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Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Language of Protest Pt. 2 of 4

Organic vs. inorganic or nonorganic, terrorism vs. freedom and democracy, dirty oil vs clean, free range vs. feedlot, farmed salmon vs. wild.

These arguments seem so clear, so black and white, right and wrong, but there is one more that could be added to the list: pirate vs. privateer. If you were Spanish Francis Drake was a pirate (read evil) and if you were English he was a privateer, a man fighting to keep your country safe from the evil Spaniards.

Your perception of the issue will be different depending on what you think you already know about it. The language used to describe that issue will definitely play a part in how you perceive it, whether you know it or not. In this four-part series, I will take a look at some of these dichotomies of language that protesters, governments and industries use to sway public opinion.

To read Part 1 go here.

Part 2 of 4: Dirty oil vs. Clean

Is clean better than dirty?

The argument behind the dichotomy of dirty vs. clean makes perfect sense at first glance. Dirty is bad, clean is good. Clean keeps you healthy, it is good for the environment, it is good for the senses, but is dirty all that bad? Ask my children after a rainy day and a few puddles to splash in and they will say no. The truth is that humans are dirty and all human activity creates some kind of mess to our environment. Dirty is not necessarily bad and labeling something as bad does not help the discussion.

In technical terms there are dirty petroleum products, which refers to crude oils and residual fuels such as heavy fuel oils; also known as black products. There are also clean petroleum products, which refers to oil products that do not stain the surfaces in contact with them, e.g. jet fuel, gasoline, diesel oil, etc. This definition is not looking at the environmental impacts of the product but the physical ones.

When groups speak of “dirty” oil, are they making a case that there is “clean” oil? The argument against dirty oil is that the amount of carbon needed to mine the tar sands oil is greater than other methods. Are they comparing crude oil from “tar sands” to crude oil from traditional drilling? If that were the case the questions would be: Is Middle Eastern oil cleaner than Texas oil? Is oil drilled in Alberta cleaner than oil from Albertan tar sands? If one type of oil is better than the other should we not also be concerned about the governments behind the oil? Would they support a Saddam regime over a democratic one? Which country has more regulation and oversight into the mining process?

The interesting thing about this dichotomy is that these groups are not actually comparing dirty oil vs. clean oil. They are comparing dirty oil vs. clean energy.

Greenpeace sets up this dichotomy concisely:

“On the one hand, we have an oil industry-backed proposal to gamble our economic and ecological future on the rapid expansion of the tar sands being “sustainable” in a world already suffering from global warming. On the other hand, we have those who want to ramp up investment in green energy and energy efficiency to meet our energy needs without frying the planet.”

Another group goes so far as to call it dirty energy.

The choice

  • Extracting dirtier and more dangerous sources of energy, or
  • Responding to the climate crisis by embracing clean, renewable and efficient energy.

Earthworks’ No Dirty Energy Campaign works to break our dependence on dirty energy while championing cleaner choices. Our future depends on:

  1. Avoiding so-called “bridge” energy sources, such as natural gas or nuclear power, that pose greater long-term risk without solving fundamental problems.
  2. Ending the “race to the bottom” for dirtier, more dangerous and harder-to-reach energy sources.
  3. Supporting sustainable solutions like solar and wind power and energy efficiency.

The question needs to be asked though: is clean and “green” energy really that clean?

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Having personally used alternative energy sources for a fair number of years, I can tell you this much:

1. None of those components are constructed without using petrochemical products in some form along the way.

2. A few DIY (do-it-yourself) wizards have managed to construct solar systems that cost less per watt than power purchased from your local utility company…but only a few. For the most part, you’re losing money when you go solar, even allowing for highly hyped government “credits”, “rebates”, and the like. (And that’s without considering the ugly truth that all of those coins coming back from Uncle Sam were stolen from you as taxes in the first place.)

3. While some studies swear up, down, and sideways that a solar system can pay for itself over time (years and years), most such puff pieces conveniently ignore the repair-and-replace factor. The wiring/cabling can indeed last for decades, but most (if not all) solar panels do degrade eventually…and the batteries in the battery bank can be a horror story unto themselves. Even the best deep cycle batteries, those specially designed for the purpose, can only be recharged a certain number of times before giving up the ghost. (Those puppies aren’t cheap, either. Try $1,000 per battery –or more– for some of the better models.)

In addition to all of those nasty cost factors (and the fact that you’d better check those batteries regularly) is one really “dirty” problem: Lead-acid batteries run on sulfuric acid, some of which is constantly “offgassing” directly into the atmosphere. Yes, this happens with your normal car battery, too. But the point is that “green energy” advocates declare solar energy to be clean energy…and free-floating sulfuric acid doesn’t exactly fit that definition.

Never mind the battery-disposal problem when it’s replacement time.

