Charming the Tin Ear

With the termination of my long-running Sustainable City column at The Coast, I thought I'd create a new blog on environmental issues - a new, closer-to-the-ground soapbox to share short, but hopefully worth-your-time observations. I'd say it's because I'm passionate about the environment, but the truth is I'm scared and it's an obsession. I have kids now and I'm scared for them. As humanity tames the beast it becomes a more hostile, dangerous and unhappy world. I'm doing my best to build their health and strength. Changing the world is much more daunting, but there's nothing we've done that can't be fixed, yet. A sustainable humanity is achievable if we can get the bosses and bigmen out of the way. But this is merely a space to consider and discuss.

So, where to begin? Well the most exciting thing I've seen 'out there' lately is Idle No More, which was sparked by Bill C-45, the latest assault on the earth and our future by Canada's neo-con majority government (which has minimal support). I'm inspired by the response from Mi'kmaw communities and leaders. A busload of folks are headed from Fredericton to Ottawa to support Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence during her hunger strike, which she'll continue until Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with her. As Harsha Walia observes, Spence has joined a long line of heroes in "an act of ultimate self-sacrifice, famed hunger-strikers such as Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Bobby Sands, Khader Adnan, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and Irom Chanu Sharmila persisted in their demand for the most basic of elements: land, life, abundance, freedom and dignity."

Unfortunately, three weeks in and PM Harper seems content to let her starve rather than spare a few moments of his precious time. Unless you believe the trolls commenting on online news stories, saying that because she's taking fish broth and liquids she's in no danger. But the reality is, restricted to liquids her health will suffer and she could die within weeks or months - her body's reaction is impossible to predict. But already her visitors have described her loss of strength and apparently she is sleeping more.

So how is this an environmental issue? Spence's hunger strike is part of the Idle No More movement demanding that the Government of Canada live up to its treaty obligations and consult with First Nations on natural resources issues. Bill C-45 gutted the Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882, removing important protections (extensive consultation processes required for construction) from 99 percent of Canadian waterways, including those on First Nations' land. In Nova Scotia, only three waterways remain protected.

Those pesky rules about consultation are in the government's way. Rather than protect the water, they'd prefer to let industry build oil pipelines through it, something most First Nations oppose. Easy solution: remove the rules about consultation. 

For the Prime Minister, meeting Spence would mean listening to a voice of reason. And reason has a tendency to get in oil's way. But at the same time, people don't like watching a brave woman starve to death. For Harper, that's an ugly thing to be psychologically associated with, come election time. Perhaps for that reason he'll meet with Spence. I hope she knows how to charm the tin ear of a man who runs on oil and gas.