John W. Warnock

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Green Political Theory and Practice | The Rise of Ecosocialism

 Ecosocialists Off to World Social Forum


by John W. Warnock
Act Up in Saskatchewan
December 21, 2008


“The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model.” Evo Morales, President of Bolivia.     


A new world ecosocialist organization has been formed, and they will be making a presentation at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil in January 2009. Representatives from a number of countries met in Paris in 2007 and produced a Declaration to present in Brazil. A number of Canadians played a key role in this development and will send a delegation to the Forum.

The Declaration argues that humanity today faces a stark choice: ecosocialism or barbarism. There is no need for additional proof of the barbarity of capitalism, “the parasitical system that exploits humanity and nature alike.” It is central to the system itself: “Its sole motor is the imperative toward profit and thus the need for constant growth. It wastefully creates unnecessary products, squandering the environment’s limited resources and returning to it only toxins and pollutants. Under capitalism, the only measure of success is how much more is sold every day, every week, every year.”

The search for profits, which is the heart of the system, is “facilitated by imperialist expansion in search of ever greater access to natural resources, cheap labour and new markets.” While capitalism has always been destructive of nature, the danger posed by greenhouse gas emissions and global warming could produce a catastrophe.


The failue of the Kyoto reforms

The ecosocialists warn that most of the solutions offered to deal with climate change “are devised by and on behalf of the dominant global system, capitalism.” The goal is to repair the system “without disruption of market mechanisms or the system of accumulation [of capital] that commands the world economy.” Over the past thirty five years these proposals “have been a monstrous failure.”

The Kyoto Protocol, for example, called for the “cap and trade” system of trading pollution credits. In the less developed world, it advanced so-called “Clean Development Mechanisms,” supposedly to offset emissions from the advanced capitalist states. These have failed and greenhouse gas emissions steadily rise.


The ecosocialist alternative

In contrast, ecosocialism proposes “a radical and practical alternative to the capitalist system,” which would be founded on “social justice and ecological balance.” Like the early German Green Party, it calls for a rejection of capitalism and bureaucratic state socialism and the creation of expanded democracy in the political, economic and social spheres. Capitalism would be replaced by “collective decision-making and ownership of production,” under direct popular and community control through participatory democracy.

The shift will be from producing endless commodities to local production of necessities for life and spirit. The Declaration outlines shifts in the key areas of energy, transportation, food production, and militarism.

While ecosocialism would be the end goal of this transformation, activists must continue to fight for urgent reforms right now. This means engaging in the current struggles to impose some public control over the most destructive aspects of the present capitalist system of production and distribution.

Readers can access the full text of the Belem Ecosocialist Declaration and sign on at the following web site:  


Environmental Tax Reform: Expanding the Neoliberal Agenda


By John W. Warnock

May 21, 2007

Draft for the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives - Saskatchewan.  The Green Party of Canada has become a national political force over the past few years. They have risen from their usual two percent of the vote to over four percent in the 2004 and 2006 elections. Now under the leadership of Elizabeth May, they have risen to between eight and 10 percent in the national polls and are even making a breakthrough in Quebec. If Canada had proportional representation electoral laws as in Europe, Greens would have seats in the legislature and be considered for participation in coalition governments.

Most Canadians know that May and the Greens are strong on environmental issues like global warming and climate change. But how do they stand on other issues? As a party which is determined to enter Parliament and provincial legislatures, their position on fiscal policy and taxation is crucial.

Across the industrialized world Green Parties have been elected to parliaments since the early 1980s. Over the years they have developed comprehensive fiscal and taxation policies. These reflect their historic commitment to the Four Pillars of the international Green movement: ecological wisdom, social justice, participatory democracy and peace and non-violence. In all the industrialized countries the Green Parties are deemed to be part of the broad left, and in many countries, including Australia and New Zealand, they are to the left of the social democratic and labour parties. The Green Party of the USA is well to the left of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Thus the norm for Green taxation policy has been a combination of progressive taxes designed to promote greater equality and social justice and ecological taxes. Where does the Green Party of Canada stand in relation to other Green parties on these key issues?


