Peace and Eco Briefs, January–February 2011

Peace and Environment News — Insider, January–February 2011
by Mike Buckthought

Loss of Species Threatens Human Health

A new study reveals a link between the loss of species and disease. The loss of biodiversity in ecosystems results in increases in the numbers of disease-causing organisms. “We knew of specific cases in which declines in biodiversity increase the incidence of disease. But we’ve learned that the pattern is much more general: biodiversity loss tends to increase pathogen transmission across a wide range of infectious disease systems,” said Felicia Keesing, an ecologist and lead author of the study. The animals, plants and bacteria that disappear are the ones that buffer against disease transmission. Remaining species are often the ones that transmit diseases such as West Nile, Lyme disease and hantavirus. In the case of Lyme disease, mice can thrive when forests are fragmented, increasing the numbers of ticks that carry the disease. Loss of biodiversity has a detrimental impact on human health. (Bard College, December 1, 2010

Denmark Fossil Fuel-Free by 2050

Canadian corporations pour billions of dollars into the fossil economy, mining the Alberta tar sands and clearing forests to construct pipelines to send oil and gas south of the border. Denmark has chosen a different path, with substantial investments in green energy and a national plan to make the transition to a carbon-free economy. According to the Danish climate commission, the country can go fossil fuel-free by 2050. With the rising cost of oil and gas, it will be much cheaper to use wind and biomass energy to meet the country’s power requirements. The commission recommends investing 0.5 per cent of Denmark’s gross domestic product (GDP) in renewable sources of power to make the transition. (The Guardian, September 29, 2010)

Canada Bombs on Leadership

The Canadian government has made deep reductions in its funding of programs to clear landmines. Canada slashed spending by 57 per cent, the biggest decrease of all donor countries. This contrasts with Canada’s past support for the 1997 Ottawa Convention to ban landmines. According to the Landmine Monitor 2010 report, the Ottawa Convention has prevented many injuries and deaths. In 2009, 3,956 new casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war were recorded, a 28 per cent reduction from the previous year. Eighty-six countries have destroyed their stockpiles of antipersonnel mines. (Landmine Monitor 2010, November 24, 2010; Mines Action Canada, November 24–29, 2010

Naked Scanners Pose Cancer Risk

The “war on terror” will have an unintended consequence: it will lead to increased rates of cancer in North America. Scientists are warning of the health impacts from the use of full-body “naked” security scanners at airports. “They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays,” said Dr. Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at John Hopkins University. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has purchased hundreds of airport scanners which create revealing images of passengers. Canada is following the American lead. The “naked” scanners have been criticized for health risks and privacy issues. (Agence France Presse, November 12, 2010)

Chemical in Receipts Linked to Cancer

Receipts from cash registers contain high levels of the carcinogen bisphenol A, according to a new study. U.S. non-profit organizations Safer Chemicals, Safer Families and the Washington Toxics Coalition tested receipts from stores and coffee shops. Half of the receipts contained high levels of bisphenol A, a chemical known to increase risks of cancer and obesity, and to affect the development of babies and children. Touching a receipt for ten seconds transferred up to 2.5 micrograms of bisphenol A to a person’s fingers, according to the report. Bisphenol A is used in plastic bottles, cans and other consumer products. The European Union is following Canada’s lead, taking action to end the use of the chemical in baby bottles. (Agence France Presse, December 8, 2010)

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental and human rights issues.

Published in the Peace and Environment News Insider, Volume 26, Number 1, January–February 2011, page 7.

And They Call It Democracy?

Peace and Environment News, January–February 2011
by Mike Buckthought

On November 16, Conservative Senators defeated Bill C-311 (the Climate Change Accountability Act) with a vote of 43 to 32.

The climate bill was passed in the House of Commons by a majority of elected Members of Parliament. When it reached the Senate, Conservative Senators called for a surprise vote at a time when many Liberal Senators were away. According to media reports, the Harper government ordered Conservative Senators to vote against the bill at the first possible opportunity.

Bill C-311 was a Private Member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay-Superior North) on February 10, 2009. On April 1, 2009, the bill passed second reading with 141 votes in favour and 128 against.

The Climate Change Accountability Act incorporated recommendations of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It would have ensured that Canada commits to reducing emissions by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, with reductions of 80% by the year 2050. These reductions are needed to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

Support for the climate bill was strong, with tens of thousands of Canadians signing letters and petitions addressed to Members of Parliament and Senators. An open letter supporting the bill was endorsed by over 40 organizations across the country, including Sierra Club Canada, Ecology Action Centre, Council of Canadians, David Suzuki Foundation, Équiterre and NUPGE.

What message did the government convey to the people of the world when it obstructed passage of climate legislation? Canadian negotiators headed to the international climate talks in Cancun without a credible plan to tackle global warming.

While in Mexico, Canada’s team targeted the emissions of other countries. They insisted that countries such as China and India should commit to binding targets for reductions. Meanwhile, the defeat of Bill C-311 ensured that Canada would not commit to deep reductions in emissions. Canada’s per capita emissions are much higher than the emissions recorded in other countries.

The Harper government engineered the defeat of Bill C-311, ignoring the fact that a majority of Members of Parliament passed the bill in the House of Commons. It was a curious move, considering that Harper campaigned on the idea of a reformed, elected Senate. Instead, we now have a Senate stacked with Harper loyalists. The Prime Minister has appointed 38 new Senators in all, shifting the balance in favour of the Conservatives.

With the defeat of the climate bill and a new Conservative majority in the Senate, we are left wondering: will the Senate now block any legislation introduced by opposition parties, implementing the dictates of the new king?

Viewed from overseas, Canada is jettisoning its principles in pursuit of the all-mighty petro-dollar. In an article published in the Guardian, George Monbiot expresses his dismay. He is witnessing, he says, “the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state.”

The defeat of Bill C-311 represents a serious setback for efforts to tackle climate change. There are economic consequences, too. Without strong commitments to reduce emissions, it becomes more difficult to justify investments in renewable energy. We need climate legislation with binding targets for emissions reductions, and a national strategy to invest in renewable energy and create thousands of green jobs in Canada.

Mike Buckthought worked as national climate change campaigner for Sierra Club Canada, 2008–2009. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 26, Number 1, January–February 2011, page 6.