• How many once-in-a-century accidents have to happen before we recognize they’ve become the norm and not the exception? And if we accept them as the norm, what does that say about our relentless quest for more energy? We can’t continue to increase our energy consumption exponentially without expecting to pay ever-greater costs. Even as our attempts become more desperate, it’s easy to understand why we keep trying. When we stop finding new sources of energy, our economies stop growing.
Growth is the Holy Grail of modern societies. It’s the common denominator underlying nearly every action taken by corporations and governments. Whether it’s the sales manager at your local electronics store, the developer of a new housing project or a finance minister trying to close a huge budget deficit, each one prays at the altar of growth. Economic expansion comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be spotted in the building cranes above your city’s skyline, in the bustle of shoppers at the mall on a busy Saturday and in the freshly turned sod of a new subdivision. All of this activity feeds into Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the total measure of what a country’s economy produces each year.
Of course, growth also comes with a lot of costs. Without growth, we could stop building new highways for the burgeoning number of new vehicles that hit the road every year. We wouldn’t have to build more nuclear energy facilities or coal-fired power plants to meet our expanding electricity needs. We could stop our cities from sprawling into the countryside to make room for new suburbanites. And we could cut back on the amount of greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere.
For the economics profession, the notion of a world without growth is pure science fiction. While most economists now acknowledge that expensive energy curtails GDP, the majority also believe that technological innovations will allow us to leap over the hurdles presented by resource scarcity.
Historians take a different view. The decline of the Roman Empire has captured the world’s imagination for centuries, as have the collapse of Mayan society and the disappearance of people from Easter Island. Indeed, history is the story of the rise and fall of civilizations large and small. The exact reasons for social collapse are rarely known, but many theories cite resource scarcity as a contributing factor. Whether [or not] constraints on resources, such as food and water, is the driving reason behind societal failures will remain lost in the mists of time, but one thing is indisputable: civilizations that once flourished have eventually floundered. But most economists these days seem to have short memories. Viewed from the limited perspective of the post-war era, resource constraints and a scarcity of fossil fuels in particular appear to them to be no match for human ingenuity, which keeps finding ways to supply the world with more energy. However, rising resource prices are telling us that technological advancements are now coming up short.
We could hardly pick a worse time for higher energy costs to start squeezing the growth out of the global economy. The modern world counts on economic growth to support population expansion as well as satisfy the desire for higher incomes and all the extra things money can buy. Since the last recession, the need for GDP growth has become even more urgent. Economic growth will provide the financial wherewithal that allows governments to service the debts accumulated during that downturn. Right now, though, the global economy is discovering that chasing growth is a catch-22. Our countries need GDP growth to repay the debt acquired during the last oil price-induced recession, but achieving that growth will bring back the same high prices that killed growth in the first place.
Finding the energy to fuel our economies is no longer enough; we need that energy to be affordable. That’s why the oil industry is going to such lengths to tap the world’s resources. That’s why we’re changing dictatorial regimes in Libya, propping up an absolutist monarchy in Saudi Arabia, digging up pristine forests in northern Alberta and drilling beneath the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean.
In the United States, the Obama administration, which fined BP billions for the Macondo fiasco, is issuing permits for deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. I guess the White House is betting other offshore drillers will have better luck contending with the ultrahigh pressures at the bottom of the ocean. On the other side of the world, China is building new nuclear plants in coastal areas that are prone to the same magnitude of earthquake that caused the Fukushima disaster. Beijing is undoubtedly hoping for a luckier roll of the dice when the next seismic event occurs.
The choice currently being made by most politicians to simply to cross their fingers and hope for the best is hardly a sound way to deal with mounting energy costs. And in any event, the solution to higher energy prices won’t come from finding larger oil reserves or building more nuclear plants. Nor will it come from a technological breakthrough in renewable energy. We aren’t going to suddenly discover that solar panels or wind turbines hold a magic key that will power our economies. Instead, the solution to higher energy costs is quite simple: learn to use less energy. That doesn’t mean returning to the Stone Age. People in some countries, such as Denmark, live quite happily while also using a lot less energy.
The sooner more nations learn how to curb energy demand, the better it will be for everyone. In a world of energy scarcity, consuming more fuel comes at someone else’s expense. One country’s gain is another’s loss. It’s a pending reality that will affect how much oil everyone gets to burn from now on. And if you live in North America or western Europe, you can expect your fuel allotment to be much more modest than it’s been for the last few decades.
Over time, our economies will become greener and more efficient. That’s the hope, anyway. In the last forty years, we’ve made massive gains in fuel efficiency in places such as North America, Western Europe and Japan. But at the same time, economic growth and a rising global population have meant that our total energy consumption has become greater than ever before. And now emerging economic giants such as China and India are looking to claim a larger share of global energy supply. Hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians are moving from rural lives, where they consumed sparse amounts of fuel, to energy-intensive urban lifestyles. As these folks fill up the gas tanks of their brand new cars and flip on light switches in their new apartments, how will the world keep pace with the fresh demand for energy?
One day, we may come up with a fuel alternative that will allow our energy consumption to increase by leaps and bounds. Renewable energy certainly has room to become a larger part of our power mix and thanks to technological advances, that’s exactly what’s happening right now.
Excerpted from The End of Growth by Jeff Rubin, copyright 2012 Jeffrey Rubin Enterprises Inc. Published by Random House Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.
Vancouver November 9: Talk and booksigning at UBC Robson Square Theatre, 7PM. Tickets $15 at Banyen Books/door, 604-732-7912. Victoria November 8: Jeff co-presents with David Suzuki, 7:30-9:30PM, Alix Goolden Hal, 907 Pandora Street, Victoria, 250-595-4232.
• This summary of my economic theory traces how industrial capitalism has turned into finance capitalism. The finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector has emerged to create “balance sheet wealth” not by new tangible investment and employment, but financially in the form of debt leveraging and rent-extraction. This rentier overhead is overpowering the economy’s ability to produce a large enough surplus to carry its debts. As in a radioactive decay process, we are passing through a short-lived and unstable phase of “casino capitalism,” which now threatens to settle into leaden austerity and debt deflation.
This situation confronts society with a choice either to write down debts to a level that can be paid (or indeed, to write them off altogether with a clean slate) or to permit creditors to foreclose, concentrating property in their own hands (including whatever assets are in the public domain to be privatized) and imposing a combination of financial and fiscal austerity on the population. This scenario will produce a shrinking debt-ridden and tax-ridden economy.
The latter is the path the Western nations are pursuing today. It is the opposite path that classical economists advocated and which Progressive Era writers expected to occur, given the inherent optimism of focusing on technological potential rather than on the political stratagems of the vested rentier interests fighting back against the classical idea of free markets and economic reforms to free industrial capitalism from the surviving carry-overs of medieval and even ancient privileges and essentially corrosive, anti-social behaviour.