Green Party of Canada shifts direction

The Green Party of Canada was founded in 1983 but had a very minimal presence outside Ontario and British Columbia. It was a progressive party with a strong opposition to militarism and military alliances, joined with the broad left to oppose the free trade agreements with the United States, and had a commitment to reduce the military budget and shift the revenues to helping to reduce the gap between the First World and the Third World. On domestic policy it strongly supported the Keynesian welfare state and its social justice program called for the elimination of poverty and the reduction of inequality. This policy direction required a progressive taxation system. Of course the party had a major focus on resolving ecological problems and reflected a growing concern over endless economic growth, rampant consumerism and the depletion of resources. Its general orientation was close to that of the other major Green parties. But this progressive left tradition began to fade.

The first major change was in Ontario with the election of Frank de Jong as leader. A number of people who had been active in the Conservative Party switched to the Greens. There have always been different ideological currents in the Green parties, including green socialists, deep green ecologists, green anarchists, and libertarian greens. In the United States there are also the ecocapitalists, often identified as followers of the Natural Capitalism school associated with Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins. Under the leadership of de Jong, the Ontario Greens moved to adopt a general policy to ecocapitalism. The tax platform of the Ontario Green Party dropped all the progressive taxation policies and embraced Ecological Tax Shifting. They are committed to shifting taxes from income and business profits to resources and land. The platform for 2006 focused on tax shifting, particularly a shift to land taxes and resource use. They declared that income taxes and business taxes “should be minimized,” and the party concluded that they “do not reduce economic inequity.”

The policy direction of the Green Party of Canada began to change after the election of Jim Harris as leader in 2004. Harris was also a former member of the Conservative Party. During the 2004 and 2006 federal elections the new leader raised eyebrows when he regularly pledged to reduce income and corporate taxes by shifting to Green taxes. The party platform called for “lower taxes on income, profit and investment, to promote increased productivity and job creation.” The Greens promised to “raise taxes on harmful activities such as pollution, waste and inefficiency” as well as “shift taxes onto land use and away from incomes.” They also pledged to bring in a series of carbon taxes.

Many thought that the Green Party of Canada would shift back to its traditional policies with the election of Elizabeth May as its new leader. But at the very first policy workshop forum, held in Halifax on November 4, 2006, the agenda on taxation was limited to Environmental Tax Shifting. The program for the “experts” forum, entirely set by the leadership of the party in Ottawa, included only presentations supporting tax shifting. It even included a presentation from the Forest Products Association of Canada. No presentations were made supporting the traditional Green Party commitment to social justice and greater equality.

In late 2006 Elizabeth May released the Green Party Green Plan - GP2. The new platform position proudly proclaims that it “endorses the recommendations of conservative economic voices, such as The Economist and the C. D. Howe Institute.” The Canadian Greens note that both these organizations have “embraced the foundation of Green Party policy and platform: tax shifting.”  The Green Party would “introduce a carbon tax with revenues offset by reduction in other taxes, particularly on payroll and income.”  This is part of the policy of “getting prices right” which is “the single most significant step” towards a low carbon future. There is no discussion what so ever of issues of equity, inequality or the impact of the new environmental taxes on low income Canadians. This is a major shift away from the pre-2004 policy direction of the Green Party of Canada. (4)


NOTE:  The full text of this paper, presented at a Political Economy session at the Learned Societies of Canada, is on a pdf file can be read using Adobe Acrobat See link below.



The Greens:  "Neither Left Nor Right"?


by John W. Warnock


Symposium on Politics in Saskatchewan
Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Saskatchewan
May 30, 2007



Green Parties were founded all across the industrialized world during the 1980s. But after twenty-five years of running in elections, and participating in several coalition governments, the electoral support for almost all of them has stagnated at between 5% and 10%. There is no country where the Greens have made an electoral breakthrough, not even in Germany, where they were from the beginning the most successful party. Why is this the case?

The early Green parties were ecology parties with a strong commitment to social justice, opposition to militarism, war and violence, and a commitment to participatory democracy. Since the early 1990s most of the parties have become more moderate in their policy orientation and have embraced the reformism of environmentalism. Nevertheless, in almost all of the advanced industrialized countries the Greens remain to the left of the social democratic parties. The trend in all the parties is away from the original Green model of decentralized participatory democracy and towards the top down hierarchical model of the traditional parliamentary political party. The early strong commitment to women’s liberation has faded. Where they have participated in coalition governments with social democratic parties, they have been forced to adopt the neoliberal policy of the Third Way. If the Greens are now shifting to become just another middle of the road party, what is their future? As the large mainstream political parties have now all embraced some degree of environmentalism, what is their purpose?

