Join the Toxic Tour of Toronto!

by Tristan on June 22, 2010

in Activism, Coal mining, Oil sands

Tomorrow (June 23rd), as part of the build-up to the days of action against the G8/G20 meetings, there will be a toxic tour of Toronto’s principal polluters and climate criminals.The tour begins at 11am in Alexandra Park, Toronto and will visit the home offices of many firms currently engaged in the unsustainable extraction of resources, as well as crimes against workers, local populations, and indigenous groups. Participants are encourage to dress up – some ideas suggested are executives with blood on their hands, corporate zombies, people covered in Tar Sands bitumen, etc. Fake blood and bitumen will even be provided!

Citing from the event promotional materials, the toxic tour will concentrate on four main themes:

  1. The extractive industry is violating human rights and the rights of mother earth. The federal government supports these companies even as human rights workers are killed, local peoples poisoned, and entire communities displaced. From the tar sands in northern Alberta to gold mines in Papua New Guinea to copper mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Canadian companies are exploiting indigenous and poor communities alike, violating their right to self-determination, poisoning their lands, manipulating any leadership that they can access, and often supporting brutal military and security operations.
  2. The extractive industry is exacerbating the climate crisis. The tar sands gigaproject is the most destructive industrial project on earth and will be the leading contributor to climate change in Canada, making it impossible for our country to meet its international climate commitments. The climate crisis has been caused by the industrialization of developed countries like Canada, while disproportionately affecting indigenous peoples and the global south who are faced with sea-level rise, drought, permafrost melt, desertification, melting glaciers, and increased extreme weather events. These and other problems brought on by the climate crisis have destroyed the livelihoods of millions who are dying and being displaced from their homes.
  3. The education system is taken over by corporate interests. The University of Toronto, Canada´s largest academic institution, is taken over by corporations, many of which are linked to the extractive industry. This corporate influence stifles open, honest, and critical debate in our institutions of higher learning and demonstrates how a wealthy few can dominate and shape the way people think. As an academic institution that strives to create the ‘leaders of tomorrow,’ we must challenge the notion that corporate greed and exploitation has any place in our education system.
  4. The Canadian economy is dependent on exploiting marginalized peoples and the environment. Harper would not be at the G8 if it wasn’t for exploiting the resources and people of countries that the G8 is purposely shutting out of discussions. Solutions, however, are there — but the Harper government refuses to give people the ability to determine the future of their own lives and livelihoods.

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan June 23, 2010 at 9:36 am

The extractive industry is exacerbating the climate crisis.

While true, this statement also demonstrates an unwillingness to take responsibility, on the part of consumers. It’s like the people who rage against British Petroleum, while doing nothing to reduce their personal use of oil.

Ultimately, extractive industry exists because of the demand for the products it produces. Fostering greater sustainability requires looking at consumption, as well as at the ways in which these industries are regulated (often in too lax a manner, partly due to that omnipresent demand for cheap goods and energy).

Milan June 23, 2010 at 9:39 am

This is especially true when it comes to the oil sands. 85% of the climatic harm from oil sands extraction takes place when the fuels are burned in vehicles. It is the trips to see grandma across the country, or to drive the kids to soccer practice, that are doing the great majority of the harm – not the big dumptrucks and upgraders that almost everyone is happy to demonize.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 11:26 am

Consumers are those in which desire is produced such that disposable commodities can be constructed, moved about, for the continual growth of the economy.

Citizens are those who can establish some distance on their own being-produced as consumers, and decide to rally against aspects of the consumer economy which are a risk to the species.

But, alas, I’m late for the rally!

Milan June 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

I don’t think you can entirely blame the level of human consumption on nefarious advertisers. People everywhere have always been conscious of status, as demonstrated in different ways.

What is necessary is to rework the energy basis of society, so as to make both resource consumption and waste production sustainable.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 12:41 pm

It’s not a question of blame, it’s a question of cause. The current economic regime is based on a form of desire production which is specific to the 20th century. Also, I don’t blame individual people involved in the advertising industry – I point out the form of life as such to be the problem, not someone’s motivations.

Milan June 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Still, I don’t think there is any way consumerism could be reformed or replaced which would deal with this problem.

