Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Poisoning Children and Politicians

While scrutinizing for Elizabeth May in London North Centre two months ago, I had an interesting conversation with a Conservative volunteer. She complained to me how outrageous it is for governments to be outlawing pesticides, citing that mainstay of schoolyard arguments that "it's a free country."

The problem is, of course, that when you define freedom that liberally (hehe) and approach it in such an ideological way, you back yourself into impossible corners. (Witness Donald Rumsfeld's famous observation that "Free people are free to...commit crimes and do bad things.") I asked the Conservative volunteer if she would agree that, even though it's a free country (whatever that means), the government would be within their rights to, say, prevent people from putting poison in children's food. (She did.) I then explained to her the process by which toxins like pesticides work their way up the food chain, bioaccumulating and becoming more potent at each level, until ultimately they show up in mothers' breast milk.

At this point, she uncomfortably changed the subject. I don't remember what to, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with "liberal corruption."

I was reminded of that by two main news stories today, which report that some children's necklaces have been recalled due to lead poising risk, and that politicians are even more toxic than humans. Er, I mean, more than other humans. (Apparently, Jack Layton is particularly fire retardant.)

The Globe and Mail reports that the testing, done on Jack Layton, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, and Liberal environment critic John Godfrey, "found a bewildering cocktail of contaminants...[that] have been found to cause cancer, disrupt normal hormone function, and lead to birth defects," including DDT, which has been banned for decades but will continue to circulate in the environment for decades to come.

The politicians had between 49 and 55 pollutants in their bodies, slightly more than what most Canadians are carrying around. Most upsetting for me is that, according to Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence who did the study, the politicians "were surprised as heck by the results." They shouldn't be. This is neither news nor new. I wonder if Rick had to resist an urge to slap them.

Regardless, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say, on record, that I don't think we should be poisoning children, or, heck, even politicians. I know, I know, it's a controversial position, but I think it's important to take a principled stand on this one, public opinion be damned. In fact, a well-known Green Party member once suggested to me that we use the following campaign slogan: "The Green Party: We don't want to poison your kids." Catchy, ain't it?

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bush Melting Faster Than Harper, Slower Than Arctic

I'm back in Toronto after a Christmas-family-tour. One stop was to visit my Gomma and Pappa (the names us grandkids call my dad's parents for reasons that have never been clear to me), who gave me some new clippings. One was all about polar bears, and highlighted the fact that over the past few decades the thickness of the ice in the arctic circle has thinned by 40%.

I read a lot of statistics and, recently, I've just been letting them wash over me like noise. Otherwise, they become overwhelming and even debilitating. My Pappa's disbelief, however, caused this one to stand out. Actually, you might describe his reaction as outraged. I was somewhat surprised to hear this man in his 80s demand to know why SUVs aren't illegal. He kept asking me to write a letter to the Globe and Mail, "telling Canadians to wake up."

I tried to comfort him with the good news that, in fact, we now see daily stories and op-ed pieces about the climate crisis. Exactly one year ago, I told him, I was in an election campaign where I felt like I still needed to convince people that climate change was real. If we had another election campaign today (or, say, in March), I'd be able to assume that most people recognize the threat and move on to advocating for specific solutions. That's a huge step forward, I argued. Pappa remained unsatisfied that we're moving quickly enough.

Today's announcement by U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that he agrees with my Pappa and believes polar bears are "threatened," and that this threat is a specific result of climate change, is a good sign. It's also an embarrassing one, since it means that the Bush administration has now done more to acknowledge the science of climate change than Stephen Harper.

It's not Canadians that need to wake up, it's our government.

The good news in all of this is that in our next federal election you'll see all four national parties making the environment an issue (something that none of the three status quo parties did effectively in the last campaign). The environment has (finally!) become an issue like health care and education, in that everyone can agree it's important (critical, in fact). It won't be enough for a party to say they "care about" and "want to protect" the environment. Politicians will have to demonstrate they have solutions that work. That's where I believe the Green Party has credibility the other parties lack.

We'll have to move quickly though. Not just because we're running out of time, but because my Pappa deserves some good news.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

My First Press Release

Well, actually, this was my first press release, but this morning's release (on the wire here) is my first as Democratic Reform Advocate. See below.


Harper Can't Dictate Democracy, Green Party Says
Senate reform must be decided by people, not politicians

OTTAWA, Dec. 14 /CNW Telbec/ - The Conservative government is overstepping its bounds by attempting to unilaterally change this country's democratic systems, Green Party of Canada democratic reform advocate Chris Tindal said today.

