The Case of Environmental Conundrums

By | March 30, 2016

Initially published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday March 25, 2016. 

Last Friday I was inside the Grand Hall at TRU listening, alongside a large crowd, the preliminary conclusions regarding the Ajax mine. Among chuckles drawn by the word ‘tundra’ used to describe some of the Kamloops landscape, serious concerns were brought forth.

Yes, the city and its surroundings will be affected. ‘Not insignificant’ became the refrain throughout the presentation. There will be dust (the 94 percent mitigation plan sounded like a silly joke) and there will be increased noise levels, particulate matter pollution and vibrations that might see homes closest to the site affected. There will some serious impact on the wildlife in the area, as well as the salmon in the Thompson River. And there is lots more.

So far, that was well-spent money one could say, though the process is not over and the proponent promises to add facts that will fill in the gaps and showcase the positive.

A recent scandal over serious environmental offenses by the same KGHM in Chile brings up a matter that has to be discussed, not just in regards to the Ajax mine but many other projects in our province.

Why is it that many of these corporations promise to adhere to world-class standards while developing their projects in Canada while their presence in other parts of the world points to the opposite? What transformations occur once they set foot on Canadian soil and if their ethics are so strong to keep their promises, why not start with the areas where the said violations are happening?

The recent approval of the Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish and the potential approval of Pacific NorthWest LNG proposed by Petronas near Lelu Island are but two more examples of why we need to reassess our priorities.

That many people are willing to forgo the serious threat that is climate change and the immediate environmental threats to their area in the face of corporate promising is baffling. Resources that come with a huge carbon footprint are best left in the ground at this point in time and the focus placed on sustainable energies that will create job opportunities and economic growth without the environmental toll.

Our province has what it takes to become an example of sustainability and mindful resource management that questions and carefully assesses corporate interest and with a focus on people and the environment.

Yet reality points to the opposite and moreover, it points to major media outlets being silent about it. The recently approved Side C project that is meant to provide energy mostly for the fracking projects in the area is worrisome on many levels. It will cost a lot to build, it will destroy vital farming land and its energy will be mostly feeding the fracking industry in the area.

As of now, there are people who have entered a hunger strike, one of them 11 days ago, determined to bring attention to the issue. Their desperate cry has yet to make the headlines. We can call them extremists and we can judge their ways, yet the bottom line is that they stand up for a world that belongs to us all. The least they deserve is to be acknowledged.

That is one of today’s dilemmas: people who stand for the environment, questioning either a mine, a dam, or an LNG plant that will see one of the most important salmon habitats in British Columbia threatened, are classified as troublemakers while their signaling of potential problems is not only backed up by scientific facts and reports, but also by increasing concerns over climate change which no matter how positive one is, it becomes borderline delusional to think it less serious than it is.

On the other hand, the recent media focus on the Ghomeshi trial and as of yesterday on the protesters that are not agreeing with the judge’s decision, should make us shake our heads and wonder about the topsy-turvy situation we are privy to. Some protesters are better suited for the news than others.

Things would look considerably different if the current provincial government’s agenda included trustworthy approaches to such issues, yet that is barely the case.

The Mount Polley disaster (classified as one of the worst disaster in Canadian mining history) got Imperial Metals into the headlines for a while; a review was conducted and a ‘poor practice’ stamp was applied to it in the end, with no serious consequences for the company. Moreover, four more mines in the north-west BC will have similar tailings pond constructions and in case you’ve been wondering, Imperial Metals owns one of them.

Yes, the Alaskans have every right to be concerned, and everyone living in BC should. Any accidents similar to Mount Polley would endanger the watersheds in the area, and accidents may happen especially when the corporate money-saving agenda precludes the concerns for the environment.

If weak mining regulations in this case allow for questionable projects like that to exist and more to be built, then it is only logical to inquire about the promised world-class standards that corporations are to provide as they carry on with resource exploration projects in our province. Is that in the best interest of our province? As for the employment deal, a handful of jobs in each case (100 annually for Woodfibre LNG in Squamish and 500 or so here at home for Ajax) can sound promising but will hardly sweeten the bitter environmental pill that comes with each of these projects.

The question we have to ask ourselves is simple: what’s worth more to us? Not as individuals but as people sharing the place we call home, the only one we have and the one we have to stand for. There are things that can get people enraged over, some awfully trivial at times (just check the news) and yet the biggest one of all has become the elephant in the room. It’s high time we attend to it, even as a conversation to start with. Everything is at risk if we don’t.

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