A gift from Nature or polluted air?

By Pat Watson Wednesday December 04 2013 in Opinion
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It was late afternoon last Friday as the sun faded early from the horizon, the usual at this time of year on this part of Earth, and it was an awesome sight. The lower curves of a fleecy layering of dark grey clouds were each luminously accented with florescent pink. The sun’s rays also offered up brush strokes of coral and gold in a clearing of bright blue just above the horizon. The astounding beauty caused many hustling about their mundane lives to marvel.


On the ground where human activities seem to dominate, ‘consumers’ exiting a supermarket stopped to take in the fleeting beauty, which for the moment superseded whatever was next on their to-do list. There was also a sense of pity for those with their backs to this splendor.


But it is ever thus in life, there are those who will be graced with the moment to behold a grand occurrence and yet others who for whatever reason miss it, or miss out on it.


The model around which we humans have organized ourselves for millennia is to cluster together. We cluster first in extended families, then in villages, then towns, then cities, and then city-states. As with all matters concerning life on Earth, we do so because it creates a perceived advantage for our survival.


Nonetheless, along with the benefits come the liabilities. I’m sure that without seeing any listed here you can come up with a few. But, just so we are agreed on the matter, a big one includes rampant ravaging of our surrounding natural resources that robs other creatures we share space with of their survival privileges and, subsequently, our own.


We have yet to learn how to share the planet. At least, that seems the case in our ever-expanding suburban areas. Land that was once the domain of flora and fauna, then later taken by us for farming is being encroached on to expand housing development. So where will we grow food if this keeps going? Or, are we intuitively waiting for the ‘greenhouse effect’ to give us enough new temperate climate in the now unpopulated Artic and sub-Arctic regions to make that our new farmlands?


Motivated by fear of the outcome of our continued taking the planet for granted, there is a group that wants to make clean air and water into human rights, to have it enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. The notion being that we are entitled to having these is endorsed by more than 80 per cent of Canadians who responded to a recent Angus Reid poll done on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation.


Speaking biologically, a healthy ecosystem is critical to our survival. But since we have a problem with sharing equitably then we have to engage in complicated maneuvering such as organizing to make such basic elements for survival into ‘rights’. Why, for instance, despite our love for our natural environment, is this country noted for its wealth of natural resources, by virtue of sheer size, in last place on environmental protection among 27 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)? And the OECD is not the only international organization taking notice of how our love for our natural environment contradicts our actions in respecting it. Half of all Canadians now live in areas where the air quality, in terms of pollutants, is a threat to their health and is related to an estimated 20,000 deaths annually.


Along with those killed by bad air, there are healthcare, productivity and social costs that Environment Canada estimates at $8,000 for each hospital admission for respiratory illness.


What is happening is that resource development, activities like mining, a major Canadian investment concern here and abroad which is strongly supported by our current federal government, are in conflict with the absolute need for better environment protection.


So, as beautiful as that sunset was, the question was asked by at least one observer whether the light show of brilliant colours we were witnessing was simply God’s glory or the result of sunlight filtering through poisoned air.

On a related note…


At a conference this week in Washington DC to discuss growth of tar sands development, environmental economist, Mark Jaccard, a former Harper government appointee on the environmental file, in his keynote speech called Canada a “rogue state” on the matter of environmental care.

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