From Precaution to Profit: Contemporary Challenges to Environmental Protection in the Montreal Protocol

New book from Yale University Press:9780300175264

The Montreal Protocol has been cited as the most successful global environmental agreement, responsible for phasing out the use of ozone-depleting substances. But, says Brian Gareau in this provocative and engaging book, the Montreal Protocol has failed—largely because of neoliberal ideals involving economic protectionism but also due to the protection of the legitimacy of certain forms of scientific knowledge. Gareau traces the rise of a new form of disagreement among global powers, members of the scientific community, civil society, and agro-industry groups, leaving them relatively ineffective in their efforts to push for environmental protection.

Brian J. Gareau is assistant professor of sociology and international studies at Boston College. As part of his research on global environmental governance, he attended Montreal Protocol meetings around the world, from Montreal to Dakar, from Geneva to Nairobi, over a period of four years. He lives in Concord, MA.

Open Pit: award winning documentary on Peru’s Gold Mines

Still thinking on mining, and see that the documentary Open Pit is available online. It, and the information quoted below, can be found here.

“Accolade Award winning Feature Documentary “Open Pit” is a tour de force of investigative journalism and guerilla filmmaking that reveals the vicious face of “dirty gold” in Peru. A film by Gianni Converso. Produced by Daniel Santana and Gianni Converso.

In the heart of Cajamarca, Newmont Mining Corporation operates the Yanacocha Gold Mine, one of the largest Open Pit mining operations in the world.

Using the cyanide leach process, Newmont Mining has come to define “dirty gold” for a generation of Campecinos – the indigenous people who have lived at the top of the Peruvian Andes since the Inca civilization.

Faced with devastating mercury pollution, heavy metals and acid mine drainage, the people of Cajamarca fight a desperate battle to defend their water resources, their families – and their way of life.

Backed by money from the International Finance Corporation and The World Bank, Newmont Mining enforces their business model through corruption, intimidation and violence.

Open Pit is a tour de force of investigative journalism and guerilla filmmaking that reveals the vicious face of “dirty gold” in Peru.”

#IdleNoMore in Historical Context

A good backgrounder on the current Idle No More movement sweeping across Canada.


by Glen Coulthard


This article is also available in mp3 format.


Much has been said recently in the media about the relationship between the inspiring expression of Indigenous resurgent activity at the core of the #IdleNoMore movement and the heightened decade of Native activism that led Canada to establish the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) in 1991. I offer this short analysis of the historical context that led to RCAP in an effort to get a better sense of the transformative political possibilities in our present moment of struggle.

The federal government was forced to launch RCAP in the wake of two national crises that erupted in the tumultuous “Indian summer” of 1990. The first involved the legislative stonewalling of the Meech Lake Accord by Cree Manitoba MLA Elijah Harper. The Meech Lake Accord was a failed constitutional amendment package negotiated in 1987 by then Prime Minister…

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Mining company challenges critical book in 2010; now available!

Last night I posted about the new book on Canadian mining companies. I hadn’t realized the earlier controversy – 2 years ago – about the book which mining companies sought to block from publication. This important new title looks great; I have flipped through it briefly and look forward to sitting down with it to give it the attention it deserves.

Here’s the book’s website.

Canadian Mining Inc: Why Canada is the haven of choice for the mining industry

Canadian mining companies do not have a great reputation. 9780889226357Just today the dam holding toxic tailings from an abandoned copper mine broke spilling heavy metal pollutants into local waterways. For the foreseeable future the residents of South Brook, Newfoundland will be on bottled water.

It is not just abandoned or ongoing bitumen, gold or diamond mining in the northern regions of this continent that raise concerns, but also the global effects that these firms exert in places like Guatemala, where indigenous groups have come to Canada to launch legal proceedings against mining companies. But why is Canada a preferred place to locate mining firms that exploit the global south? At least part of it is answered in a new book that explains, first, why so many multinational mining companies headquarter here and, second, how Canadian tax law and its regulatory regime welcomes them without so much as a blink.

Here is the information from the publisher’s website:

Imperial Canada Inc.: Legal haven of choice for the World’s Mining Industries

By Alain Deneault & William Sacher
Translated by Fred A. Reed & Robin Philpot

Co-contributors: Catherine Browne, Mathieu Denis, Patrick Ducharme

Imperial Canada Inc. sets out to ask a simple question: why is Canada home to more than 70% of the world’s mining companies?

Created by the British North America Act of 1867, Canada, rather than turning away from its colonial past, actively embraced, appropriated, and perpetuated the imperial ambitions of its mother country. Two years later, it took possession of Rupert’s Land—all of the land draining into Hudson Bay—and the North West Territories from the Hudson’s Bay Company, 3 million square miles of resources, and set about its nation-building enterprise of extending its Dominion “from sea to sea.”

