Chris Wood is a fine environmental writer with a particular interest in water. His most recent book is Down the Drain: How We Are Failing To Protect Our Water Resources. He recently published this careful and intelligent review in The Antigonish Review, and I wanted to share it with you. My gratitude to The Antigonish Review: it’s reprinted with their permission.
Warrior Lawyers by Silver Donald Cameron (Green Interview Books. 338 pages.) Paperback US $19.99, Kindle $7.29 on Amazon
For eight seasons, the immensely popular ABC sitcom Modern Family has drawn laughs from millions of North Americans by casting effeminate, flighty, gay character Mitchell Pritchett as an ‘environmental lawyer’—mocking his work along with his manhood as the least consequential legal role imaginable.
Its writers should meet Tony Oposa or Pablo Fajardo. Oposa got the Philippine government to start to clean up Manila Bay—despite having a price on his head and his best friend murdered on his doorstep. In Ecuador, Fajardo is still fighting after 20 years to extract compensation from international oil giant Chevron-Texaco for the continuing devastation it wreaked on lives and ecosystems in that country; he’s lost both a best friend and a brother to murders intended to deter him.
In much of the world, environmental lawyering can be a deadly vocation. Everywhere it can seem like a David vs Goliath proposition. Hence the title of Silver Donald Cameron’s 18th book: Warrior Lawyers (Green Interview Books, Halifax, NS).
The volume’s 338 pages contain an opening thirty-page essay by Cameron, followed by edited transcripts of his interviews with seventeen “lawyers for the earth” from nine countries. They’re much more than a needed corrective for mass media’s misleading typecasting. By turns intellectual page-turner and fireside expert tutorial, the book canvases the ways a better understanding of the law—what it is, where it comes from, how it is made and how it can be wielded—might help our species avoid the existential challenges we have created for ourselves.
As a warranty lawyer might put it, those challenges include but are not limited to: a global wave of extinctions, large-scale toxic pollution, contaminated home sites, poisoned children and barren wildlife, decay of earth’s life-supporting ecosystems, and literally over-arching all of those, the steadily rising concentration of hydro-carbons in the air that is cranking up the planetary heat. But also, and vitally, they include the neo-liberal economy and its legal instruments that guide the human activities causing those harms.
The subject—broaching law, science, the alphabet-soup of international agency acronyms—could easily be leaden. But Cameron is an old pro and readers are in very competent hands. He had me at his opening epithet: “Peer deeply into the sewage sludge of Tamaqua. It may contain the future of the law.”
This turns out to be a quote from one of Cameron’s own earlier articles—an early expression of the Cape Breton-based journalist and author’s long fascination with the exigent interplay of natural place, peoples, and cultures (see also An Island Parish, or for that matter the more irreverent Outhouses of the West, with photographer Sherman Hines).
In his essay, Cameron lets slip a biographical detail that we oddly share: he briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer himself before turning to journalism (so did I). And his book is arranged, loosely, in the form of a courtroom performance: an opening argument, followed by the supporting evidence of expert witness testimony.
Those witnesses range from lawyers pursuing specific pertinent individual cases like Ecuador’s Fajardo, or Saskatchewan’s Kowalchuk—who represents two plaintiff groups fighting fracking in New Brunswick—to others with lofty goals of achieving systemic change at a single stroke. British barrister Peggy Higgins is seeking nothing less than the creation of a new international crime of ecocide (her odds of success are better than you might think).
Among the multinational group, Cameron’s witnesses address many of the most prominent themes at the crosshairs of environmental activism and the law—which they view from diverse perspectives. Oposa and others value its ability to force society—or at least defendants in a lawsuit—to pay attention to a story, typically about injustice or a harm suffered, and its supporting evidence. Higgins sees it is a way to force different choices on top national and corporate decision-makers. Mumta Ito, who is trying to win enough grassroots support to force the European Parliament to consider embedding its citizens’ right to nature in legislation, appears to see the law as a radiant manifestation of subconscious individual and historic social dynamics.
But there are recurring themes.
The parallels between legal argumentation in making a case and story-telling, feature in many of the interviews. A legal action, Oposa tells Cameron, “tells a story in a manner that is organized, orderly, logical and backed up by evidence,” and forces society to pay attention. If the suit fails, Cameron observes, “he can appeal—and the story will be told all over again. “A lawsuit undertaken in this spirit cannot really be lost.”
He also speaks with John Borrows, an Anishinaabe professor of law at the University of Victoria, who makes the telling point, as Cameron summarizes it, that “Canada has three legal traditions, all recognized in the Constitution: the English common law, the French civil law, and the legal systems of the First Nations. And all of them rest on stories. What are known as ‘cases’ and ‘precedents’ are fundamentally stories.”
What we need, Cameron and his witnesses argue, are legal stories more reflective of our interlocking crises of biological survival and political and economic legitimacy.
A good place to start would be to pay more attention to that indigenous thread in our legal tradition. South African lawyer Cormac Cullinan cites the power of indigenous cosmologies to correct a central error of the western European/colonial and neoliberal modes of thinking. “If one looks at the significant crises of our time, most of which are environmental, they arise because of human behaviour,” Cullinan tells Cameron. “And that behaviour is based on the false understanding—the delusion—that we are separate from Nature. To change that, it is necessary to shift the consciousness of the dominant industrial civilizations to the recognition, which has existed for most of human history, that our well-being depends on maintaining healthy relationships with the other members of the community, both human and other than human.”
Cullinan advocates for a new form of indigenous-inspired law—“wild law” or “earth jurisprudence”—that’s rooted in the recognition that the laws of nature supercede those of humanity. As Australian lawyer Michelle Maloney puts it, “wild law invites mainstream, European-style law to open up its heart and soul to invite in the older knowledge systems, and the older peoples.”
But warrior lawyers need more than shifts of consciousness. They need legal swords and shields. And Cameron’s witnesses do not disappoint. From Oposa’s power of persistent story-telling, to Dutch lawyer Roger Cox’s stunning victory over his own government (Cox successfully argued that the Dutch government couldn’t simultaneously declare climate change an active threat to its citizens, and decline to address it by failing to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissionss) the book is fairly packed with legal how-tos and gambits.
Higgins may be going for the legal equivalent of the United States’ ‘mother of all bombs’, recently dropped on Afghanistan. She defines ecocide as “extensive damage or destruction to, or loss of ecosystems of a given territory”—Chevron’s decades-long spills in Ecuador, or Canada’s fishing the Atlantic cod to near-extinction, are examples.
Higgins notes that documents drafting the 1998 treaty known as the ‘Statute of Rome’, which created the International Criminal Court, originally included a prohibition against ecocide. It was removed at the last minute as “a result of corporate lobbying by oil, genetic modification, and nuclear interests,” Higgins says. She proposes to put it back in. Creating an international crime of ecocide would allow signatory nations to put individual political and corporate leaders who commit acts of ecocide—even those from non-signatory nations—on trial in their own courts or before the ICC in the Hague.
There is radical stuff here.
American attorneys Thomas Linzey and Mari Margil make no secret of their desire to “pick fights” with state governments in order to dramatize to the public how the existing “system has nothing to do with environmental protection. It has to do with something different, which is about legalizing harm,” as Linzey puts it.
Margil cites a Colorado Governor who at the time of the interview was suing communities in their own state that had enacted local bans on fracking. “When your own governor is saying that he’s going to sue his constituencies, his communities, the people who put him into office, when they’re trying to protect themselves from something that is a very real threat—that makes things very clear to people,” Margil says.
As Cullinan, Borrows, and others point out, once you accept that the planet’s living global ecosystem is superior to people in biology, and the urgent necessity of reflecting that in law and rights, the entire idea of private human ‘property’ becomes dodgy. How can we ‘own’ something of which we are only a dependent part? If Higgins gets her way (it could start with one nation that’s already a party to the Statute of Rome putting it forward for others to endorse), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might some day be subject to prosecution for approving oil pipelines that would contribute additional greenhouse emissions to the atmosphere.
Warrior Lawyers is one of those books that anyone concerned about our species’ direction could profitably, as well as enjoyably, read. But it is likely to appeal mostly to those who are already active in any of the countless skirmishes, long marches, and pitched battles that constitute humanity’s efforts to rescue itself.