Solar power is not without it’s costs and environmental impact, how about wind or hydroelectric energy?

Dirty energy vs. Clean and Green

We also don’t know from the article what percentage of this new, clean, power is coming from wind as opposed to hydroelectric sources. Some of the windmills are employed pumping water back up into the artificial lakes that dams create. Does damming rivers and flooding valleys benefit the environment? Environmentalists used to be opposed to that sort of thing.

And then there are the birds. A single wind farm on Altamont Pass in California has been killing between five thousand and ten thousand birds a year. That is probably the extreme example, but it has been operating since the 1970’s! In case it hasn’t occurred to you, migratory birds often travel where the wind is.

Maybe wind power can meet part of the human need for energy in a way that benefits both us and is kinder and gentler to the environment. Maybe wind power is an economic sink hole that turns wind energy and bird and bat guts into government subsides. We might ought to know which is which before we invest more. One thing is for sure: the language of dirty vs. clean and green energy is an impediment to even asking the right questions.

Here is another case where human activity, our need for energy sources, means that no matter what we do, we will have an impact on our environment. If petrochemicals and metals are needed to make the plastic and other components of clean energy systems then we cannot stop all oil, gas and metal mining.

There is no question that we could be better stewards of the energy sources we use. For example, not everyone needs to commute to work, by themselves, in a giant SUV. However, calling for a complete stop to the mining and processing of these resources is also not an option.

Part 3

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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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The Language of Protest Pt. 1 of 4

Organic vs. inorganic or nonorganic, terrorism vs. freedom and democracy, dirty oil vs clean, free range vs. feedlot, farmed salmon vs. wild.

These arguments seem so clear, so black and white, right and wrong, but there is one more that could be added to the list: pirate vs. privateer. If you were Spanish Francis Drake was a pirate (read evil) and if you were English he was a privateer, a man fighting to keep your country safe from the evil Spaniards.

Your perception of the issue will be different depending on what you think you already know about it. The language used to describe that issue will definitely play a part in how you perceive it, whether you know it or not. In this four-part series, I will take a look at some of these dichotomies of language that protesters, governments and industries use to sway public opinion.

Part 1 of 4: Organic vs inorganic and terrorism vs freedom

Organic vs. Inorganic or Nonorganic

The word organic has many definitions but really has two meanings. The chemistry (scientific) definition is “Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms: organic matter.” The more common usage refers to food. “Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin … Raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals…Simple, healthful, and close to nature: an organic lifestyle.”

Organically grown or conventionally grown? Either way they look yummy!

Nonorganic and Inorganic are actually scientific terms referring to something that is not composed of organic matter. However with the term organic relating to agriculture nonorganic refers to crops that are not produced according to guidelines restricting the use of fertilizers etc. In other words they have no meaning without the word organic.

This dichotomy creates and image where organic food is presented as pure, wonderful, perfect and nonorganic food must therefore be inherently poisonous, evil and against nature. The fact is that all grown food is organic in the technical sense of the word. Some food is grown using what we now call organic practices but this has been shortened to “organic.” This discussion should really be about food that is organically grown vs food that is conventionally grown. Organic vs. nonorganic sets the so called “nonorganic” food up for failure with out considering the good points about conventional crops, such as its longer shelf life, better survivability in transport (creating better food diversity throughout the year), quantity and price.

Organic vs Non-organic Farming – The Debate

“Organic farming only uses naturally occurring chemicals or traditional remedies to control pests and diseases.

According to public perception, organic food is the healthy option. Sales of organic produce have rocketed over the past few years with the organics industry sending out messages of safer, healthier food created by farming practices which are better for the environment. But is it really as good as we think? Critics argue that organic farming leads to the risk of contamination with potentially dangerous bacteria and mould toxins, and increased levels of ‘natural pesticide’ found in organic produce could even be as dangerous as synthetic chemicals.

So who do we believe? Are organic fruit and vegetables as harmless as they appear? And why do they cost so much?”

I encourage you to read the rest of the articles connected to the above link. It presents a balanced point of view on this topic. When discussing the environmental impact the same website goes on to say:

“Every kind of agriculture has an impact on the environment. It is the belief of the organic farming community that organic farming minimizes the need for chemical inputs thereby limiting damage to health and the environment. It is a more sustainable method of farming than conventional techniques and biodiversity is promoted.  Intensive farming is said to destroy the fertility of the land, but with organic farming and sustainable crop rotations, soil health is improved. However, weed control is carried out mainly by mechanical cultivation methods thereby disrupting the soil structure, releasing carbon into the atmosphere, removing valuable moisture and increasing soil erosion.”

I would expand this point to say that every human activity have an impact on the environment. Whether chemical or physical, the land changes as we use it.