What is necessary is changing the energy basis that underlies everything. That is how we could convert an unsustainable global society into one that can be perpetuated indefinitely.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 2:37 pm

If public relations can produce desire in others specifically for the sake of profit, it can produce desires that are either coherent or incoherent with the survival of the species. Reforms in the regulation of cigarette advertising is probably the best example we have (although a very imperfect one, due to the addiction of states to cigarette tax revenues). Regardless – it is certainly possible to reform the production of desire to shift societal emphasis away from unsustainable forms of life towards ones more appropriate to a species-friendly future.

Milan June 23, 2010 at 2:54 pm

One mechanism through which that might plausibly occur is if members of the general population begin to genuinely look down upon those who undertake wastefully greenhouse gas intensive activities.

For such scorn to be meaningful, however, it must drive the targets to do more meaningful things than just buy some dubious carbon offsets or other greenwashed products.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm

The “meaningful thing” is to demand political change on the basis of a defensible analysis. Because of the non-neutrality of capitalism with respect to short-sightedness, and the valuation of the quantity and speed of consumption over quality, it seems to me that a defensible analysis more and more must be an anti-capitalist analysis.

Milan June 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm

That risks being a dead end, or a delay that will be costly in terms of opportunities lost.

Industry fought tooth-and-nail to prevent regulation of gases that cause acid rain and ozone depletion. Eventually, these gases were regulated despite their objections, and industry was able to adapt and manage at a far lower cost than they claimed, and without the job losses and other disasters they predicted.

The only scenarios in which it seems plausible for us to deal with climate change before it comes catastrophic are those based around a similar template – not those based around radical experiments in re-creating our political or economic systems.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm

So, you think we stand a better chance encouraging people to ride bikes, refrain from flying, and vote strategically for a political party which stands the best chance of imposing carbon taxes.

Our political/economic systems are not neutral with respect to the climate crisis – they have produced it through their structural disregard of unpriced needs. While we might be able to price the need of future generations to have a livable world, this will continue to be opposed by a system which over values short term gains and fires individuals who refuse to act against the interests of the species.

The economy must exist for the sake of satisfying human needs. Our economy, instead, produces desires which results in debt and continual indentured service to the economy.

Milan June 23, 2010 at 6:02 pm

I think it is fairer to think of climate change as an aberration not easily dealt with by a political and economic system that otherwise does a pretty good job of maximizing human happiness. Certainly, it isn’t perfect. It is, however, better than what has existed virtually anywhere else at any point in human history. Maintaining it is also preferable to launching pie-in-the-sky experiments that are at least as likely to make things worse as they are to produce improvements.

For the most part, people have pretty reasonable desires, and the market does a pretty good job of providing for them. The one big oversight concerns long-term planning.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm

There is pretty good evidence that nomads were better off than the average worker under late capitalism.

For the most part, people have desires which are produced by the desire production industry – desires whose satisfaction does not lead to long term happiness, but long term reliance on systems which are needless with respect to genuine needs (i.e. clothing, shelter).

This is easy to show – just look at the amount of people who have computers, cars, iphones, etc… and yet don’t know how to eat or take care of themselves, who abuse their parents and children, who don’t have friends and don’t think to get involved in their community. This arrangement of things isn’t accidental – it’s part of a well executed plan to divide people from each other and make them reliant on what they can’t make themselves. To economists, it’s called “growth”.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 6:33 pm

And how is climate change different from any other ecological crisis? I agree that climate change is the most important and most pressing ecological concern on which to act, but other concerns, given enough time, can also become devastating to millions of people. Capitalists are structurally encouraged to discount potential ecological costs, put off scientific studies, and discredit unprofitable scientific findings once they are established (i.e. the huge amount of money spent creating confusion about climate change science, but also about smoking, the dangers of deep sea oil wells, etc…).

Milan June 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm

There is pretty good evidence that nomads were better off than the average worker under late capitalism.

I think this claim is preposterous.

Even low-income people in Canada live longer, healthier, more varied and interesting lives than aristocracy did for most of history.

It’s a high bar to expect everyone to be well-integrated socially – or condemn a society because some people don’t meet that standard in your estimation. The fact is, from health to education to tolerance to respect for human rights, we are doing better than almost anyone has ever done.

Milan June 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I agree that climate change is the most important and most pressing ecological concern on which to act, but other concerns, given enough time, can also become devastating to millions of people.

It is plausible that other long-term issues could become deeply problematic, even if we deal with climate change. A few responses are still possible however:

1) If we do deal with climate change, we may set up the institutions necessary to deal with them as well

2) It may be that no environmental issue ever proves equally serious

3) It is not clear that an alternative economic/political system would address climate change or other environmental concerns any better.

