Sunday, February 28, 2010

Raging Grannies do Climate Change, in song!

by Cathy Fitzgerald
An art and ecology notebook

Please, pour yourself a cup of tea and join us . . .

We are out in the streets promoting peace, justice, social and economic equality through song and humour.

Just a little something for International Women’s day later this week (8 March), a bit of music from the Canada-led 15 year plus phenomenon, the now International Raging Grannies and one of their latest songs, Climate Change is Coming to Town.

Take a few minutes and listen to the Toronto Raging Grannies Climate Change is Coming to Town (it’s brilliant) Click here.

Song Courtesy of Toronto Raging Grannies

(To the tune of Santa Claus is Coming to Town)

Oh, you better reduce your greenhouse gases.
You better educate the public masses.
Climate change is coming to town!

It knows that you’ve been stalling.
While land turns into lakes.
Our inaction is appalling.
So commit for the earth’s sake.

Oh, you better invest in wind and solar.
Cause Santa needs this to save the polar.
Climate change is coming to town!

Oh, you better create low emission transport.
Santa does this with reindeer escorts.
Climate change is coming to town!

Santa knows that you’re not naughty.
He sees that you do care.
So tell our politicians.

We don’t need more hot air.
Oh if we want to keep our ice and our snow.
We have to keep commitments to Kyoto.
Climate change is coming to town!

Oh it’ll take work, it won’t be a breeze.
But we have to act now to drop those degrees.
Climate change is coming . . .
Climate change is coming . . .
Climate change is coming . . .
to town!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Environment Pollution World's top firms cause $2.2tn of environmental damage

Report for the UN into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest companies estimates one-third of profits would be lost if firms were forced to pay for use, loss and damage of environment

Juliette Jowit
The Guardian

Black clouds over the central business district, Jakarta. The report into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest public companies has estimated the cost of use, loss and damage of the environment.
The cost of pollution and other damage to the natural environment caused by the world's biggest companies would wipe out more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable, a major unpublished study for the United Nations has found.

The report comes amid growing concern that no one is made to pay for most of the use, loss and damage of the environment, which is reaching crisis proportions in the form of pollution and the rapid loss of freshwater, fisheries and fertile soils.

Later this year, another huge UN study - dubbed the "Stern for nature" after the influential report on the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern - will attempt to put a price on such global environmental damage, and suggest ways to prevent it. The report, led by economist Pavan Sukhdev, is likely to argue for abolition of billions of dollars of subsidies to harmful industries like agriculture, energy and transport, tougher regulations and more taxes on companies that cause the damage.

Ahead of changes which would have a profound effect - not just on companies' profits but also their customers and pension funds and other investors - the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment initiative and the United Nations Environment Programme jointly ordered a report into the activities of the 3,000 biggest public companies in the world, which includes household names from the UK's FTSE 100 and other major stockmarkets.

The study, conducted by London-based consultancy Trucost and due to be published this summer, found the estimated combined damage was worth US$2.2 trillion (£1.4tn) in 2008 - a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world that year.

The figure equates to 6-7% of the companies' combined turnover, or an average of one-third of their profits, though some businesses would be much harder hit than others.

"What we're talking about is a completely new paradigm," said Richard Mattison, Trucost's chief operating officer and leader of the report team. "Externalities of this scale and nature pose a major risk to the global economy and markets are not fully aware of these risks, nor do they know how to deal with them."

The biggest single impact on the $2.2tn estimate, accounting for more than half of the total, was emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. Other major "costs" were local air pollution such as particulates, and the damage caused by the over-use and pollution of freshwater.

The true figure is likely to be even higher because the $2.2tn does not include damage caused by household and government consumption of goods and services, such as energy used to power appliances or waste; the "social impacts" such as the migration of people driven out of affected areas, or the long-term effects of any damage other than that from climate change. The final report will also include a higher total estimate which includes those long-term effects of problems such as toxic waste.

Trucost did not want to comment before the final report on which sectors incurred the highest "costs" of environmental damage, but they are likely to include power companies and heavy energy users like aluminium producers because of the greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels. Heavy water users like food, drink and clothing companies are also likely to feature high up on the list.

Sukhdev said the heads of the major companies at this year's annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, were increasingly concerned about the impact on their business if they were stopped or forced to pay for the damage.

"It can make the difference between profit and loss," Sukhdev told the annual Earthwatch Oxford lecture last week. "That sense of foreboding is there with many, many [chief executives], and that potential is a good thing because it leads to solutions."

The aim of the study is to encourage and help investors lobby companies to reduce their environmental impact before concerned governments act to restrict them through taxes or regulations, said Mattison.

"It's going to be a significant proportion of a lot of companies' profit margins," Mattison told the Guardian. "Whether they actually have to pay for these costs will be determined by the appetite for policy makers to enforce the 'polluter pays' principle. We should be seeking ways to fix the system, rather than waiting for the economy to adapt. Continued inefficient use of natural resources will cause significant impacts on [national economies] overall, and a massive problem for governments to fix."

Another major concern is the risk that companies simply run out of resources they need to operate, said Andrea Moffat, of the US-based investor lobby group Ceres, whose members include more than 80 funds with assets worth more than US$8tn. An example was the estimated loss of 20,000 jobs and $1bn last year for agricultural companies because of water shortages in California, said Moffat.

The Red and Green Pony

Milton Acorn's "The Red and Green Pony"
by Ron Dart
The Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice

The Red and Green Pony is one of the most important Canadian political parables, and it was written in the 1950s by Milton Acorn. The tale is a well told political fable that records and anticipates much that was about to unfold in the latter half of the 20th century. The leading protagonist is Tommy, and there can be no doubt that Tommy Douglas (the father of universal public healthcare in Canada, voted ‘The Greatest Canadian’ in the 20th century in a CBC survey in 2004 and still on secret and classified files of the RCMP and CSIS) is the leading historic actor in the story. Acorn was holding Douglas high in a time when most reviled, opposed and sought to topple Douglas through a variety of questionable means. Douglas, for those who do not know, was the father-in-law of Donald Sutherland and the grandfather of Kiefer Sutherland.