This Canadian imperial heritage continues to offer the extractive sector worldwide a customized trading environment that: supports speculation, enables capital flows to finance questionable projects abroad, pursues a pro-active diplomacy which successfully promotes this sector to international institutions, opens fiscal pipelines to Caribbean tax havens, provides government subsidies, and most especially, offers a politicized legal haven from any risk of litigious recourse attempted by any community seriously affected by these industries.

Traditionally rooted in Canadian law, the right to reputation effectively supersedes freedom of expression and the public’s right to information. Hence, Canadian “bodies corporate,” i.e., Canadian-based corporations, can sue for “libel” any and all persons or legal entities that quote documents or generate analyses of their corporate practices that they do not approve of. Even foreign academics have become hesitant about presenting their work in Canada for fear of such prosecution.
The authors of Imperial Canada Inc., respected scholars in their fields, meticulously research four factors that contribute to the answer to this question: Quebec’s and Ontario’s mining codes; the history of the Toronto Stock Exchange; Canada’s involvement with Caribbean tax havens; and, finally, Canada’s official role of promoting itself to international institutions governing the world’s mining sector.

A Cartography of the Anthropocene

There is a very interesting website up from Globaia that maps the anthropocene. There is some nice background info, part of which is below. The images are especially intriguing. This one is of pipelines, energy transmission lines and and submarine cables, the rest are here).


The Anthropocene: A primer.
The Anthropocene. We’re already there. This is our time, our creation, our challenge.

Officially, this epoch does not exist. Yet. It may be added permanently to the geologic time scale in 2016. It is the International Commission on Stratigraphy that determines the denomination and the calibration of different divisions and subdivisions of geological time, which date back to the formation of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago.

Unofficially however, the term is used more frequently in the scientific literature and, more recently, in publications dedicated to the general public.

So, might you ask, what is the Anthropocene?

First, the etymology. The Ancient Greek [anthropos] means “human being” while [kainos] means “new, current.” The Anthropocene would thus be best defined as the new human-dominated period of the Earth’s history.

The term was proposed in 2000 by Paul J. Crutzen, Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on atmospheric chemistry and his research on stratospheric ozone depletion (the so-called “hole”), and by Eugene F. Stoermer in a publication (p. 17) of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. But the concept itself, the idea that human activity affects the Earth to the point where it can cross a new age, is not new and dates back to the late nineteenth century. Different terms were proposed over the decades, such as Anthropozoic (Stoppani, 1873), Noosphere (de Chardin, 1922; Vernadsky, 1936), Eremozoic (Wilson, 1992), and Anthrocene (Revkin, 1992). It seems that the success of the term chosen by Crutzen and Stoermer is due to the luck of having been made at the appropriate time, when humankind became more than ever aware of the extent of its impact on global environment. It should be noted that Edward O. Wilson (who suggested Eremozoic, “the age of loneliness”) popularized the terms “biodiversity” and “biophilia.”

Technically, the Anthropocene is the most recent period of the Quaternary, succeding to the Holocene. The Quaternary is a period of the Earth’s history characterized by numerous and cyclical glaciations, starting 2,588,000 years ago (2.588 Ma). The Quaternary is divided into three epochs: the Pleistocene, the Holocene, and now the Anthropocene….READ MORE HERE.

Clash of the centuries: pots, pans and protests

Pierre-Gerlier Forest has an interesting article in Inroads Journal on the Quebec student protests earlier in 2012 and what it says about the changing ways that public agendas are defined and, just as importantly, what this portends for governments and governance. Dr. Forest is president and CEO of the Trudeau Foundation. If you can’t get access through the Inroads website, a scanned version of the essay is downloadable here (click the link for the pdf).

Environmentalism 2.0(12, 13…) and nature v. nature

Slate published an article recently by Keith Kloor on the “battle over nature” in mainstream environmentalism. It starts out from a now well-rehearsed departure point: Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s declaration that environmentalism is dead.

Since then, as Bryan G. Norton so nicely put it, environmentalists are at best mourning a movement past. As the opening gambit of one of his major works states, the obits have been written. Of course, Norton doesn’t think this is exactly right. For him, what is dead is a particular version of environmentalism, one pitched between the preservationist (i.e. hands-off nature) view anchored in John Muir and the conservationist (i.e. use nature wisely) view anchored in Gifford Pinchot. Norton’s view is that it is this version of environmentalism that is dead.

So what comes next?