Today’s post-industrial strategy of “wealth creation” is to use debt leveraging to bid up asset prices. From corporate raiders to arbitrageurs and computerized trading programs, this “casino capitalist” strategy works as long as asset prices rise at a faster rate than the interest that has to be paid. But it contains the seeds of its own destruction, because it builds up financial claims on the assets pledged as collateral – without creating new means of production. Instead of steering credit into tangible capital formation, banks find it easier to make money by lending to real estate and monopolies (and to other financial institutions). Their plan is to capitalize land rent, natural resource rent and monopoly privileges into loans, stocks and bonds.
This leads the banks to act as lobbyist for their rentier clients, to free them from taxes so that they will have more available to pay interest. The resulting tax shift onto labour and industry adds a fiscal burden to the debt overhead.
This is not a natural and even inevitable form of evolution. It is a detour from the kind of economy and indeed free market that classical writers sought to create. With roots in the 13th-century Schoolmen discussing Just Price, the labour theory of value was refined as a tool to isolate economic rent as that element of price that had no counterpart in actual or necessary costs of production. Banking charges, monopoly rent and land rent were the three types of economic rent analyzed in this long classical tradition. These rentier charges were seen as unnecessary and exploitative special privileges carried over from the military conquests that shaped medieval Europe. A free market was defined as one free of such overhead charges.
This classical view of free markets as being free of an unearned “free lunch” was embodied in the Progressive Era’s financial and tax reforms. But the rentiers have fought back. The financial sector seeks to justify today’s deepening indebtedness on the ground that it “creates wealth” by debt leveraging. Yet the banks’ product is a debt overhead, leaving debt deflation in its wake as debtors try to pay debts that can’t be paid without drastically reducing consumption and investment. A shrinking economy falls further into arrears in a debt spiral.
The question today is whether a new wave of reform will arise to restore and indeed complete the vision of classical political economy that seemed to be shaping evolution a century ago on the eve of World War I, or whether the epoch of industrial capitalism will be rolled back toward a neofeudal reaction defending rentier interests against reform. What is up for grabs is how society will resolve the legacy of debts that can’t be paid. Will it let the financial sector foreclose, and even force governments to privatize the public domain under distress conditions? Or will debts be written down to what can be paid without polarizing wealth and income, dismantling government, and turning tax policy over to financial lobbyists pretending to be objective technocrats?
To provide a perspective on the financial sector’s rise to dominance over the industrial economy, The Bubble and Beyond reviews how classical economists developed the tools to measure how finance now plays role that landlords did in Physiocratic and Ricardian theory: as beneficiaries of feudal privileges that oblige society to pay them for access to credit as well as land. As land ownership has been democratized, new buyers obtain credit to purchase homes and office buildings by pledging the rental income to bankers. About 80 percent of bank loans in the United States, Britain and other English-speaking countries are real estate mortgages, making land the major bank collateral. The result is that mortgage bankers receive the rents formerly taken by a hereditary aristocracy in post-feudal Europe and the colonies it conquered.
Whatever the tax collector relinquishes is available for this end. This has led the financial sector to subsidize popular opposition to taxing property – reversing the ideology of free markets held by the classical economic reformers. And with the financialization of real estate providing the post-industrial model, corporate raiders since the 1980s have adopted the speculator’s motto, “Rent is for paying interest,” using corporate cash flow to make a deal with their backers to obtain loans to take over companies already in place – and bleed them.
This phenomenon is called financialization, and my book describes how it has transformed the economics of real estate, industry and pension fund saving into a Bubble Economy based on debt-leveraged asset-price inflation – leaving debt deflation in its wake. The banker’s business plan, after all, is to turn as much of the economic surplus as possible into a flow of interest payments. But this must be self-defeating. Paying debt service diverts revenue away from being spent on consumption and tangible capital investment. This causes debt deflation and imposes financial austerity. Capital and infrastructure are bled to squeeze out the revenue to pay bankers and other creditors, depleting the economy’s reproductive powers.
What is unique to the post-1980 Bubble Economy is the tactic by which austerity has been averted, by new credit creation to inflate asset prices in what is rightly termed a Ponzi scheme. (The appendix at the end of this volume defines the terms and concepts by which I describe this process.) Instead of interest rates rising to reflect the increasing risks of the debt-ridden economy, banks kept the financialization process going by easing credit terms: lowering interest rates and the amortization rate (culminating in “interest only loans), and also lowering down payments (for zero down payment loans) and credit standards (appropriately called “liars’ loans”).
The direct effect of collateral-based lending is to bid up prices for the real estate, stocks and bonds pledged as collateral for larger and larger loans. An asset is worth whatever a bank will lend against it, and easier credit terms serve to preserve the market price of assets pledged for debt. This is the case even as the economy diverts more of its income – and transfers more of its capital and future income – to the financial sector, which concentrates wealth in its own hands.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan encouraged mortgage borrowers to think of themselves as getting richer as the market price of their homes rose in the early 2000s. But the “wealth creation” was debt-leveraged, and easy credit obliged new buyers to take on a lifetime of debt to afford housing. After 2008 their mortgages had to paid even as a quarter of U.S. residential real estate fell into negative equity when market prices plunged below the level of the mortgages attached to it.
A similar phenomenon has occurred as education has been financialized. Students must take on decades of student-loan obligations and pay them regardless of whether the education enables them to get jobs in an economy shrinking from debt deflation. The magnitude of these loans now exceeds $1 trillion – larger even than credit-card debt. Instead of being treated as a public utility to prepare the population for gainful work, the educational system has been turned into an opportunity for banks to profiteer from a debt market guaranteed by the government.
The economy’s circular flow becomes a vicious circle as paying debt service leads to smaller market demand for goods. Investment and employment are cut back, government budgets move into deficit, forcing cutbacks in revenue sharing with localities and subsidies for education. Schools raise their tuition levels, obliging students and families to take on more debt, creating yet more debt deflation.
Other public infrastructure is sold off to pay down debts, and the buyers raise access prices and tolls on roads and other privatized transportation – and so on throughout the economy. Debts mount up increasingly as a result of arrears in making payments, losing all relationship with the realistic ability to pay.
What has gone relatively unremarked by economists is how financialization of the economy has transformed the idea of saving. In times past, saving was non-spending on goods and services – in the form of liquid assets. Typically on a national scale, between one-sixth and one-fifth of income would be saved – and invested in capital on the other side of the balance sheet. But since the 1980s, as banks loosened lending standards on real estate and made and the financial sector in general turned increasingly to financing corporate raiders, mergers and acquisitions, the way to create future wealth was not to save, but was to go into debt. The aim was capital gains more than current income. Indeed, after 2001 many families “made more” on the rising market price of their homes than they made in salary (not to speak of being able to save out of their salary).
Under financialization, the strategy was to seek capital gains, riding the wave of asset-price inflation being fuelled by Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve Board. Investment performance was measured in terms of “total returns,” defined as income yield plus capital gains. And the way to maximize these gains was to borrow at a relatively low interest rate, to buy assets whose price was rising at a higher rate. For the first time in recorded history, large numbers of people went into debt not out of need, not involuntarily and as a result of running arrears as a result of inability to pay, but voluntarily, believing that debt leveraging was the quickest and easiest way to get rich!