The Red and Green Pony has a dynamic momentum to it, and it is divided into five sections that intricately interlock with one another. Section 1 walks the reader into a dream sequence in which Tommy enters a forest. The trees and leaves have a way of speaking to Tommy in this magical realm about things that went to his deeper longings and soul. It was in this dream world that Tommy met the red and green pony that was both red and green at the same time. It was hard to believe, even in a dream, that a pony could be both red and green. A conversation ensued between Tommy and the pony about the actual reality of the pony. There is no doubt that Tommy is drawn to the feisty pony, but he is young on the journey, and he is not quite sure what to make of the vision and conversation with the pony. The hair of the pony was ‘tangled’ and Tommy noted that it needed ‘combing’. It was just a matter of time before ‘the dream was gone’, ‘he was lying in bed’, ‘it was day and not as bright as the dream’ and Tommy had to remember to bring a ‘comb and a hairbrush’ when he next returned.

Section 2 shifts from the dream world to a sort of waking state. Tommy is now in his parents’ home, and he is about to join them for breakfast. His father is reading a paper, and his initial comments are, ‘CCF’s running a candidate here again. Are they ever going to learn that we here in Ontario don’t want them?’ Tommy’s mother is a faint echo of his father’s political views. His father then mentions the USA: ‘Yanks kicking up a fuss about Negroes going to white schools again’. Tommy’s mother tries to move the discussion from newspaper politics to Tommy’s need to be clean and eat a proper breakfast. There is no doubt that Tommy comes from a family that is right of centre on the political spectrum. It is just a matter of time before Tommy blurted that he had had a dream, and in the dream he had seen a red and green pony. His father has no problem with the dream provided it remains a dream. ‘Now did you ever see a pony on the street with red and green patches?’ Tommy wants to make it clear that the dream was real, and it has significant meaning. The mother makes clear ‘it was only a dream’. Both father and mother become quite worried that Tommy might confuse a dream with reality and begin to act rather foolish ‘on the street’. The conversation ended, and Tommy went upstairs and looked out the window. He saw a sign that said. ‘Warning, No swimming or fishing. Water polluted. Order of Ontario Department of Health’. Tommy was late for breakfast that day, and he soon forgot about the red and green pony. The day soon passed, ‘but when Tommy went to sleep that night he put a comb under his pillow’.

It does not take too much reflection to see that Tommy is Tommy Douglas of the CCF, Tommy’s vision often collides with an established view of reality, and the red and green embody leftist thought and ecological issues, and the wild and tangled hair on the solid body (that needed combing) reflected all the diverse and often prickly elements in the political left that Douglas had to comb. The fact that this short story was written in the 1950s makes it abundantly clear that Acorn anticipated many of the substantive issues that were about to emerge on the public stage in the 1960s-1970s and that we still face today.

Section 3 walks the reader back into the surreal dream drama of Tommy. The leaves greet Tommy with great joy as he enters the world where the ‘flowered branches’ and the ‘tufts of the grass’ swung over him like ‘pony-tails’. The red and green pony is there to meet Tommy, and he inquires about the comb—it had been brought and Tommy brushes all the tangles and knots on the pony’s hair. It is just a matter of time before another conversation begins between Tommy and the pony about Tommy’s father and his right of centre political ideas. The question is raised about whose facts and view of reality should be listened to and why. Tommy bonds closer and closer to the red and green pony, and he is soon on the pony’s back and riding the friendly yet energetic animal with much delight and fondness. Section 3 ends with the dream over, and Tommy waking to the sound and sight of a starling on his window-sill. Tommy looks down at the ‘polluted river’ and a world in which ‘ugliness was coiled with beauty’

Section 4 takes Tommy and the interested reader back into the world of Tommy’s parents. The red and green pony is now much more real to Tommy, and his interpretation of what he sees and does is informed by such a reality. Tommy’s mother tends to come across in the story as warmer and more affectionate, whereas his father is stern, dogmatic and ideological. Tommy’s mother finds him down by the polluted river and urges him to return home for dinner. A family feud soon emerges between mother and father about what to do with Tommy’s increasing interest and belief in the reality of a red and green pony. The intensity of the clash becomes so pronounced that Tommy runs away after declaring that he has seen and believes in the Red and Green Pony with capital letters.

Section 5 brings the tensions between idealism and realism together in a thoughtful manner. It is Nature again that has become Tommy’s real family, and it is in the arms of Nature that Tommy is comforted and befriended. It is Tommy’s mother that comes searching for him, and there is a poignant episode in which Tommy watches a ‘long legged wolf spider’ attack and kill a harmless bug on a tender grass-stem. The Red and Green Pony appears again and wonders if Tommy has brought the hairbrush. Tommy had brought the hairbrush, and he began combing out the deeper knots on the pony, and at the same time he vaguely can hear his parents. There is a distinctive sense in which Tommy is living in two worlds and he needs to know which he will heed and why. The Red and Green Pony runs straight through Tommy’s parents (they seem to have no substance), and he then leaves Tommy with a few comments to ponder as the tale draws to a close. ‘To listen properly you’ve got to do it and not talk about it’. Much of this story is about who will be listened to and why. Tommy is pulled in diverse directions through the mini-drama, and there are consequences to live with for not hearing and heeding the best voices. The final lines conclude and sum up the deeper message of the fable.

“Where are we going, Red and Green Pony?” he asked.

“All the way,” said the pony. “Often and often you’ve got to go all the way so you can properly get back”.

The Red and Green Pony hovers on the edge of an allegory—it is part myth, part fable, part parable. The message cannot be missed. The tale is about the process that must be gone through to see through different and more informed eyes. The transition means letting go of much only to receive much. The pilgrimage often means going all the way before the journey back can be taken. We might wonder what going all the way means, but this is the mystery and uncertainty that Acorn leaves us with as the short story ends.

It is significant to note that Milton Acorn’s religious roots were Anglican, and Tommy Douglas’ were Baptist. Both had leanings, even in the 1950s, in the direction of both red and green, and, in this sense, the common good of both the land and people were united in one integrated whole. The Red and Green Pony is must read and classic of Canadian political tale telling. It’s rather sad that so few know such an evocative political parable.

Ron Dart

Milton Acorn at Wikipedia
Milton Acorn on Facebook

Religion and Ecology

The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology

Friday, February 26, 2010

USW Canada Key Partner in $1M Climate Change Study

Our union is proud to take a leadership role in addressing the serious workplace and environmental issues of the future.

The United Steelworkers is a key participant in a six-year study of the challenges posed by climate change to Canadian workplaces and possible solutions to these issues.

The research project is led by Carla Lipsig-Mummé, professor of work and labour studies in York University's Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, and research fellow in York's Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability.

