February 2008: Our War Against Mother Earth is Unwinnable

Pursuit of power and profit threatens the biosphere
February 1, 2008

Over the years, the pursuit of power by politicians and of profit by industrialists has led to a state of warfare against mankind’s principal enemy, which for them, strangely enough, is Planet Earth. The plan “to conquer the Earth” has been freely stated since the time of Francis Bacon.

Eminent historian Arnold Toynbee, in his final volume, Mankind and Mother Earth, identifies the principal roles of government as making wars and controlling people. These roles are now jointly held by politicians and corporatists, for whom warfare has become such an incredible source of wealth that even millions of dollars of Canada Pension Plan money are invested in leading armament corporations. To count on armed conflict as a source of profit is to welcome and exploit the worst kind of human brutality.

Toynbee finds the crux of the human problem to be our focus on material power “to a degree at which it has become a menace to the biosphere’s survival... An increase in man’s spiritual potentiality is now the only conceivable change in the constitution of the biosphere that can insure the biosphere–and, in the biosphere, man himself–against being destroyed by a greed that is now armed with the ability to defeat its own intentions.”

He concludes by citing the exact position we are in today: “Will mankind murder Mother Earth, or will he redeem her? He could murder her by misusing his increasing technological potency. Alternatively, he could redeem her by overcoming the suicidal, aggressive greed that, in all living creatures, including man himself, has been the price of the Great Mother’s gift of life. This is the enigmatic question which now confronts us.”

With the foregoing as a background for thought, great uncertainty is cast upon the qualifications and mental attitude of the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada. Both appear to be confirmed globalists at a time when it is becoming clearly evident that local needs should be met as much as possible by local efforts in a world where energy futures are uncertain and reliance on imports for food or fuel needs may become quite problematic.

“One-worldness” already exists in that all earthlings (including ants, hippopotami and humans) live on the same planet. But, just as the planet–one single ecosphere–is divided into scores of ecosystems with different landscapes, different climates affording different crops, and different cultures that have developed in them, so a diversity of countries and traditions have been formulated. Our visibly self-serving leaders have ignoble aspirations, which include seeking a borderless world subject to a planet-destructive economy that has recklessly changed every nation’s natural inheritance into a mess of pottage. This approach involves unceasing war against other nations and the planet itself, obsessive economic ambitions, continuous military brinkmanship, and callous disregard for our common environment. While the real problems of the world go unnoticed, our leaders are steering the economic Titanic at full-bore into the apocalypse humankind has recklessly been creating.

The entire world faces an immense problem calling for everyone’s attention--a problem that must take precedence over all others. It has to do with making peace with Earth and curbing our aspirations in order to become good planetary citizens. This implies stewardship in a sense we have not yet been able to imagine. It fits into the tenets of Christian belief, clearly recognizing the Biblical reminder, “...for the land is mine; for ye are all strangers and sojourners with me.”

A huge change in human behaviour is essential to survival: a transition from mundane materialism to a deeply spiritual humility that transcends all religions.

Stephen Harper, George Bush, their respective legislatures, and political parties in general are walking to the edge of an abyss crumbling at its base. The political and economic powers continue to plot their aims in the narrow fashion that has always suited them. Fixated on power, profit, and prestige, they plot ever more grandiose schemes for the world they fancy: a world ruled by corporate and political élites with billions of serfs to serve them. They represent the culmination of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. If a single line from one of these three books could be cited to sum up their common message, it is this one from Animal Farm: “All pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

An apparently minor economic sales pitch provides an example of how little concern prevails for the integrity of Earth when the priority is making money. It is the publication and distribution of thick Christmas catalogues urging people to buy as “gifts” the thousands of consumer goods depicted on hundreds of full-colour glossy pages. In a recent pre-Christmas period in the United States, 17 billion of these catalogues from 74 retail chains were printed and sent to homes across the country. Their combined weight was estimated at 7.2 billion pounds, and only seven of the 74 different catalogues used recycled paper, according to the advocacy group Environmental Defense. Think for a minute how many thousands of square miles of climate-stabilizing forests were cut down just for this exercise in the promotion of overconsumption.

It is ironic that, while people are being conditioned to fear militant political terrorism, they are never warned about the ecological terrorism that is deliberately practised and condoned, even though it is potentially much more destructive.