In particular, it should feature on the reading list of every lawyer-in-training, not only those pursuing environmental law. “I would now say to my callow self,” who rejected a career in the law, Cameron writes in the penultimate paragraph of his essay, that “law could be a compelling, totally fulfilling career choice, but you must… nurture your warrior nature, and choose your mentors with wisdom. They are out there. Think how marvelous it would be to study with these people, to article with them, to work as a colleague with them, to practice with them. Think how you could use the tools you’ll acquire from them. What could be better than that?”
The title’s potential appeal to student environmentalists is, in fact, part of Cameron’s novel and transparently disclosed business model for supporting his work as a reporter of hopeful stories and presenter of inspirational figures on his Green Interview website, a film documentary, and this book—which is being distributed by a company that specializes in academic markets. While it’s the subject neither of the book nor this review, the problem of funding constructive journalism is acute in Canada; Cameron deserves congratulations for cobbling together a creative answer.
But this collection of friendly interviews is not more than what it is either. It is not a textbook, drilling down into the broader research around any of the topics it touches on. And Cameron is much more of a friendly counsel, leading his witnesses gently through their views, than sharp-eyed cross examiner. He offers no pushback when Ito describes her reliance for legal insight on the fringe theories of a German psychologist, Bert Hellinger, who among other ideas, excuses father-daughter incest as the fault of sexually inattentive wives and mothers.
Similarly, Linzey and Margil’s doctrine of community rights can be used for less savoury ends than deterring fracking. A community in Alabama won its independence from a regional school district earlier this year for motives that a court frankly conceded were racist, exclusionary and “assail the dignity of black schoolchildren.” The book does a good, but not comprehensive, job of canvasing promising legal tactics for restoring the balance of justice between Earth and humanity, sustainability and development. It appears almost unaware, for example, of the wide application in the United States, India, and elsewhere, of the so-called ‘public trust’ doctrine—a legal theory of generational equity with roots in imperial Rome that can be implemented with a simple act of legislation.
And both the text and interviews genuflect before some shibboleths of the environmental left without the critical examination they deserve. In particular, the book’s reflex condemnation of investor-state dispute resolution mechanisms in trade agreements, and of bottled water purveyors, are anti-corporate rote that is unsupported by the actual record of such trade panels, or the minimal threat posed by water in bottles (the threat comes from the bottles, the great majority of which contain a beverage other than water).
And at the risk of appalling many in Cameron’s likely audience, I admit I am personally not a fan of the ‘human rights’ line of reasoning on which several of his subjects rest their theories of an environmental duty of care. The contention that we humans enjoy some sort of special entitlement or exemption from the laws of nature denied to other creatures has always struck me as absurd on its face, not to mention unsupported by any evidence in nature.
What such a conceit does do, is feed precisely that delusion of our own specialness and independence from earth’s other living organisms that Argentinian Daniel Sallaberry indicts. “We have had two thousand years of culture in which humans are the owners of Nature,” Sallaberry says. “And laws were established for the use and enjoyment of human beings. By placing humans at the centre, law adhered to this cultural concept.”
It is far more logical to start with the idea, as Sallaberry adds, that “Nature, animals, have rights. And we are beginning to recognize this change in perspective.” A few jurisdictions are beginning to do so in law, recognizing the ‘rights’ of the living planet and its critical components such as river systems in statute and even constitutional language. If it buffers the shock of giving non-human life that recognition, we instead might cast these as the non-negotiable minimal ‘necessities’ of our continued existence rather than moral entitlements. After all: your next breath and mine depend on the ecosystems that provide our natural security. Does any interest override that one?
But these are, really, quibbles. Cameron and his interlocutors are right on the essentials. No ‘issue’ on the political agenda—not America’s Trump or Europe’s Brexit or Asia’s Kim— is as threatening to human existence and prosperity as our failure to reign in our own ravenous consumption of the Earth. In the effort to do so, there are several wickedly large problem areas. One is the dominant neoliberal economic system. Another is the decay of democratic legitimacy in much of the world. But a third is the law—whose stories, told with conviction and evidence, can alter the course of both.
We will need our warrior lawyers. Warrior Lawyers is the book to incite them.
– 30 —
THE GREEN INTERVIEW IN …
… AUSTRALIA, IRELAND, ENGLAND, THE US, NEW ZEALAND ….
In addition to providing The Green Interview on our own site, we also partner with several online distributors including Films on Demand, Gale Cengage, McIntyre Media and Kanopy Streaming. We’re currently upgrading our videos on the Kanopy site to high-definition, which is how I learned that our interviews there have recently been used in 235 institutions worldwide. The list includes Yale, Harvard, Duke, Cornell, the University of London, Princeton, The National University of Ireland, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Johns Hopkins and the Universities of Sydney, South Australia, Auckland, and California. Kanopy also makes our conversations and films available in more than 400 public libraries, mainly in such US centres as New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans and San Francisco, but also in numerous Canadian public libraries, plus several Australian libraries, notably Port Phillip and Kalamunda.
Anyone interested in ships and the sea knows that Port Phillip is the harbour of Melbourne. Kalamunda is part of Perth, in Western Australia, the home town of Olivia Humphrey — who is the celebrated Australian entrepreneur who founded Kanopy.
If you have a library card, and The Green Interview is in the library, you can stream or read the interviews anywhere. Just log in with your library card.
Is The Green Interview in your local public library, or your university library? If not, would you suggest that the library consider acquiring it through one of our distribution partners?
I’m always pleased to see that the Green Rights project is actually having an impact – and two recent lawsuits in Nova Scotia plus a municipal declaration in New Brunswick have resulted directly from screenings of the film. In Harrietsfield, NS, residents have sued the provincial government for its failure to protect their drinking water. You can see the underlying story in our CBC film Defenders of the Dawn, here.
This legal action was the first private prosecution of an environmental offence in the history of the province, and it was subsequently taken over by the provincial government. I had hoped that the province was embarrassed that private citizens were being forced to fulfill the government’s duties, but the dismal truth is that it seems equally likely that the province took over the prosecution in order to stifle it.
Farther east, in Brookfield, NS, a citizens’ group is in court to block the province’s approval for Lafarge Cement to burn used tires in its cement kiln – an idea that the local MLA, Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell, vigorously opposed in opposition, but now supports as a member of the government.
ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS IN GAGETOWN, NB
Meanwhile, the Village of Gagetown, NB, has made a Declaration of Environmental Rights on behalf of its citizens. As you’ll see from their poster, this Declaration is a direct result of our screening of the film during my autumn tour of New Brunswick. It was a great evening. The audio-visual gear left a lot to be desired, but it sufficed, and the audience was terrific — even better than I thought at the time, given this excellent outcome!
Furthermore, I got to the event in an electric car driven by sustainability consultant Carl Duivenvoorden. (His website is here.) It was my first drive in a smooth, quiet, complely electric vehicle. Now I want one.
And a big tip of the hat to Bonnie Hamilton Bogart, the Gagetown activist whose hard work and determination sparked all this.
MARY CHRISTINA WOOD
It’s been called “the most important lawsuit in the history of the planet” – and none of the plaintiffs is over 21. In the “Our Children’s Trust” case, 21 young Americans are suing the US government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property through its continuing support of industries that cause climate change. They say it’s the duty of government to safeguard the well-being of its citizens – including the citizens of the future. If they win, they will completely change the direction of the world’s most powerful economy.
The intellectual scaffolding for the case is a book called Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age. The author is a dedicated and brilliant law professor, Mary Christina Wood of the University of Oregon. The public trust doctrine, Wood says, holds that governments are trustees of the natural world with a duty to protect it and to ensure the well-being of present and future generation She hopes her book will drive a tsunami of legal actions worldwide. A tremendously engaging and articulate woman, she’s our latest Green Interview. You can view our conversation here.
James Hansen, the NASA scientist who issued the first widely-publicized warnings about climate change, is also part of the Our Children’s Trust suit – and our interview with him will be released in February.
SPEAKING AND SCREENING
I’ll be visiting Jamie Simpson’s class at the Dalhousie University law school on February 15, and there are several other speaking engagements in negotiation. Late last November, I screened Green Rights at Cape Breton University, where I also visited two classes and gave a public lecture. Local filmmaker Madeline Yakimchuk did a video of the public presentation, and you can see it here.