The national income accounts were not designed to trace this process. Using debt leveraging to obtain capital gains meant that bank loans found their counterpart in debt on the other side of the balance sheet, not new tangible investment. The result was a wash. So the nominal savings rate declined – to zero by 2008. Yet people thought of themselves as saving, as long as their net worth was rising. That is supposed to be the aim of saving, after all: to increase one’s net worth. The result was a financial “balance sheet boom,” not the kind of expansion or business cycle that industrial capitalism generated.
As this process unfolded “on the way up,” financial lobbyists applauded the asset-price inflation for real estate, stocks and bonds as “wealth creation.” But it was making the economy less competitive, as seen most clearly in the de-industrialization of the United States. Debt-leveraged real estate required families to pay higher prices for housing – in the form of mortgage interest – and pension funds to pay higher prices for the stocks and bonds they buy to pay retirement incomes. That is the problem with the Bubble Economy. It is debt-driven. This debt is the “product” of the banking and financial sector.
When asset prices finally collapse to reflect the debtor’s ability to pay (and the falling market price of collateral bought on credit), these debts remain in place. The “final stage” of the Bubble Economy occurs when foreclosure time arrives and debt-ridden economies shrink into Negative Equity. That is the stage in which the U.S. and European economies are mired today. Economic jargon has called it a “balance sheet recession” – the counterpart to the “balance sheet boom” that was the essence of the preceding Bubble Economy.
The process became political quite quickly. Banks and high finance sought to shift their losses onto the economy at large. As debts went bad in 2008, Wall Street turned to the government for bailouts, and demanded that the Federal Reserve and Treasury take their bad loans onto the public balance sheet. This has occurred from the United States to Ireland. The effect was to increase U.S. federal debt by over $13 trillion – without running a deficit of this magnitude, but simply by taking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac onto the public balance sheet ($5.3 trillion), by the Federal Reserve swapping $2 trillion in newly created deposit liabilities in a “cash for trash” swap with Citibank, Bank of America and other banks that were the worst offenders in making junk mortgages, and with other policies confined to the balance sheet, not current spending.
This vast increase in money and credit was not inflationary. At least, it did not increase consumer prices, commodity prices or wages. The aim was indeed to increase asset prices, but the banks were not lending, given the fact that debt deflation was engulfing the entire economy. So the traditional monetary formula MV=PT became irrelevant. Asset prices were the key, not prices for goods and services – and asset prices could not rise as long as so many assets were in negative equity. So money creation became a pure giveaway to the financial sector – a “transfer payment,” not a payment for the purchase or sale of a consumer good or investment good.
The Bubble and Beyond discusses the global dimension of “socializing” (or more to the point, oligarch-izing) unpayably high debts. The world’s money supply now rests ultimately on government debt – and the government’s acceptance of this debt as money in payment of taxes and public services. Yet there is something fictitious about all this: the debts can’t be paid!
The most obviously unpayable are those of the U.S. Government. This makes these debts “fictitious,” inasmuch as dollar holders are unable to convert their savings into tangible assets, goods or services. Gold convertibility was ended in 1971 in response to the Vietnam War’s drain on the U.S. balance of payments. Yet the dollar has remained the foundation of most central bank reserves even as the U.S. trade deficit deepened as the economy was post-industrialized while overseas military spending has escalated. This military dimension grounds the global financial system in U.S. military hegemony.
This has prompted the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to seek an alternative payments and debt-settlement system so as not to base their international savings on a system that finances their military encirclement. As it stands the dollar standard provides a free lunch for the U.S. economy (“debt imperialism”), above all for its government to create money without regard for the ability (not to mention the will) to pay.
If the dollar deficit were used to promote peaceful economic development in an atmosphere of global disarmament, the rest of the world would be more willing to see the U.S. Treasury act as global money creator on its electronic computer keyboards. But when this is done for national self-interest that other countries see as being at odds with their own aspirations, the system becomes politically as well as financially unstable. That is the position in which the world economy finds itself today.
It became even less stable when the Federal Reserve provided $800 billion in credit to U.S. banks in 2011 under the Quantitative Easing (QE2), which the banks used to make easy money on international interest-rate and foreign currency arbitrage. Given the refusal of Congress to permit China or other countries to buy major American industrial assets (e.g., as when CNOOK was blocked from buying Unocal), and financial deregulation leading to decriminalization of financial frauds (as in the “toxic waste” of subprime mortgage packages), the world’s monetary system is in the process of fracturing into regional blocks.
What is not clear is what kind of regulatory, financial and tax philosophy will guide these blocs. At best, the world will return to the debates that marked economic discussion a century ago on the eve of World War I. At issue is whether the financial sector will translate its recent gains into the political power to take debt and financial policy out of the hands of elected government representatives and agencies and shift economic planning and tax policy into the hands of a super-national central bank authority controlled by bank lobbyists.
The lesson of history is that this would be a disaster of historic proportions, because the financial time frame is short-term and its business strategy is extractive, not productive. I hope the papers in this volume will serve as an antidote to the head start that financial lobbyists have achieved in sacrificing economies to austerity in what must be a vain attempt to pay debts under adverse financial conditions that make them less and less payable. By distinguishing tangible wealth creation from debt overhead and other rentier overhead – the task of classical political economy, after all – the policy debate can be cast in a manner that reverses the financial sector’s attempt to replace realistic analysis with euphemistic lobbying efforts and what best can be characterized as junk economics rather than empirical science.
Michael Hudson is President of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET), a Wall Street Financial Analyst, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and author of The Bubble and Beyond (2012), Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1968 & 2003), Trade, Development and Foreign Debt (1992 & 2009) and of The Myth of Aid (1971). ISLET engages in research regarding domestic and international finance, national income and balance-sheet accounting with regard to real estate, and the economic history of the ancient Near East. Michael acts as an economic advisor to governments worldwide including Iceland, Latvia and China on finance and tax law. He gives presentations on various topics at conferences and meetings. Google his many You Tube videos and listen to some of his radio interviews to hear his hyperspeed analysis of the geo-political machinations of global economics.
First Nations on BC’s North and Central Coast have declared a ban on the trophy bear hunt in their traditional territories. “We will protect bears from cruel and unsustainable trophy hunts by any and all means,” says Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation Chief Doug Neasloss. “The trophy bear hunt is an issue that has been brewing in First Nations communities for several years. Despite years of effort by the Coastal First Nations to find a resolution to this issue with the province, this senseless and brutal trophy hunt continues.
Jessie Housty, a councillor with the Heiltsuk Nation, says bears are often gunned down by trophy hunters near shorelines as they forage for food. “It’s not a part of our culture to kill an animal for sport and hang them on a wall. When we go hunting, it’s for sustenance purposes, not trophy hunting. Only a total ban on trophy hunting will ensure bear populations can support the tourism opportunities that add valuable income to our communities, says Housty. “Trophy hunting is a threat to the lucrative ecotourism industry that we are creating. Tourists often come back year after year to watch the same bears and their young grow.”
