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Carbon Cahoots

by Seble Samuel

Photo Credit: UCSB EAB
Photo Credit: UCSB EAB

Let's say you knew this dreadful secret. Life and death type stakes. And you had more or less two choices. You knew one thing for certain. And you had a sticky sort of feeling in your stomach about the other. Your livelihood, along with everyone was else’s, was on the line. But you were being swindled, oh so convincingly, to look the other way. What would you do?

In staggering proportions, the fossil fuel industry is lobbying governments to make sure their voices resound, while others can barely whisper. In Canada, between summer 2008 and fall 2012, thirty five petroleum industries, as front runners of the fossil fuel industry, lobbied the federal government, with 2700 reports of communications with Canadian politicians, as reported by The Polaris Institute. The most recent data on the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, registers that six of the largest fossil fuel companies and industry representatives operating in Canada (Suncor, Enbridge, Trans Canada, Imperial Oil, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canadian Energy Pipelines Association) have already registered 268 monthly communications collectively with politicians.

The topics of these fossil fuel lobbying interventions include climate change policy, consultation with indigenous peoples, as well as specific environmental legislation including the Species at Risk Act, National Marine Conservation Areas Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, among countless others.

These interventions, however, are far from benign. They entice governments to look away from natural resource depletion, species extinction, global warming, deforestation, water contamination, biodiversity loss, and instead keep drilling blindly, with no foresight to tomorrow. In a recent publication by the West Coast Environmental Law Association and the Quebec Environmental Law Centre, their analysis noted that "industry lobbied hard for removing environmental protections" that stood between them and their bottom-line of profits.

From 2012 onward environmental legislation slipped into a state of despair and decay. Omnibus bills labelled Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, put forth by the Conservative government, effectively wiped out the vast majority of environmental legislation. Overnight, 99% of Canada's lakes and rivers were removed from the protection of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The Kyoto Protocol (the only legislation requiring the limiting of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada) was repealed. Over 3000 environmental reviews were discarded from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Public participation in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency was greatly limited. Time limits for the protection of species at risk were removed in the Species at Risk Act, and protection of many fish species and habitats was removed from the Fisheries Act.

This crumbling of legislation means more than solely environmental degradation. It tells the story of a failing democracy. One that subscribes to the whims of a powerful industry rather than the voice of its' people; one that succumbs to influence rather than equity and justice.

As the environmental regulations become diluted to near obsolescence, money continues to pour into the fossil fuel industry. In Canada, fossil fuel subsidies hover around $2.7 billion in national subsidies and $2.7 billion in public finance, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International published in 2015. Accompanying these subsidies are countless tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry, for geological surveys, exploration, field development, drilling and extraction. Globally, G20 countries provide $452 billion per year in fossil fuel subsidies. This number is roughly four times the amount that is subsidised for renewable energy.

There is nothing neutral about these accounts. Together the fervour filled lobbying and the hefty subsidies dished out to fossil fuel industries are what allow for the demise of our democracies and our environment. These lobbies and these dollars, shape the way stories are told. They contort truths and manipulate facts, serving up the cravings of the fossil fuel industry on a silver platter, and creating devastating consequences for environmental policy, social equity, and the meaningful participation of civil society.

During these two weeks, global actions are taking place to break away from fossil fuel dependency, keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground, and embrace a renewable energy future. These actions, as part of the Break Free Campaign, are taking place across the world from Nigeria to Brazil, New Zealand to Indonesia, Turkey to South Africa. These movements are the makings of people power.

As the federal government prepares to draft its’ vision for Canada’s climate future, it is integral that the swell of this people power is echoed in binding legislation, along with a repeal of Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, full disclosure of lobbyists' financial spending, and a separation of the fossil fuel industry from political meddling. Otherwise, with few means of recovery, democracy will continue to tumble dangerously down fossil fuel road. 

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Topics: Environment
773 words

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