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Sustainability Wars: US Reporters and NGOs Undermine Canada's Conservation Efforts
The last 50 years show American environmental policy going from bad to worse while US NGOs are becoming more critical of Canadian resource management.
Growing up in Southern Ontario during the 1970s, I used to look across the border with anger. Acid rain drifted across the Great Lakes from the US Rust Belt, killing our lakes and making our fish inedible. Earlier and earlier each year swimming was banned in Lake Ontario due to heavy pollution. Love Canal, Three Mile Island, the Cuyahoga River frequently catching fire, mercury-laden fish, the United States was synonymous with ecological incompetence and we Canadians were paying the price. By the 1980s, Ronald Reagan relaxed the few environmental regulations the US’s fledgling EPA had implemented, claiming that trees polluted more than humans.
Canadians at that time looked to the south for lessons in what not to do to the air, soil and water. We were blessed with a pristine nature and believed it needed to be managed responsibly. I recall my sister taking a school leave to go into the mountains to plant trees for six months; we were one of the first countries to initiate recycling programs. Although we were abundant in natural resources, Canada invested heavily in nuclear and hydro-electric projects as clean energies for the future.
Although we also had our share of environmental disasters from train derailments to public drinking water contamination, we addressed these problems with the environment in mind and with the belief that our abundant natural resources could be managed responsibly … and indeed they have been. We see water and air quality continually improving. While Canada remains a major forestry product exporter, its forest cover has been stable for the last three decades. Swimmers are back in Lake Ontario and fisheries are recovering. Mineral, oil and gas production and transportation are more sustainable. Resources are being managed responsibly.
But something was changing south of the border.
Fifty years after the ecological trainwreck that was the US Rust Belt, after decades of toxic waste dumping, of unfiltered air emissions and acid rain, of climate change denial, Americans have come full circle in states like California, Washington, Oregon, Michigan and New York. But the hard left political turn these states have taken has also delivered a different environmental philosophy. Natural resources are not there to be responsibly managed but, rather, they need to be protected from an exploiting humanity.
American environmental activists looked north of their border in horror at how Canadians were still cutting down trees, extracting resources, building pipelines... They identify natural resource management with exploitation and injustice. Activists have turned their issues into social justice causes, building protest camps on pipeline sites, chaining themselves to trees or lying on railway tracks, many taking seats in public office. Canada is now portrayed as the ecological trainwreck that must be stopped. To these activists, the only way to manage natural resources was to leave the environment alone: no more forestry, oil and gas production, mining or agroindustry.
So we find an unusual situation where our left-of-centre prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is lobbying in Washington for the forestry industry and invoking legal stipulations against American state governors trying to block oil and gas pipelines. There seems to be a disconnect between Canada and the US on what it means to manage resources sustainably. Canada has a proven track record of responsible resource management; American activists now think they have invented environmentalism by inverting the laissez-faire economic approach of the 70s and applying it to Mother Nature. With buzzwords like degrowth, capitalist reset, post-capitalism … progress for these “American darlings” is found in moving backwards.
Is backing off and letting nature heal itself the only way to support the environment? Or can science and technology play a role in sustainably managing natural resources? This is the dichotomy Charles Mann delineated in his paradigm-defining book, The Wizard and the Prophet. In the history of environmental risks, the more proactive resource management approach has always been more sustainable (especially now with the challenges of a growing and increasingly affluent global population facing the challenges from climate stresses). With a stronger demand for public benefits and social goods, we need more technology and better resource management, not precaution and capitulation.
More so, is eradicating humanity from nature better for Mother Earth? Wildfires spread more quickly and significantly in unmanaged forests; droughts are more severe without water management. An activist retort is that none of this would be necessary if we weren’t faced with the consequences from climate change (and then they slide to the conclusion that climates were stressed by our forestry and water management). This misanthropic position is ridiculous and irresponsible.
This is a very loud, well-funded however small American activist lobby fighting against natural resource management, demanding a pull-back and seemingly unconcerned about the loss of prosperity and societal goods and services. These neo-socialists present a juvenile anti-capitalist, anti-industry ideology reflecting their personal affluence, narrow echo-chambers and cult-driven animosity. They are not representative of the will of the American public and their solutions run against the American traditions of exploration, pioneering innovations and risk-taking.