Milan June 23, 2010 at 6:58 pm

The most plausible way forward seems to be convincing most of those who are currently politically and economically influential that fossil fuels actually have no acceptable future. Then, perhaps the fossil fuel industry will fall by the wayside as other obsolete sectors have in the past, and we can perpetuate our society on the basis of zero-carbon, renewable forms of energy.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 7:00 pm

” Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism,that curse our existence.”

(PDF LINK) http://www.environnement.ens.fr/perso/claessen/agriculture/mistake_jared_diamond.pdf

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 7:08 pm

“The most plausible way forward seems to be convincing most of those who are currently politically and economically influential that fossil fuels actually have no acceptable future. ”

This is implausible because, given the existing system, they would be replaced by other actors who do not impose these expensive “costs” to the system (i.e. the survival of the species). The contradiction is fundamentally not between different actors with different intentions, but between vectors of power and the genuine interests of those who find themselves in different positions of power/oppression.

You’ve written before, I believe on the phenomenon of “weakness at the top” – i.e. the paradoxical lack of power leaders have because they have surrendered so much of it to attain their position. This is why dictatorships are much more adaptive than oligarchies.

Milan June 23, 2010 at 7:26 pm

There seems to be a pendulum of popular intellectual thought about how people in pre-industrial society lived. It oscillates between a view that stresses the harshness of life before medicine, sanitation, and the division of labour and a romanticized view that suggests that noble savages actually lived lives that we would envy.

While people in such situations probably weren’t as badly off as the most pessimistic people believe, it seems demonstrably true that they lived shorter, less healthy, more dangerous and unpleasant lives than the great majority of those who are alive now in places like Canada.

In any case, there is no turning back the clock to pre-industrialized living now, unless you and endorsing a drastic crash in the size of the world’s human population.

Milan June 23, 2010 at 7:30 pm

This is implausible because, given the existing system, they would be replaced by other actors who do not impose these expensive “costs” to the system (i.e. the survival of the species).

My hope is that fossil fuels will eventually be abandoned as an area for research and investment. Eventually, we will have safer and more reliable options and an economy focused around the use of renewables.

At that point, it should be hoped that the sheer force of momentum would prevent a return to a fossil-powered lifestyle.

I admit, however, that all this is a long shot. Right now, we are not at all on track to deal with climate change before it becomes catastrophic. All the more reason, then, to abandon peripheral projects like making people less materialistic and focus on dealing with climate change.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 8:43 pm

“Eventually, we will have safer and more reliable options and an economy focused around the use of renewables.”

I wouldn’t disagree with a statement like this. However, due to the need to act quickly, there is a real chance it will not be an adequate response. But, you’ve said as much above. The difference is whether we should focus on the “long shot” of our existing system, or the “long shot” of a social transformation based on the inability of capitalism to adapt to the survival of the species.

Tristan June 23, 2010 at 8:52 pm

” All the more reason, then, to abandon peripheral projects like making people less materialistic and focus on dealing with climate change.”

In fact, all the more reason to integrate those who want radical change, and those who want the existing system to solve the climate crisis. For instance, both capitalists and anti-capitalists concerned with climate change want the price of oil to go up, and should therefore support actions which increase instability of investment, discourage the construction of oil pipelines, and discourage foreign investment in the Canadian extractive economy generally. Both capitalists and anti-capitalists should decry the financialization of the economy, stress the anti-democratic nature of de-regulated international capital movement, and fight for regulations which bring the current system more into line with the needs of people and the species. Whether the capitalists or anti capitalists are right in the end has to do only with the extent to which capitalism in fact can adapt to what is morally required by climate change.

Milan June 24, 2010 at 1:24 pm

This comment also relates to this thread.

. June 24, 2010 at 1:40 pm

“What was [Fred] Singer really up to [in questioning the link between CFCs and stratospheric ozone depletion]? We suggest the best answer comes from his own pen. “And then there are probably those with hidden agendas of their own – not just to ‘save the environment’ but to change our economic system,” he wrote in 1989. “Some of these ‘coercive utopians’ are socialists, some are technology-hating Luddites; most have a great desire to regulate – on as large as scale as possible.” In a 1991 piece on global warming, he reiterated the theme that environmental threats – in this case global warming – were being manufactured by environmentalists based on a “hidden political agenda” against “business, the free market, and the capitalistic system.” The true goal of those involved in global warming research was not to stop global warming, but to foster “international action, preferably with lots of treaties and protocols.” The “real” agenda of environmentalists – and the scientists who provided the data on which they relied – was to destroy capitalism and replace it with some sort of worldwide utopian Socialism – or perhaps Communism. That echoed a common right-wing refrain in the early 1990s: that environmental regulation was a slippery slope to Socialism. In 1992, columnist George Will encapsulated this view, saying that environmentalism was a “green tree with red roots.”

