In his CBC Radio series aired on Ideas, Dr. David Suzuki notes that North Americans are exhausted by their daily routines such that few have time to question, let alone lobby, government and industry about environmental issues. Who, he is essentially saying, has time to be an environmental watchdog?
Computers were supposed to give us the “paperless office” -- and somehow, our leisure time was supposed to increase. These two hopes of the 1980s haven’t come to pass.
Meanwhile, consumers are hearing, reading and observing messages of environmental degradation. Pick up a newspaper, turn on the television, flick on the radio, go for a walk. Everywhere, if we have eyes to really see and ears to really hear, we observe trouble.
Our lifestyle is endangering our environment, and us.
A random sampling of television, radio and print media in the past few months reveals these warning messages:
Scientists suspect fertilizers are killing frogs. [The Ottawa Citizen, Friday Jan 28, 2000, article by Bryn Nelson]
Over 80% of Canada’s species are at risk, endangered primarily because of habitat destruction. [Nature Matters, Winter 2000, published by Canadian Nature Federation, Winter 2000]
CBC TV National News broadcast, January 29, 2000. The US government admits that personnel working in the nuclear arms industry have a higher chance of contracting cancer, finally admitting that workers during the Cold War were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
Ideas, CBC Radio, Dr. David Suzuki’s eight-part Friday night series, entitled “From Naked Ape to Superspieces.” On January 28 he interviewed experts who claim that North Americans are exhausted. He noted that despite being concerned deeply about the environment, we are unwitting (and unwilling) victims of a greening campaign by lobby groups and industry. The result? We Canadians think (or want to believe) that environmental issues are being looked after, on our behalf. Dr. Suzuki’s compelling message is: we mustn’t be complacent.
Greenpeace Canada Internet site (at http://www.greenpeacecanada.org/) contains media releases on genetically manipulated foods, among other issues. Greenpeace members maintained a vigil at the week-long international conference in Montreal on genetically modified foods last week. Their press release states: “Biosafety Protocol historic step in fight against environmental damage from Genetically Modified Organisms.”
The website’s media release continues: Greenpeace today (Jan 28) congratulated the 50 environment ministers and approximately 130 government delegations for adopting an international Biosafety Protocol to control the trade of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs). "This is a historic step toward protecting the environment and consumers from the dangers of genetic engineering", said Michael Khoo of Greenpeace. “The protocol adopted here today lays the foundation for a stronger future agreement which will eventually protect the environment from GMOs.”
The Biosafety Protocol was finally adopted after a series of difficult negotiations complicated by the obstruction of a small minority of GMO-exporting countries, namely the USA, Canada, Argentina and their associates Australia, Chile and Uruguay [the Miami Group]. “We are happy that the US and Canadian-led Miami Group failed in its efforts to force upon the world this untested and risky technology.’ said Khoo.”
The Ottawa Citizen, Sunday, January 30. Daniel Sanger notes that “Canada’s Environment Minister, David Anderson, [is] widely believed to be at odds with his own government over its adherence to the Miami Group’s hard line. After the protocol was adopted, he appeared relieved, and spoke of “being personally constrained by my negotiating mandate.” The article closes by adding Anderson’s comment, “I’m very pleased we have a strong protocol.”
The point is that Canada was leading the way to promote world trade in genetically manipulated foods. It is thanks to protracted lobbying from NGOs like Greenpeace, hundreds of individuals who wrote their MPs, plus pressure from the European Union, that the trade of GMOs will be restricted. This is what the majority of consumers (i.e., ordinary people like you and me) wanted: apparently it’s not what government or industry wanted. Why? Because genetic manipulation of living organisms is considered risky and insufficiently tested technology by most ordinary Canadians.
So what, you ask? Why do I bother listing a menu of warnings and achievements?
Somehow we must find time in our daily lives to hear these messages. We must also listen to our own inner voice, and realize that what industry -- and government -- representatives assert to be “the truth” is too often only what is “good for business.”
Unfortunately, industry cannot always be trusted: for example, consider the tobacco industry.
If we consumers could trust private industry (or government) to operate with our health and the health of the planet in mind, then we wouldn’t need environmental regulations, would we? We wouldn’t need NGOs like Greenpeace. We wouldn’t need to question the genetic manipulation of living organisms.
In reality, we will always need “the opposing voice.” It’s through such voices that we achieve balance.
What is the solution? You know, years ago when I was in university, students had a slogan. It was “question authority.”
I believe it. Don’t you? Now if we can only find the time…
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Quyon. Reach her at email@example.com
By the way: Tim Horton’s Children’s Foundation and camp in Quyon is hosting its annual winter open house weekend February 5-6. Be there, to see how this foundation is working for kids, in our community. From 10:00 until 5:00 join in the family fun: bring your equipment for skating, skiing or tobogganing. Enjoy dog sledding. For information call 458-3164.