At the present time the world is faced with a number of very serious ecological, political  and economic problems. The new system of neoliberalism is producing greater inequalities in income and wealth between the industrialized and less developed countries and within all countries. The prospect of peak oil threatens the present capitalist system of production and consumption, which is highly energy-intensive. Then there is the enormous threat posed by global warming and climate change. In a world where U.S. imperial policy is fostering a new kind of resistance, western governments are moving to greatly curtail traditional liberal and human rights. Now, more than ever, the countries of the industrialized world need a political movement that seriously questions the status quo with business as usual and proposes a clear alternative. The Greens as they were structured in the early 1980s could have filled that role. But where are they today?

The first Green Parties developed in New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia and Switzerland in 1972, followed by the Ecology Party in Great Britain in 1973. In France the Green party movement was launched in 1974 when Rene Dumont ran for president. These were parties which focused on environmental issues. But the rapid expansion of Green parties across the industrialized world did not occur until the founding and the early success of the Green Party in West Germany. It served as the model for most of those which followed.

The development of the Green parties was built on the New Politics that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s across Europe and the United States. This included the student protests, the opposition to the war in Vietnam, the opposition to nuclear weapons and nuclear power, support for Third World liberation, the women’s movement, demands for individual rights and opposition to racism, and the grass roots environmental movement.

This general protest was combined with a call for a new democracy. There was popular opposition to the hierarchical, bureaucratic political party system. This included the social democratic and labour parties who were quite hostile to the New Left issues. One of the earliest political developments was the formation of a number of new left wing parties in Europe, all of whom called for an end to the Cold War and militarism. These new parties encompassed a Marxist and socialist alternative, one which opposed the Soviet model. The Greens which started in West Germany brought these forces together in a new movement, an attempt to combine extra-parliamentary opposition with electoral politics. The Green Party of Canada was part of this movement.


NOTE:  Full text of this paper on a pdf file can be downloaded with Adobe Acrobat Reader.  See link below.                                 



The Greens: "Time's Up" on Global Warming


Review by John W. Warnock
Briarpatch Magazine,
August 2006.


Field Notes from a Catastrophe
Man, Nature, and Climate Change
     Elizabeth Kolbert
     Bloomsbury, 2006


The Weather Makers
How Man Is Changing the Climate and
What It Means for Life on Earth.
     Tim Flannery
     Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006    


Yes, these two books are about global warming, climate change and human responsibility. Recent public opinion polls reveal that over 75 percent of Canadians know what  is happening and want their governments do something. But our political and business leaders are dragging their feet. The Liberal governments of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin accepted the Kyoto Protocol pledge but took no action. Now Steven Harper's Conservative government has canceled Canada's commitments under Kyoto and has backed George W. Bush's do-little alternative. At Gimli, Manitoba in early June 2006 the four western premiers agreed to dump all Kyoto goals and accept the Bush-Harper approach.

It is even worse in Saskatchewan. In 1997 the legislature unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Kyoto conference and insisting that there should only be voluntary guidelines on compliance with any proposed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Since the Kyoto Protocol, Saskatchewan has had the highest increase in greenhouse gas emissions in Canada at 62 percent.

These two books are designed for those who remain skeptical of all the pleas from the scientists. Elizabeth Kolbert's book first appeared as a widely-praised series of articles in the New Yorker, for which she received an award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The author presents the best of the new scientific evidence to readers with little knowledge of the problem. She goes to Shishmaref, Alaska to record the impact of climate change on an Inupiat community, how they will have to abandon their village and way of life as they are forced to move to the mainland. She visits Vladimir Romanovsky, geophysicist at the University of Alaska, who shows her how the melting of the permafrost is changing the Arctic and beginning to release enormous amount of accumulated carbon. He describes this as "a time bomb, just waiting for a little warmer conditions."

A trip to Mauna Loa, on the Island of Hawaii, allows Kolbert to report the increased carbon dioxide measurements recorded by the U.S. Weather Bureau. Scientists in Greenland explain the history of the world's weather measured by the ice cores they have drilled. The ice on Greenland is melting much faster than anyone expected, and when it does worldwide sea levels will rise by twenty-three feet. NASA has recorded that over the 1990s the ice sheet was shrinking by twelve cubic miles per year.