An article in a recent issue of WorldWatch magazine, Tar Sands Fever, offers a realistic example of ecological terrorism aimed at perpetuating the lethal addiction to fossil fuels. Here are some facts cited by author Dan Roy Woynillowicz:

Tar sands are composed of 85% sand, clay, and silt, and 12% bitumen, a tar-like substance from which oil can be extracted. Bitumen does not flow like oil, so removing it from tar sands requires vast amounts of water and energy. For comparison, the author suggests, “Imagine mixing a bucket of roofing tar in a child’s sandbox” and then trying to wash the tar from the sand with boiling water.”

Prior to strip-mining the land, the boreal forest is clear-cut, rivers and streams diverted, and wetlands drained. Overburden (sand, rocks, and clay overlying tar sands deposits) must be removed and stockpiled to reach the tar sands. Four tons of material are removed to produce each barrel of bitumen. At current production rates, enough material is moved every two days to fill a 60,000-seat stadium. Add to the foregoing that only a small portion of the bitumen may be removed this easily. As much as 80% of the tar sands are deeper and must be extracted by injecting high-pressure steam into the ground to soften the bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface.

Even after extraction, the bitumen is low-grade fossil-fuel that must undergo an energy-intensive process to upgrade it into a synthetic crude oil. Either upgrading of raw bitumen by adding hydrogen or removing carbon may be necessary before refining. In the U.S., about three-quarters of bitumen is refined into fuels for transportation.

The environmental damage is enormous. “Producing a barrel of synthetic crude oil from the tar sands releases up to three times more greenhouse gas pollution than conventional oil,” says Woynillowicz. This is partly caused by the huge amounts of natural gas required to extract bitumen from the tar sands and convert it into synthetic crude. The energy equivalent of one barrel of oil is needed to produce three barrels of tar sands oil. Tar sands development and lobbying by the oil industry have led to a 25.3% rise in Canadian greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. This exceeds a 16.3% rise is U.S. emissions. “Regulations introduced in early 2007 are so fraught with loopholes and gaps that greenhouse gas pollution from tar sands is predicted to triple by 2020... Nowhere in the world is there a form of oil extraction and processing with a more destructive impact on forests and wildlife, fresh-water resources, and air quality.”

Canada’s boreal forest constitutes one-fourth of the world’s remaining intact forests. The wetlands and lakes of the boreal forest are vital habitats for 30% of North American songbirds and 40% of its waterfowl. Planned tar sands development means that 3,000 sqare kilometers could be clear-cut, drained, and strip-mined to access deposits close to the surface. The remaining 137,000 sqare kilometres would be fragmented into roads, seismic-lines, pipelines, and well-pads for in-situ drilling projects. Studies reveal that the boreal system may be pushed past its ecological tipping point, with irreversible biodiversity and ecological effects. The UN Environment Program has named Alberta’s tar sand mines as one of l00 global “hot spots” of environmental degradation. Reclamation of the land ruined by tar sands work undertaken since 1967 is less than 9%, with none of the land officially certified as reclaimed.

Water withdrawals from the Athabaska River, a primary source of water for tar sands development, now threaten the sustainability of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, which is both a World Heritage Site and the largest boreal delta in the world. The tar sands are taking enough water from this river to serve a city of two million people. “But, unlike city effluent waters, which are treated and released back into the river, tar sands mining effluent becomes so contaminated that it must be impounded... One tailings pond at Syncrude’s mining operation is held in check by the third largest dam in the world... The high concentrations of pollutants, such as napthenic acid, which are found at concentrations 100 times greater than the natural environment, are acutely toxic to aquatic life, yet the government has no water quality regulations for these substances.”

Air pollution from this source is enormous, but does not seem to register in the consciousness of our leaders. Prime Minister Harper, not standing at all on guard for the ecological integrity of the Earth, uses the prospect of further tar sands development as a basis for calling Canada an “emerging energy superpower.” (Or should that be “stupor-power?”)

* * *

Our relentless march toward a political, industrial, military and economic crisis recalls a poem by Robert Service, appropriately titled The Reckoning. He concluded with this verse:

Time has got a little bill:
Get wise while yet you may,
For the debit side’s increasing
In a most alarming way.
The things you had no right to do,
The things you should have done,
They’re all put down; it’s up to you
To pay for every one.
So eat, drink and be merry,
Have a good time if you will,
But God help you when the time comes
And you have to foot the bill.

(Bob Harrington—[email protected]--lives in British Columbia. His most recent book is The Soul Survivor.)