Because the province is negligent in its responsibility to monitor the trophy hunt, the Coastal First Nations will now assume responsibility for bear management on the Coast, Neasloss says. “We will now assume the authority to monitor and enforce a closure of this senseless trophy hunt.”
A Vancity-backed social entrepreneur is launching Vancouver’s first attempt to tackle our eat-and-toss disposable container habits, while supporting local agriculture. The Tiffin Project’s container is a leak-proof metal unit that gets you discounts on meals at 10 restaurants and takeaways (and growing) in Vancouver, with plans for 17 in the next six months. It is made of food-grade stainless steel by Onyx Containers. The Tiffin Project (www.tiffinproject.com) reduces restaurant industry waste, supports local agriculture and aims to change the eat-and-toss culture using positive incentives and community.
A portion of the sale of all Tiffin Project containers goes toward shifting the initiative’s restaurant partners to improve their own eco-habits by acquiring more of their ingredients from local producers. By the fall harvest of 2013, the Tiffin Project Foundation Fund will give funds to participating restaurants to pay the difference between the current price of local produce and the current price of imported produce. For consumers, a Tiffin will be less costly and healthier and improve the community by reducing our food miles and supporting local agriculture.
Consumers buy in to The Tiffin Project by purchasing a $24 Tiffin from participating restaurants. They then receive discount incentives when they go to any participating restaurant or takeaway with their Tiffin.
Tiffin Project founder Hunter Moyes is a Vancouver-area chef who has been behind Burgoo, The Waldorf Hotel (Nuba) and most-recently Tacofino. He is also a food writer for Urban Diner, a sustainable seafood ambassador with the David Suzuki Foundation and a frequent partner of Oxfam’s Western Canadian campaigns. For more information about Onyx Containers, visit www.thetickletrunk.com
Proposition 37 naysayers litter radio ads with lies
The Yes on 37 California Right to Know Campaign has released a fact sheet documenting numerous falsehoods in the No on 37 campaign’s first radio ads, which ran in September.
“When voters hear campaign ads, we urge them to consider the credibility of the source and check the facts for themselves,” says Gary Ruskin, campaign manager for California Right to Know. “The same chemical companies that lied about the safety of Agent Orange and DDT are now financing the $32 million campaign to keep Californians in the dark about what is in their food. The No on 37 campaign’s first radio ad is a fitting tribute to this legacy because the only shred of truth it contains is in the disclaimer that lists the special interests who paid for it.”
Below are just a few of the false statements in the No on 37 campaign’s first radio ad:
False claim #1: Prop 37 was written by trial lawyers for trial lawyers.
Truth: The California Right to Know campaign began with the efforts of Pamm Larry, a former midwife, farmer and long-time Chico resident. In 2011, Pamm started organizing mothers and volunteers across the state toward a 2012 ballot drive with only one goal in mind – to let California consumers know if the food they are eating contains Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which a growing body of peer reviewed research links to human health risks and environmental problems. With the help of thousands of volunteers across the state, the Right to Know campaign gathered nearly one million signatures from California voters within a 10-week period. The initiative itself was written by a group of industry, science and health experts.
False claim #2: Prop. 37 is being pushed by special interests.
Truth: Nearly one million individuals – parents, grandparents, business people, women, farmers, nurses and everyday Californians – helped to put Prop 37 on the ballot. Thousands of individuals have made contributions (most of them for less than $100) to support the Yes on 37 campaign. Prop 37 is endorsed by a broad coalition of more than 2,000 groups including farm, public health, environmental, food safety organizations and local businesses. By contrast, the No on 37 campaign is supported and financed entirely by special interests, most of which are not located in California. More than half the funding for No on 37 is from the six largest pesticide companies.
Truth: Prop. 37 bans nothing. It merely requires labelling of GMO-containing foods with the phrase “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering” and it gives companies 18 months to change their labels. This type of labelling is already required in 50 countries around the world. The No on 37 campaign’s largest funder, the Monsanto Company, even produced a series of ads in Europe touting the benefits of GMO labelling and the importance of consumers’ right to know. Yet here in California they are spending more than $7 million to defeat our right to know.
The Burns Bog Conservation Society is thrilled to announce the Government of Canada has joined 20,682 hectares of Lower Mainland wetlands into the newly renamed Fraser River Delta Ramsar Site. The new Ramsar site designation includes all of Burns Bog and affirms the area’s deep ecological significance to BC and the international community. Burns Bog is the southernmost and largest raised peat bog on the west coast of North America. It is located between the municipalities of Delta and Richmond in the Metro Vancouver area.
The new Ramsar site designation comes as the area is threatened by development proposals. This includes the South Fraser Perimeter Road and a rezoning application by MK Delta Lands Group. “As wonderful as the Ramsar designation is, it won’t stop the destruction of Burns Bog unless the federal government honours its commitments to the Ramsar Convention,” says Olson. Over 2,000 people have signed a petition to stop the development of 89 acres of unprotected bogland at Highway 91 and 72nd Avenue. Visit www.burnsbog.org to sign the petition.
From Burns Bog Conservation Society
Aftershock raises money for Haiti
Two years have passed since a catastrophic earthquake and more than 52 aftershocks ripped through Haiti. And yet not much has changed in this impoverished island nation. Only 8% of the ensuing two million tons of rubble have been cleared and communicable diseases are still rampant. Even before the quake, Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. Now, it is quite possibly the poorest country in the world. Project Aftershock is dedicated to assisting medical relief efforts in Haiti through fundraising. www.projectaftershock.org
• Dave Rosen knows a thing or two about humour. In 2011, the Montreal-based satirist released The Stephen Harper Colouring & Activity Book. For five years, he wrote and produced a weekly comedy spot for CBC Radio called What Happened? For nine years, he was the regular editorial cartoonist for the English alt-weekly the Montreal Mirror. His last cartoon for the publication was of Quebec premier Jean Charest on the beach, holding a seashell to his ear and hearing the clang of pots and pans.
The cartoon appeared on June 21 of this year. The next day, the parent company Quebecor pulled the plug on its publication. Rosen discovered through Facebook he was now without a steady cartooning gig, for the first time in 20 years.
“Seven full-time jobs vanished, dozens of freelancers suddenly no longer had rent money,” he wrote on his blog. The corporate move was a bit of a puzzle to the satirist and his fellow expendables. Just a month earlier, Transcontinental discontinued its struggling Montreal alt-weekly the Hour, which was already down to a single editor and a single freelance columnist. “So for all intents and purposes, the Mirror had the Anglo alt weekly market to itself. And the paper, though it wasn’t pulling in the advertising bucks it once did, looked healthy and viable. But not viable enough for Quebecor.”
Rosen’s parent company cited the growing popularity of digital media for its decision to close shop at the Mirror. “Of course, it that were true, you’d think they’d have developed the paper as an online platform and held onto the sweet demographic that made up its readership (primarily 20 and 30-somethings) for its advertisers.”
These are the kind of stories that unnerve people who make a living poking fun at authority figures. If the axe can fall in such a commercially counterintuitive way on two print publications in Montreal – a city arguably the Canadian epicentre for arts, culture and street-level agitation – what hope is there for other “content creators” across Harperland? Will the bean-counting Dementors descend on them next?
