Apr 11, 2011

Environmental Violence


Time magazine recently reported that particulates in the air from “industry, traffic and domestic heating, cause 4,300 premature deaths in London each year”.

That works out to about 12 people dying every single day, in just one city.

The British government does not seem worried about this horrific toll. To put their response in perspective, imagine the reaction if 12 people were murdered every day by terrorists. There would be a national mobilization, restrictions on civil liberties, and billions would be allocated to public safety.

However, since the killers in this case are mostly manufacturing, industrial, and fossil fuel corporations, almost nothing is done.

It’s no better here, however.

The Canadian Medical Association estimates that, in 2008 alone, 21,000 Canadians died from heart and lung illnesses brought on by polluted air.

That is about 60 Canadians dying every single day. From breathing.

Another “700,000 Canadians will die prematurely over the next two decades because of illnesses caused by poor air quality,” the CMA reported.

The Harper government has done nothing to combat this silent slaughter. Instead, it denies that there is a problem, while continuing to give away billions of dollars of public money to oil and gas corporations.

The CMA also found that, in 2008, the “costs of dirty air, in terms of treating the illnesses in hospital and visits to doctors, as well as indirect expenses for time off work”, added up to $10 billion.

The Conservatives are also promoting the development of the Tar Sands in Alberta, which will mean enormous increases, not only in air pollution, but also to global warming.

For its part, the Liberal government in B.C. has paid lip service to the environment. The result is that, in 2008, the Heart and Stroke Foundation gave Metro Vancouver a “D” for its air quality and cardiovascular risk, while the Interior was rated “F”.

What is to be done? The most immediate action that citizens can take is to make the environment a central issue in the federal election.

This does not necessarily mean that one should vote for the “Green” party.

What it does mean is that we have an opportunity to organize now – when politicians of all parties pay more attention to what voters want.

As Bill McKibben writes: “We need to be able to explain to them that continuing in their ways will end something that they care about: their careers. And because we’ll never have the cash to compete with Exxon, we better work in the currencies we can muster: bodies, spirit, passion.”

Most importantly, we have to organize to increase public awareness that, the sooner we force governments to act, the easier it will be to transition to a sustainable economic system.

There is no guarantee of success, but as McKibben pointed out in his recent talk at UBC: “The only moral position is to change the odds.”

If we organize and do whatever we can, together we WILL make a difference.

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