"Democracy isn't just another political issue," said Tindal. "Our democratic systems need, by definition, to be determined by citizens, not just politicians. They especially shouldn't be dictated by a Prime Minister whose party received just a little more than a third of the vote in the last general election."

The Canadian Senate, while in need of reform, has traditionally played an important role in Canadian politics as a place of sober second thought and long-term planning. Any good ideas that the government's proposal may include, such as a move towards proportional representation, lack legitimacy unless they come directly from citizens.

"The Senate is just one piece of the very complicated web that makes up our democracy," added Green Party leader Elizabeth May. "To tinker with it in isolation from other democratic systems, and without an appreciation for the many functions and long history of the Senate, is dangerous to say the least."

The Green Party of Canada recognizes the need for democratic reform, including Senate reform. Greens support the creation of a Citizens' Assembly to determine what Senate reform is necessary, similar to the Citizens' Assembly dealing with proportional representation that is currently under way in Ontario.


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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What's Behind Stockwell's Skepticism?

By now you've probably heard about Stockwell Day's embarrassing column that got him negative media attention for mocking Al Gore and climate change. Aside from drawing attention to Stockwell's poor spelling, grammar, and sense of narrative flow, this highlighted an inconvenient truth that the Conservative government has been trying their best to downplay: namely, they don't believe the science of climate change.

What's interesting about that is that scientific consensus on the issue of the climate crisis (that it's real, being influenced by human action, and threatens life on Earth) is about as tight as scientific consensus can get. Those of you who have watched Al Gore's film or read the book know that in recent years there have been absolutely no peer-reviewed studies in recognized scientific journals that question the science of climate change, while at the same time 53% of media stories have done so (demonstrating the effectiveness of the tobacco-turned-oil lobby).

We have to conclude, therefore, that the debate that Stockwell and the Conservative government insist on having has nothing to do with science. So, then, what's this all about?

I'm currently reading Alanna Mitchell's Dancing at the Dead Sea, and I think she has some answers. Alanna compares the science of climate change with Darwin's theory of evolution, in that it fundamentally challenges what we thought we knew about the world and our place in it -- the "legends" and myths that give us meaning.

As evidence, she presents this quotation from the Roman Catholic Dublin Review, printed shortly after (and in response to) the publishing of The Origin of Species.
The salvation of man is a far higher object than the progress of science: and we have no hesitation in maintaining that if in the judgement of the Church the promulgation of any scientific truth was more likely to hinder man's salvation than to promote it, she would not only be justified in her efforts to suppress it, but it would be her bounden duty to do her utmost to suppress it.
Even if the science is right about evolution, the Church said, preserving the religious status quo was more important.

There may be a direct correlation with Stockwell's thinking here. It's well known that, unlike most Christians I know, he subscribes to the belief that the world was literally created in seven days. He may also believe, therefore, in the "immutability" of creation. Perhaps he's concluded that climate change can't be real, or, at least, that we can't be responsible, because only God could alter creation in such a profound way.

Or maybe that's a bit of a leap; I can't be sure. What I do know, however, and what Alanna points out, is that if you replace "evolution" with "climate change," and "the salvation of man" with "the strength of the economy," you get the reaction of today's conservatives to the climate crisis. Witness this March 28, 2001 statement by Ari Fleischer, then press secretary for President Bush:
The president has been unequivocal. He does not support the Kyoto treaty. not in the United States' economic best interest.
Now, see what Bush himself said the next day:
I will explain as clearly as I can, today and every other chance I get, that we will not do anything that harms our economy. Because first things first are the people who live in America. That's my priority. I'm worried about the economy...And the idea of placing caps on CO2 does not make economic sense for America.
The parallel is striking. "Never mind the science or the threat," they say, "the economic status quo is more important than all of that." As if there could be an economy without life. As if there could be salvation without knowledge.

This makes a lot of sense. In many ways, as former United Church moderator Bill Phipps is fond of pointing out, the market economy is a new god. We worship economic indicators as if they're profits (pun only slightly intended), never questioning if they're actually making our lives better, or if maybe there's another way.

Meeting the challenge of the climate crisis requires that we discard the myth that our economy can grow forever as it has for only the past millisecond of our species' existence; the myth that we can continue to take what's good from the Earth and return only what's bad without consequence.

That's a tall order, and should humble anyone who thinks that we can turn this ship around simply by changing a few light-bulbs and installing a few solar panels. Those things help, but a more fundamental shift must take place. Ironically, fundamentalists like Stockwell aren't up for it.

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