Other chapters include the extinction of species, how a number of classic civilizations disappeared, and how the Netherlands is dealing with the rising ocean and river waters. Scientists discuss "dangerous anthropogenic interference" known as DAI: this is the point where climate change becomes so advanced that it starts to feed off itself and the process becomes irreversible. We are very close to that point now.  This is the book to give your children and grandchildren.

Tim Flannery's book is on the best seller lists. An authoritative biologist from Australia, he also knows how to write for the general public. This is a more detailed book, covering the history of the planet's climate, the present Anthropocene period where humans began to change the earth and its climate, the varied impacts of global warming, the importance of scientific modeling to predict the future, and the necessity for quick action now.

What can we do?  Flannery agrees with the scientists who argue that we need a 70 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions just to attempt to stabilize our climate. While the United States, Australia and Canada have refused to implement the Kyoto Protocol, the author is hopeful that the precedent of the successful Montreal Protocol on limiting the emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) will carry over to greenhouse gasses. "Time's Up," he argues.

The alternatives are examined. "Clean coal" and the hydrogen economy cannot be the answer. Nuclear power has too many serious problems. Carbon trading allows rich polluters to do nothing. The technological dreams, designed to keep the fossil fuel economy, "allow governments to continue throwing billions of taxpayers' dollars into such schemes."

The answer has to be a full range of demand management and conservation programs plus solar and wind power. Flannery stresses that "55 percent of the total domestic energy budget is devoted to home heating and air conditioning." If we don't make far reaching changes, "in order to cool our homes, we end up cooking our planet."
  - John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author of Saskatchewan: The Roots of Discontent and Protest (2004) 


Joel Kovel: Capitalism as the Enemy of Nature


Review article by John W. Warnock
Canadian Dimension Magazine,

July/August 2003.


Joel Kovel. The Enemy of Nature; The end of capitalism or the end of the world?
Nova Scotia: Fernwood Books, 2002. 273 pp.



     During a recent lecture at the University of Regina, David Suzuki told how he enrolled in Economics 101 at the University of British Columbia as people were telling him he did not know enough about the subject. At the first lecture the professor flashed a model of the economy on an overhead screen. Suzuki asked where global warming and climate change fit into this model. The professor replied that ecological issues were external to the economic system. Suzuki said he did not go back for any additional lectures.  

     Many who read Canadian Dimension Magazine will be familiar with Joel Kovel. He is now Alger Hiss Professor of Social Studies at Bard College, in Annandale, New York. His work on radical psychoanalysis was widely read and studied. He wrote a well received book on racism in the United States. I first encountered him through his book defending the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. In 1998 he ran for the U.S. Senate in New York for the Green Party. In 2000 he ran against Ralph Nader for the leadership of the Green Party of the United States. As he notes, he ran against Nader "with neither the intention or hope of winning." He ran to try to keep the message alive that capitalism is at the centre of the ecological problem.

     This is the theme of this book. Capitalism, based as it is in the drive for accumulation, will inevitably lead to the destruction of the Earth as we know it. Around the world, Greens are committed to an ideology and strategy calling for the reform of capitalism. At best, they are populists. The Marxist left has traditionally dismissed the argument by ecologists and has insisted that under real socialism technology will be used to fix the system. Kovel insists that capitalism cannot be reformed, and the advanced consumer society is destroying the Earth. The traditional socialist ideal of steadily increasing production and consumption, built on top of the developed capitalist system, would be no different in the end. Actually existing socialism turned out to be even more destructive of ecology than capitalism.
     This is a serious, well written political work. Canadians are fortunate that it is published by Fernwood Books and available for a modest price.



Kyoto: Politicians are ignoring the facts. We need alternatives now, not more business as usual


by John W. Warnock
Briarpatch Magazine

June 2002


Extract: Kyoto: What is happening in Saskatchewan?

 The NDP governments of Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert have strongly opposed the implementation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming and climate change and have refused to adopt a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In this they have been supported by the Saskatchewan Party and the provincial Liberal party.

 In January 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that average surface temperature is increasing at a faster rate than they had projected five years earlier. They concluded that "we must move ahead boldly with clean energy technologies, and we should start preparing ourselves now for the rising sea levels, changing rain patterns, and other impacts of global warming." The panel of over 1,000 world-renowned scientists has concluded that to stabilize the climate we need a 70 percent reduction in emissions from the 1990 level. But in Canada all our governments are resisting the modest proposal of reducing our emissions by only six percent by 2012.

