Why Racism is Bad

No, I’m not going to actually discuss why racism is bad. If you’re seeing this article in your feed, then you likely already have a pretty good grasp as to why racism is not acceptable or beneficial in any way. That said, it would seem it’s a conversation we are going to have to have. And no, I’m not just talking about the USA, that troubled kid next door. Racism is a real and present issue in Canada too. One only needs to read comment threads on any news story that deal with any story even tenuously related to race issues or members of any racially marginalized community for that matter, to see the misguided, uninformed racially charged vitriol pour forth. Wait – I know what you’re thinking: “Misguided”!? “Uninformed”!? Yes. Don’t get me wrong – racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism etc. are all repugnant. But to paraphrase Nelson Mandela, “People are not born with hate in their hearts”. These attitudes are taught, and somewhere along the line, right attitudes are not taught.

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in the comment threads. Many who support policies and views of the alt right agenda are painting the left as fascists, Orwellian in their suppression of free thought and speech and the rejection of moral equivalency. The story goes that there is a cabal of “Cultural Marxists”, intellectual elites that are waging a class war against traditional Western culture and values. They use the continued shutting down of the discourse and the refusal to give the alt-right any kind of moral equivalency as evidence of leftist fascism that will ultimately lead to the end of democracy. Clearly, any view that discriminates or takes away freedoms cannot give any kind of any kind of equivalency with the hard-fought, legally enshrined philosophies of universal human rights. But clearly, they feel they aren’t being heard, and sensing a moment of entropy, they are grabbing their chance.

The uprising of hate in the USA has certainly been disconcerting to most of us, and surprising to the relatively sheltered, white social justice activists located in the big cultural centers of North America. I don’t think it was a surprise for any member of any marginalized group, or anyone who has spent time in the small towns and rural areas. I believe a big reason why there has been such a perceived backslide in enlightened progress just when things seemed to be going so well, is a failure to communicate. Communication is not talking at someone. It is listening, processing, reiterating and engaging. It is a lost art to many. There are large swaths of society that social activism has failed to engage. Another failure is a propensity for social progressives to focus on the macro at the expense of the micro. Just like free trade is in fact a boon for society at large in the long run, it can cause a lot of short run pain. If free trade shut down your local mill, it’s a bad thing for you regardless of national GDP.

While there have been some hard-fought and hard-won victories in environment, economy and social justice, not everyone has gained. Coal miners, factory workers and farmers are victims of the same system as those who are fighting for environmental and social justice. Just because their situation is arguably less bad does not make it good. They are losing jobs, access to health care, access to social services, and suffering a deteriorating environment. Indeed, often they are at the pointy end of many environmental and social impacts of globalization. At the same time, they are indeed invisible to the social justice movement of the major cultural centers. There are no movie stars visiting hollowed out rural communities with no jobs and no health care. All they have is the same political system that in their grandparents’ day, when they could not feed their families fed them Jim Crow. The core of that message has not changed with the times.

Clinton called Trump followers a “Basket of Deplorables”. That is probably one of the biggest gifts she gave to the Alt Right. Maybe some are, or at least their views are. But what to do with them? No matter how deplorable, are we going to round them all up and incarcerate them? Do we shoot them into space or set them adrift on ice floes? We can’t simply plug up our eyes and ears and chant “Na Na Na Na…” and hope they slink away.

Let me be clear. Since Charlottesville we have all have seen some pretty chilling stuff. As much as I like to think otherwise, some people may be irredeemable. There are certainly some actions one just can’t walk back from. But I have seen people change, and does not happen through yelling at them, denouncing them and calling them names. I’m not suggesting that we need to start giving intolerance any leeway, and I am CERTAINLY not insinuating that marginalized groups need to go out and teach white folks a history lesson, or how to be decent people. It is incumbent upon us to take care of our own house. But if those on the side of social justice are supposed to be enlightened, it’s time we started acting like it. Yelling at each other clearly isn’t working. One way or another we will have to find a way to communicate.

Open Letter to MP David McGuinty & Justin Trudeau on the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Approval

Dear Hon. David McGuinty,

I was quite dismayed at the government’s announcement yesterday to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline. I am one of those “radicals” that believe there should be no new pipelines – ever. While I care about water, bears and orca whales, my reason is climate. I am an environmental scholar; while I do not study climate directly, I have a good understanding of the systems, and the math. And math is the reason I say we CANNOT afford new pipelines. As stated in this article written by the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute, here is the math:

942 > 800

The proven oil reserves currently in operation globally represent 942 gigatons of CO2. If we want to keep warming below 2°C, WE CAN ONLY BURN 800 GIGATONS.

There are currently 22 Gigatons of accessible CO2 in the tar sands, with another estimated 218 gigatons present. The tar sands alone represent the potential to blow almost ¼ of the PLANET’s CO2 “bank account”. Now is NOT the time to build new infrastructure, it is the time to plan a transition.

Currently there are a couple of false narratives that are being perpetuated by Rachel Notley, as well as PM Justin Trudeau.

The first false narrative is that the pipelines in question constitutes an existential choice between environment and economy. There are other paths available. The renewable sector has created over 2.5 million jobs in the USA, and employment in that sector has surpassed oil, gas & coal combined. While China and the USA build their industry, Canada lags far behind. There is NO reason we could not have been a leader in this area if Harper had decided in 2008 to invest in the renewable industry over subsidies to oil & gas, and pouring concrete. With the Trump presidency aiming to kill the US renewable industry, NOW is the time to open Canada’s doors to the US renewables brain trust, and invest in renewables as an industry of the future. Moreover, Canadian oil patch workers are ASKING to be retrained in renewables!