According to the Slate article, environmentalism 2.0 is the new battle for nature where the remaining preservationists are confronted by pragmatic modernists. If those are the two options, it looks to me like conservationism in a new outfit. And not, as Norton would have it, a new environmentalism characterized by a thorough-going pragmatism – which is a philosophic view where the test of truth is what prevails in the long run and in which experimental policies drive assessments of how to relate to nested and complex social and ecological systems. It is a philosophy, for Norton, of adaptive management.

But if this is so, of what interest is “nature” in the Slate article?

As I’ve noted here before, following some of Tim Morton’s work, working without nature is the way to go. But it is not quite accurate to say that we can do ecology without nature, as Morton asks us to do. I’m not interested in emphasizing differences, but my view is that ecology is entangled with nature. And that it will be so for the foreseeable future. Which is to say, even if we think that the concept, worldview, or proposition of “nature” is outdated, wrongheaded, or empty, it remains the case that the social and ecological systems we inhabit have been actively shaped by it for quite some time. So while we need philosophic work on doing ecology without nature, we also need a practical philosophy for an ecology entangled with it. We need something like transition ecology.

Back to Slate. It seems fairly clear that most of our existing environmental policies and institutional structures took shape at a time when environmentalism was alive and kicking, and when “nature” figured as the backdrop for plays of human drama; let’s say, mid to late 20th century. Putting things in this context clarifies where the Slate article goes off track: it is that environmental folk are already worried that regulations and institutions are too lax, yet they cannot admit that the kind of institutions we now have are inadequate. So on the one hand they want better regulations, but they have a poor foundation to build on. They have built their house on the sandy land (which, yes, is intended both as biblical metaphor and aimed at an interpretation of Leopold where he fits neatly into the preservationist’s building).

And this is where the Slate article gets it wrong in its idea that environmentalism 2.0 is right, or even a palpably new option suitable for 2012, 2013 or 2xxx. Or for any time in the Anthropocene for that matter. The mistake is that it pits failed preservationist ideas against an amplified and globally extended anthropocentrism, cloaked in the idea of ecosystem services (i.e. that the entirety of Earth Systems can be valued in terms of human well-being). And this is not a moral anthropocentrism (in some versions, yes, but that is not my point) but a social, scientific and technological one; where all that counts as the “world” is what befits our current and contingent understanding of our relationships with complex systems. But this is not a new foundation; this is building an ever teetering edifice.

And when you paint a wall white and decide its too bright, you don’t put on a new coat. You change colors.



“Chasing Ice” captures largest glacier calving ever filmed

This is a very powerful display. Towards the end of the video some idea of the scale is provided using Manhattan.


Thanks to Hester Jiskoot (my first glaciology prof!) at the University of Lethbridge for some additional information about this particular glacier.

It is Ilulissat Glacier (formerly Jacobshavn Isbrae) in West Greenland. This glacier has been retreating since at least 1850. A strong increase in retreat rate has been associated with recent warming of the ocean waters around Greenland.

Holland, D. M., Thomas, R. H., De Young, B., Ribergaard, M. H., & Lyberth, B. (2008). Acceleration of Jakobshavn Isbrae triggered by warm subsurface ocean waters. Nature Geoscience, 1(10), 659-664.
Motyka, R. J., Truffer, M., Fahnestock, M., Mortensen, J., Rysgaard, S., & Howat, I. (2011). Submarine melting of the 1985 Jakobshavn Isbræ floating tongue and the triggering of the current retreat. Journal of Geophysical Research, 116(F1), F01007.

Some really interesting thoughts on ecology, order, entropy over at Larval Subjects. This is the sort of philosophical compliment needed to add depth and explanation to the ecological economists like Herman Daly, Bill Rees, Peter Victor, Peter Brown and others who have been using entropy for some time to talk about the real (i.e. ecological) economy of the earth. A really good book on this is: Into the cool: energy flow, thermodynamics and life.

Larval Subjects .

AmazonRainforestSocieties should be thought ecologically; and indeed, thinkers such as Jane Bennett, Deleuze and Guattari, and Timothy Morton think about societies in precisely these terms. This is neither a metaphor nor an analogy. We have an unfortunate tendency to immediately associate ecology with the study of natural ecosystems such as Amazonian rain forests. In that context, we think about various relations between organisms and physical features of their environment, how one organism depends on another, how they render each other possible, which organisms dominate the ecosystem, the cycles of feedback between the various organisms, and so on. We think about how worms, insects, microbes, and rotting fauna and creatures make the soil possible within which trees and plants grow. We think about how these trees, in their turn, provide food for a variety of animals. How those animals provide food for other animals. We think about the different niches these…

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