Saskatchewan is already being impacted by global warming and climate change. Elaine Wheaton, a climatologist with the Saskatchewan Research Council, has stated that if nothing is done we will face another dust bowl situation. The central prairie is expected to be one of the hardest hit areas. Wheaton projects that under the business as usual approach being followed we can expect that the average temperature will increase by six or seven degrees in the winter and three or four degrees in the summer. This would be a drastic change and will lead to drought conditions, the decline of water supplies, and an influx of new crop diseases and insects. The work of David Schindler of the University of Alberta projects devastation to the boreal forests from increased fires, insect and disease infestations, and a failure to regenerate in hot, dry conditions.

The people in Saskatchewan seem to know the basic facts. A public opinion poll done for the NDP government and released last December reported that the vast majority recognize that human activity is changing the climate, and 82 percent want the Kyoto Accord ratified. Around two-thirds want the provincial government to take the lead in introducing policy changes.

But the alarm bells are not ringing in the offices in Regina. In 1997 the NDP government refused to send delegates to the Kyoto conference and insisted that we only need voluntary guidelines for greenhouse gas reduction. In 1999 the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance gave Saskatchewan the lowest rating of any province for its failure to deal with climate change. The Pembina Institute of Calgary surveyed provincial government policies in 2000 and again found that Saskatchewan had the worst record on climate change of all the provinces. In the period since 1990 Saskatchewan has had the highest increase in greenhouse gas emissions (34%) of any province in Canada.


John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author. In the 1999 provincial election he was a candidate for the New Green Alliance in Regina-Elphinstone, an innter city riding.



  (1) The Greens: "Neither Left or Right"

        The development and evolution of the German Green Party.


         by John W. Warnock
         Sessions on Saskatchewan Politics and Political Economy
         Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences
         University of Saskatchewan
         May 30, 2007


  (2) Environmental Tax Shifting; Expanding the Neoliberal Agenda

         By John W. Warnock        

         Draft for CCPA-SK

         Presented at the Congress for the Humanities and the Social Sciences

         University of Saskatchewan

         May 21, 2007




Warnock and Lewis v. The Queen, Supreme Court of British Columbia, 1978

With help from the West Coast Environmental Law Association



The Environment in the Age of Globalization

by John W. Warnock

Speech to the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union
Occupational Health, Safety and Environment Conference
April 29, 1999    


It is difficult to be an environmentalist these days. It is very easy to fall into despair as one follows the reports in the mass media. I might start off by mentioning a few stories that are in the clipping file sitting on my desk:Recent news on the environment

 * Despite a drop in the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the ozone layer in the stratosphere continues to decline, producing a hole over the Antarctica now around 22 million square kilometers, more than twice the size of Europe. In 1997 a new ozone hole appeared over the Arctic, and the ozone layer is thinning over Saskatchewan in the spring.


 * Global warming continues, as carbon dioxide emission from the burning of fossil fuels continues to increase. Governments and corporations continue to insist that this is not happening, despite the unquestionable evidence of the shrinking of the polar icecaps, the shrinking of glaciers, and the northward march of the tree lines. Our provincial government refused to even send representatives to the Kyoto world meeting on the issue.


 * The world's forests continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Around 50% of the world's forests have already disappeared. Here in Saskatchewan we are already logging at an unsustainable rate. This year Weyerhauser declared that it wants to triple its annual cut. On Monday the Romanow government announced some new projects which will double the forest cut. Our forests here are clear cut by machines and at best replaced with tree plantations which radically change the local ecosystem.


 * In March this year Health Canada released a major study on the health effects of ground level ozone, the product of motor vehicles and industrial smokestacks. It concluded that this air pollution in urban areas was high enough to warn Canadians not to exercise outside during summer. Yet the number of automobiles, which produce 60% of this pollutant, continues to rise all around the world.  Here in Saskatchewan we appear to be relatively free from serious pollution. But that is true only if you ignore what is happening in the agriculture and food industry


* An Agriculture Canada study was released this February of rainfall in the Lethbridge area, showing that many common pesticides are found. They concluded that the most widely  used herbicide, 2,4-D, was found at "extremely high, unacceptable levels." In some test sites, levels were above the Canadian drinking water guidelines.