Things look rather grim across the media landscape, but is the light at the end of tunnel a train or a glowing formation of digital tablets? Editorial cartooning may be a disposable art form with a short shelf life, but its continuing existence may be one gauge of a functioning free press.
Last June, over 50 cartoonists from both sides of the border gathered in Montreal for a conference of the ACEC (Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists). The four-day event was organized by the grey eminence of Canadian cartooning, Terry Mosher (“Aislin”), his wife Mary Hughson and freelance cartoonist Wes Tyrell. Museum curators, archivists, academics ad publishers gave presentations, as did political figures Gilles Duceppe, Justin Trudeau and Paul Martin. The event was marked by fine words, good food and excellent company.
There was also talk about the changing fortunes in the newspaper industry. Although a number of the gathered ‘content providers’ are clinging by their fingernails to their regular gigs, they consider themselves a bit better off than their colleagues in the US, where there’s been a decade-long war of attrition on newsroom staff.
With some notable exceptions, US editorial cartoonists churn out material with a homogenous, Pulitzer-seeking style. In contrast, Canadian editorial cartoonists, like our homegrown stand-up comics, are outsiders on the periphery of Empire, which may account for our idiosyncratic styles of drawing. The Francophone element also contributes to this distinction. Quebecers recognize that beaux-arts and belly laughs are not mutually exclusive. Hence the honours and awards heaped upon Quebec-based cartoonists like Aislin and Serge Chapleau, who are regarded by fans as living institutions.
I drew my first political cartoon in primary school in 1972, as part of an assignment in current events class. My subject was the Nixon administration’s carpet-bombing of Cambodia and I portrayed Tricky Dick as a scowling bird of prey with a laurel of peace in his beak, sitting on a large, black egg with the tailfins of a bomb. I like to think my published work over the years has made a small difference, if only to give readers a break from the media’s daily disaster-feed. Most cartoonists share this sentiment, yet we worry that graphic novelists and CGI animators are the tree shrews and that we’re the dinosaurs, waiting for the fatal meteor strike from the accounting department.
Aislin, whose white hair and penetrating gaze gives him the demeanour of a large barn owl, dismisses the idea of an approaching Permian extinction event for scribblers. A staffer with Montreal’s Gazette since the early seventies, he predicts that online publications will replace newsprint entirely in another three to five years. Yet he also believes that political cartooning will continue to survive online. He likens the transition to “moving from a rickety old house to a brand new condo – with a spectacular river view! The only problem (as with all new media) is this: How do we pay the mortgage?”
Monetization problems aside, the full-colour, political cartoon’s immediate hit of infotainment seems like a perfect fit for smart phones and tablets. Last year, a small collection of BC activists threw together the massively popular website shitharperdid.com a pre-election compilation of Tory offences accompanied by a simple drawing of Harper fondling a kitten like a James Bond villain (based on an actual Tory promo photo).
Like Aislin, Vancouver’s Province cartoonist Dan Murphy is a “long run optimist” on the future of political cartoons. He points to the case of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist David Horsey, who was staff cartoonist at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when its print version collapsed. Horsey then got a call from the L.A. Times, asking him to become their exclusive web cartoonist.
“L.A. Times had a hunch,” Murphy observes. “Cartoons are pop in papers so they’re likely to be pop on papers’ websites. The Horsey web-only cartoon gets the most web hits on the site now. Ditto Aislin’s at the Gazette’s site. And, with the last couple of Photoshop versions, you can cobble together an animation – soundtrack, imported vid and movie steals, cartoons/text that moves – easily enough and convert that into a website bit.”
Software tools like Flash can extend and amplify the artist’s vision for a wider audience. Murphy’s most well known creation appeared online rather than offline: a mashup of a current Enbridge television advertisement, with animated oil spills interrupting scenes of a petroleum-based paradise in British Columbia. After Murphy’s parody was pulled off the Province website, it took off on YouTube. As of late July, it had been viewed 54,089 times. In contrast, the original commercial posted to YouTube by the pipeline company had a mere 2,630 hits.
According to the Edmonton Journal, “editorial cartoons by the Journal’s Malcolm Mayes attract more page views than any other piece of content on the website.” So why don’t publishers put their cartoonists’ work front and centre online? Although editors vary in temperament, editorial cartooning seems to be endured rather than encouraged by management. Perhaps one problem is that the political sentiments of the average Canadian caricaturist lie somewhere between Stéphane Dion and Jane Fonda, while the editorial position of many Canadian newspapers ranges somewhere between Barbara Amiel and Genghis Khan.
Given today’s political and economic climate, what should be the purpose of the contemporary editorial cartoon? “Foremost – a means of dissent,” Dan Murphy replied by email. “States, corporations, institutional political parties have big budgets for promotions, can erect big PR statues to try to legitimize their vision. A political cartoon is graffiti around the base of those statues. The wittier, the funnier – the more memorable, the more powerful.”
Rosen, the former cartoonist for the Montreal Mirror, is more skeptical of the editorial cartoon’s prospects. “Dan Murphy’s [Enbridge] experience, while it shows how a good satirist can draw attention to hypocrisy by speaking truth to power, also demonstrates how fragile is our right to speak out, dependent as it is on media outlets that focus on the bottom line above all else.”
Rosen independently came up with the same tagging metaphor as Murphy, but with a different angle. “As newspapers disappear, so too does that little soapbox on the editorial page reserved for cartoonists. That independent voice, which so dangerously uses wit and ridicule to make its points, is in danger of extinction. I think some form of visual satire will always exist in human society, as it always has. But in the future it may be relegated to partisan websites and the undersides of highway overpasses, like so much impotent graffiti.”
Professional scribblers have long had the most leeway in the newsroom. If the editorial writers and columnists are the courtiers, then cartoonists are the court fools. (For that reason, the annual compilation of the best Canadian political cartoons is called Portfoolio.) Editors and cartoonists collude in the notion that they are just trafficking in harmless humour and for the most part they are. Occasionally, a sharp, well-constructed cartoon can act as a graphic lightning rod for public opinion, but if there’s a golden age for the art form, it’s either long gone or yet to come.
By the late seventies, the baton of public satire had been handed to the edgy minds behind Saturday Night Live, SCTV and National Lampoon. Today’s culture of snark is dominated by late-night TV and its current masters Stewart and Colbert, whose fast-paced, joke-stuffed programs outshine old-school newsprint through sheer, McLuhanesque megawattage. Even the editorial cartoon itself has become a target of parody: the satirical online newspaper The Onion regularly features an op-ed travesty by a mock Tea Party reactionary, who spoon-feeds the reader with clumsy, clichéd drawings.
According to a recent report in the Columbia Journalism Review, “six companies dominate TV news, radio, online, movies and publishing. Another eight or nine control most of the nation’s newspapers.” The media consolidation is even more advanced in Canada, with a handful of megacorporations doling out the bulk of the nation’s infotainment. Needless to say, this pattern of vertical integration doesn’t help advance independent thinking in journalism. You’d have to look very hard to find a cartoon critical of the media monopoly it appears in, or any of its subsidiaries.