The study has received a $1-million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to support the study and search for solutions. It is one of 20 large-scale research projects funded through SSHRC's Community-University Research Alliances (CURA) program.

The study brings together academics, community organizations, the United Steelworkers and other trade unions. It will examine policy, training, employment and workplace actions to assist Canada's transition to a low-emission economy.

"Our union is proud to take a leadership role in addressing the serious workplace and environmental issues of the future," said Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers National Director for Canada. "The future of our members, their jobs and their communities depends on finding the right answers to these challenges."

The USW is among 23 researchers, 20 partners and 10 universities in three countries that will participate in the study. Other participants include Environmental Defence and the Canadian Steel Trade and Employment Congress.

By combining research, workplace education, policy recommendations and pilot projects in transnational work adaptation, this project will allow Canada to re-enter the international debate about how best to engage the work world in the struggle to slow global warming.

"We need to know more about the chain of processes that comprise work, employment and training in key Canadian industries and professions - and how their decision-makers understand and respond to the challenge that global warming poses to these processes," said Lipsig-Mummé.

"Our second goal is to engage community partners active in the work world and the environmental community in research that identifies critical spaces for adaptation, drawing on their hands-on experience and linking it to the expertise of the academics."

For further information: Charles Campbell, USW Research, Public Policy & Bargaining Support, (416) 544-5970,; Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, (416) 434-2221, (416) 544-5966,

Hon. Maxime Bernier has a long history as a climate change denier

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier (Beauce) raised a lot of eyebrows this week by declaring himself a climate change skeptic in a letter to the Montreal newspaper La Presse (the full English version is here ). In doing so, he also applauded the government's go-slow approach to reducing emissions.

Maxime Bernier has a long history as a climate change denier
By Elizabeth May
Elizabeth May's blog

Maxime Bernier has a long history as a climate change denier .
(, Globe and Mail)

Prior to being an MP, he was associated with the Montreal Economic Institute. In the 2006 election campaign that organization published the only confirmed public response from the Harper Conservatives denying climate science. The MEI opposed the IPCC science and posted a detailed reply to its questionnaire. The Harper Conservatives rejected IPCC science then. Once Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, the IPCC science was removed from the Environment Canada website.

Still, the Harper government hopes Canadians will not learn that their government does not believe that the climate crisis is real. Thanks to Maxime Bernier, maybe more Canadians will realize his views are consistent with those of his boss. Canada's government is alone in the world in denying the climate science.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why ecosocialism?

Climate Change Social Change

The rapid melting of the Arctic sea-ice is one of the most alarming examples of looming climate change catastrophe. But where most see disaster, some of the world’s richest corporations see a business opportunity.

The rate of Arctic ice melt in recent years has surprised and worried experts. It is not just the fragile Arctic ecosystem that is under threat. As the ice retreats due to global warming, less sunlight is reflected back into space by the white surface.

It means the whole planet has likely already begun to warm faster as more heat is absorbed by the darker ocean. This, in turn, could help trigger other climate tipping points — such as the release of millions of tonnes of methane gas trapped in Siberia’s frozen soils — and make runaway climate change a reality.

In 2007, NASA glaciologist Jay Zwally delivered a blunt warning: “The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming. Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines.”

However, as greenhouse gases destroy the Arctic, oil giants such as Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil are rushing to exploit the newly accessible fossil fuel reserves that lie underneath it. The US Geological Survey thinks the area could hold up to 30% of the world’s untapped natural gas and 13% of the world’s oil.

From the standpoint of securing a safe climate future for humanity, the Arctic “oil rush” is the height of insanity. Yet for the companies that stand to profit, and for the capitalism as a whole, it’s an entirely predictable response.

In 1950, the German American economist William Kapp came up with an apt description of the capitalist system: “Capitalism must be regarded as an economy of unpaid costs.”

He described the reality of an economic system that creates immense waste and pollution but makes nature (and human societies too) bear the “disposal” costs.

For centuries, capitalism has treated the air, the rivers and the oceans as a global sewer. The long-term damage to natural ecosystems are never reflected in any corporate bottom-line. And as capitalism has developed into a global system, the environmental havoc it creates has been globalised too.

As public concern about the climate crisis mounts, pro-capitalist economists and politicians are under pressure to find answers. But the business-as-usual solutions they offer generally rely on extending the market to more aspects of nature.

The various carbon-trading schemes promoted by capitalist governments around the world all promise that putting a price on pollution will make environmental vandalism unprofitable and eventually cause it to disappear. In practice such schemes have led to financial scandals, windfall profits for polluters and few environmental gains.

Another common response is to argue that it’s not the economic system that has to change, but people’s wasteful consumption habits. Environmental writer Michael Maniates has pinpointed a big problem with this idea, which “embraces the notion that knotty issues of consumption, consumerism, power and responsibility can be resolved neatly and cleanly through enlightened, uncoordinated consumer choice”.

Of course, reducing personal waste is a good thing. But you can’t shutdown a coal-fired power station or decide to build a public transport system from the supermarket aisle. We need political action to win these things.

The various “green capitalist” responses to climate change have to ignore another, related problem —capitalism must grow or die. It needs infinitely expanding markets and ever-growing consumption to exist.

US sociologists Brett Clark and Richard York have argued that the short-term need of capitalist markets to constantly expand is at odds with the long-term cycles of regeneration required by the natural world.

They said in the November 2008 Monthly Review: “The pursuit of profit is the immediate pulse of capitalism, as it reproduces itself on an ever-larger scale. A capitalist economic system cannot function under conditions that require accounting for the reproduction of nature, which may include time scales of a hundred years or more, not to mention maintaining the particular, integrated natural cycles that help sustain living conditions.”

In a 2009 talk at Green Left Weekly’s Climate Change Social Change conference World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, Canadian ecosocialist Ian Angus said green capitalism is a contradiction in terms.

“Capitalism combines an irresistible drive to grow, with an irresistible drive to create waste and pollution”, he said. “If nothing stops it, capitalism will expand both those processes infinitely. But the earth is not infinite. The atmosphere and oceans and the forests are very large, but ultimately they are finite, limited resources — and capitalism is now pressing against those limits.”

The climate crisis requires a total restructure of our economy and society along sustainable lines. Burning fossil-fuels for energy must be rapidly phased out and renewable energy put in its place. Our entire food system, another big emitter of greenhouse gasses, must also be redesigned. Public transport must be made widely available in our cities. Improvements in energy efficiency must be made in all areas.