 * A study last year by the National Hydrological Research Centre in Saskatoon of the water quality in 21 farm dugouts around our province found herbicide and insecticide residues in all of them. While they were individually within the levels permitted by Health Canada, they were all much higher than standards in Europe.


 *In 1997 research under  the Canada-Saskatchewan Green Plan tested wells in this province for pesticide residues. Pesticides were found in 10% of the wells in the Kindersley area and  45% in the Outlook-Davidson area. All of the wells showed high level of nitrates. Between 40% and 80% of the wells had nitrate levels above the acceptable levels set by Health Canada. High levels of nitrates are not safe for infants or young children.


 * Our provincial government is actively promoting and subsidizing the creation of industrial pig factories.  But wherever they are a major development  they have led to ground water pollution, whether it is North Carolina, Iowa, Quebec or The Netherlands.  Furthermore, all of these intensive livestock operations use antibiotics in the feed of the animals. 50% of all antibiotics are used in animal feeds. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta says this is a major contributing factor to the development of the new bacterias which are  resistant to all antibiotics.


 * We know that the ground water in southern Alberta is polluted by bacteria and parasites due to animal confinement operations. For the last few years, rural health officers have been issuing warnings to Albertans to boil their water before they drink it.


 * What about our food production system? In March this year the American Consumers Union reported that many fruits and vegetables have pesticide residues that may be unhealthy for children. That came at the same time as several U.S. studies showing children living in rural areas where pesticides are used have experienced neurological damage, and that routine exposure to pesticides can skew the thyroid hormones and damage the body's immune system. A study in rural Minnesota concluded that birth defects were higher in children conceived during the spring growing season.


* I wonder how many of you know that Saskatchewan is a centre for the development and testing of genetically engineered agricultural plants. There is more field testing done here than anywhere else in the world. The major concern is the laboratory transfer of genetic material across natural species barriers. This new development in corporate agriculture is of major concern to farmer,  consumer, and environmental groups. No one has any idea what will happen as all these new species are introduced into the environment. We are already having serious problems with Roundup Ready Canola and other similar products.


Some positive developments


But at the same time, there are some positive developments to report. There is a growing recognition of the seriousness of environmental degradation. The problem is the resistance from our governments and the corporate sector. There are some positive news stories: 


* Following the adoption of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, CFC production has fallen by about 90%. 


* Over the 1990s, the most dramatic increase in energy use has been in wind power and solar photovoltaic cell use. In the United States and Europe, energy conservation and demand management are emphasized everywhere. But not in Saskatchewan. There was some beginning here during the Blakeney government, only to be abandoned by the Devine and Romanow governments.


 * Nuclear power production has declined dramatically since the 1970s, and is being expanded only where there are huge government subsidies. * The European countries are putting first priority on public transportation as a strategy of dealing with air pollution and traffic congestion.


 * Throughout the industrial world, the trend in agriculture is to organic production of food. Even in the United States, a recent survey found that 54% want American agriculture to move in this direction. Again, Canada and Saskatchewan are lagging well behind. What can we do?

I want to start by briefly describing how I got involved in the environmental movement. In 1974 I moved to the Okanagan and began operating a commercial orchard. While I grew up in a farming community where fruits and vegetables were the basis of the economy, I was not aware of the degree to which North American agriculture had become so dependent in the use of pesticides: insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and rodenticides. In reading the material on the pesticides I used, it was very clear that most of them are highly toxic to humans and all other species.


While most of the pesticides I used had been tested for acute toxicity, none had been tested for chronic toxicity before being registered. It was only after the thalidomide disaster that new pesticides were tested for carcinogenesis, teratogenesis and mutagenesis. Those already registered were grand fathered by government decree.


In 1978 the B.C. provincial government announced that they were going to use the herbicide 2,4-D in the Okanagan lakes to reduce the proliferation of Eurasian water milfoil plant that was growing in shallow waters and becoming a nuisance to the tourist industry. But the Okanagan lakes are used to irrigate our crops and for most communities is also the source of drinking water. A little research found that the registration for 2,4-D in Canada and elsewhere prohibited its use in drinking water sources, and that it was harmful to many crops, and in particular grapes, grown in the Okanagan using irrigation. Public meetings were held, and the South Okanagan Environmental Coalition was formed to oppose the provincial government and the tourist industry. It was a broad alliance of various groups. Included in it were the local trade unions, CUPE and the BCGEU.  


