IN 2012 it seems easy to mudsling the truth until it’s a total mess. This weakness is not new – women, homosexuals and people of colour who lived just 50 years ago might argue that 21st century reality is far less distorted. What distinguishes our time is that we can access more truth than ever before, but only if we wade through even more misinformation.
The bottomless data at our fingertips is riddled with fragmentary sources, willful ignorance, deliberate lies and overwhelming distractions. In mass media, style usually trumps substance and unshakeable opinions run amok. Many political leaders have used this backdrop to inflate the value of lean, crafty messages over long-winded empirical evidence.
In Stephen Harper’s carefully orchestrated Canada, distortion is a vital tool. After winning a majority mandate by cantankerously repeating “separatists and socialists” over and over again, the Harper government has spent its new political capital on trying to discredit “radical” environmentalists, “money-laundering” charities, and “redundant” scientists and academics who would dare ask for well-informed, farsighted decisions.
The results have been brutal. Properly assessing the ecological impact of major industrial projects is now less of a priority than green lighting them. The fewer than one per cent of charities that spend money on political activities must now cover their butts, rather than focus on enriching debate and influencing better policy. And as if the systematic muzzling of scientists wasn’t disingenuous enough, Harper has absurdly chosen, among other things, to shut down Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area after 44 years of essential guidance on challenges like acid rain and algal blooms.
Speaking at a Voices-Voix conference in May, Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, framed the government’s perspective bluntly: “Increasingly, to be concerned about the environment is to be against Canada.” Unfortunately, Neve’s point is quite valid. And by making an enemy of the state out of anyone who puts environmental concerns above economic ones, the truths our government is blurring include climate change’s intensification, the need for balance in nature and the democratic backbone of consensus building.
In the long thread of emails that decided the theme for this issue of Alternatives, author and editorial board member Chris Wood lit one of many fires: “There has never been a more important time than now to assert that the truth matters. In these circumstances, optimism is an act of defiance and subversion.”
Buoyed by that thought, our feature stories cut through some formidable misinformation. Jeff Gailus unravels the destruction of Canada’s environmental assessment laws and the perverse logic that fuels Alberta’s tar sands. Jay Ingram explains the tribal mindset that gives legs to tired debates, like whether or not global warming is real. Stephen Bocking speaks with renowned freshwater scientist David Schindler about environmental protection and the necessity of scientific perspective. Larry Powell reports on some unsettling research into glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, and why citizens should step up when their government stays put. And Gideon Forman identifies the lessons that environmental campaigners can learn from the recent documentary, Pink Ribbons Inc.
Optimism stems from knowing that there is a better way forward. In truth, to be concerned about the environment is to be for Canada. If that makes us radical, so be it.
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