A fast transition to a low-carbon economy will be far from easy, but the technical means to make the transition do exist today.

The reason we are not already on our way is that capitalism is also a system of minority rule. Economic and political power is concentrated in the hands of the corporate elite who inevitably put profit before people and the planet. The road towards an ecological society is closed unless decision-making power is taken away from these elites and given to the people.

The ecosocialist vision of change is grounded in a vision of grassroots democracy and full equality for all people in the world. Unlike capitalism, the purpose of the economy would be to make sure everyone had enough, not about consuming more.

A central goal of ecosocialists is to fight for a society that allows every human being to develop to their full potential — free of racism, war, poverty and discrimination. This goal of genuine human development, which applies to future generations as well, is unachievable unless society can be transformed to exist in harmony with nature’s limits.

This point was made forcefully by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez at December’s UN climate summit in Copenhagen. “A spectre is haunting the streets of Copenhagen, and walks silently thought this room”, he said. “This spectre is capitalism — almost nobody wants to mention it … Capitalism, the model of destructive development, is killing people, and threatens to put an end to the human species. They are saying in the streets: If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved already.”

Green Transport

The Next Step in Europe’s Climate Strategy
from Social Europe Journal
by Jo Leinen

Reviewing and improving its climate protection strategy will be one of the main challenges facing Europe over the next couple of months. Generating new ideas and ensuring adequate preparation are essential before the world resumes negotiations in Mexico. During her hearing in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, the new Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, has made one thing very clear: Transport will be the focus of the next legislative package, which will be drafted by the Commission by the end of this year. But, why, one might ask, will the Commission be looking more at transport?

The answer to this question turns out to be quite simple: While overall emissions in the European Union dropped slightly during the last two decades, transport emissions have reached an all-time high. With a rise of 26% since 1990 and a share of 19% in Europe’s overall emissions, transport has become an increasingly relevant factor for the success or failure of EU climate policies.

Despite its environmental impact and the recognition of the need to cut down on transport emissions, reducing them is not an easy task for policymakers. This is because, on the one hand, individualised mobility has become a symbol of wealth and success in modern societies; and on the other hand, because globalisation and international trade have resulted in a substantial increase in freight transport around the globe. Both aspects play a key role in the tremendous increase in emissions over the last decades.

The European Union has to respond to these developments in the transport sector for several reasons. First, representing the model for a sustainable growth path in the world creates a responsibility for finding solutions to the problem of how to best organise clean mobility. As an exporter of cars, trains, ships and aircrafts, this is also an economic opportunity for the EU. On the other hand, we have to set incentives in order to switch from oil to other sources of energy such as electricity, hydrogen or organic fuels for transportation. We should do so not only for environmental reasons. Instead, we should end our over-dependence on oil altogether in order to protect our citizens from unexpected and sharp increases in the price of oil, global competition for the last oil reserves, and global ‘peak oil’, which would leave us without any viable alternatives.

In order to force Europe to make its transport structure ‘greener’, the Commission started with an emission performance regulation for cars in 2008, which was agreed by the Council and the Parliament last year. This was a first step to guide the industry in the right direction, but it will take years for the limit of 120 grams per kilometre to become the average of Europe’s car fleet. Therefore we have to continue with measures on the demand side as well. The full internalisation of external costs could, for example, be conducted along the lines of an EU carbon tax on fossil fuels.

Furthermore, we have to take a look at infrastructure. For many people, buying an electric car today is still not an alternative, because of missing recharging points. More generally, using public transportation instead of a car is highly complicated in many regions of Europe because of missing infrastructure and a lack of smart solutions for organising equal access to common goods. We have to look at how to improve public services in order to offer mobility alternatives to individual transportation.

Finally, let’s come back to Copenhagen and the international negotiations. Making transport ‘greener’ is not only a European topic. International aviation and maritime transport have been forgotten on the international agenda for many years. Both sectors have contributed to global warming without being affected by international environmental policies so far. Making transportation ‘greener’ might also give the EU a good reason to force international negotiations to limit emissions in the air and on sea.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Can disaster point us towards sustainability?

By Jim Harding

Sustainability requires changes in how we think about the larger world. We all suffer from some attention deficit; not surprising after we're inundated by information-overload about one event which miraculously disappears as another fills the airwaves. Remember Haiti, where an estimated 230,000 people died in the aftermath of an earthquake only five short weeks ago? Where more than a million dislocated people presently face the spring rains living in flimsy shanty-towns? It's getting a bit blurry, isn't it? Especially after several weeks of "news" about Toyota recalling eight million cars, and our TV screens now being filled with the winter Olympics! Do we even remember Copenhagen?

The Olympics is a $6 billion event to highlight 2,700 athletes while creating a massive commercial audience for un-athletic food and drink giants McDonalds and Coca Cola. To put this in perspective, only $3 billion will be expended even if (a big "if") all donors come through for Haiti's reconstruction, which is necessary to bring three million people back from the edge of destitution and despair. I'm not suggesting anyone feel guilty about the priorities and discrepancies. But we should feel something, for sustainability will require us to have better staying power; to better comprehend the deeper truths that lie beneath the fleeting cameras.

Questioning elite panic

And there's still much to learn from Haiti.

What happens when governance collapses after such devastation? Do the mass of people panic, fend for them self and threaten public safety? Does the rescue mission and effective distribution of medicine and aid depend on establishing military order? Or, might the mobilizing of civil society make for more effective reconstruction?

The way disasters get reported from an outsider perspective easily reinforces the law and order rather than humanitarian view. The voice-overs to the photos often encourage us to see a cauldron of violence lying below the injured and grieving people desperately looking for ways to survive. Even block-buster disaster movies depict panicky masses as a backdrop to outsider superheroes. Research on disasters, however, suggests that for the most part, ordinary people, often already living with much insecurity, don't panic. Of course people want to be helped, and they get angry and cynical when help promised during peak TV coverage isn't actually delivered. But on-the-ground help by those who stay is always appreciated. There is lots of tender hearted loving care occurring on the front lines as I write.

Panic is often generated by the country's elite who are nervous about the collapse of authority. This "elite panic" sees the breakdown of customary controls as a threat to relative privilege. This isn't to say that people with more wealth aren't generous in such devastating circumstance. One Haitian man who owned land where homeless families went to squat commented "I won't throw them off, because they have no place else to go." But what happens in a few months or years?