Screenings and speaking are an important part of what I do now, and if you’d like me to visit your campus or community, please write me at email@example.com
Mary Christina Wood is a lawyer, academic, and author who is best known for her work in advocating the use of the Public Trust Doctrine to force governments to take action on climate change. In this exclusive Green Interview, Wood speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about how she originated the approach, called Atmospheric Trust Litigation, to hold governments worldwide accountable for reducing carbon pollution within their jurisdictions. The most spectacular such case is the Our Children’s Trust case in which 21 young people are suing the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights by promoting the production of greenhouse gases through the use of fossil fuels. Wood also discusses her book Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age, and how she hopes it will help fuel a tide of litigation worldwide. Wood is also a professor and founder of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Centre at the University of Oregon where she teaches property law, natural resources law, public trust law, and federal Indian law.
The Public Trust Doctrine, and Our Children’s Trust
In this exclusive Green Interview, Wood discusses the Public Trust Doctrine and Our Children’s Trust.
In this exclusive interview with Mary Christina Wood we discuss:
The Public Trust Doctrine
According to Wood the Public Trust Doctrine is a well-established but a neglected legal principle that stretches back in various forms to Roman law. The doctrine holds that legislatures and governments are trustees of the natural world with a duty to protect it to ensure the welfare and survival of present and future generations. Wood explains that the doctrine requires that governments act as trustees for the people of the future and if they’re failing to do that, then citizens can and should apply to the courts to require that the authorities do their legal duty. In 2013 Wood published Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age, a book that lays out the Public Trust Doctrine and how it can be used. “I really did think that if I could just write a book that would bring the public trust to the people, that there would be just no end to how different citizens would apply that concept against the threats of their communities,” she tells Cameron. “So I hope that is true and this is a moment where it’s going to take everybody, every single person on Earth just diving in and using whatever resources they have to prevent at this point the prospect of runaway planetary heating.”
Our Children’s Trust
Wood argues that the Public Trust Doctrine also applies to the air that we breathe. That’s the basis of what she calls Atmospheric Trust Litigation, which calls on the courts to require that governments take swift and decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within their jurisdictions. The most spectacular such case is the Our Children’s Trust case in which 21 young people are suing the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights by promoting the production of greenhouse gases through the use of fossil fuels. Instead the children want governments to reduce their emissions by 6 percent a year. The Our Children’s Trust case, which is still in litigation, has been called the most important lawsuit in the world and its roots are in the thought of Mary Wood. “This climate crisis was anticipated by government and by industry decades ago and yet the government pursued this fossil fuel policy that it knew to be dangerous. And the trial I believe will prove all of this out but even the government reports that exist right now show that government knew of this danger for decades,” she tells Cameron.
“So just by virtue of the circumstance we’re in, we’re at the last possible moment before the window of opportunity closes… I call it ‘the case that has the planet on its docket,’ literally because it affects every living being on Earth today and also all foreseeable generations.”
An astronaut doesn’t see the Earth the same way you do.
And if the astronaut started as a planetary scientist, striving to understand the solar system, he really sees the Earth differently. Furthermore, if he was the child of environmentally-sensitive parents who were well ahead of their time, he started out with an unusually sophisticated view of the Earth.
I’m describing US Astronaut Stanley Love, who is our newest Green Interview. He’s spent nearly two weeks in space, and he has piloted a tiny submersible deep under the ocean. He has a PhD in astronomy from the University of Washington. He has studied the solar system in great detail, and he knows how precious the Earth is. He does a brilliant presentation in which he reviews the entire solar system in considerable detail.
Was there, could there be, life on Mars or Venus? Well, it seems that both of them once had liquid water, which suggests that life might have existed — but they’re now so hot that your blood would boil if you went there without a space suit.
He also examines the possibilities we would have if we totally wrecked our own planet, and had to find another. His conclusion, which he presents with relentless logic, is that it would be almost impossible to geo-engineer another planet to be habitable, even if we could afford the cost. In short, there’s nothing else available. The moral of his remarkable story is that we need to take loving care of the planet we’ve been given. There is, literally, no Planet B.
The interview with Stanley Love is — well, just out of this world. You can see a six-minute excerpt from the full-length interview here
Yesterday was the memorial service for the phenomenal (and little-known) environmentalist, philanthropist and activist, Rudy Haase, who was also my friend. I was privileged to speak at the event. This is what I said.
It’s a great honour to play a role in celebrating the remarkable life of Rudy Haase — and Mickie — and I’m not only honoured, but also humbled.
I do, however, wish to register a complaint. This assignment came with a mandate letter from Syd Dumaresq that said, more or less, we’d like you to talk about Rudy’s accomplishments in sailing and boatbuilding, writing and publishing, and social justice. (LONG PAUSE) You have four minutes.
Okay, nothing about Rudy’s passion for music, his pioneering environmentalism, his philanthropy. But we can talk about his passion for sailing, which was already in evidence when he was 19 and a student at Black Mountain College. His physics instructor wanted to go sailing on nearby Lake Eden, and Rudy took him out. The instructor’s name was Albert Einstein. Rudy went on to study naval architecture and to become an officer in the US Navy in World War II, where he served with John F. Kennedy. When he and his family moved to Canada in 1967 in protest against the Vietnam War, he bought the Barkhouse boatyard in East Chester, which built a vessel a year for 20 years, with Rudy himself doing much of the finishing and all of the rigging.
At the heart of Rudy’s sailing life was Diablesse, the unique main trysail ketch which he and his beloved Mickie bought for a honeymoon cruise, and on which they celebrated their golden anniversary 50 years later. Their voyages in her included two trips south to the Bahamas.
The boat was designed and built by Frits Fenger, who wrote a book called The Cruise of the Diablesse about her earlier voyages in the Caribbean. The book was published by Wellington Books of Belmont, Massachusetts. And who was Wellington Books? Rudy Haase, wearing another hat. One of the titles he and Micki published, Gardening without Poisons, by Beatrice Trum Hunter, sold 50,000 copies. It influenced Rachel Carson — who they knew — in writing Silent Spring.
The Haases’ writing, publishing and educational work continued when they moved to Canada, founding the Chester Educational Foundation, the Chester Day School and Library, and quietly contributing enough money to ensure that the town’s new school had an adequate library.
In the end, environmentalism is inextricably intertwined with social justice, which is why Syd’s letter links the two so closely. I believe that Rudy’s profound understanding of the linkage between environmental devastation and social injustice provided his compass in navigating the choppy waters of politics and war. A fierce sense of justice animated him right to the very last of his innumerable letters to the editor last summer, in which he defended the federal government’s settlement with Omar Khadr.
I want to end with a story that’s outside my mandate letter. In 2012, my colleagues and I at The Green Interview learned that more that 180 nations recognize in their legal systems the rights of their citizens to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eat healthy food. In those countries, citizens can and do defend the natural world in the courts — and they often win remarkable victories. But the handful of nations that do not recognize those rights includes Canada and the United States.
We believed that Canadians should know what they were missing, and we decided to create a multi-media project that would tell success stories from all over the world. The capstone of the project would be a feature film. Someone suggested I tell Rudy about it. At the end of a delightful afternoon at his farm, Rudy enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and made a contribution that gave the project a momentum it never lost. He remained among its most ardent supporters right up until his final illness.
We finished the Green Rights project in 2016 — three films, 30 Green Interviews and a book — and the feature film has now been screened in scores of communities across the continent, from here to Oregon. I showed it last Tuesday night in Sydney, NS and people in the audience told me — as they always do — that the film had inspired them, motivated them and given them hope.
And I thought — as I always do — that although they don’t know it, those people have received a gift from a group of deeply caring citizens led by Rudy Haase. (Footnote: At least three other donors were in attendance at the memorial service.)
This was a man — and a woman — who loved life: the land and the sea and the skies, the living beings who share our world, the creative spirit that flows through art and music and boatbuilding and that animates our lives together. That spirit is immeasurably stronger for the contributions of Rudy and Mickie. May their example inspire us to leave a similar legacy when we pass from the stage.
Thank you. Merci. Welalioq.
Coming Up: An Astronaut, plus A Legend
Recently I was asked to describe the core benefit that The Green Interview offers to its members, and I was surprised at how quickly the answer tumbled out of me.
“Every month,” I said, “you get to spend an hour with a great thinker, imagining the future .”
The Green Interview includes conversations with an astonishing array of leading environmental figures. Our next two interviewees — we’ll post their interviews before year-end — are US astronaut Dr. Stanley Love (right) who is also a planetary scientist) and the legendary climatologist Dr. James Hansen, whose testimony before the US Congress in 1988 really marks the beginning of widespread concern about climate change. Brilliant, articulate scientists, both of them.
