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By Tyler Davie

There are places in the world where stitching a Canadian flag onto a backpack may not be such a good idea for travellers. In Guatemala, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and other countries, Canada’s image may be associated with contaminated water supplies, eviction, and even death threats. What these communities have in common is their location above large reserves of valuable minerals, and the development of those reserves by Canadian mining companies.

75 per cent of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada, and they generate four per cent of Canada’s GDP with significant funding from the Canada Pension Plan and Export Development Canada. Just as in the Alberta Tar Sands, there is an environmental and societal cost to resource extraction.

For example, the processing of one ounce of gold, worth about $1,200, can produce 60 or 70 tons of waste including contaminated water that can kill fish and cause rashes upon contact with human skin. Mining companies encountering tension in communities in which they operate have hired security forces composed of ex-military members, and continuing tension between security forces has resulted in violence.

Environmental damage at the Porgera Mine, Papua New Guinea

Bill C-300 was a private member’s bill put forward by Liberal MP John McKay in February 2009. It would have had the ministers of foreign affairs and international trade investigate complaints against the international operations of Canadian mining, oil, or gas companies. Consular services and financing from Export Development Canada and the Canada Pension Plan would be withdrawn from a project from which a complaint found to be true arose.

On Oct. 27, 2010, Bill C-300 was narrowly defeated by a vote of 134-140 in its third reading in the House of Commons, after vigorous lobbying from the mining industry and criticisms from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, CPP, and EDC.

The bill would have filled a policy void left in the wake of unimplemented recommendations from a Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade report in 2005 and a 2007 roundtable report drafted by members of industry, the government, and NGOs.

Tyler Davie graduated with a B. Sc. Hon. in electrical engineering from Queen’s University and is currently studying journalism at Humber College.

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

Sandra Steingraber is the author of Living Downstream, newly published in second edition by Da Capo Press to coincide with the release of the documentary film adaptation.
This essay is one in a weekly series by Sandra – published at www.livingdownstream.com – exploring how the environment is within us. For more on the interactions between health and environment, and to take action, visit Clayton Thomas-Muller’s page, Home Lands vs. Tar Sands.


By Sandra Steingraber

When I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1979, at the age 20, I drafted a list of goals. The first thing I would do, once I was sprung from the hospital, would be to pay a visit to Claire’s Boutique in the mall. There I would get my ears pierced. Next, I would hit the university library. There I would answer the question, Why me?

Neither task was difficult to accomplish, but one had a more predictable outcome than the other.

The ear-piercing achieved exactly what I thought it would: it upset my mother. Her reaction—arising from the particular religious practices of her German-American family—allowed me to be angry with her. And anger allowed me to rebuff her attempts to bond with me over what she saw as a shared medical experience.

I couldn’t have walked away from her otherwise. Mom was in treatment for breast cancer. There she was in her wig, her platelet count decimated by chemotherapy, distraught about my earlobes. I had predicted this. I knew that she would see the earrings as an unnecessary mutilation. As if we don’t have enough problems already, Sandy, that we can’t control.

Those words provided the pretext I needed to storm out of the house and head back to college, forty-five miles and a world away. I had lost the script to my life. I knew how to play the role of the supportive, unrebellious daughter alongside my mother’s brave performance as a cancer patient who could calmly accept bad news and carry on. But I didn’t know how to be a co-cancer patient.

In the library, I turned my attention to the medical literature on bladder cancer. What did we know about causation? Questions posed by my diagnosing physician—had I ever worked with vulcanized rubber?—led me to believe that environmental exposures must be part of the collective story.

They were. There was a trove of data going back to the nineteenth century. Dyes, rubber manufacturing, chlorinated water, air pollutants, dry-cleaning solvents: all were linked to bladder cancer. If not mine, then somebody’s.

But, outside of the isolated world of epidemiology and toxicology, there was very little recognition of this evidence. The word carcinogen never appeared in any of the pamphlets on cancer in my doctors’ waiting rooms. The medical intake forms I was forever filling out asked detailed questions about the history of cancer in my family but none about, say, chemical contaminants in my hometown drinking water.

I’m adopted. The wells periodically contain trace amounts of dry-cleaning solvent.

As we approach the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day—and the forty-eighth anniversary of Silent Spring’s publication—we are still far from a mature acknowledgement of cancer’s environmental agents. But there are signs of an awakening awareness. Provinces and municipalities across Canada have banned the cosmetic use of pesticides on the grounds that they are linked to childhood cancers.

The European Union has banned carcinogens from cosmetics. Here in the United States, calls grow louder for reform of the flaccid Toxic Substances Control Act, which has proved itself unable to eliminate suspected carcinogens from the marketplace. And I can now find the words carcinogen and environment in the waiting-room literature.