Elites often have direct access to donor countries and aid agencies, and re-establishing control rather than immediately meeting human needs can take political priority. This can lead to the militarization of aid. This doesn't have to be either-or, if security is clearly tied to delivering aid, but when the military takes charge this becomes more difficult. People easily get confused about what's happening.

Public safety is enhanced by working directly with the people in need. Experience after tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes shows people are generous, resourceful and brave in helping rebuild their community. Though hurt, shocked and deprived, people are extremely resilient in acting for the common good. By the time a rescue mission got to one isolated community outside Port-au-Prince, the local people had self-organized to dig out survivors, bury their dead and build alternative shelter. Meanwhile the outside media was highlighting looting. How can scavenging for bits of building material or food in the aftermath of such total devastation be described as "looting"?

Aid sometimes gets bogged down in its own bureaucracy. While stocks of canned food piled up at the airport there was fresh food available at some Haitian markets which aid agencies could have bought and distributed, while helping restore the local economy. Rebuilding efforts after the 2004 tsunami show partnerships between aid groups and villagers is the most effective way to build sustainable shelter. The simple act of giving thousands of low-cost wheel-barrels to Haitians had a more positive effect than sending in more high-cost troops. The wheel-barrels acted as stretchers to get injured to field clinics, and allowed those scavenging to better distribute reusable material.

Beyond distaster capitalism

Human resilience grows into the empowerment essential for rebuilding. This strengthens civil society so that governance can become more participatory and democratic. Unfortunately this threatens vested interests who want to profit from reconstruction; to have top-down controls and their privilege return. So the processes used will shape the political and economic outcome, and elite panic and militarization of aid won't leave behind a more participatory society.

Naomi Klein's best seller, The Shock Doctrine, documents the corporate readiness to exploit in the aftermath of disaster. The book has hit a nerve, but its attempt to cover everything from the Chilean coup in 1973, to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, to Hurricane Mitch in 1998 makes it a bit of a stretch. To learn the lessons of sustainability we'll need to balance this view with one that explores the capacity of the grass-roots to take control of their grave situation. In "A Paradise Built In Hell", award-winning historian, Rebecca Soinit, describes how in the aftermath of disaster people can rebuild their society as they rebuild their lives. One reviewer put it well, saying the book disputes "civil defense planners, media alarmists and Hollywood directors who insist that disasters produce terrified mobs prone to looting, murder and cannibalism unless controlled by armed forces and government expertise." After exhaustive research on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, 1917 Halifax explosion, 1985 Mexico earthquake, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Soinit concludes that there is spontaneous altruism, self-organization and mutual aid among neighbours and strangers. She argues that such human solidarity points the way to a freer society.

We don't want to depend upon disasters to fully appreciate humanity's resilience. Climate change and militarization won't always provide second-chance learning opportunities, so sustainability is going to require more collective foresight.

Next time I'll look at how well we're doing so far in our 21st Century.

Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies who lives in the Qu'Appelle Valley. Past columns are available at
Originally published in RTown News, Feburary 19, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In 2010: Bolivia keeps sights on an ambitious, fair, and just global climate plan

By Kelly

On January 31st, the deadline passed for countries to submit their pledged targets to be included in the Copenhagen Accord, the 3-page document that emerged from the Copenhagen climate talks in December and set up an architecture for countries to commit to their own chosen targets, and have them reviewed by an international body.

The deadline has come and go, and 97 countries have chosen to associate themselves with the Accord; yet Bolivia, now one of the leaders of progressive governments on climate change, is quick to point out that while the countries involved may represent a large percentage of global emissions (80%), their actual commitments are simply not up to the task of getting us to 350ppm.

Bolivia and it's ALBA allies, along with Tuvalu, Sudan, and a few other vulnerable nations, were the few countries who stood firm till the very end in Copenhagen when the unambitious Copenhagen Accord was being thrust upon delegates in the final hours. Without their courage and opposition to the weak document, the Accord would likely have been adopted, making it far easier for leaders like Barack Obama to call the summit a victory. Instead, world leaders had to admit that this agreement was not enough, and that we would have to keep working hard in 2010. And what's important is that the media reported this to the wider public - while this may not seem like much solace, it's key to continuing the momentum of our movement that the general public understand that we are not done yet.

Bolivia is leading in another major way as well - in April they will convene a major summit of progressive government leaders, social movement leaders, activists, and civil society to map out points of concensus and a plan for shifting the international www.350.orgdebate on climate change towards an outcome that is fair and ambitious.

While Bolivia and it's ALBA allies are often marginalized by the mainstream media, I have to say that I have been very impressed with their openness and their collaborative approach towards organizing this summit that reaches far beyond the anti-capitalist, radical wing of the movement that you might expect. They have been working hard to reach out to a wide range of social movements and civil society,  invitations to government leaders with positions clearly different than their own, and map out an agenda that leads to open and honest conversations about a positive way forward.

In a post-Copenhagen world, their commitment and drive to building a broader and more powerful movement in 2010 is one of the most hopeful and inspiring things I see to get involved with right now. See below for the Bolivian government's analysis of the Copenhagen Accord, and for info on thePeople's World Conference on Climate Change, click here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Review: The Global Fight for Climate Justice

Anti-Capitalist Responses to Global Warming and Environmental Destruction
Edited by Ian Angus
By Derrick O’Keefe

“The world is accelerating towards a climate catastrophe, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon warned yesterday, urging rapid progress in talks to cut greenhouse gas emissions and tackle global warming. ‘Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading towards an abyss,’ the UN Secre¬tary General said in a speech to the world climate conference.” Globe and Mail, Sept. 4, 2009.

This latest dire warning about global warning was buried in the bottom corner of page A9 of Canada’s “newspaper of record.” The front cover of that day’s paper featured a 30cm, full colour head-to-toe photograph of the First Lady with the accompanying headline, “Michelle Obama’s style secret sets its sights on Canada.” Just another day in the myopic world of this country’s mainstream media, which, like the rest of the globe’s political and economic elite, fiddles while the world burns.

Fortunately, in recent years, a new generation of social and environmental activists has begun to emerge to confront the climate emergency and its root causes. This summer, for instance, a delegation of indigenous people from Canada joined the climate camp in the UK and brought a crowd to Canada House in London’s Trafalgar Square, in order to highlight the destruction caused by Alberta’s tar sands.