To fight environmental regulation, Singer and [Dixy Lee] Ray told a story in which science was corrupt and scientists could not be trusted. Once planted, this counternarrative did not easily go away.”

Oreskes, Naomi and Erik Conway. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. p.134 (hardcover)

. June 24, 2010 at 3:57 pm

JUNE 24, 2010

Toward Sustainable Capitalism
Long-term incentives are the antidote to the short-term greed that caused our current economic woes.

BY AL GORE AND DAVID BLOOD

There are several well understood advantages inherent in capitalism that make it superior to any other system for organizing economic activity. It has proven to be far more efficient in the allocation of resources and the matching of supply with demand, far more effective at wealth creation, and far more conducive to high levels of freedom and political self-governance. At the most basic level, however, capitalism has become the world’s economic ideology of choice primarily because it demonstrably unlocks a higher fraction of the human potential with ubiquitous organic incentives that reward hard work, ingenuity and innovation.

. June 24, 2010 at 6:04 pm

“For those who are interested in the real world, a look at the actual history suggests some adjustment — a modification of free market theory, to what we might call “really existing free market theory.” That is, the one that’s actually applied, not talked about.

And the principle of really existing free market theory is: free markets are fine for you, but not for me. That’s, again, near a universal. So you — whoever you may be — you have to learn responsibility, and be subjected to market discipline, it’s good for your character, it’s tough love, and so on, and so forth. But me, I need the nanny State, to protect me from market discipline, so that I’ll be able to rant and rave about the marvels of the free market, while I’m getting properly subsidized and defended by everyone else, through the nanny State. And also, this has to be risk-free. So I’m perfectly willing to make profits, but I don’t want to take risks. If anything goes wrong, you bail me out.

So, if Third World debt gets out of control, you socialize it. It’s not the problem of the banks that made the money. When the S&Ls collapse, you know, same thing. The public bails them out. When American investment firms get into trouble because the Mexican bubble bursts, you bail out Goldman Sachs. And — the latest Mexico bail out, and on and on. I mean, there’s case after case of this.”

http://www.chomsky.info/talks/19960413.htm

Tristan June 24, 2010 at 6:11 pm

As for capitalism “maximizing happiness” – happiness is likely to be maximized by the system which banishes poverty at the cost of extreme wealth. When someone is wealthy, it takes many more dollars of economic activity to make them happier (i.e. why 100$ bottles of wine exist). However, when someone is quite poorly off, even another few dollars can significantly improve their quality of life.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Cuba has the highest ratio of happiness per person over GDP per person.

Milan June 25, 2010 at 8:09 am

I would say the Scandinavian countries are almost certainly superior examples, though that is somewhat secondary to this overall discussion.

I think climate denier Fred Singer is actually raising a reasonable point. It is inappropriate to try to use concern about climate change to try to drive an unrelated political agenda. While dealing with climate change clearly requires us to develop and deploy zero-carbon forms of energy, it is not convincing that it requires us to try to reduce income inequality.

We may want to do that for other reasons, but we should not use climate change as an excuse. For one thing, it is dishonest. For another, it risks making efforts to address climate change ineffective, as the advocates of those efforts get perceived as adhering to one narrow political ideology.

Tristan June 25, 2010 at 10:38 am

“It is inappropriate to try to use concern about climate change to try to drive an unrelated political agenda.”

What is the “narrow political ideology” of the leftist convergence against capitalism? Oh wait, you have no idea.

In reality, there is no narrow leftist political ideology. The leftist convergence against climate change and for a more just world is split a million-fold over what a better form of society would look like. What they are united on is opposing the current inaction on climate change, inaction on migrants rights, inaction on first nations sovereignty and treaty rights, inaction on women’s reproductive health rights, inaction on climate injustice. These are all issues which can be addressed within existing political structures (why would anyone want to undergo the complexity of overthrowing a system if this one could give us what is necessary?) – the fact that many believe the existing system is inadequate does not mean they are “using” social justice issues (including climate change) to push a “narrow political ideology”.