Terrorism vs. Freedom and Democracy

“George W Bush threw out the words terror and terrorism the same way Glenn Beck and friends throw around “socialism.” Terror simply meant evil or bad in Bush’s speeches. In tandem, Bush used the words freedom and democracy to simply mean the opposite of evil. Terror and terrorists are bad, freedom and democracy are good. The Bush administration and its policies were freedom and democracy. Anything that was not in line was terror. This line of thinking became extremely evident anytime someone questioned the policies or actions of the administration and its allies, even if those policies and actions were the exact opposite of freedom and democracy.”

Terrorists, like pirates, have at least one group of people supporting their actions. Those people may even believe that they are fighting for their freedoms (though probably not democracy).  Their actions are deplorable but when looked at through the lens of history, the stories are not as black and white as they first appeared.

Part two

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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Transparency

Protesters, environmentalists, greens, whatever you want to call them, all ask that the companies they are protesting be more “transparent.”

As a result many industries have begun to put more information on the internet. The fish farming industry is a great example because they now post sea lice data for each of their farm sites on their websites and DFO provides data about them as well. You would be hard pressed to learn such specifics from traditional agriculture producers.

Protesters are groups of individuals. Some are loosely bound under a cause, with no named leader (such as salmon are sacred) and some are linked to larger non-profit groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation, which clearly does have a leader. Large or small, leader or not, why are these groups not more transparent with their finances and intentions, as they ask from industry? After all, fair is fair, right?

Here are some quotes from a Rex Murphy Article posted on the National Post’s website entitled “Thou must not question big environment.”

“The greatest advantage the greens have had is the relative absence of scrutiny from the press. Generally speaking, it’s thought to be bad manners to question self-appointed environmentalists. Their good cause, at least in the early days, was enough of a warrant in itself.

…There is no such thing as investigative environmental reporting — or rather very precious little of it in the established media. Environmental reporters rarely question the big environmental outfits with anything like the fury they will bring to questioning politicians or businesspeople. Advocacy and reportage are sometimes close as twins.

… The same rigor we bring to industry and government, in looking to their motives, their swift dealing, must also apply to crusading greens.

… Where does their money come from? What are their interests in such and such a hearing? What other associations do they have? Are they a cat’s paw for other interests? Do they have political affiliations that would impugn their testimony?

…some amount of transparency from all those environmental groups that demand “transparency” from everyone else is a reasonable ambition as well. Let us have some vetting of the vetters.”

Rex is referring to those groups opposed to the oil developments but the same holds true for “greens” of all colours.

Vivian Krause writes for the financial post and also has a blog. She is one writer who has done exhaustive investigations into groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation. She makes an interesting point that once the money trail has been followed, the motivations behind that money may not be in the interest of the environment at all.

Rethink Campaigns Blog:

“In some instances, environmental activism is funded by American foundations as part of marketing campaigns in favor of American interests. The publicity and media coverage of scientific studies from environmental organizations is one of the key tactics of these charity-funded marketing campaigns. The problem is, some of this science is seriously flawed, and in some cases, the findings have been falsely reported.”

Financial Post:

“The same day that the Hites study was published, the Alaskan governor issued a press release. He said, “It is important to note that this study is not telling people not to eat fish. It is telling them to eat more wild Alaskan salmon.”

In the London Times, Magnus Linklater called the Hites study “a sorry saga of flawed science, selective research and hidden commercial bias.” Sandy Szwarc wrote in a newsletter of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “An ulterior motive may be at work.… Facing competition from aquaculture, the wild salmon industries of California, British Columbia, and Alaska have allied themselves with environmental groups to promote wild salmon as the healthier and environmentally friendly choice.”

It makes people feel warm and fuzzy to think they are “saving wild salmon” but they don’t realize that while supporting these protesters they have been used by other people with less noble causes, such as supporting the Alaskan fishing industry that produces much of their catch in “salmon ranches”. These are essentially fish farms for pacific salmon which are then released into the ocean to come to full maturity, then to be caught by commercial fishermen. Most of the pacific salmon sold in grocery stores in B.C. were caught in Alaska.

If you are among those who believe that fish farms are “poisoning” our oceans why would you support a fishing industry that farms its catch? Would those pens not cause the same damage (if not more because they deliberately release the fish into the wild, possibly introducing diseases) than our local farms?

On the surface the comments made by the protesters make some sense but when you look deeper at their motivations or their ultimate intentions you may not like what you see.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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The “I’m Right and You’re Stupid” Argument

The word protest can be used as both a verb and a noun. As a verb it means “to object to,” especially in a formal statement; as a noun it means “a formal declaration of disapproval or objection issued by a concerned person, group, or organization or an individual or collective gesture or display of disapproval.” (thefreedictionary.com)

Protesting is no longer just sit-ins and picket lines. Social media has changed how protesters share their views. On any website published by any industry that allows for comments to be shared there will be protesters posting their strong opinions against that company or industry’s practices and or products.