Even the corporate media had to reluctantly report this bold action against “the biggest environmental crime on the planet,” as the activists accurately described the tar sands. There’s a great picture on CTV’s online news report of delegation members at the climate camp standing in front of a banner that reads, “Capitalism is crisis.” This is one indication of a growing trend — a “green left” — that views the struggle to save the planet as inextricably linked with the fight against global capitalism.

All those engaged in these vital efforts will benefit greatly from the publication of The Global Fight for Climate Justice, a collection of essays, statements and declarations edited by Ian Angus. Bringing together 46 “anti-capitalist responses to global warming and environmental destruction,” this is not leisurely reading. Ideally, in fact, it should be read collectively, in discussion groups or as background reading for a series of classes or forums. Contributors include Joel Kovel (Enemy of Nature) and John Bellamy Foster (The Ecological Revolution), who have both written extensively about the ecologically destructive essence of capitalism.

Anti-imperialist voices from the Global South are highlighted in their own section of the book, and a number of selections highlight the centrality of the new indigenous movements in the fight to save Mother Earth. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s indigenous president, offers an ecological “Ten Commandments,” while legendary Peruvian revolutionary Hugo Blanco challenges common notions of “progress.”

For some greens, no doubt, the idea of Fidel Castro the first contributor in the book — as an ecological leader will be entirely new. Sadly, the title of the Cuban leader’s 1992 speech to the Earth Summit in Rio, “Tomorrow Will Be Too Late,” is still apt.

We can mourn the years the locusts/capitalists have eaten, but we must also fight like hell for the future. This book will us fight more intelligently. It should be read, shared, discussed, and debated preferably on buses and trains en route to the next climate camp or rally for climate justice.

The Global Fight for Climate Justice is now available in Canada from Fernwood Books.

Fernwood Publishing Co. Ltd. was founded in August 1991 and published its first books in the spring of 1992. First located in Halifax, Fernwood Publishing now has an office in Black Point, Nova Scotia. In 1994, Fernwood Publishing expanded with the establishment of an office in Winnipeg. After eighteen seasons, we have published over 300 titles.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Greenpeace Greenwash

Greenpeace International hires torchbearer Tzeporah
Berman as chief climate campaigner
by Macdonald Stainsby 
Vancouver Media Co-op

Berman and Mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson

As the world turned their attention to the spectacle of the 2010 Olympics, Greenpeace International played another kind of game, appointing Tzeporah Berman as their new energy and climate campaign director. As a result, she will inherit their “Stop the Tar Sands” campaign and take responsibility for 110 Greenpeace climate campaigners in 28 countries. In the last few years Berman has been known to accommodate corporate interests, provided they make minor concessions and release joint statements. Greenpeace itself, by teaming with Olympic corporate sponsor Coca-Cola, has made clear this strategy also falls within their overall corporate strategy.

Berman, a former a Greenpeace BC campaigner, was recently appointed to the BC Liberal government as an “adviser” on free market-based “green energy” initiatives. She immediately conferred an award to BC Premier Gordon Campbell’s “leadership” in fighting climate change while at the Copenhagen negotiations. This, even though BC was the only province in Canada whose tally of greenhouse gas emissions for the year 2009 was higher than the year before. While Berman was on the inside at Copenhagen handing an award to Premier Campbell (whom she now worked for), tens of thousands of activists calling for real action on climate change were being arrested, beaten and tear gassed. According to the Vancouver Sun, Berman “decided to apply for the job after reconnecting with Greenpeace representatives at the Copenhagen climate conference last December.” Her decision came roughly the same time as Greenpeace International was releasing their statement with Coca-Cola.

On February Fifth, Berman, whose birth name was Suzie Faye Berman, carried the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Torch Indigenous and grassroots environmental activists have been blocking, through Brackendale, near Squamish BC. In a statement released prior, she said she carried the torch to “make the connection between the hope and inspiration of the Olympics and the promise of electric vehicles and clean energy.” Berman rode an electric scooter with the torch, escorted by police.

Greenpeace itself has refused to oppose the 2010 Winter Games despite their massive carbon footprint and the dynamiting of mountains to expand a highway from Vancouver to Whistler for the same Games.

She has previously demonstrated in both word and deed that her strategic deployment is to work in tandem with corporations and neo-liberal governments, not to oppose or resist them in any way. Berman’s likely corporate engagement strategy, which could include tar sands giants and experienced greenwashers Shell and Suncor would negate the possibility of carrying out the chant of anti Olympics demonstrators to “shut down the tar sands.”

In December of last year Greenpeace released a joint press release with Coca-Cola, one of the larger corporate sponsors of the 2010 Olympic Games. The announcement was timed as world attention shifted to Copenhagen, Denmark for the international climate change discussions. The release, among other things, stated: “This announcement is a direct result of work with Greenpeace that began in 2000, and a demonstration that phasing out the use of HFCs is a tangible and near-term action corporations can take to protect the climate.” There is no way to determine if this was a part of a push from Coca-Cola to get official endorsement rights to the COP15 negotiations.

While the press release ignored Cokes record of complicity in the murder of multiple trade union activists in Colombia, it was said to show however that the release was “a direct result of discussions with Greenpeace that began in the run-up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Greenpeace challenged Coca-Cola to go HFC-free in all of the equipment it supplied to the Games. By the Torino Games in 2006 and the Beijing Games in 2008, the Company was using all HFC-free technology at Olympic venues. For the past five years, the relationship between Greenpeace and Coca-Cola has become increasingly cooperative [...]”

Greenpeace & Coca-Cola also had zero comment on the destruction of clean water aquifers within India, notably Kerala, rendering the land where much of global Coke's bottling plants fill up parched of water and contaminating what's left.
Read Greenpeace on Greenwash here.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing (green whitewash) is the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, such as by presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing. The term green sheen has similarly been used to describe organizations that attempt to show that they are adopting practices beneficial to the environment.
- Wikipedia link

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What is Ecosocialism? Why is it important to us all?

Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism

Ecosocialism means approaching environmental needs from a socialist perspective. Not just analyzing climate change from a Marxist perspective, but recognizing that an applied socialist approach is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate changes that will harm us all.

Today, most socialist organizations recognize green organizing must be an essential part of their work. Most have started promoting both practical short term efforts to preserve our ecosystem and long term efforts to reform our political-economic systems so that we may best survive the changes that are already underway and the greater changes that threaten.