So, in general, what do our interviewees share?
I’d say they share a passion for a better, greener future, a determination to help us get there, and an ability to talk about their passion with great eloquence. It’s a privilege to be able to talk with them — and to share those conversations with our subscribers.
The Green Rights Maritimes Tour – My Report
Six weeks ago, I did an intense tour through Canada’s three Maritime Provinces, making presentations at universities and libraries, and screening the Green Rights film in independent cinemas and community halls. The tour was sponsored at different levels by a variety of environmental organizations, and the whole adventure was supported by the Atlantic Credit Unions. I had a lot of fun, and it seems the tour was useful. If you’re interested in knowing more about it, you can read my report to the sponsors here.
I’m hoping to do a similar tour in 2018 in Alberta (where the film has been shown and I have been asked to return) and in Saskatchewan (where the film has never been shown.) If you have Prairie connections, please let them know.
James Hansen is a world-renowned climate scientist and director of Climate Science and the Climate Science Awareness and Solutions Program at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. In this exclusive Green Interview, Hansen speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about why it is so difficult to mobilize the public around climate change and what needs to be done, quickly, to restore the Earth’s energy balance. Hansen also explains how a system of carbon pricing would jump start the development of alternative energies, reduce greenhouse gases and provide a return to the public all at the same time.
Carbon Fee and Dividends, Our Children’s Trust, and Nuclear Power
In this exclusive Green Interview, Hansen discusses carbon fee and dividends, Our Children’s Trust, and nuclear power.
In this exclusive interview with James Hansen we discuss:
Carbon Fee and Dividends
According to Hansen, if a system of what he calls carbon fee and dividends were put in place, it would jump start the development of alternative energies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a return to the public. The way it would work is the price of carbon would begin to reflect its true costs while at the same time the government would collect a gradually increasing fee from the fossil fuel industry, which would be redistributed to the public, in equal amounts, as a dividend. “Those who do better than average at limiting their fossil fuel use would make money,” he says. “Rich people have a bigger carbon footprint because they travel more, they have bigger houses, so they would lose some money but it’s not enough to bother the rich people but it does put money in the hands of lower income people who spend it. And so what it does is spur the economy and increases the GNP and it drives the energy systems toward carbon free energies so that it’s the most rapid way to phase down carbon emissions.” Hansen says from the public’s point of view there would be no reason not to do it, “It’s only the fossil fuel industry that strongly opposes this and what happens is that the fossil fuel industry is very powerful.”
Our Children’s Trust
Hansen is involved in a landmark federal climate lawsuit in the U.S. brought forth by the non-profit organization Our Children’s Trust. In 2015, 21 youth plaintiffs (between the ages of 8 and 19), an association of young environmental activists called Earth Guardians, and Hansen, who serves as guardian for future generations, filed their constitutional lawsuit against the federal government in the US District Court for the District of Oregon.
The lead plaintiff is Kelsey Juliana, who resides in Oregon. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants have known for more than fifty years that the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels was destabilizing the climate system in a way that would “significantly endanger plaintiffs, with the damage persisting for millennia.” The complaint asserts that the federal government “permitted, encouraged, and otherwise enabled continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels” in causing climate change and in doing so has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources. The case is currently before the courts.
Hansen says that currently the world is getting about 85 percent of its energy from fossil fuels and that putting a price on carbon would allow clean energy alternatives to compete. He argues that nuclear power should be part of the mix that replaces fossil fuels, but he says the anti-nuclear power lobby, a “quasi-religion that opposes nuclear power,” does not have a command of the facts. “Nuclear power has been extremely beneficial in limiting impacts on human health and deaths. For example, the total number of people killed by nuclear power in the history of nuclear power is less than the number of people killed by fossil fuels in the time that’s it’s taking for this interview. In one hour more than 10,000 people die from the effects of fossil fuel pollution, air pollution and water pollution.” Hansen believes that nuclear power could potentially be a significant contributor to clean energy and serve as an alternative base-load electric power but, he says, “It should be the next-generation nuclear power, which solves some of the objections that people have to nuclear power but it has not been allowed to compete.” The U.S. should develop fast reactors that consume nuclear waste and thorium reactors to prevent the creation of new long-lived nuclear waste, he says.
Stanley Love is a planetary scientist with a PhD in astronomy from the University of Washington. In one word, he’s an astronaut and dreamed about being one since he was a child. He been with NASA since 1998 and among other things has participated as crew aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, logging more than 300 hours in space. In this exclusive Green Interview, Love speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about what it’s like to see the Earth from the endless darkness of outer space and what the possibilities are for inhabiting other planets, if we wreck this one.
Planet B? Oceans of Boiling Lava, and Spacecraft Systems
In this exclusive Green Interview, Love discusses Mars and Venus, the two planets closest to the Earth. Is Mars habitable? Are we headed towards Venus? Love also discusses the complexity of having to replicate the Earth’s life support systems for spacecraft.
In this exclusive interview with Stanley Love we discuss:
According to Love, there is clear evidence that at one time Mars had running water on the surface and a warmer atmosphere. “Right now it’s a frozen desert,” and in that environment you’d be unconscious in seven seconds and brain dead from lack of oxygen in three minutes. “It’s very clear that there was a temperate environment, not necessarily with an oxygen atmosphere, but with an atmosphere thick enough and warm enough for liquid water to exist,” he says. But heating Mars up to the point where it might be habitable—where the water would start to melt—would be a nearly impossible task: “You would have to paint Mars completely jet black and capture every single photon of sunlight that fell on the planet for a 100 years. People have studied this in detail and the amount of energy required is just colossal.”
Oceans of Boiling Lava
Love says the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is what makes the Earth habitable. But adding too much CO2 is “exactly like throwing another blanket on the bed, it’s going to get warmer, period, end of sentence.” Love explains how the complexity of the Earth’s systems makes it very difficult to know for sure how much warmer it’s going to get, but he says that if the Earth continues on this path, it’s headed in the direction of Venus, where there is an ocean of lava under a very thick, hot atmosphere. “Nobody wants that,” he says. “It’s a long way down that highway from where we are right now and let’s be clear it’s not imminent and the Earth has been much hotter than it is today in the past—there have been jungles at the poles in the past and it didn’t go to Venus— but you can make, in my opinion, a cogent case that we should not even be driving in that direction.”
According to Love, it was what he learned in his training that really cemented his appreciation of the Earth. “The thing that added to my awareness was learning about the systems that keep us alive on spacecraft…learning how to replicate what the Earth does for us for free at great expense and low reliability on the space station.” He says we take the Earth’s systems for granted: “We have always been able to get oxygen here on Earth and you didn’t have to go to special lengths to get it. We have always had our carbon dioxide recycled for us and also all our waste gets turned back into food and the water vapor we exhale gets turned into rain and drinking water again, and the Earth does all this for us for free. When we go into space we have to do all that ourselves and it’s complicated.”
Love explains that out in space all this has to be replicated with machinery that is not always reliable. “I’m a part of this system, I’m a product of this system, I can live nowhere else except this system, except by going to heroic means with machinery that I’ll have to maintain and that if that machinery breaks I need to come home right away.”
John Cumbler is a social and environmental historian and retired professor from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. In this exclusive Green Interview, Cumbler speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about his latest of seven books, on the environmental and social history of Cape Cod, Massachusetts where he currently lives and serves as a trained rescuer of whales, dolphins and sea turtles. Cumbler argues that knowledge about the environmental and social history of a place can give us clues about what to do in the present and future. Cumbler, also an historian of social movements, discusses how the Abolitionists, who created the very first large altruistic social movement, ultimately produced movements dedicated to women’s rights, worker’s rights, the right to a decent living, decent housing, and a healthy environment.
Environmental history, the Abolitionists and successive reform movements
In this exclusive Green Interview, Cumbler discusses the social and environmental history of Cape Cod as well as how the Abolitionist movement was connected to successive reform movements.
In this exclusive interview with John Cumbler we discuss:
In Cumbler’s 2014 book about Cape Cod, Massachusetts he puts his skills and formidable experience as a social and environmental historian to the test by telling the 400-year history of Cape Cod through the experiences of residents and visitors. In An Environmental History of a Fragile Ecosystem: The History of a Beautiful Yet Vulnerable New England Region, Cumbler describes how the three “regimes of resource utilization” led to the current situation on Cape Cod. The first regime, the “light” use by Native Americans was replaced by the much more intensive extraction phase practiced by the European settlers. This second regime led to the collapse of the fishery, forests, and farms in the second half of the nineteenth century and eventually led to the third and current regime of tourism. Cumbler explains how what many thought would be an environmentally benign form of development has turned out to have numerous environmental costs, many of which he discusses in the interview.
Abolitionists and successive reform movements
In his 2007 book From Abolition to Rights for All: The Making of a Reform Community in the Nineteenth Century, Cumbler shows how after emancipation was achieved, the abolitionists didn’t end their activism but instead broadened their struggle. “The abolitionists were obviously fighting against slavery but in their fight against slavery they were creating a social movement and they were thinking in terms of how to create this large social movement to affect fundamental change,” he tells Cameron. Cumbler finds that instead of abandoning activism after slavery was ended, the abolitionists moved out in different directions. “They got involved in a lot of things and they used the networks that they had created during abolitionism to continue so that when the women got involved in the women’s rights movement they called their male friends from the abolitionists movement to be supportive and allies in that.” The social movements “created a basic understanding of rights,” such as freedom and liberty but Cumbler says that the more radical abolitionists went on to say that fundamental rights should be expanded to include “the right to a clean environment, clean air, clean water, clean soil. It involves housing, it involves the right to a decent wage and a decent job.”
Last night I heard Joella Foulds sing at the Celtic Colours concert in Port Hawkesbury. She’s a splendid pianist, and she has a rich, powerful voice. In addition, she’s a fine songwriter, which I hadn’t known. She’s spent the last 22 years off the stage, working in arts administration, notably in shaping the Celtic Colours Festival itself, for which work she won the Order of Canada and an honorary doctorate from Cape Breton University. She was nervous last night, not surprisingly. But she gave a memorable performance.
I had almost forgotten that Joella was a musician herself, though I originally met her as backup singer/guitarist in the very early days of Rita MacNeil’s remarkable career. Hearing her again gave me a flashback I wanted to share.
It was 1981, I think, and Sylvia Tyson was recording an episode of Touch The Earth in New Waterford, Cape Breton. Joella was there with Rita, who was not yet a legend. I intended to read a scene from my novel Dragon Lady. The scene was an account of an informal wake in a Cape Breton fishing village after my hero Peter and his companion Elaine have found a sunken aluminum boat on an offshore reef, and have towed it to the village wharf. A fisherman named Howard tells them that the boat belonged to his brother, who was drowned a few weeks earlier. The searchers had found the body, but not the boat. That evening everyone gathers for an evening of drinking and singing.
I had a bright idea. I turned to Rita and Joella. In the scene, I quote four songs. Would they happen to know those songs? Well, yes, they did. Would they consider singing them as part of my reading? Yes, they would. So I stepped up to the microphone and read the text, and when I came to a song I stepped away while Rita and Joella stepped forward and sang. Thanks to those glorious voices, it was probably the most magical reading I ever did in my life. Here’s the passage we performed:
Peter and Elaine are drinking with Howard, his wife, and some others. Howard gets down his fiddle, in a battered black case, tunes it up, and plays a melancholy minor ballad. His teenage son comes home, silently goes upstairs in the little old house, comes down with his guitar and sits in the corner by the oil stove, tapping out the rhythm with sock feet on the shabby oilcloth, accompanying his father. A lament, thinks Elaine, not only for Wally and for Gilbert, the drowned brothers, perhaps, of these two sad men, but for all the men lost at sea along this seductive, moody, adamantine coast. For all those who have died, and who will die. For all of us.
She remembers Howard’s sorrowful remarks. “The worst of a drowning is you never know really what happened. And if you don’t find the body you don’t even know if he’s dead. Either way you don’t know what he felt like. I imagine Gilbert’s motor got swamped, and before he could get her going again she struck a rock and filled up. But you don’t know. Maybe it weren’t like that at all.”
She has never heard this music before. It is Scottish or Irish in its feeling, full of a nameless sorrow even in its brisk moments, but she understands it, she knows what it says, its beauty and its resignation mirror what its interpreters feel about human life. The two men stop playing, and Howard reaches for the rum.
Perhaps it is the rum she has drunk herself – she notes in passing that she is developing a taste for it – or perhaps it is the kinship she feels, but it does not seem unnatural to reach for the guitar. Perhaps it is something that she can give. For a moment, in the sudden hush of the kitchen, she fumbles for the notes, and then begins to pick a delicate, soft pattern, and to sing:
Farther along, we’ll know all about it;
Farther along, we’ll understand why;
Farther along, we’ll live in the sunshine;
We’ll understand it all by and by.
She sings through the old hymn alone, and then keeps the rhythm going, feeling around in her mind for something she knows to be there, a song that everyone must know by now, and finds it, changes the rhythm, and begins it:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found;
Was blind, but now I see.
They sing through that, and then Peter says, “Keep going, ” and she finds chords to serve the needs of a song she has never heard:
She’s like the swallow that flies so high
She’s like the river that never runs dry,
She’s like the sunshine on the lee shore,
My love, my love – but love is no more.
The songs tumble forth then, songs of love lost and betrayed, songs of shipwreck and peril, then songs of home-sickness and exile, and in the end songs of comedy and laughter, all the people in the little kitchen roaring it out as the rum goes down, Elaine playing raucous, bawdy songs she hears now for the first time, picking up chord patterns from the melodies, playing till her fingers are raw:
I’m a young married man who is tired of life,
Ten years I’ve been wed to a sickly wife,
She does nothing all day but sit around and sigh;
I wish dear to God that she’d get well or die…
Late in the night they give up singing. Howard’s wife, Louise, makes a huge plate of bologna sandwiches and a gallon of tea, and their rum–soaked stomachs and sung-out bodies gratefully receive the lunch, as Louise calls it. In the woolly night, with a light breeze from the ocean ristling the aspens, Peter and Elaine stumble off towards the wharf, back to the little schooner.
Joella, welcome back to the stage! It’s wonderful to hear you!
Now, d’you suppose we could get Rita back as well?
I’m delighted to report that the Atlantic Credit Unions will sponsor the Maritimes Green Rights tour that begins next Friday.
It’s a beautiful alliance. Green Rights is about enabling citizens to take responsibility for their own habitat; the credit union movement is about enabling citizens to take responsibility for their own financial lives. Both are about empowerment, and about real democracy.
And for me this new relationship feels something like a homecoming. I joined what was then a tiny local credit union more than 40 years ago, served on its Board, became a delegate to annual credit union conferences, and did some writing and teaching for the Credit Union Centrals of all three Maritime provinces.
Credit unions are essentially co-operatives working in the financial services field — and the co-op movement is a major resource in our struggle to create a fair and sustainable future society. And if you’re a co-owner of your financial institution, you can have a real influence in the investment choices it makes, and the ways it helps to shape your own community. That’s why credit unions have always been leaders and innovators.
I’m simply delighted that we’ve been able to create this fresh and mutually-supportive relationship, and I look forward eagerly to working with credit union people on the tour.
And now, some other news…
Defenders of the Dawn airs again
Two years ago this month, CBC Atlantic broadcast our 45-minute show, Defenders of the Dawn: Green Rights in the Maritimes. The show, which is part of our Green Rights multi-media project ran on the Saturday night of the Labour Day weekend. Those who saw it were enthusiastic, but not many people watched it.
Next week Defenders of the Dawn will be shown on Telile TV, a.k.a. CIMC-TV in Arichat, NS, one of only nine independent low-powered community TV stations in Canada. You can pick up Telile’s signal off the air on Channel 10 in Isle Madame, where I live, or on these cable channels:
Channel 536 on Bell Satellite
Channel 17 on Bell FibreOp
Channel 4 on Eastlink (in Cape Breton)
Channel 63 on Seaside (in Cape Breton)
Telile will air the show on Tuesday at 2:00pm; on Wednesday at 9:00 am and after Telile Bingo that evening; on Thursday at 12:30 pm; on Friday at 6:00 pm and on Sunday at 7:00 pm.
In preparation for the screening, Telile’s programming manager, Angele Richard, did an excellent 47-minute interview with me. Telile Talks with Silver Donald Cameron is already up and streaming on the Telile site, www.Telile.tv.
Green Rights DVD
In other news, DVDs of the 67-minute Green Rights feature documentary is now available through the online store at www.SilverDonaldCameron.ca. The price is $19.95 for personal use, $149.00 for library and institutional use. Ask your library to order it, which helps us considerably – and then you can promote it to all your friends.
Finally, a sad note. When we were making our Salmon Wars documentary (www.SalmonWars.com) we needed some footage from British Columbia.
We got in touch with a young filmmaker named Twyla Roscovich, who made a fine film about salmon farming called Salmon Confidential, and she simply gave us the footage. In her view, we were all on the same team, and whenever we could, we should help one another out.
On September 12, Twyla went missing near Port Hardy, on Vancouver Island; on September 16, she was found dead. She was 38, and leaves a four-year-old daughter. Everyone associated with Salmon Wars is deeply shocked and saddened. We cannot afford to lose people like that.
September 22 – October 2, 2017
Last September, Marjorie Simmins and I toured from coast to coast in Merlin, our 34-foot motorhome. I lectured and showed the 67-minute film Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World, in universities, churches and community halls, and we both sold books.
This fall, to my delight, the New Brunswick Environmental Network will host a new screening tour in New Brunswick. (Marjorie, unfortunately, won’t be with me.) The tour will also include stops in Truro, NS and Charlottetown, PEI.
Sept 22 Truro, NS Eco-Connects NS Gathering 6:00 Glengarry Inn
Sept 25 Sackville, NB Mount Allison University 7:00 Vogue Theatre
Sept 26 Rexton, NB Council of Canadians, Kent County 7:00 Bonar Law High School
Sept 27 Fredericton, NB Conservation Council of NB 7:00 Conserver House
Sept 28 Gagetown, NB Voices for Sust. Environments 7:00 Royal Canadian Legion
Sept 29 Saint John, NB Council of Canadians, Saint John 7:00 Rm 230, Oland Hall, UNB-Saint John
Oct 1 Petitcodiac, NB Conservation Council of NB 2:00 Motor Sports Hall of Fame
Oct 2 Charlottetown, PEI ERWG-BlueDotPEI/Citizens’ Alliance 7:00 The Guild Theatre
I’m really delighted that an impressive group of environmental organizations has chosen to support the tour. In addition to NBSEN, the tour has the support of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Mount Allison University, the Council of Canadians, Voices for Sustainable Environments and Communities, the New Brunswick Anti Shale Gas Alliance, Stop Spraying New Brunswick, the Environmental Rights Working Groups in both New Brunswick and PEI, the Nova Scotia Environmental Network, the Citizens Alliance of PEI and the NB Media Co-op.
We’ll be holding a question-and-answer session after every screening, and in some venues — notably Charlottetown — we’ll have a bar. I’ll be posting regular updates this month on Facebook and Twitter as the plans progress, and I’m hoping to post video during the tour itself via Facebook Live.
I’m hoping to connect with a lot of readers, viewers and allies along the way, too. If you haven’t seen it, the film’s trailer is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LHM8jSeaes&t=6s
Here are the contacts for further information:
Annika Chiasson, NB Environmental Network, firstname.lastname@example.org, (506)855-4144
Silver Donald Cameron, email@example.com, (902)227-5245
Maxine Burkett, our latest Green Interview, is out to help the most vulnerable human communities face the endless crisis of constantly rising seas. She’s a professor of law at the University of Hawaii, and in our newest Green Interview, she talks about the small Pacific island nations which are shrinking and vanishing, possibly forcing entire national populations to migrate. But how? Where? And is a nation still a nation if it has no territory? Maxine Burkett’s proposals draw heavily on the concept of “transitional justice” – the mechanisms by which, for instance, South Africa pulled itself past the bitter conflicts of apartheid. It’s a fascinating approach to a crisis that most of us haven’t begun to think about. The interview is here.
And in July, we were electrified to learn that French President Emmanuel Macron has launched The Global Pact for the Environment, a new United Nations treaty to incorporate fundamental environmental rights in legal systems everywhere in the world. Other supporters include Ban Ki-Moon, Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Irish president Mary Robinson. The initiative grew out of the 2015 climate talks in Paris.
If the treaty is adopted by the UN, it will recognize environmental rights at national and international levels, allowing those rights to be used in the courts of all signatory nations. The draft pact – which is still being refined – draws on earlier statements of environmental law including the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, the 1982 World Charter for Nature, the 1992 Rio Declaration and the Earth Charter. President Macron will present it to the UN General Assembly in September. Read more about the pact here.
Environmental rights – and Canada’s lack of them — have preoccupied The Green Interview crew for five years now. We’re elated that these fundamental human rights are now moving through the legislative process at the Parliament of Canada. Talk to your MP about it — there will be a vote this fall. And now these rights are coming before the UN as well.
Meanwhile, our own film Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World has become an “Official Selection” at the Docs Without Borders Film Festival competition (DWBFF), an online festival with distributor contact. The film will be screened by the Council of Canadians in Tatamagouche, NS on August 24, and we’re working on a set of public screenings for the autumn as well.
Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, said Victor Hugo. The idea that we all have an obligation to cherish the planet, and that the courts should recognize that obligation – that’s a rich and powerful idea. And this, we may hope, is its time.
Farewell to Orri Vigfusson. Three cheers for David Korten. And one hand claps for Nova Scotia’s recent record.
Orri Vigfusson is one of my heroes – a very successful Icelandic businessman from a fishing family who made it his mission to save the wild Atlantic salmon from extinction by purchasing and retiring all the commercial Atlantic salmon fishing licenses in the world. Charming but relentless, Orri visited fishers from Spain to Russia to Labrador to Connecticut, found other ways for each of them to prosper, and bought up their licenses. Today the commercial conservation agreements negotiated by his North Atlantic Salmon Federation cover 85% of Atlantic salmon habitat, and 5-10 million salmon that would have died have lived to spawn again. You can read his biography on the NASF site, here. We did a Green Interview with him in 2012, and you can see that interview here.
Orri Vigfusson died of lung cancer in Reykjavik on July 1, at 74. He was a towering example of just what one person can do, and it was a great honour to have known him even slightly.
David Korten is a former professor at the Harvard Business School, a former foreign-aid executive with the Ford Foundation – and a trenchant critic of globalization and corporate power. We did a Green Interview with him in 2013, which you can read here. He’s just written a very thoughtful column in YES! Magazine about New Zealand’s recognition of the Whanganui River as a living entity with the same rights as a human being. “Modern law,” he notes, “has the rights issue exactly backward.” We have “a system of law that gives corporations more rights than people and nature no rights at all. Just as our human existence depends on the health and well-being of a living Earth, the existence of corporations depends on the health and well-being of human society.” It’s a crisp, incisive piece that goes to the heart of the issue. Our interview with David Korten is here.
And the National Observer reports that two provinces have already met their 2030 climate-change targets: Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Well, Nova Scotia does have some achievements to cheer about, but this is not one of them. In 2007, the legislature unanimously passed the enviable Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, which has had some noble effects: for example, 13% of the province’s land area is now protected. On the climate change front, however, under a deeply neoLiberal government, this climate-change “success” derives from a 15% decrease in manufacturing activity, and also from some strangely convoluted definitions. Clear-cutting and its even-more-evil sister, whole-tree harvesting, are providing “green”fuel for power generation while transforming the landscape into a wasteland. Meanwhile, the government allows LaFarge to burn rubber tires in a local cement plant, and supports the opening of a new coal mine. That sound you hear? Only one hand is clapping.
Marjorie and I spent Canada 150 — Canada’s 150th birthday — at the Coady/Tompkins Memorial Library in Margaree Forks, Nova Scotia. Named for two great social activist priests, Father Moses Coady and Father Greg Tompkins, this little library does a warm and highly-professional literary festival every Canada Day. This year’s readers were first-time novelist Barbara Radecki, plus the amazing Ian Brown and Johanna Schneller of the Globe and Mail, and both Marjorie Simmins and me. The place was packed with about 150 people – and it was packed again that evening for a screening of Green Rights. There was great music, food, and tons of great conversation.
Marjorie and I – and many, many other Canadians – had been deeply troubled by the idea of simply celebrating 150 years of Canada’s ambiguous history, so I prefaced my reading with this little text:
“Canada 150. Mi’kmaki 13,000.