But, for me, the most telling sign of the times is this: my hometown hospital invited me to give a lecture on environmental carcinogens before an audience of physicians concerned about the proposed expansion of a hazardous-waste landfill. Mom came with me. I was the one wearing earrings.

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

TIME TO STOP ASKING AND START ACTING

BY JOAN PROWSE

Producer/Director of GreenHeroes

Most people have heard of the Alberta Tar Sands. I was particularly struck by how far reaching Clayton’s message has been when I was in Germany at the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers TV conference at the beginning of the month.

People I met there, including TV producers from Europe, the UK, Australia and the U.S. were well aware of the travesty taking place near the tiny town of Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Photo credit : David Dodge

Awareness leads to action. While I have never seen the Tar Sands first hand, I edited the pictures forGreenHeroes Episode 5 – Oil Changers and was frankly overwhelmed that we could rake havoc on such natural beauty.

I’ve been to the Athabasca River and Canada’s North. This pristine part of the world, and the people and wildlife living there, needs protection.

Photo credit : David Dodge

I urge everyone this holiday season to share Clayton’s webisode with others. I also encourage you take part in our campaign by doing one of the suggested actions.

Mother Earth will thank you for it.

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

We’re lucky at GreenHeroes to have some amazing talent behind every webisode we showcase.

This week’s webisode on Clayton Thomas-Müller features the musical beats of Plex, an award winning hip hop artist and producer originally from Edmonton, Alberta.

He was inspired as an artist to write the song below, called “Spare Change”, based on his experiences growing up near the tar sands and experiencing the interconnections between the oil industry and people’s lives.

The track highlights an inherent sensitivity behind his musical façade, and a deep interest for social welfare and positive change.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpfKu7NXD_U[/youtube]

“Although I believe it’s important to honor our past, mankind needs to focus on our future and the time to act is in the present. Clayton Thomas Muller may be the man to lead us into a new era of peace and harmony with the planet. Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

A lot of people are talking tar sands these days, but you might not have a clue what it’s all about. It’s a rather sticky subject, leaving Canada with a not-so-flattering reputation as a big bad polluter.

But as time passes, and consequences are beginning to appear, the critics are being proven right; these tar sands are dirty, and they’re wreaking havoc on our Canadian landscape, its people, and the world at large.

The tar sands, found primarily in Alberta, are a mixture of sand, clay, and petroleum. Because the oil is contained in this mixture, it takes a lot of energy and waste to extract it for use.

Once extracted, the oil is shipped to other parts of the world, predominantly to the US through underground pipelines.

For Clayton Thomas-Muller and his team at the Indigenous Environment Network, putting a stop to production of oil at the tar sands is a number one priority.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KokiUgvlwc4[/youtube]

[/caption]The tar sands is the largest industrial project in the history of humanity, and producing oil from them releases three times as much carbon dioxide emissions as regular oil production. But what many don’t realize is the destruction goes beyond mere CO2 emissions.

The tar sands are one of the fastest causes of deforestation. Add water depletion to the mix (it takes up to 5 barrels of water to produce a barrel of oil) and you’ve got a recipe for an oily disaster.

Those living downstream are living proof of the linkage between health and environment. Exposed to contaminants in their air and water released in the process of extracting the oil, these communities are beginning to show chronic distress from breathing in nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide, including asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and heart disease, in addition to an increasing prevalence of cancer.

The case is set for what Clayton calls ‘environmental racism’; First Nations people are disproportionately affected, and Clayton will continue to speak out for environmental justice.

Want to have your say? Need ideas on how to put a stop to this dirty practice? Have ideas on improving your community’s health and environment? Visit our Home Lands vs. Tar Sands campaign page!

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

The health of our earth is linked to the health of its inhabitants. This fact is no more evident than in communities affected by environmental disasters and destruction. Clayton Thomas-Müller, a campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network, discovered this intricate linkage in his work campaigning against Canada’s tar sands.

Production of oil in the tar sands means acres of deforestation and water pollution; producing 1 barrel of oil requires pollution of 2 to 5 barrels of fresh water.

It is also the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

After discovering the devastation in front-line communities downstream, affected by health risks such as cancer, Clayton decided to speak up for the right for all people to live, work, and play in a healthy environment.

As a voice for front line communities, Clayton actively vocalizes for the rights of indigenous communities and those affected by environmental racism, communities uprooted by industrial displacement, corporate exploitation and the resulting toxic contamination. You too can be a voice, asking for healthy environments for all. Act now.

“What we need to do as humanity is re-evaluate our life, our relationships with the sacredness of mother earth, our relationship that has been devastated by industrial gain”
– Clayton Thomas-Müller

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, healthy communities matter. Share your story of how you are affecting the health of your neighbours and your local environment, by entering our contest, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize, including being featured on TV as our next GreenHero! Contest details and more information can be found here.

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