Not surprisingly, for organizations that depend on ad revenue, there are institutional pressures to keep the laughs within mutually understood boundaries. Every cartoonist develops a second sense about which ideas his or her editor will accept or reject. The restrictions on free speech begin within the precincts of the cartoonist’s own skull. (The best satirists, like Aislin, skate the fine line between the sayable and unsayable.)
That unruly graphic beast that once helped bring down New York’s Boss Tweed during the first Gilded Age has been defanged and declawed in many North American publications. In other parts of the world, The Line King still has the power to disturb tyrants and their lackeys.
At a luncheon in Montreal, Richard Russell told ACEC members how he was working in community development projects in Sri Lanka when he heard the story of a cartoonist working for the nation’s last communist paper. He had “been beaten and stabbed and his house ransacked… all in front of his family,” Russell recalls. He reached the artist by phone in the hospital and asked what he could do. The man simply asked that if they killed him, to please take care of his children. At that point, Russell launched the Cartoonist Rights Network. The 20-year old organization, based in Washington, D.C. is still active.
From Syria to China and beyond, artists who make a sharp point about power sometimes invite the blunt force of the state. Russell was surprised to learn the story of ACEC member Shahid Mahmood, whose name was reportedly on a US no-fly list. The soft-spoken Muslim architect, who grew up in Pakistan and was cartoonist for Pakistan’s national newspaper Dawn, now lives in Toronto. He has received death-threats from Islamic fundamentalists for his depiction of the Taliban as Koran-reading apes, but it’s his savage cartoons denouncing US foreign policy that haven’t likely won him fans at the other end of the ideological spectrum. Mahmood says he was barred from a domestic Air Canada flight in 2004 and was interrogated by Interpol at an airport in Chile in 2011.
Official secrecy keeps him from learning the full details of his case, but he believes his ongoing surveillance began after his communications with the family of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan in 2002. “I’m shocked to learn this and we are dumbfounded that the American no-fly protocol can stumble its way into Canadian sovereignty quite so easily,” Russell said of Mahmood’s experience with Air Canada.
Canada has many fine cartoonists working at the top of their game and it would be as wrong to diminish their importance as to exaggerate their influence. The media landscape has never been more seismic, and long-standing traditions in journalism are crumbling on both sides of the border as the ground heaves. National Public Radio recently revealed that the Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle and the Chicago Sun-Times had outsourced some of their local reporting to US content provider Journatic. The company employs 140 Filipino workers to retype police blotters, comb public records and reformat press releases, to be forwarded to a team of 200 US freelancers and 60 full-time staffers for assembling into stories. (Many reports from Journatic have appeared in print with fake bylines.) It’s not inconceivable that someday computer algorithms will replace outsourced workers in assembling simple news reports. Yet it seems doubtful there will ever be a “bot” capable of executing a worthwhile political cartoon, other than in the sense of killing it. It is simply too human a habit.
At an ACEC luncheon in Montreal, former Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke about the importance of political cartoonists and their work. “You people have the ability to reach Canadians in a way no one else does…. with your talent to draw and to make a point,” he told the audience. It was a gracious sentiment from a man who had been hammered like a loose plank by the nation’s scribblers. His remark offers a clue to the right place of this graphic art form in a healthy democracy: never at rest. It should always be suspended in a field of contending forces, between the creator’s imagination, the editor’s judgement and the target’s legal defences. When a political cartoonist’s name ends up on a no-fly list, it’s a sign this delicate democratic balance is under threat.
As of late July, Dave Rosen has spent almost a month looking for work in his field, while maintaining his blog (www.takeoutallthewords.blogspot.ca). “In that time, I have confirmed for myself the sad truth that no one wants to pay for editorial cartoons anymore,” he tells CG. “The websites I’ve approached simply won’t pay. They want free content, unfortunately because of precedents set by freelance writers who use the sites primarily for self-promotion.
“Thus it’s likely, at least for a while, I too will have to go the free route, if only to keep my work in front of the public. For how long and whether it will lead to paying work, that I can’t say. But I still have things to say, regardless.”
• Since 2010, over 20,000 herbs, vitamins and food supplements have been removed from shelves in natural health stores across Canada. In some cases, SWAT teams raided the premises of Canadian naturopaths and healers and removed safe and effective healing products. Some practitioners have even been indicted and face criminal charges.
As a proud Canadian, I am outraged this is happening here, enforced by the very agency mandated to protect the health and well being of Canadians. How can we justify these fascistic actions and what are the root causes? Health food stores are closing down and businesses are being destroyed while, for the most part, the Canadian public doesn’t have a clue. High-quality herbs and vitamins are being replaced by low-dosage, inferior products made by pharmaceutical companies and Health Canada is going along with it. In fact, it is leading this shameful charge, pushed though by international pharmaceutical interests and the Codex Alimentarius of the United Nations and all GATT signatory countries. And it is all happening right under our noses.
Who is responsible and how can essential human liberties, guaranteed by both the Bill of Rights and the Canadian Constitution be crushed and shoved aside? What happened to our right to heal ourselves and the democratic oversight of a sovereign nation to protect the life and well being of its citizens? How can the Harper government justify this to the people who elected it into office, supposedly for the common good? It can’t. And it’s pretty clear to this Canadian that vested interests and international drug agendas, pushed through by global trade, are at the root of it.
Recent statistics show pharmaceutical drugs are responsible for over 750,000 deaths a year from toxic side effects and are now the leading cause of accidental deaths, having superceded car accidents. They are also the fourth leading cause of deaths in hospitals, after cancer, heart disease and strokes. On the other hand, there is zero evidence that vitamin C or any herbal supplement produced with good manufacturing practices (GMP) has ever caused a fatality. And yet vitamins and supplements are being refused NPN numbers (a license to sell) and removed from stores.
In the US, TV ads for pharmaceutical drugs feature young, healthy, happy people prancing about in bathing suits, a marketing ruse to distract viewers from the addenda of the side effects of these drugs, which, by law, must be listed. While Wall Street and the banks reach record profits and Big Pharma fairly crows with success, people become weaker and sicker, poisoned by endless tons of toxic pesticides, herbicides, GMOs and radiation. And government departments like Health Canada, which, after all, are just doing their jobs, prosper and hide behind the secretive actions that make this nightmare possible. But aren’t we all responsible for what is happening in Canada? And if we do let it happen, how can we then stop it?
The day may soon arrive when fully 70 percent of all natural remedies will have been removed from stores, replaced with toxic, watered-down, ersatz versions, which might cause serious harm.
It’s your body, not the government’s. It’s your health, not your doctor’s or Health Canada’s. It’s your inalienable right to choose life. Inform yourself. Be aware and wake up. Don’t let the bad guys win. Learn more at www.naturalhealthfreedomcanada.com
Tell your Facebook buddies and inform your friends. Take peaceful action and tell Health Canada and the Harper Government that Canada is still a free nation: I, ___________, as a citizen of the sovereign and democratic nation of Canada strongly protest the actions of Health Canada against the natural health industry and demand that Health Canada rescind its actions and make the government of Canada make fair and equitable compensation.
