Monday, September 27, 2010

John Allemang Looks to 2050

In Saturday's Globe and Mail, columnist John Allemang wrote a piece from the perspective of Canada in the year 2050, examining the country's place in the great scheme of things after climate change has wrought its full effects. It concentrates on the advantages that will accrue to Canada with the opening up of the North West Passage, the export of water and hydroelectricity to the parched southern United States, the development of thriving Northern communities, etc.

My quibble with the article is three fold:

First, it echoes an increasingly common opinion that since climate change is happening and much further changes are inevitable, we need to spend our time and resources adapting rather than trying to mitigate its effects now.

Secondly, it pays little attention to the negative consequences of climate change within Canada, only making reference to it being responsible for more mosquitoes and the fact that prairie farmers had to abandon the parched and eroded land where wheat used to grow.

Finally, while the article purposely takes an admittedly entrepreneurial approach to climate change, the fact that so many parts of the world will suffer tremendously is given short shrift; the closest he comes is reference to the lack of water in the drought-stricken southern U.S.

The dearth of compassion or concern for the rest of the world led me to wonder whether, in John Allemang's view, climate change will also entail another completely different cost: the loss of Canadian compassion from our national identity.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Where Are Your Charity Dollars Going?

I doubt there are many amongst us who have not experienced the following: You are sitting down for a mid-evening meal, or perhaps settling in to watch an hour of television when the phone rings. At the other end of the line is someone calling on behalf of a charity, either one you currently patronize or one seeking your support. You do one of three things: you either agree to increase your support, say you can't give more, or agree to sponsor the new charity.

It may surprise you to know that in some cases, the person you have just dealt with is not necessarily a volunteer calling on behalf of the charity, but rather an employee of a professional fundraising company that will be receiving anywhere from 35 to 80% of your donation.

These startling facts were presented on last night's edition of C.B.C.'s The National in a report by Diana Swain. The value of the report lies not in discouraging us from contributing to worthwhile causes, but rather in allowing us to make better-informed decisions as to where to allot our philanthropic dollars.

The full report, with links to a searchable database breaking down the expenditures of registered charities, can be found on the C.B.C. website

Friday, September 10, 2010

Canada's Shame

While I shall always be proud to be a Canadian, I have never subscribed to the mantra, "My country, right or wrong," which to me means uncritical acceptance of every action taken by one's country simply because it is one's country. In my mind, such a philosophy is an abdication of one of the responsibilities of citizenship, not an expression of it.

With that in mind, I am reproducing below an article from yesterday's Globe and Mail that addresses an issue of fundamental wrongdoing, the export of asbestos to developing countries. As most people know, asbestos is a leading cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining that is invariably fatal. In fact, it is what killed the actor Steve McQueen many years ago. Despite the well-established link between asbestos inhalation and this cancer, the Quebec provincial government, aided and abetted by the federal government, continues to mine and export it, the result being increased rates of mesothelioma and other lung cancers in places such as Mexico, where it is used as an additive to strengthen cement. No amount of jobs (700 in Quebec) can justify this export of death.

Government investment in asbestos is morally bankrupt

Quebec has lent Jeffrey Mine Inc. $3.5-million to keep it alive when the asbestos industry should be allowed to die a natural death

Andre Picard

From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Sep. 08, 2010 12:48PM EDT Last updated on Thursday, Sep. 09, 2010 12:08PM EDT

Investissement Québec, a government agency, has provided Jeffrey Mine Inc. with a $3.5-million loan, allowing it to continue mining asbestos for a month longer and giving it one last gasp at attracting foreign investment.

One has to wonder why.

Why are the governments of Quebec and Canada so hell bound in their support of a deathly, dying industry?

How can a country and a province that claim to care about human rights and international health justify peddling tonnes of a carcinogen to the developing world for a few shekels?

What horrors are being wrought in the name of economic development, and in a bid for a few votes?

To date, 52 countries have banned asbestos. It is a cancer-causing product, and we have known so since the 1950s. The tiny fibres, when inhaled, can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Asbestos was once a miracle fibre because of its resistance to fire, rust, rot and termites.