While, the general environmental movement does see and critiques the damage done to our ecosystem by unrestrained capitalism, but it is not yet calling for a political or economic socialist response; that is a worldwide response organized to succeed by taking into account the interrelations of ecology, economics and political power. Instead the focus of much of the environmental movement seeks to educate for improvements within the current economic systems that will slow down “global warming” and prepare us to adapt to the changes that are seen as inevitable. While their sense of urgency and awareness of the looming crisis is increasing, they as yet are not calling for a worldwide plan or implementation of the changes to our political and economic systems that would be required to give us the best chance at thwarting the worst of the potential climate change outcomes.

Ecosocialism approaches climate change from almost the opposite direction. A socialist approach requires both a comprehensive understanding of the political-economic causes of climate change and most importantly, a socialist based perspective on what should be done. Equally important, it values all people equally and rejects the idea that some have more rights to survive climate change that others. It recognizes without a mass awareness, there will not be the mass movement capable of demanding necessary economic and political changes.

Meanwhile, the non-ecosocialist approaches argue that we have to accept the current economic, political and military systems and base our plans on the best outcome possible within those restraints. At best they argue that calling for system change will only become practical after severe climate change. And they understand this means the suffering and sacrifice of billions of mostly poor people.

Fortunately, a growing number of ecosocialists are declaring that not only is the non-socialist approach insufficient, but that by preventing us from doing what is necessary in the time we have, a non-ecosocialist approach is likely to lead to catastrophic failure.

David Schwartzman, a member of the Metro-DC chapter of CC-DS has published a detailed analysis and plan to prevent catastrophic climate change and its devastation based on an ecosocialist perspective.

Published in Capitalism Nature Socialism, 1 March 2009, it begins:

“The ‘‘practical struggle’’ opening up a path to a socialist future is now compelled to confront the looming threat of ecocatastrophe stemming from climate change. In what follows, other interlinked features of the ecological crisis for example, species loss, the crisis in potable water, etc. will be placed in the background for heuristic reasons. It should be emphasized, however, that the same basic argument applies to all aspects of the generalized crisis insofar as these are driven by the basic dynamic of capital accumulation. In this context, to confront means a full recognition of the centrality of this challenge combined with a practice drawing from a truly eco-socialist theoretical foundation. The threat of ecocatastrophe is no longer a potential contingent outcome in some indefinite future of the unsustainable mode of production and consumption of global capital reproduction; it is now highly probable in the near future unless radical changes in both political and physical economies are made in time.”

In this paper, David spells out the critical need to overcome the Military Industrial Complex and the real potential of a “Solar Utopia.”

An example of the discussion of strategic political needs and possibilities can be found on CC‐DS’s web site listed below. These include the need for a convergence of the peace, justice, labor and environmental movements in the U.S. and transnational solidarity to develop a mass movement capable of demanding leadership responsibly inform the public of the methods needed to safely meet the climate change deadlines and tipping points we face.

Ecosocialism argues that we need demand a leadership capable of implementing a comprehensive ecosocialist based plan aimed at preventing catastrophic climate changes.

We believe it is primarily a political and strategic question of what it will take to make the danger and necessity of an organized response as clear as it was in those movies were the oncoming meteors mobilized the world to act for survivals sake – giving us a real chance to succeed.

Therefore, we need to call not only for “No More Katrinas,” but in the interests of all humanity, to demand the necessary political and economic changes needed to prevent devastating climate changes ‐‐ an ecosocialist approach. Since the economy and lives of all will be dramatically affected by climate change, much less catastrophic climate changes, it is necessary we understand and incorporate in our political work an ecosocialist approach and agenda.

1. What is eco‐socialism?
2. CCDS web site locations:‐
3. Climate Change:
4. Ecosocialism or Ecocatastrophe? (An earlier shorter draft of the CNS article)
5. "Ecosocialism or Ecocatastrophe?" Full article available from Capitalism Nature Socialism or email David Schwartzman at
6. David’s other writings:
Walter Teague ‐ 11/03/09
Metro DC Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism –

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Power of Community

How Cuba survived peak oil

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba's economy went into a tailspin. With imports of oil cut by more than half – and food by 80 percent – people were desperate.

This film tells of the hardships and struggles as well as the community and creativity of the Cuban people during this difficult time. Cubans share how they transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens. It is an unusual look into the Cuban culture during this economic crisis, which they call "The Special Period."

The film opens with a short history of Peak Oil, a term for the time in our history when world oil production will reach its all-time peak and begin to decline forever. Cuba, the only country that has faced such a crisis – the massive reduction of fossil fuels – is an example of options and hope.

Watch the full movie here.

Purchase the DVD here.

Skeptical Science now an iPhone app

Skeptical Science

Here is another tool for debating climate change deniers but you have to have an iPhone.

With Tim Lambert debating Christopher Monckton this Friday, there's been no shortage of debating suggestions. One interesting idea was for audience members to have on their mobiles. Coincidentally, Skeptical Science has just become available today as an iPhone or iPod app. The app lets you use an iPhone or iPod to view the entire list of skeptic arguments as well as (more importantly) what the science says on each argument. To download the app, go to

How it happened was a few months ago, I was contacted by Shine Technologies, a software development company from Melbourne, Australia. The owners of the company are passionate about climate change and were interested in getting the science from Skeptical Science onto mobile phones. This is a good idea for two reasons. Firstly, because now more than ever it's imperative that the climate debate focuses on science so the more readily available the science, the better. Secondly, well, an iPhone app is pretty cool.

So for the last few months, the boffins at Shine have been developing the app with Apple approving it today. How does it work? You browse arguments via the Top 10 most used arguments as well as 3 main categories ("It's not happening", "It's not us", "It's not bad"):

When you select one of the 3 main categories, a list of sub-categories pop up. You can then select any category to see the skeptic argument, a summary of what the science says and the full answer including graphs plus links to papers or other sources.

A novel inclusion is a feature that lets you report when you encounter a skeptic argument. By clicking on the red ear icon (above left, shown to the left of the skeptic arguments or above right, next to the headline), the iPhone adds another hit to that particular skeptic argument. At the moment, which arguments you report are only available in a My Reports page, shown below. Shine Tech are hoping to play around with the Reports meta-data in future versions of the app - the phrase "heat-map" gets mentioned often.