Tristan June 25, 2010 at 10:39 am

I suppose you also think it is inappropriate and needlessly divisive to fight for migrants rights at the beginning of a century which will likely be characterized by climate refugee movements?

Milan June 25, 2010 at 10:52 am

I think we’re talking in circles and the points I initially raised still stand. The most sensible approach for confronting climate change centres around making people of all political persuasions actively concerned about the issue and willing to take action; tying climate change mitigation to a wide-ranging collection of peripherally related causes is likely to undermine the success of that strategy.

Tristan June 25, 2010 at 11:33 am

You can’t just say that – you need to make an argument. Specifically, you have to deal with the objection that inaction on climate change is not produced by the wills of individual people, but by the structures in which they find themselves.

Milan June 25, 2010 at 11:52 am

So, I need to disprove an obvious claim or accept that your entire position is correct?

Aligning the climate change mitigation movement with a bunch of groups and causes considered radical by the general public is not the way to make support for good climate policies mainstream.

Tristan June 25, 2010 at 11:54 am

What is my “entire position” other than “we must logically deal with a world in which inaction is not produced by individual will but by structural forces”?

We must make the mainstream recognize that structural re-alignments are necessary. Continuing to claim that failed states can solve climate change makes inaction even easier.

Milan June 25, 2010 at 12:25 pm

The question is what ‘logically dealing with’ that situation requires.

The most logical chain looks something like:

1) Develop cross-party support for the notion that climate change must be addressed, and that carbon pricing is a key mechanism

2) Institute an initially low but ever-rising carbon price

That won’t solve the problem in itself, but it would probably do a good job of setting us on the correct path to structural reform.

Tristan June 25, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Why do you think that could be successful, given the interests of business and the power of business in the current political structure?

It’s trivially true to say that if political parties represented the real interests of Canadians, that they would be working to solve climate change. The problem is a) the subjective interests of Canadians are distorted by business funded climate skepticism and b) the political system doesn’t represent the subjective interests of the population anyway.

Milan June 25, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Politicians seem to perceive the world as it appears right in front of them, without thinking much about how it could otherwise be. A rising carbon price would just get incorporated into that process, gradually driving things like infrastructure investments in appropriate directions.

As I have said countless times, there is no guarantee whatsoever that the widescale political change you advocate would actually do anything to deal with climate change.

Tristan June 25, 2010 at 12:46 pm

It doesn’t mean anything to say there is no guarantee – there is no guarantee that the existing system can resolve climate change. There are no guarantees for anything. Of course you can give a caricature of the political change I advocate and say the structures I would put in place would not pursue the goals I would wish it to. But, this is a devious method of argument – in fact I put the needs first and see political change as subservient to needs. So, sure, some specific suggestion I make might not actually fulfill some specific need – but that just means it isn’t effective for the ends I seek in it, and I should not support it. If you want to actually have a debate about the impact of political structure on action and inaction you need to deal with particularities, not just reject anyone demanding political reform as a hopeless utopian.

Milan June 25, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I am principally saying that we should not allow ourselves to get bogged down and marginalized, by tying support of climate change mitigation to peripherally related topics like First Nations rights or immigration policy.

There are linkages, sure, but we can certainly get policy wrong in those areas while also successfully avoiding catastrophic climate change. Avoiding those worst case outcomes needs to be our focus now.

Milan June 25, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Among other places, we discussed that here: On “Setting Priorities” in Social Activism

Tristan June 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm

If you care about mitigating climate change because of the human costs it will produce, you have to care about mitigating those costs in ways other than only reducing our carbon output. Otherwise you don’t really care about the impacts at all, and only care about “the planet” or some carbon number. The carbon number matters because it will hurt people, and if you care about hurting people, you have to care about things like migrants rights and land rights for people who will be adversely affected by the rising temperature.

You also have to care about treaty rights because it’s just a rule of law issue – unless you’re alright with living in a dictatorship who can set one set of rules for white people, and another set for red.

Milan June 25, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Climate change mitigation has the virtue of clarity. What ought to be done is obvious now to anyone who has seriously studied the issue. The risks are clear, as are the benefits from action. It is also clear who the winners and losers would be, in various scenarios.

That is certainly not the case, when it comes to most complex social issues.

Tristan June 28, 2010 at 12:32 am

The benefits are clear to people who have a lifespan of more than 4 months. Unfortunately, our world is run by exceedingly short-term interests. I don’t mean people with short term interests, but systems that fire people who privilege short term interests over long term gains.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: