The Sword of Reason and the Power of the Law: The Constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment

Tony Oposa was appalled.

In 1990, Antonio Oposa, Jr. – “Attorney Oposa,” as he is now known throughout the Philippines – went walking in the mountains of Cebu, in what used to be the forest – and the forest was gone. Erased. Clearcut. On inquiry, Oposa learned that only 4% of the country’s original forest remained – 800,000 hectares – and the government had issued logging permits for an absurd 3.9 million hectares, five times as much forest as actually existed. If logging weren’t halted immediately, the country would be completely denuded. Future generations would inherit a stripped and wasted landscape. At its heart, the pillage of the forests was an attack on posterity.

Three years earlier, however, after the Marcos dictatorship, the Philippines had adopted a new constitution, Section 16 of which provided that the State “shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” If the government was failing to uphold that right, then the government could be sued. And if posterity was the offended party, then posterity should sue.

Brian Brett!

We've just posted a new interview with Canadian novelist, poet and farmer Brian Brett which sheds a lot of light on the way Canada’s factory food system leads to deadly crises such as the ongoing XL Foods tainted beef scandal. Calling our modern, industrial food system “complete madness,” Brian explains in the interview how farming practices, regulations and tax rules dangerously favour large-scale production over small farms—a system that generates nutritionally depleted food, environmental degradation, the threat of crop failures, and health hazards such as Listeria and E. coli outbreaks.

Brian is the award-winning author of 11 books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and past chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada. His latest book, Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Human Life, chronicles his experience operating a small, diverse farm on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. It’s a book soaked in understanding of biology, nature, society, politics, and love – and in the interview, as in the book, Brian is full of droll humour and surprising insights. I don't think anyone can read the book – or hear the interview – and think quite the same way about food ever again. Take a look!

David Korten, Elizabeth May and the Salmon Wars documentary


Two new interviews and an upcoming documentary!
I haven't written a blog post or a Newsletter about The Green Interview for weeks and weeks. There's a reason, and I'll get to that – but in the meantime I want to assure you that production has been rolling right along. We've released new interviews with two inspiring figures: David Korten and Elizabeth May
David Korten was born, raised and educated in the establishment, and worked overseas for three decades,  running business schools and helping administer U.S. aid. Eventually, though, he became disllusioned with the whole aid industry, realizing that the problems of the Third World were largely created by the policies and actions of the First World, particularly the United States. He came home to change his own country, becoming the cofounder and board chair of YES! Magazine, the founder and president of The People-Centered Development Forum, a board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and  co-chair of the New Economy Working Group formed in 2008 to formulate and advance a new economy agenda.
The wonderful thing about Korten is his fierce combination of ruthless realism and determined optimism. It's one thing to say – as many do – that "the system" in the US and other Western countries must change. It's quite another thing to create counter-institutions and alternative media designed to appeal to the best qualities in the American character, and to force change from below. 
We interviewed Elizabeth May in our first round of Green Interviews, back in 2009, when she had become the leader of Canada's Green Party and was struggling to build the party, win a seat in Parliament and continue the good green fight she had been waging since she was a teenager. In 2011 she won the Saanich-Gulf Islands seat, and became the first-ever Green Member of Parliament in Canadian history. Then she set out to show that one determined and knowledgeable MP could indeed make an impact – criticizing legislation, proposing her own bills, asking probing questions in committee, raising the big issues on the floor of the House. She is no stranger to Parliament – she was a top adviser to the federal Minister of Environment during the 1980s – and we were fascinated to know how she was enjoying her new life as a legislator. Her courage, energy, indignation and knowledge are always an inspiration – and this encounter was no exception.
So we posted these interviews -- meeting our commitment to our subscribers to post at least one new interview every month -- but we didn't do blog posts because there simply wasn't time. The problem with time was our upcoming  Special Presentation, a video documentary called Salmon Wars: Aquaculture, Wild Fish and the Future of Communities.  This project has consumed us night and day for most of the first half of 2012. We'll be releasing it, at last, on June 13.
Salmon Wars grew out of a Sunday Herald column I published in early 2011 about a proposed major expansion of salmon farming into Nova Scotia. Being aware of the problems with salmon net-pen aquaculture because of the fabulous work of Alexandra Morton, I wrote that the Minister should refuse to grant the necessary leases and licenses. That column prompted Henry Hicks, an ardent conservationist, to call and congratulate me -- and to ask how the issue could be kept at the forefront of the political debate in Nova Scotia. I opined that a video documentary to be shown in community halls, over the internet and on community cable channels would be a powerful tool. Henry was enthusiastic about the idea, and thought that he and some like-minded friends could raise the money to produce the show. And eventually they did, though it wasn't easy. 
Armed with a modest budget, Chris Beckett and I went off to do interviews in Toronto (Alanna Mitchell), BC (Alexandra Morton, Daniel Pauly) and Seattle (David Montgomery) – all of which are already available on the site. We roamed Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by car. In the end, we collected nearly 40 video interviews and a huge pile of research information. As we worked, the subject of the proposed leases and licenses heated up, steadily becoming a more important issue in Nova Scotia; trying to make a documentary about it was like trying to paint a moving bus. As I write this, at 38,000 feet, flying to Vancouver for a round of Writers Union meetings, Chris is editing the show, assembling the interviews and narration, laying in sound and music, and preparing the show for its launch. There are more details below – and the show will be available free both on this site and on its own site, where you can see the trailer right now. 
Salmon Wars: Wild Fish, Aquaculture and the Future of Communities has turned out to be a wide-ranging exploration of net cage salmon aquaculture and its social, economic and environmental impact on the communities where it operates. It's an eye-opening 70-minute video documentary that surveys industry representatives, community activists, scientists, environmentalists and politicians, including Nova Scotia's Minister of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Environment.  Financed entirely by citizen donations and designed for free distribution, Salmon Wars probes not only our stewardship of the oceans, but also the alliances between industry and government,  the ability of local communities to influence their own futures, and the health of democracy in Atlantic Canada. 
Salmon Wars will premiere as part of the Oceans Film Festival at the Spatz Theatre in Citadel High School, Halifax, at 7:00 PM on June 13, 2012. It will be introduced by Eric Thomson, a lawyer, who is one of the investors,   and it will be followed by a question-and-answer session and a panel discussion, with panellists representing such fields as marine biology, conservation, tourism, politics, and the traditional fishery.  
Salmon Wars will launch simultaneously in small Maritime communities affected by the issue. It will also be web-cast, and it will be posted on its own website, for free download. In every format, the show is free of charge.

Ronald Wright, Progress Traps and the Future of Food

We've just published our interview with Ronald Wright, an extraordinary writer and thinker, author of such challenging books as Stolen Continents and A Short History of Progress. Trained in archaeology, Wright dissects the past, seeking clues to the future. What kind of an animal is the human being? How have humans behaved in the past? What does that tell us about their behaviour in the future?

The news is not good – but it's not hopeless. Time and again, human beings have carelessly ravaged their environments, and thus destroyed their societies. Our original Eden, green and lush and fertile, was probably in Iraq – which is hard to believe when you look at the dusty misery which is Iraq today. The deserts of North Africa were once the granary that fed the Roman Empire. For a really chilling saga of just how deluded and destructive we can be, read Wright's account of the denuding of Easter Island.

Robert Bateman!

Our Green Interview with Robert Bateman has just been posted – more than an hour of reflection on art, education, wildlife, the shaping of consciousness in young people, and appreciation for the natural world. Bateman is among the world's foremost interpreters of nature through the medium of visual art – and, because of his many books and his controversial decision to allow his work to be inexpensively reproduced, one of the world's best-known and most-loved nature artists. His work is elegant, compelling and dramatic, and it brims with frozen narrative.

 Bateman was 80 at the time of the interview, in August 2010, but he looked and acted and thought like a man several decades younger. We talked in his studio in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. To listen in on the conversation – and learn more about Bateman's life and art – click here.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger -- but no column

There's no column this week, because the Sunday Herald doesn't publish on Easter Sunday -- so I've had a week off. There are some big developments coming soon on this site, though, and I've been working diligently -- just not on a column.

Meanwhile, we've published my interview with Diana Beresford-Kroeger, the amazing warrior-scientist from Ireland who now lives and works near Ottawa. She's the author of a fascinating new book, The Global Forest, in which she talks about forests and the relationships between the living things within them at a level of sophistication that I found astonishing. And she does it in language worthy of an Irish bard, too. It's a wonderful conversation; I enjoyed every moment of it.

David Orton, Diana Beresford-Kroeger and Chris Benjamin

I recently interviewed David Orton, the noted deep ecology philosopher. This week's Sunday Herald column was supposed to be about David, but I made the mistake of starting with his account of participating in a “Council of All Beings” -- where he played the role of a coyote – and somehow the idea of the Council itself took over the column. So I'll do another column on David sometime in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the current column, on the difficult task of making us feel what we actually know about the devastation we're wreaking on the planet.

Within the next couple of days we'll post our next interview, with Diana Beresford-Kroeger, whom I describe in my video introduction as “a unique blend of rigorous scientist, reverential philosopher and Irish bard. She understands profoundly the intertwined life of the forest, from the root fungi that swap carbon among the trees to the sophisticated sexual dance of birds and insects and flowers. Her writing bursts with information but also with pain and joy and reverence.” Diana Beresford-Kroeger is terrific. Don't miss her interview.
Finally, Chris Benjamin has written a nice little piece on The Green Interview and on me for a new online publication called East Coast Kitchen Party. To read it, just click here:

Bunker Roy!!

We recently posted our interview with Bunker Roy, the founder of India's Barefoot College, and an educational thinker of ruthless robustness. He won't educate people who have been spoiled by formal education, and he doesn't think highly of men as students, either. Among his greatest successes have been grandmothers from Africa, Afghanistan and the Himalayas, whom he's trained to be solar engineers and to bring electricity to their remote villages. In many ways, Bunker Roy's ideas turn our concepts of education on their heads.

New interview -- Andrew Nikiforuk!

Andrew Nikiforuk is one of Canada's leading journalists, a man who can write memorably and incisively about education, public health, energy and the environment, among other subjects. He's won seven National Magazine Awards as well as the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction, Canada's top literary prize. In 2009, he became the first Canadian to win the prestigious Rachel Carson Environment Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists for his book on the oil sands in northern Alberta, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.

That's the book we discussed when I interviewed him in 2009.

The Week of Bill Rees

How can it be that I can know the right thing to do, do the wrong thing instead, and still consider myself an intelligent being? We've all had that experience. I shouldn't eat any more of those fattening canapes, we think. I should not smoke. I should not take another drink. And then we eat the snack, light a cigarette, pour the drink, and ogle our neighbour's spouse, to boot.

If we understood why we act this way, maybe we could understand our wide-awake self-destructive behaviour as a species.  That's the issue that really concerns Dr. William Rees in the 90-minute interview we've just posted on the site.