“Marjorie and I have been deeply troubled about celebrating events which, for the original peoples of this country, have been catastrophic. It’s appropriate to celebrate what has been achieved, but only if we also recognize what has not been achieved, and resolve to achieve that as well – a country which fully and equally respects, honours and cherishes everyone in it, and particularly our native brothers and sisters, whose cultures and wisdom traditions so greatly enrich our lives in this country. My film, Green Rights, which will be screened at 7:00 here tonight, has something to say about this, and I hope you’ll all be able to attend.”
I will be speaking at a public meeting opposing the LaFarge tire-burning deal on Wednesday, July 12 at the Canadian Legion in Stewiacke, NS at 7:00 PM.
I’m also expecting to speak on at the Eco-Connects Gathering on September 23-24, a large conference of environmentalists in Truro, convened by the Nova Scotia Environmental Network. And there may be another Green Rights tour with Merlin the Motorhome coming up in the early autumn as well. The beat goes on….
Maxine Burkett is a professor of law at the University of Hawaii and passionate advocate for climate justice, which essentially addresses how the most vulnerable human communities should be treated with dignity and fairness in the era of climate change. Through her work she explores the issue of climate-induced displacement and how already vulnerable communities in the US and globally—ironically those that have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions—will disproportionately feel the impacts of climate change. In this exclusive Green Interview, Burkett speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about how she both studies and serves the vulnerable Pacific island nations, such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, and about how we as a society need to start addressing the daunting reality before us.
Pacific Islands, Climate Justice and Reparations
In this exclusive Green Interview, Burkett discusses her work with the Pacific Islands and the concept of transitional justice, as well as climate reparations.
In this exclusive interview with Maxine Burkett we discuss:
Pacific Islands and Transitional Justice
Small island nations like Tuvalu, The Maldives and the Marshall Islands will shrink dramatically or even disappear as sea levels rise so that entire populations may need to migrate. Burkett’s proposals for dealing with such disasters draw heavily on the concept of transitional justice, the mechanisms by which South Africa pulled itself past the bitter conflicts of apartheid.
“We have seen a disproportionate use of the global commons from wealthier industrialized or industrializing economies and that has, whether or not it was intentional to have harmed others, it has harmed others. And unless we address that we are continuing the initial injustice of having those who have polluted the most having the least amount of damage or impact and conversely those who polluted the least suffering these kinds of futures that we can only imagine, where you don’t have a territory or if it’s there, it’s not livable.”
Burkett says the process tries to imagine a “different kind of future where you co-create it in a post-disaster scenario and are able to build relationships and trust in the process.” She argues that responding to climate change is an “ongoing and dynamic event” and that “how we address being both prepared for future damage and how we repair after that damage is one we could be doing in harmony.”
Burkett says that climate justice is “really understanding the disproportionate impact of climate change on communities of color, poor communities throughout the globe whether or not they’re within countries or entire countries themselves that are suffering.” She says communities that are climate-vulnerable should receive reparations in order to meet the scale of climate change. Her approach to reparations are based on three main elements: an apology; compensation; and a guarantee of non-repetition. She envisages reparations claims as coordinated efforts between a vulnerable country or group of countries in collaboration with a major greenhouse gas emitting country or group of countries. Burkett says the ultimate aim of the reparative process is to “build trust and solidarity.”
To speak your truth to let everyone know what you need and what you’re experiencing but also to suggest that we are in this together and those solutions tend to be more enduring over time because everyone has had an opportunity to craft that future. And again recognizing that it may not have been intentional but there have been differential inputs into the current crisis.
Making a Difference
The whole idea of our Green Rights project (www.GreenRights.com) – which includes 30 Green Interviews, three films, and a book – was to persuade Canadians and Americans that they should have the legal right to a healthy environment: clean air, pure water, healthy food. We don’t have that now.
What we learned during our research and filming, however, was that legal systems do offer various other techniques that shrewd and dedicated environmentalists can use. In our CBC-TV show Defenders of the Dawn (2015; click here to view it), we told how the citizens of Inverness County, Nova Scotia persuaded the municipal government to pass a by-law asserting the right of its citizens to pure water, which means no fracking. We also reported on several lawsuits which contend that the provision in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing “life, liberty and security of the person” must logically include the right to breathe, drink and eat. And in our segment on the Harrietsfield, NS water scandal, we introduced Marlene Brown, who recently launched the first private prosecution in the history of the province, against the two numbered companies responsible for polluting her water.
That use of the courts is exactly the kind of thing we hoped to encourage. So you can imagine our delight to receive a message from Richard Rachals of Lunenburg, NS, saying this:
“About a year ago I stumbled on Defenders of the Dawn. Inspired by that work and the Oposa Doctrine, I retained the services of our newly bewigged Jamie [activist-turned-lawyer Jamie Simpson] to investigate the possibility of having a fourth grade class sue the Provincial and Federal Governments for their right to a habitable planet.
“Both Jamie and [Dalhousie law professor] Meinhard Doelle felt that a frontal assault based on our Section 7 Charter Right to ‘Security of Person,’ or on Public Trust Doctrine, would be premature at this time and possibly create a bad precedent for later attempts. So, reluctantly, we decided to pursue a course of establishing smaller legal precedents that would empower ordinary citizens and eventually lead to the larger goal of a Charter challenge.
“We chose Harrietsfield as our first case and contacted Lisa Mitchell, the executive Director of ECELAW. Now, after six months of work, Jamie has helped Marlene Brown file a private prosecution, the first such action in Nova Scotia.”
I was stunned. It’s a basic feature of activist journalism – of life, really – that you never know what impact your activities may have. But here was a confirmation that the Green Rights project was having exactly the impact we had hoped it would have. I sent a note to the whole Green Interview team.
“This email,” I said, “makes the whole effort worthwhile. Marlene’s case may well open the door to a whole wave of prosecutions that wouldn’t have happened without the Green Rights initiative. We’ve made a genuine and important difference, and I’m just thrilled — as I think all of us should be.”
And you – who have supported us through this long journey – should be equally thrilled. It’s your triumph, too. The trial is slated to go ahead on June 13.
However, making a difference isn’t the same as making a living. Green Rights has been a huge success in terms of impact and influence, but financially its performance has been modest. Furthermore, Donald Trump’s sabre-rattling about slashing educational funding has spooked some of The Green Interview’s best institutional clients in the US. So I’ve updated, refreshed and re-focussed my speaker’s page at eSpeakers.com, hoping to turn a useful penny at the podium while also promoting the films and the book. If you’re looking for a speaker, or know someone else who is, please send them this link to my page. Or just go to www.eSpeakers.com and search for me by name. I appreciate any leads you can generate.
The recent screenings in Wolfville and particularly in Mahone Bay were very satisfying. The Tatamagouche screening scheduled for June 10 has been postponed till the fall, so the next screening is on July 1, as part of a literary festival at the public library in Margaree Forks, Cape Breton. I’ll also be reading from my own work at the festival. CBC’s Mary Lynk will host, and other presenters will include novelist Donna Morrissey and Ian Brown of The Globe and Mail. Scott Macmillan will provide music, and all in all I expect we’ll ring in Canada’s 150th birthday in fine style.
Why not come and join us? I’d love to see you there!
Big Joe Mufferaw paddled into Mattawa
All the way from Ottawa, in just one day.
On the River Ottawa, the best man we ever saw
Was Big Joe Mufferaw, the old folks say….
Come and listen while I tell you what the old folks say.
So goes the song by Stompin’ Tom Connors. When I first heard it, Stompin’ Tom was talking to Peter Gzowski on Morningside about his new album, describing Big Joe as “kind of a Canadian Paul Bunyan,” the hero of innumerable tall tales. It’s still one of my favourites among Stompin’ Tom’s 300 songs, the lovely legacy of a plain-spoken, plain-singing man from Skinner’s Pond, PEI, who loved nothing better than to sing the stories of ordinary Canadians – tobacco harvesters, smelter workers, hockey players, truck drivers, and loggers like Joseph Montferrand, the 19th-century strongman whose name was ultimately mispronounced as “Joe Mufferaw.”
Somewhere along the line I heard that a statue of Big Joe had been erected in Mattawa. So when I realized in early May that our motor home Merlin would be rolling through Mattawa on our way home to the Maritimes from BC, I insisted on stopping to find the statue and have my picture taken with Big Joe.