So if you have an iPhone or iPod, be sure to download the app and post any feedback or suggestions here. If you have friends with iPhones, be sure to let them know of the app. The more people use the app, hopefully the more versions will be developed in the future with snazzy extra features. If anyone encounters any technical problems with the app, please let me know.

Ecosocialism: No dictionary definition

There is no dictionary definition of ecosocialism despite its increasingly common usuage. Until the Dictionary Gurus catch up, we will rely upon our own pluralistic understanding. Wikipedia does not a bad job of summarizing many aspects of ecosocialism.

"Eco-socialism, green socialism or socialist ecology is an ideology merging aspects of Marxism, socialism, green politics, ecology and alter-globalization. Eco-socialists generally believe that the expansion of the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, poverty and environmental degradation through globalization and imperialism, under the supervision of repressive states and transnational structures; they advocate the dismantling of capitalism and the state, focusing on collective ownership of the means of production by freely associated producers and restoration of the commons."

Read Eco-socialism from Wikipedia.

The Three Meanings of Ecosocialism

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Guatemala: Anti-Mine Activists Encouraged by Canadian Ruling

By Danilo Valladares

Ecologists in Guatemala see a recent ruling by Canada's Supreme Court, which ordered Canadian mining companies to carry out rigorous environmental assessments, as a positive precedent that could help improve environmental controls over the mining industry in this Central American country.

In a case that focused on a Red Chris mining company project in the western Canadian province of British Columbia, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not split projects into artificially small parts in order to avoid comprehensive environmental impact studies.

In its verdict, the Court stated that under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, entire projects must be environmentally evaluated, and the government "cannot reduce the scope of the project to less than what is proposed by the proponent."

The ruling also said the Canadian government had acted unlawfully by excluding public input from its assessment of the planned Red Chris mine, which would process 30,000 metric tons of copper and gold a day in a pristine wilderness area.

The legal decision was met with applause and hope by environmental organisations in Guatemala, where two Canadian mining companies operate, because they believe it could have positive repercussions in terms of environmental safeguards and public participation in decision-making.

"The ruling exerts a kind of pressure for Canadian companies to live up to legal standards and not try to conceal the real impacts of their activities on the environment," Uriel Miranda, legal adviser to the Comisión Pastoral de Paz y Ecología (COPAE - Pastoral Commission on Peace and Ecology), told IPS.

COPAE is a member of the Mesa de Diálogo sobre Minería, a coalition of anti-mining and environmental groups.

In the midst of heavy local opposition, Montana Exploradora, a subsidiary of Canadian mining company Goldcorp, began to extract gold and silver in December 2005 in the Marlin open-pit mine in the highlands of the southwestern department (province) of San Marcos, on the border with Mexico.

Meanwhile, plans by Entre Mares, another of the Canadian gold-mining corporation's subsidiaries, to extract precious metals in the department of Jutiapa, which borders El Salvador in the southeast, have drawn opposition in that country.

Miranda said Goldcorp must respect the Supreme Court ruling because "they themselves talk about corporate social responsibility. So at a minimum, we expect that when they seek approval of an environmental impact assessment, they will do so in line with the same standards ordered by the verdict."

The legal advisers of environmental organisations in Guatemala and other countries are studying the reach of the Supreme Court decision, as well as the possibility of bringing legal action in the courts in Canada for irregularities that Canadian corporations may commit in other countries.

"We are analysing whether there is jurisdiction to file lawsuits for shortcomings in environmental impact reports contracted by Goldcorp, which has two mining projects here and exploration permits for other mines," said Miranda.

The director of the School of Ecological Thought (Savia), Magalí Rey Rosa, told IPS that the Supreme Court ruling set an important legal precedent.

"It should now be possible to turn to a Canadian court to sue companies from that country for failing to do what the verdict ordered them to do," said the activist.

She added that the ruling could also serve as a starting-point to assess the environmental impact studies and procedures of other mining companies, like the Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel, owned by Vancouver, BC-based Skye Resources.

Rey Rosa said the damages already caused by the mining industry in Guatemala are incalculable. "It has brought serious social conflicts, water sources have dried up, houses have suffered cracks and splits, while it has left us a few miserable dollars in return," she complained.

Under Guatemala's mining law, corporations must pay the state a one percent royalty, half of which goes to the municipality where the mine is located.

While Goldcorp reported 100 million dollars in profits from the Marlin mine alone in 2008, San Miguel Ixtahuacán, the municipality where it operates, received around one million dollars that year.

The mining industry's boom in Guatemala has been dizzying.

In 2009 the extraction industries had 259 permits, while another 383 applications were being considered, according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Activists see the Canadian Supreme Court ruling as key to improving environmental controls over the mining industry not only in Guatemala, but around the world.

"We hope the verdict will be taken into account in all Canadian mining projects in the hemisphere, because it sets a new standard for operations, in line with international norms and legislation," lawyer Jacob Kopas with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defence (AIDA) told IPS.

In Latin America, Goldcorp also operates mines in Argentina, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Other Canadian mining companies active in the region are Meridian Gold, Glencairn Gold and Barrick Gold, which runs the controversial Pascua Lama mine along the border between Chile and Argentina in the Andes mountains, as well as mines in Peru that face stiff opposition from environmentalists and local communities.

Kopas said that even though the Supreme Court verdict is not directly applicable, in legal terms, to companies operating outside of Canada, it will have to be taken into consideration to some extent by all mining companies, especially Canadian ones.

The lawyer pointed out that the Canadian parliament is debating Bill C-300, an Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries, which would regulate the Canadian mining industry outside of the country's borders based on international environmental and human rights standards.

Rafael Maldonado, adviser to the Centro de Acción Legal Ambiental y Social (CALAS - Centre for Legal, Environmental and Social Action), said to IPS that the Supreme Court decision is of vital importance not only in terms of improving environmental impact studies, but to order companies to take into account public input from local communities where mines operate.

But the Montana Exploradora mining company argued that the news of the Canadian Supreme Court ruling had been manipulated and distorted.

"We are concerned by the way opposition groups are manipulating information on this case, where the Canadian Supreme Court pronounced itself on the capacity of a federal authority to determine what kind of environmental evaluation process should be followed," said the firm's spokeswoman, Maritza Ruiz.
Community activists, in the meantime, continue raising their voices against the harmful effects of mining.

"This is not mere rebelliousness. We are not opposed to mining itself, but to its consequences, starting with the social conflicts that have left our families divided," Maudilia Cardona, a local leader in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, where the Marlin mine operates, told IPS.