Nick Mancuso’s international career in show business spans 40 years. He has appeared in over 300 movies and is best known for his Genie-award winning performance in the Canadian movie Ticket to Heaven. He is also a painter and published poet and author. He recently produced and performed his one-man show God is a Gangster at the European Theatre Festival in Timisoara. His film The Last Gamble won Best Picture at the New York International Film Festival. Mancuso is a health activist and one of the founders of PowerHealthRadio, which he hosts. Watch Nick Mancuso’s Youtube video entitled Natural Health Freedom Canada Presents. Go to www.youtube.com and search for Natural Health Freedom Canada.
• Imagine my surprise when a journalist called me a year ago to ask for my comment on the news that a law of Ecocide had been considered an international crime over 15 years ago. All we had was one document that referred to three countries that had objected to it being included as Crime Against Peace.
Today, we have a paper trail that takes us back to 1972. The call to make Ecocide an international crime is nothing new; over 7,000 people took to the streets in Stockholm in 1972 to demand that ecocide be a crime. It was the time of the Vietnam War and world leaders had met in Stockholm to resolve environmental issues at an international level for the first time. At the same time, The People’s Forum brought together some of the top experts of the day to discuss Ecocide.
Fast forward a decade; 1985 saw the flame of the Law of Ecocide burn brightly again. Most significant was the draft “Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind” (precursor to the Rome Statute), which included Ecocide. For a further 11 years, the UN partook in concerted debate, discussion and research. One researcher even drafted the Ecocide Convention. What happened next is set out in the research paper, Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace.
Recently, the Human Rights Consortium at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London, launched The Ecocide Project, which will continue to unravel the question as to why it was shelved. Dr Damien Short, who has taken up the post of Director of the Human Rights Consortium said, “The paper provides a foundation of understanding on which we must build; there is more vital work to be done.” The report draws attention to the preamble of the draft Ecocide Convention, where there is the explicit recognition that Ecocide is not always a crime of intent and that Ecocide is caused in both times of war and peace.
“Man has consciously and unconsciously inflicted irreparable damage to the environment in times of war and peace.” These words have as much relevance today as they did when they were written in the draft Ecocide Convention in 1973.
My dream is for a world of peace, a world where mass damage and destruction no longer exists. I believe we can live in peaceful enjoyment where both people and planet are put first.
Like the name of the research paper, Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace, just imagine that when we close the door to mass damage and destruction, a new door will open. When it does close, our world of conflict will end. What will open is the door to the world of peace.
Polly Higgins is a lawyer, barrister and the author of Eradicating Ecocide and Earth is our Business. Polly proposed to the United Nations that the law of Ecocide be the 5th Crime Against Peace. Visit www.sas.ac.uk/hrc/projects/ecocide-project for more information about The Ecocide Project. Download the research paper at www.eradicatingecocide.com
• On Saturday, June 30, approximately 2,000 Walkers for Peace met at Kitsilano Beach (Arbutus and Cornwall) and joined together in unity to celebrate peace, on the 30th anniversary of Vancouver’s very first Walk for Peace in 1982.
We were welcomed to the land by Elder Henry Charles from the Musqueam First Nation, who blessed the land, and we also received a spiritual blessing delivered by Métis grandmother, pipe carrier, sundancer and singer Aline LaFlamme. Aline’s energy and words were inspirational: “We will show the way by going first. We will walk with love, honour, respect and compassion for all things in creation, including ourselves.”
At 1:00 PM we walked together, led by Fanny Starchild and Ross Barrett of the Carnival Band. United as one in peace, we walked along Cornwall Avenue, over the Burrard Street Bridge, west along Pacific, and south on Bute Street and crossed over Beach Avenue to gather in the natural amphitheatre of Sunset Beach Park. By the time the first walkers arrived, the festivities had already started on the main stage. Wonderful performers, speakers, entertainers and musicians delighted the crowd throughout the afternoon.
It was a beautiful afternoon celebrating and sharing peace and those who participated realized you cannot come to peace by just warring against war. We walked together in unity towards peace. Our slogan in 1982 was – and still is today – “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
We are continuing our work towards our next event and we are looking for sponsors who wish to come on board and help cover costs or share in kind. We greatly appreciate your endorsement.
We wish to thank our many volunteers and sponsors who fulfilled the role of Peace Ambassadors and helped to make the event so special.
Media sponsor Common Ground Magazine: http://commonground.ca/ Read more inside!
Rev. Bruce Sanguin (Canadian Memorial Church and The Centre for Peace) for providing the space for our organizational meetings.
The Mayor’s office and the City of Vancouver for providing the Proclamation.
Vancouver City Engineering for providing plumbing and the Parks office for rebuilding the Peace Flame and providing fresh water for the event.
Daniel Sabina and the great staff at Show Max Event Services (604-639-4629)
Ronnie Novak at Cats Eye Video www.catseyevideo.com (604-224-2466)
Ehren Salazar designed our Walk for Peace shoe logo – thank you.
General Paint – thank you Rob.
Mr. Edit in North Vancouver for transcribing 1980s video to digital.
Ishi Roberts Dinim for 30 years of inspiration and digital editing.
Damien Gillis for such great film editing.
SML Printing on Broadway for handbills and flyers.
Myron Pajak, Dream Classic Charter Service (604-831-6445), for providing the classic vehicle that transported the veterans across the bridge.
PacBlue Printing for the large outdoor Walk for Peace banner.
Parallel Rentals Inc., Burnaby, 604-436-1418.
Canada Wide Communications, 604-980-9071.
The Teamsters Local 155 for event security – awesome guys!
The BC Federation of Labour.
The Flower Factory at 3604 Main St. for their Peace Wreath 604-871-1008
RE/MAX Realty & Selina Jansen for their lovely tents.
Laura-Leah Shaw RE/MAX Crest Realty Westside 604-551-9297 (please support a ‘cruelty-free’ world). Thank you Laura-Leah for transporting the huge peace sign.
Kelli Turner from Vancouver Ambulance Service, for watching over us.
Grady Mercs from Paul Mercs Concerts for great organization and promotion.
Florence Etienne for feeding us all such incredibly delicious Vegan food.
Mo Khani from Canada Green Pack (eco-server.ca).
http://www.suprememastertv.com/ be Vegan make Peace.
All our performers: Ross Barrett and the Carnival Band, Ta’Kaiya Blaney, Drew Rouse, Corinthian, Rachel, Sean, Kelsang, Lynn McGown & Michael Pratt, Mel Hertig, Hannah, Tony & Adrian, Suzan Law & Laura Swift, Woody Coward, David Laskey and Ed Livingstone of VANA, B.E.A.R and Mahara Brenna thank you! and especially Neil Weisensel for arranging such a fine performance with house band Peace in the City!