And that’s how we discovered Mattawa, pop. 2000, a charming little brick-built Ontario town, reminiscent of Stephen Leacock’s Mariposa, with a well-preserved Main Street – also named “Monestime Street” in honour of Dr. Firmin Monestine, Canada’s first black mayor. And, as we rolled onto Monestime Street, there it was – a large, varnished wooden statue of a man in pioneer garb. Big Joe Mufferaw, right?
Wrong. The street was punctuated with big wooden statues – a priest, an indigenous man with a feather in his headband, noble-looking fellows in fringed jackets and boots. At the end of the street, walking our two Shelties in a little park by the broad, fast-flowing river, I found the explanation on a plaque. Mattawa stands at the junction of the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers, a key spot on the canoe route westward for explorers, traders, missionaries and others. The Mattawa joins the Ottawa with Lake Nipissing and the French River — which we had just passed — leading onward to the upper Great Lakes, the Prairies, and ultimately the Pacific Coast.
Broadly speaking, Merlin had just retraced the old canoe route in reverse. Here in Mattawa, we were crossing paths with the great French figures of western exploration, the people we learned about in school – Samuel de Champlain, Radisson and Groseilliers, La Verendrye, Fathers Brebeuf and Lalemant – not to mention Alexander Mackenzie, who made the first coast-to-coast crossing of Canada in 1793, and Grey Owl, whose wife was from Mattawa.
Those are the people whose imposing wooden statues stand all along Monestime Street – which, along with the authentic streetscape itself, tells me that Mattawa understands the importance of its history, and is proud to assert its pivotal role in the story of Canada. Maritime municipalities, please take note. Stop putting the wrecking ball through the buildings that embody your own unique stories. Preserve some streetscapes. Commission some statues.
But the statue that is not on Monestime Street is the statue of Big Joe Mufferaw. So where was that? I asked a school crossing guard. Oh, he said, Big Joe is across the bridge, in front of the museum.
With the dogs, we crossed the Mattawa River on the elegant steel bridge and stopped in front of the log-built replica of old Fort Mattawa, which stands in a rolling green riverside park. No statue. No statue at the back, no statue anywhere.
I walked across the street to a second-hand store. Pardon me, but isn’t the Big Joe Mufferaw statue somewhere around here?
Oh, dat, he said, in a strong French accent, dey took it down. It was all rotten. One of de arms fell off, nearly hurt someone. I hear dey’re making a new one, maybe for dis summer.
Ah. Well, damn.
We re-crossed the bridge, and Marjorie took photos of me and the dogs with the statues of Mackenzie and Groseilliers instead. Here I am with Médard Chouart des Groseilliers. We bought excellent poutine from a street vendor, ate it, and steered Merlin east towards Ottawa and home.
Big Joe Mufferaw paddled into Mattawa, all the way from Ottawa in just one day.
So how far is that, anyway? I can tell you now: three hundred kilometers, and the man who could paddle that distance, upstream, in a single day, surely was “the best man we ever saw.” He deserves the place in our story that Stompin’ Tom secured for him. And I’m very glad that he led us to Mattawa. I’m just sorry to have missed him.
In other news, we did get back to Nova Scotia early last week, after 6400 kilometers and nearly three weeks on the road. Before we’ve really unpacked, however, Merlin is on the road again for a few days in and around Halifax. Next Friday, May 19, at 1:15, I’ll be making a presentation at the annual conference of EECOM, The Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication, on the campus of Acadia University in Wolfville, NS followed by a screening of the film . The presentation takes place from 1:15 to 2:30, and the screening from 3:00 to 4:00, with an open discussion afterward.
Then I hop in the car and whisk off to Mahone Bay for a screening at 7:00 sponsored by the South Shore Chapter of the Council of Canadians and the Friends of Nature.
Next, on June 2-3, Marjorie and I are featured — along with our friend Lorrie Neilsen Glenn — at the Hubbards Writers Festival, also on the South Shore in the lovely village of Hubbards. But that event doesn’t involve the film, though the DVD and the book Warrior Lawyers will be available there.
The next actual screenings of the film are on June 10 in Tatamagouche, NS, details TBA, and July 1 at the public library in Margaree Forks, Cape Breton. And at that point we’re going to take Merlin, park him on the beach at MacLeod’s Campsite in Dunvegan, and enjoy the sun and the sand for a couple of days. Summer, at last — or so we hope!
Joel Solomon has spent much of his life engaged with money – earning it, investing it, thinking about it, and giving it away. Although his activities are centred on British Columbia, his impact is national and international. He is one of Canada’s most notable environmental philanthropists, and he is the author of a fascinating new book, The Clean Money Revolution (New Society Press, co-authored by noted BC writer Tyee Bridge). The book’s starting point is that over the next few years, the baby boomers will pass their wealth to the next generation. In North America alone, says Solomon, that’s about $50 trillion by 2050. What that generation does with this windfall will shape the future of the Earth, and the signs are encouraging. A generation dedicated to healthy living, healthy food and a healthy world is not likely to invest in organizations that don’t share those values.
Joel Solomon is our newest Green Interview. You can find the interview here.
In other news, for a recent catalogue listing I had to assemble a list of the Green Rights film’s screenings, venues and awards. It’s an impressive list, and I’ve posted it here.
The film was screened numerous times in April, notably at Simon Fraser University and at the Vancouver Planetarium, where the David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice co-sponsored an event centred on the film, with live music and speakers including Mike Harcourt, the former Premier of British Columbia. It was shown all over Canada around Earth Day — on April 10 in Ladner, BC, on Thursday April 20th in Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, ON, and on Earth Day itself in North Saanich, BC and Edmonton, AB.
I have been thrilled at the film’s reception. This was the second screening of the film in Thunder Bay, and the organizers are discussing a third showing. Meanwhile, an audience member in North Saanich wrote, “It was a barn-burner evening, rounded out and enriched by comments from Elizabeth May. She got teary when she was speaking about the ‘Scott’ paper mill. So well done. All the work that you put into making the film is bearing fruit.”
This is tremendously gratifying. I was able to attend the Vancouver and Ladner events, and also the Edmonton showing, which was part of the city’s Resilience Festival. It was standing room only, with a crackling discussion afterwards among deeply-committed and articulate citizens. The two proposed screenings in Saskatchewan had to be postponed, but the Edmonton organizers want to show the film again, to a larger audience, probably next winter, so we hope to organize a mid-winter tour of several Prairie cities.
The film will be shown several times in the Maritimes over the next few months – in Wolfville and Mahone Bay on May 19, in Tatamagouche on June 10 and in Margaree on July 1. I’ll be discussing it, but not screening it, in Hubbards on June 3. It continues to win awards, most recently a Gold in the International Independent Film Awards.
If you haven’t seen it, I’m happy to report that we’ve finally had time to produce a DVD, so you can order your own copy from my web site. Just click here.
And this note is written in Kenora, Ontario, where Merlin the Motorhome is pausing on his eastbound cross-country trip. We expect to be back in Nova Scotia by the end of the first week in May, ready to enjoy a Maritime summer – and to begin another project. Stay tuned!
I was recently asked by someone compiling a catalogue page to provide a list of screenings and other presentations of our film Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World. It was an eye-opening task. Here’s the list of events both completed and booked:
Mount St. Vincent University
St. Francis Xavier University
University of Ottawa
University of Toronto
University of Guelph
University of Waterloo
York University (Osgoode Hall Law School)
University of Manitoba
University of British Columbia
Simon Fraser University
University of Victoria
University of Oregon
Screenings in Communities
Ottawa (Lord Elgin launch, associated with Senate Speaker’s reception)
Kingston (community theatre)
Toronto (community theatre)
Calgary (Unitarian Church)
Vancouver (David Suzuki Foundation)
Ladner, BC (United Church)
North Saanich, BC (United Church)
UBC Museum of Anthropology
Council of Canadians, South Shore Nova Scotia
Friends of Nature
Margaree Area Development Association
Festivals, Awards and similar
Belleville Downtown Doc Festival (ON)
Erin Fast Forward Film Festival (ON)
Orangeville (ON): Climate Change Action Dufferin-Caledon (ON)
Sault Ste Marie Clean North Festival (ON)
Antigonish International Film Festival (NS)
Thunder Bay Environmental Film Festival (ON)
Edmonton Resilience Festival (AB)
Award of Merit, Impact Docs Awards
Gold Winner, International Independent Film Awards
Award of Merit, Accolade Global Film Competition
Conferences and similar
Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication conference
Public Interest Environmental Law Conference