At the libraries we uncovered an enormous amount of scientific research on the hazards of 2,4-D. This included studies of the adverse health affects of workers in the industries manufacturing the herbicide. We found good epidemiological studies on the effects on workers who used these products, including forest workers, railway workers who sprayed the chemicals along the tracks, highway workers, municipal workers who used the herbicide in park maintenance, and there were excellent studies from the USSR on the impact on farm workers. With this material in hand, we got support from the B.C. Federation of Labour as well. We also found studies reporting the ill effects of phenoxy herbicides on children when used on school grounds and parks.  What this case demonstrates is that it is impossible to isolate an environmental hazard. There is a close link between what goes on in the workplace and where we live.


The impact of globalization

But while we are becoming more knowledgeable about environmental concerns, the ability to deal with them is becoming more and more difficult. One of the main problems is the move towards an international economy, what is commonly called "globalization".  Social scientists call this  neoliberalism, the move toward the free market and free trade, managed on an international level.  The neoliberal model demands the reduction of the role of the government and the public in the economy. It is an attempt to limit the powers of our democratically elected governments. The agenda, set in the early 1980s, is to help corporations increase their profits, and one of the ways identified is to cut regulations on corporations.


Thus we have seen deregulation in the area of environmental control. In Ottawa, the ministries which deal with environmental regulations have seen their budgets and staffs cut drastically. The federal government and the premiers want to shift this responsibility to the provinces. Here in Saskatchewan the Devine and Romanow governments have seriously cut the staff of the environmental enforcement agencies.  Free trade has also allowed corporations to shift production around the world. As you all know, employers regularly threaten workers during collective bargaining. If workers don't make concessions, or insist on improving a contract, the employer threatens to pack up and move to Mexico, Asia or the southern United States. And there are examples of companies doing this.


One of the most widely known is the furniture industry in California. When the state adopted new  regulations on their toxic emissions, they did pack up and move across the border to Mexico.  Furthermore, all of the trade agreements, and the powerful interests behind them, want to create one international standard that is applicable to all countries. This was President George Bush's dream. Then when any country, province, or municipality adopts a higher standard, it can be classified a non-tariff barrier to trade and thus ruled illegal under the rules of the World Trade Organization or NAFTA.


The U.S. and Canadian governments are doing this to get Europe to drop its ban on beef raised using growth hormones.  It is for this reason that in 1987 the Canadian Environmental Network was formed, an organization of all the major Canadian environmental groups. It was formed to help the environmental movement fight the Canada -U.S. Free Trade Agreement. The CEN  has been part of the Action Canada Network in its battle against NAFTA and the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment. It is fighting against the new rules of the World Trade Organization and the proposed Free Trade Area for the Americas. And the CEN is working shoulder to shoulder with the Canadian Labour Congress here and in other areas.


They are working with the Committee for Justice in the Maquiladoras. The U.S.-Mexican border area is a perfect example of how environmental issues affect workers in their workplaces and where they live. Ironically, for Mexican workers in the Maquiladoras, the greatest threat to their health does not come in the factories but in the shanty towns where they have to live.  It seems to me as a political activist and as an environmentalist, that in the era of neoliberalism or globalization public sector workers have a particular responsibility. Workers in the private sector are often afraid to complain about unsafe working conditions. They are afraid of losing their jobs or their employers packing up and leaving.


I know that public sector workers face the problem of staffing cutbacks and increased work loads. I know that first hand from my own work place. But public sector workers have relatively strong unions and are better able to push the issues of workplace safety and well being. This must be done. Trade unions have traditionally been suspicious of environmental organizations. They have been seen to be dominated by middle class people who put environmental interests above the interests of workers and jobs. But what happens when environmentalists and workers do not work together?


In B.C. we are seeing the disappearance of the salmon industry. We have seen the forest corporations in B.C. shift to capital intensive clear cut operations which have eliminated one half of the jobs in the industry over the past ten years. That can happen here. We have to work together.



See also: Jay Lewis and John W. Warnock. The Other Face of 2,4-D.  Penticton: South Okanagan Environmental Coalition, 1978. 


John W. Warnock and Jay Lewis. "The Political Ecology of 2,4-D, " Alternatives, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1982, Fall-Winter, pp. 33-40.

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