim Petersen
May 31, 2003
Elizabeth Nickson’s article in the Canadian National Post of 23 May 2003 was a stinging attack on environmental groups. A dictionary definition of an environmentalist is, “someone who works to protect the environment from destruction or pollution.” Given that, it is hard to comprehend why anyone would be opposed to such a seemingly altruistic groups.
But Ms. Nickson refers to these people as “neo-Stalinists.” The article is replete with name-calling spuriously posing as argument, unenlightenment, and a hint of paternalism in claiming environmentalists duped First Nations. First Nations have a history of living in harmony with nature and it would be more honest to point out that the environmentalists are the Johnny-come-latelies.
Ms. Nickson also plays loose with the facts. She relegates the province of British Columbia (BC) to the back of the economic pack among provinces despite indications otherwise. Ms. Nickson attributes this low standing to environmentalists. When questioned about the economic evidence she reveals in an email that BC’s ranking “#10 out of 10 was told to me, supported by several press reports last week, by a Minister of Tourism and Development, and [BC Premier] Campbell's sr. aide,” who turned out to be rather a regional manager.
According to Statistics Canada unemployment rates for April 2003, BC ranks fifth best. Canada Department of Finance fiscal tables for October 2002 shows that BC now has the highest deficit among provinces. The Bank of Montreal special report of 20 February 2002 noted how the New Democratic Party forecasted a $1.1 billion surplus for 2001-02 following its $1.5 billion surplus in 2000-01. The NDP was wiped out in the provincial election though. In came the neoliberals of Gordon Campbell. Quickly they made good on their promise to cut income taxes and they did likewise for corporate income tax and corporate capital tax. Consequently BC was thrown into a deficit position such that the 2003-04 budget deficit is predicted to reach $4.4 billion.
The Liberals hypocritically hiked health care premiums, the tobacco tax, and the provincial sales tax. So rather than reining in the profligate spending of the NDP years as claimed by Ms. Nickson, the truth is that the BC Liberals are maneuvering to get a grip on the provincial finances by reneging on campaign promises. What is the upshot of the change in government? Well BC has an upward spiraling deficit, a higher level of unemployment (6.8 percent under the NDP to 8.1 percent now with the Liberals), lower income taxes, higher consumption taxes, soaring tuition fees, and disgruntlement in BC.
According to Ms. Nickson the environmental groups have been vacuuming in all the money. Well the BC Green Party sure is scratching its head about that one. If we compare environmental groups with corporate tyrannies then a truer picture of money-electroluxes appears.
Writes Ms. Nickson: “The actions of environmental groups in British Columbia in the '90s can only be called undemocratic.” Why? Because they are funded by “foreign nationals.” That reasoning would wipe out most of the aid going to alleviate starvation in sub-Saharan Africa. BC’s erstwhile Lt. Governor David Lam was also a foreign national and BC has benefited much from his philanthropy. If soliciting funding is wrong then Canada’s political system is also undemocratic, and I for one am not going to argue that it is democratic. The contradictions in Ms. Nickson’s assertions become rather stark when she rails against boycotts. Boycotts are a manifestation of the democratic right to dissent. It would be fairer if Ms. Nickson chose which side of the fence she wants to play on.
Ms. Nickson asserts: “The international e-groups in the '90s were a vocal, organized and largely non-resident minority that forced their preferences upon the majority. If it were not the majority, then please explain the overwhelming vote for the Liberals two years ago?” Ms. Nickson is again playing both sides of the fence. It is true that some environmental groups had their origins elsewhere but Greenpeace, the Suzuki Foundation, and the Western Canada Wilderness Society are homegrown actors. If she applies that same criterion to all money in politics her argument would carry more weight. Corporations donate overwhelmingly to the BC Liberals. In support of her contention, Ms. Nickson appeals to the authority of neoliberal ideologue WT Stanbury, who advocates easing foreign ownership restrictions. The crucial difference is that the environmental groups are fighting to conserve the heritage of British Columbians while the corporations are seeking to take it over. As for the NDP slap-in-the-face defeat, it is easily explained as a vote against the perceived corruption and incompetence of the incumbents rather than a vote for any neoliberal platform. BC politics is highly polarized and the Liberals were the only other name party in the election and with a chest full of corporate booty to keep their name before the public.
Ms. Nickson follows up: “British Columbia's salmon farms have already been the target of a relentless propaganda campaign fuelled by hearsay and unsupported by scientific fact.” BC salmon farmers have contended all along that farmed salmon wouldn’t escape and if they did they wouldn’t survive in the wild; and they certainly wouldn’t enter rivers to spawn; and if they did they wouldn’t be able to spawn successfully. Scientists have empirically verified all these phenomena.
She attacks the wages paid environmental group executives. I will not defend excessive salaries for environmental heads but I will put it into perspective by comparing the environmental chiefs’ salaries with corporate executives’ salaries and then that attack turns into a wet spaghetti noodle.
Ms. Nickson concludes: “There are solutions to keeping the planet green and healthy. They just aren't to be found with the international environmental groups.”
Promulgating solutions is one thing and implementing them is another. The BC NDP decade of the 90s featured:
* Increasing protected parkland to 12 percent
* Planting 2.5 billion trees
* Protecting grizzly bears and fish-bearing streams
* Severely reducing forestry industry pollution and damage
* Development of an eco-tourism strategy
A look at the BCFacts.org website details how “[d]uring the 2001 election, BC's government-to-be promised ‘a New Era of environmental management, based on sound science, cleaner water and sustainable practices.’” Practice, however, has been the contrary:
* Relaxing standards for pulp mill pollution
* Endorsing coal-fired energy plants, a major greenhouse polluter
* Slashing environmental monitoring and enforcement staff
* Ending moratorium on expansion of salmon farming in BC waters
A look at the records and the facts paints a different picture than that proffered by Ms. Nickson. The BC NDP had the ferry fiasco and patio problems of the leader but stacked against the leadership and record of the BC Liberals the better solution does not lie with neoliberalism unless you are a corporation.
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org