Some of these comments are factual and reason-based and can be beneficial to the company. Many of these comments, however, fit into the category of “I’m right and you’re stupid.”

The people who post these comments believe so strongly in their causes that they are not willing to look at any information that disagrees with their opinion, whether it comes from the industry, a company, government or independently-reviewed scientific papers.

I will use the example of the fish farming industry because I have done the most research into its practices and the criticisms against it. Here is an example from the BC Salmon Facts Facebook page:

By the sounds of it Espen Schive didn’t even bother to read the information provided. He is of the opinion that only the information he likes is credible and anything that disagrees with it must be “BS.” Here is another example from the same website:

BC Salmon facts has stated numerous times on this Facebook page that that it is interested in hearing criticisms and having discussions about their posts. Greg Tyler, like the contributor in the previous example, believes that everything from this page is BS. Just saying the other person’s position is BS does not make your opinions credible unless you can back it up with evidence of your own.

Online discussions can be a great opportunity to share diverse opinions and compare information, leading to open discussion and even changes to policy. However, open discussion seems rare.

This next example is from the archived comments on the blog Salmon Farm Science.

James Wilcox clearly has strong opinions about salmon farms and is using this site as a showcase for his protest. However his “naked assertions” do not make for good protest literature.The library referred to on this site is a list of links to scientific papers from both sides of the fish farming argument.

Here is an example from Salmon Arm Observer. The letter written by Gary Marty, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, is in response to an article in the paper. It is clear from the comments posted after the letter that these people won’t take his opinion seriously because he works for “The Government.”

Objecting to someone’s argument by saying their opinions or facts don’t matter because “they work for the government,” or “they work for the industry,” or “that opinion doesn’t agree with my own” is not a form of protest. It is ignorance.

Feel free to state your objection, just don’t expect everyone to agree with it. Have facts behind your arguments and don’t fall into the “I’m right and you are stupid” form of arguing.

If their facts don’t agree with your facts you have a few choices: 1. Agree to disagree, 2. Read their facts with an open mind and be willing to see the other side of the issue, 3. Share your facts with them and be open to criticism. This goes for both sides of any protest.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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Protesting Vs. Bullying

Where should the line between protesting and bullying be drawn?

A protest is defined (on dictionary.com) as an expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent. Peaceful (as in peaceful protest) is defined as characterized by peace; free from war, strife, commotion, violence, or disorder: a peaceful demonstration.

On Thursday March 8, 2012 a Norwegian delegation visited Campbell River to meet with First Nations leaders to talk about fish farms in their territories. Their plans to meet on Quadra Island had to be changed in light of threats made by protesters from the group Salmon are Sacred (SAS). For safety, the meeting changed venues to a golf club in Campbell River. The SAS protesters learned of the venue change and met the delegation at the club. The SAS claim that they put on a “peaceful protest” but their own photos, posted on their Facebook site, paint a very different picture.

Do these images look like a group of people who are all free from strife, commotion or disorder?

This man is clearly blocking the buses entrance to the event location and the bus driver is motioning for the man to get out of his way.

A blockade is defined (by Dictionary.com) as the isolating, closing off, or surrounding of a place, as a port, harbor, or city, by hostile ships or troops to prevent entrance or exit. Also: any obstruction of passage or progress. Thefreedictionary.com defines it as: something that prevents access or progress. These men have clearly created a blockade to stop this bus.

No one would define a blockade as part of a peaceful protest. The very act of blocking the bus shows the confrontational nature of these protesters.

This can further be seen as the “peaceful” protestors swarm the bus.

How is any of this an example of a peaceful protest “free from war, strife, commotion, violence, or disorder?”

Here is a picture of the same man who blocked the bus, clearly he is still confrontational and the woman he is speaking to is concerned for her safety.

Bullying (as defined on bullyonline.org) is persistent unwelcome behaviour, mostly using unwarranted or invalid criticism, nit-picking, fault-finding, also exclusion, isolation, being singled out and treated differently, being shouted at, humiliated, excessive monitoring, having verbal and written warnings imposed, and much more.

Even with a quick look at the Salmon are Sacred Facebook page it is easy to see the aggressive and mean language used to talk about specific people working for the fish farming industry as well as the industry itself. They clearly enjoy using the internet as a platform for nit-picking, fault-finding, singling people out and humiliating them.

They save the unwarranted or invalid criticism and shouting (Norway go home) for their “peaceful” protests.

These protesters could have chosen a different approach. They could have protested at the doors of the building, they could have respected the ministers and the bus driver by letting the bus reach its destination. They could have left a clear path for all parties involved to walk to and from the door of the venue. The course they chose was confrontational and does not fit with the peaceful nature with which they believe they conduct themselves.

Peaceful protests are effective because they are so rare.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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