In Canada, the “white gold” was once used liberally, in everything from pipe insulation to car brakes, modelling clay to talcum powder.

As a result, we have one of the highest rates of asbestos-related cancer in the world. In Quebec, asbestos is responsible for half of all workplace-related deaths.
Domestically, the use of asbestos is now strictly regulated under the Hazardous Products Act. We go to great lengths and much expense to remove it from public buildings, including Parliament and 24 Sussex Dr.

Yet Canada allows – and actively promotes – the export of asbestos. Ottawa even opposes the inclusion of asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention, a treaty on the use of hazardous substances.

The federal government also provides $250,000 a year to the Chrysotile Institute so it can flog asbestos abroad and propagandize at home.

The institute is a master of Orwellian doublespeak: It calls asbestos “chrysotile”; it promotes the “safe use” of the product, glossing over the scientific evidence that there is no practical means of safe handling; its lobbying is responsible for the fact that, in Quebec, the “safe” level of exposure to asbestos is 10 times what it is in other provinces; and one of the group’s favourite rhetorical claims is that asbestos is invaluable and safe because even NASA uses it.

Indeed, asbestos is used on the space shuttle so that it won’t catch fire during launch and re-entry. But the reality is that the principal buyers of asbestos are India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, where the mineral is used in construction. Needless to say, the workplace safety standards in these countries aren’t exactly comparable with NASA’s.

“When it comes to the asbestos industry, you readily abandon science and put forward the lie that Quebec asbestos can be safely used, when even your own government health experts have told you this is not true,” Mohit Gupta, co-ordinator of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India said in a stinging letter to Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

Every credible health organization in Canada, from the Quebec Institute for Public Health to the Canadian Cancer Society has condemned the federal and provincial governments for their unethical promotion of asbestos.

More than 100,000 people worldwide die of occupational exposure to asbestos each year, according to the World Health Organization.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Asbestos-related disease has a long latency period; workers breathing the fibres today will be sick and dying in decades. And, unlike Canadian workers, they will have little legal recourse.

Canada – one of the top five asbestos exporters in the world – is a major contributor to the carnage, but we turn a blind eye to it.

It is apathy tinged with more than a slight hint of racism. Killing workers in India is no more acceptable than killing them in Canada, regardless of the jobs the practice creates in small-town Quebec.

There are two asbestos mines in Canada: the LAB Chrysotile Mine in Thetford Mines, Que. is a few years from exhaustion; and the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Que., which is in bankruptcy protection. Between them they account for 7 per cent of the world production of asbestos, worth a few hundred million dollars a year.

These mines should be allowed to die an overdue death. Monies that go to promoting and subsidizing the sale of asbestos should be redirected to retraining and supporting the remaining workers – about 500 in total, almost all of them close to retirement age.

But Bernard Coulombe, owner of the Jeffrey Mine, has grand plans. He wants to massively expand and extract 200,000 tonnes a year of asbestos (oh, sorry, chrysotile) for the next 25 years.

He needs a $58-million investment to make a go of it.

Quebec was prepared to make a loan guarantee in that full amount, with a few token conditions, such as attracting some private investment and asking importers to respect safety standards. But the support seems to be wavering.

It is time to stop “exporting death made in Quebec,” according to Gilles Paradis, scientific editor of the Canadian Public Health Association Journal.

“The decision by the Quebec government to continue exporting chrysotile asbestos is a public health tragedy for Canada and the rest of the world. Asbestos kills workers and citizens. … The decision is wrong, unethical, indecent and we should be outraged.”


Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Thoughtful Piece by Roger Ebert

I'm just back from a brief holiday, so I don't have anything of my own to offer. There is, however, a piece I recommend by noted film critic and intrepid blogger Roger Ebert. Lamenting the cancer of ignorance that has infected American democracy, he has some incisive and insightful comments to offer about people like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and others of their ilk in his latest entry.

Some of what he writes is also applicable to Canada, especially with the divisive tactics employed by the Harper Government that often mirror those of American extremists.