The second false narrative is that with offsets and regulation, there will be NO ADDED CO2 output from the tar sands as a result of building new pipelines. This is utterly, laughably false.

  1. This is a matter of emission scoping. In the carbon footprint industry, we calculate a carbon footprint by making determinations regarding now far downstream it logically makes sense to capture data. This may make sense empirically, but the climate does not care who, in the end burns that fuel. WE pulled it out of the ground, and it WILL be burned. And that is not even considering all the ancillary emissions. What the federal government views as “in scope” only accounts for 9.5% of emissions.
  2. Carbon OFFSETS (such as tree planting and other schemes) and CREDIT schemes have been widely found to be at best unreliable. Moreover, human nature demonstrates virtually every time that when you save a dollar in one place, you simply spend it elsewhere. Same goes for GHG’ Also, Notley said today that building a pipeline does not mean they will increase capacity. Seriously!? There is currently NO economic need for it, and who in their right minds would invest billions in infrastructure you are planning to mothball!?

As stated, I am an environmental studies major at Carleton, and I have studied climate change in depth. There is NO DOUBT about the science. As an environmental scholar, what I see happening now in the arctic is extremely alarming. It is blowing away most of the climatology modeling that has been done, and climatologists don’t even know what the consequences may be – but the will NOT be good.

The Insurance industry has indicated that from 2009 to 2014, insured losses in Canada caused by large natural catastrophes hovered around or surpassed the $1 billion mark. The signature of climate change features prominently on this. In fact, by the government’s own reckoning, over the past six fiscal years, the federal government spent more on recovering from large-scale natural disasters than in the previous 39 fiscal years combined. The same report states that the future cost of climate change for Canada could grow from approximately $5 billion per year in 2020 to between $21 billion and $43 billion per year by the 2050s.

Canada has COMMITTED to reducing GHG’s per our COP21 commitments, and by approving these pipelines, there is NO WAY we can meet these commitments. Just as we must commit to take care of our own homeless and needy, manage our own environment and economy responsibly, we MUST take our climate responsibilities seriously. When you knocked on my door you told me you are a family man, and that you care about our environment. I don’t see how you can reconcile these, and support the government’s position on pipelines. I kindly request you bring my concerns forward, and you DO NOT support expansion of hydrocarbon infrastructure.


Adam Caldwell

Ottawa, Ontario

Conflict Minerals – Intel’s “Less Bad” Intentions

This week the popular Corporate Sustainability communications group Triple Pundit published a rather saccharine piece, lauding Intel for achieving a supply chain free from Conflict Minerals. Wow. (Insert slow clap here). Well, sounds good, right? Well… yes… But does Intel really deserve all of the love?

If you follow social justice and/or Conflict_Mineralshigh-tech news, you’ve probably heard of Conflict Minerals by now. Tin, Tungsten, Tanatlum & Gold – all used in your favourite electronic devices, and all mined by slave labor in a black market minerals trade by DRC warlords. These minerals are the “blood diamonds” of the electronics industry. As part of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, measures to restrict the movement of conflict minerals were introduced in 2010 under Section 1502. Since then, the issue of conflict minerals has received increasing attention.

Intel’s CEO announced in January at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show that they are leading the way to being 100% “Conflict Free”, and he has challenged his competitors to do the same. Intel’s commitment to conflict free has been laudable, don’t get me wrong. They adopted a principled stance on the issue early on, and supply chains for metals can be extremely complicated things to untangle. Intel even bucked their own industry association, who has fought The SEC on conflict minerals all the way.

So, should Intel be congratulated for leading the way on adopting a conflict minerals policy? Do we generally congratulate people for not stealing, murdering or being generally unhelpful to society? No, because ethical behaviour is generally expected of us. Reporting on conflict minerals isn’t a suggestion, it’s the law. So, why should we feel we have to congratulate companies for not displaying wanton disregard for human life, the environment, or all-around decency – much less obeying the law? Maybe it’s because we are so used to them acting in ways generally considered psychopathic at best, criminal at worst, we feel the need to laud the firms that are the least badconsumerism

When a firm pats themselves on the back for obeying the law, much less broader social mores, it is the worst type of greenwashing, because it is insincere, it presupposes that others are getting away with such behaviour with our tacit knowledge and implied consent, and therefore assumes its customers are amoral, mindlessly consuming imbeciles. It also demonstrates that our regulatory system is broken. As consumers we must demand better than “less bad”. The worst part of it is, unless you live in a tree, they’ve got you pegged. You, me, every one of us. So, what are we going to do about it?

Resources for Ethical Purchasing

To find out more about Conflict Minerals and related issues, the true heroes doing the heavy lifting are Global Witness. These folks are on the front lines – risking life and limb to report goings on in some of the world’s most dangerous and corrupt corners.

When it comes to making ethical purchasing choices, the best choice is to start with The Three “R’s”, upcycle, or buy used. If you must buy new, the best thing you can do is educate yourself, and in turn, others. A great place to start is a series of videos called “The Story of Stuff”.

There are lots of organizations doing great work to shed light, or bring about an ethical economy, here’s a few.  If you know of a great one, let me know!