To many of our wonderful organizational volunteers without which the event would not have been the same: Hazel Bell-Akoshi for her passion, Gerald Sze for his astute accounting, Lloyd and Felicia for everything! Thank you Phil Watson, Jillian Skeet, Sonya Weir, Hila Russ, Herb Barbolet, James McDonald, Chris & Reimer Kroecher, Dheera, Jake, Mary, David, Elizabeth, Paalin and Jeffery. Thank you all, and especially to Fiona Crossley, Mary Guilfoyle and Sandra Tait (Golden Seeds Event Marketing, 604-336-4212), whose help was invaluable.
And to Joseph Roberts, publisher of Common Ground Magazine, whose vision and dedication to peace sparked this event. Thank you for your inspiration.
And to you, our Peace Ambassadors, banner wavers, on-the-day volunteers, thank you, thank you for your belief that your actions can and do make such a significant difference.
And to all those who walked for Peace on June 30, 2012, and continue to Walk for Peace each day, thank you all for being willing to step forward and be the change you want to see. If we have inadvertently omitted anyone from our list of supporters and helpers, we apologize.
• We can’t live without clean water. Canada is blessed with an abundance of lakes and rivers and has a global responsibility to manage them well. But if we really want to protect freshwater supplies and the ecosystems they support, we must understand how human activity and natural disturbances affect them.
The world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area in Southern Ontario has served as an outdoor laboratory for this purpose since 1968. By manipulating and studying conditions in 58 small lakes and their watersheds, scientists there have made many discoveries about the effects of human and natural activity on freshwater ecosystems and fish. Over the past 45 years, they’ve taught us about the impacts of acid rain, mercury pollution, nanoparticles, nitrogen overload, climate change and fish farming.
That’s about to end. The federal government announced it will close the unique facility in 2013. It’s an odd decision, especially considering it costs just $2 million a year to operate – one-tenth the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s security detail and about the same amount the government spent during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto to build a tourism pavilion with a fake lake. To make matters worse, it will cost taxpayers $50 million to shut the ELA down!
In an open letter to government, senior scientists point out “research conducted at the ELA has been instrumental in the development of environmental policy and legislation both nationally and internationally.” We often hear how Canada “manages” its natural resources, but how can we do that without sound knowledge about the intricacies of the water cycle?
The timing is also odd. The ELA is being shut down as the government eviscerates laws and regulations designed to protect freshwater and marine habitat and resources with its omnibus budget bill. Included in the bill are changes or cuts to the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Species at Risk Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act and a complete gutting and rewriting of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Changes to the Fisheries Act are especially troubling. Habitat protection has been removed and the focus has shifted to economically viable and aboriginal fisheries only. That has some former fisheries ministers worried. In a letter to the prime minister, Conservatives Tom Siddon and John Fraser and Liberals Herb Dhaliwal and David Anderson wrote, “Canadians are entitled to know whether these changes were written, or insisted upon, by the minister of fisheries or by interest groups outside the government. If the latter is true, exactly who are they?”
It’s a valid concern. Postmedia obtained government documents showing that Enbridge, the company behind the dual Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, lobbied the government heavily before the changes were brought in. Documents also indicate pressure from Enbridge was partly responsible for the government’s decision to pull out of a joint marine-planning process on the Pacific North Coast between industry, First Nations, citizens’ groups and conservation organizations.
One can’t help but notice that many recent cuts and changes are aimed at programs, laws or entities that might slow the push for rapid tar sands expansion and pipelines to the west and south, along with the massive sell-off of our resources and resource industry to Chinese state-owned companies, among others. Any research or findings that don’t fit with the government’s fossil fuel-based economic plans appear to be under attack.
Development is important, but when it’s focused on a single polluting industry, at the expense of other economic priorities and the environment, it doesn’t make sense. When industry and government go to such extreme lengths to promote a shortsighted and narrow interest, it’s an affront to the democratic traditions that Canadians of all political stripes have built over the years.
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org
• It’s easy to forget that many Chinese teenagers know nothing about the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989; just ask any young Chinese immigrant to Vancouver. Given China’s huge and fast-growing economic and military power, there’s ongoing pressure for it to open up, but as documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry reveals, freedom of speech is a long way off.
Activist-artist Ai came to prominence when having designed the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, he denounced the 2008 Olympics as an “empty event,” certainly not for the poor people evicted from the stadium site. The burly artist has been a constant thorn in the side of the PRC, holding up his trademark middle finger to the government’s censorship regime. Propelled by his social media activities and his brash wit, Ai has earned superstar status. “Beijing’s Andy Warhol” has held celebrated exhibitions in London and Munich and been feted by the media worldwide.
Director Alison Klayman’s intimate portrait charts Ai’s recent activity until his disappearance last year, when he was held in secret detention for 81 days by the police as part of measures to pre-empt a Chinese Spring. The documentary captures Ai very much in his milieu, whether touring with his entourage (lots of meals) or working the net in his Beijing studio surrounded by his cats. He is a physically large and indomitable presence with a disarming humility and frankness when talking about his life and work. We meet his proud mom who worries to tears despite Ai’s soothing noises about her boy’s brushes with the authorities. His wife talks briefly and the appearance of his illegitimate infant son later in the film gives rise to some memorable shots of him in the field of porcelain sunflower seeds installation at London’s Tate Modern.
Ai’s response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake – an event that initially left him “speechless” – is at the heart of Klayman’s film. When the Chinese government refused to acknowledge that thousands of children died when “tofu-”constructed schools collapsed on top of them, Ai supporters went from village to village building a list of 5,835 victims. Ai distributed the list online and covered a huge wall of the Haus der Kunst in Munich with brightly coloured satchels spelling out the words of a mother of a quake victim: “She lived happily for seven years in this world.”
The police seem never far away, watching and documenting on camera. Ai’s response is to document back. When assaulted during a police night raid, he creates a firestorm of protest with a photo sent out via Twitter. When he subsequently has emergency surgery for a cerebral haemorrhage, he shares a series of photographs of himself from his Munich hospital bed captioned with stoic wit. Later, when the authorities decide to destroy his Shanghai studio on a flimsy pretext, Ai lampoons the injustice by turning the occasion into an open-invitation party serving crab – “crab” being synonymous with “censorship.”
As Ai suggests, he’s like a chess player, except the rules of this game keep changing. Given the pressure, Ai’s calm resilience is impressive, something the doc traces, in part, to his boyhood experience of his poet father’s humiliations and his years as a student in New York, as much as his bullish personality. Klayman’s achievement is in providing a detailed depiction of how China suppresses dissent and how one man has become such a potent voice of resistance, as the David and Goliath battle continues to play out across a kaleidoscopic media landscape.
Saturday June 30th join the thousands who will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Vancouver’s famous Walk for Peace. The day kick off at Kits Beach at 12 noon for a 1:00 pm walk across the Burrard Street Bridge to the Sunset Beach entertainment stage in the West End. In 1982, against the escalating nuclear arms race, many diverse groups came together to create Vancouver’s first Walk for Peace. 35,000 people gathered that first year, growing to 65,000 the following year and 100,000 in 1984. Now, in 2012, join us as we make history again with the special 30th Anniversary Walk for Peace!