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The Language of Protest Pt. 4 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 4 of 4 – Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon

The idea of saving a wild animal pulls at the heart strings of humans. Saying “save the wild salmon” sounds like a great idea! But first you have to ask, are salmon in danger, and do they need saving? If so, from what?

As with everything on the planet, humans are having a negative effect on wild salmon. Is it any action in particular or is it a variety of issues? Logging, habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, and fish farms all have effects. Is one more to blame than the others?

Logging, hydro dams and pollution

Every human action has environmental consequences.

Logging has come under stricter regulations over the last 30 years or more and everyone seems to understand the importance of leaving trees around streams and rivers. Everyone one also knows that dumping industrial waste into rivers does not benefit anyone. Many hydro dams provide salmon ladders so that spawning salmon can return to their homes.

However, not all hydro dams have had their effects mitigated. In the United States, US Army Engineers spend millions of dollars each year to move salmon past the series of dams on the Columbia River in trucks. Does it help? We don’t know for sure.

Despite being called a source of “clean energy”, the debate over hydro dams continues and many believe dams in the Western US are largely responsible for the decline of salmon in Washington and Oregon. It is highly emotional, much like the debate over fish farms, and like that debate, while the language used is black and white, the actual causes and effects are not so clear.

Net pen salmon aquaculture

Alexandra Morton and the group Salmon Are Sacred certainly believe that fish farms are the cause of all the ills in the ocean. Working from the premise that cattle feedlots are bad for the environment and knowing that the term creates a mostly negative image in peoples minds, she coined the phrase “salmon feedlots” and that term is now widely used by B.C. media.

In 2009 she started a blog and commented on what she felt was a similarity between salmon farming and agricultural feedlots.

“The Norwegian salmon farming companies that operate in BC waters are perhaps the only farmers who never shovel their manure. It flows unimpeded into our ocean and with it the bacteria, viruses and parasites that brew under all feedlot conditions.”

In 2010 her use of the term feedlot becomes more focused until eventually, instead of being like feedlots, salmon farms are labelled as feedlots.

“We the undersigned stand against the biological threat and commerce of industrial net-pen feedlots using our global oceans.”

Prior to the use of the term feedlot the description for the salmon farming that happens off the coast of BC was “net pen salmon aquaculture.” But, let’s face it, feedlot is a lot easier to fit into a headline.

The problem is the negative connotation built into the term feedlot (for more on this discussion see part 3 of this series).

“She [Alexandra Morton] calls salmon farms “industrial salmon feedlots”. Ewwww…conjures up images of chickens stuffed in cages and pigs rolling in their own poo. Ewwww. (no offence to the hard working poultry and pork farmers of this world).”

Morton can’t seem to get her opinion out strong enough with “feedlot” so she adds “industrial” to the front to make it even more “evil” (because, as we know, industry is out to destroy the world).

As discussed in the other parts of this series, if animals (or fish) are kept in unsanitary or stressful situations they will not grow. If they don’t grow, farmers don’t profit. There is no profit in harming your own stock.

Is feedlot a valid description of net pen aquaculture?

One image the term feedlots brings to mind is a large number of animals (or fish) crammed into a small enclosure. This paper takes a fair look at aquaculture and has some interesting points to make about stocking density.

CLOSED WATERS: THE WELFARE OF FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON, RAINBOW TROUT, ATLANTIC COD &  ATLANTIC HALIBUT

Written by Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals in 2007

Maximum stocking density

It is important not to stock up to a theoretical maximum but instead to provide a safety margin so as to ensure that, even when problems arise, fish continue to have good water quality and sufficient space for swimming. Farmers are not in control of all the factors – such as water quality and bad weather – that can adversely affect the fish. A safety margin is important to allow for harmful developments.

Recent research shows that above 22kg/m3, increasing density is associated with lower welfare for caged Atlantic salmon. However, in order to provide a safety margin, CIWF and WSPA believe that the maximum stocking density for Atlantic salmon in sea cages should ideally be 10kg/m3, with farmers who achieve a high welfare status and in particular low levels of injuries, disease, parasitic attack and mortality being permitted to stock up to a maximum of 15kg/m3.

Net pens in BC farm at a density that is between 15kg/m3 and 20kg/m3, and try to keep it as low as possible, which, as this study suggests, is optimal. In fact, for each net pen, only 3% of volume of pen is taken up with fish. This is far from the image of feedlots and battery chickens that Ms. Morton and her ilk try to portray.

Ms. Morton and others claim that closed containment is the only choice for the future of salmon farming, while ignoring the fact that farming fish on land on a large scale would be more “industrial” than farming them in the ocean. They seem to blissfully ignore the environmental costs of using agricultural or forest land for industrial purposes, as well as the amount of fresh water that would be required, the energy usage or the environmental cost of trucking and disposing of fecal matter.

When the word industry is Googled under images you see hundreds of photos of smoke stacks and factories. Which seems more “industrial:” a net pen floating in the ocean with a 3% volume of population per net or a land-based factory requiring hundreds of acres of developed land?

Plans for a 2,500 metric tonne land-based fish farm

Plans for a 2,500 metric tonne fish farm show it would take at least five acres of land for the tanks alone.

Current closed containment projects are being held up as examples for the future of the industry but every discussion about taking the industry out of the ocean completely ignores the land use problems. Current successful land based farms grow 100 tonnes of fish. One net pen site in the ocean grows 3000 tonnes. Take one of these land sites and increase them 30 times and you will get one net pen farm. There are many farms currently in the ocean and they do not have anywhere near the impact that land-based sites of equivalent capacity would have.

It is also seldom noted by opponents of net pen farming that the salmon spend the first third of their lifetime in a land-based facility. No one knows better than the fish farming companies about closed containment technologies, and the limitations of the technology, than the industry because they have been using it since the beginning.

Everything humans do affects the environment. Salmon farms are no exception. However, when all the human factors are looked at, it seems highly unlikely that salmon farms caused the decline of salmon runs on the west coast. An unhealthy ocean would mean an unhealthy farm. An ocean without wild salmon would be an unhealthy ocean and this is not something salmon farmers want to see happen.

Commercial fishing

Before I learned about salmon farming I learned about the collapse of the commercial cod fishing industry on the east coast. Overfishing removed fish from the ocean so there were fewer left to spawn and fewer that would be there for next year’s catch. Farmed fish (salmon being my favorite) seems a good solution.

It should be noted that fish meal and fish oil are used in fish feed. It is obtained from “forage fish… [which] are fast-growing and short-lived fish not generally used for human consumption.”

“Ocean-farmed salmon feed comprises about 30% fishmeal, a name for the otherwise unused forage fish that is converted to food. Salmon feed represents nine percent of the world’s fishmeal consumption, otherwise used for fertilizer or livestock and poultry feed…The Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations confirms that forage fish are not over-fished or depleted.”

This is a concern, but I also learned that salmon farmers, and farmers of other types of fish, are working very hard to reduce the amount of fish meal and oil in fish feed. And the amount of small fish harvested to use in fish feed, poultry and hog feed, and health supplements has not changed in decades, despite a growth in aquaculture around the world.

This is a good use of resources because salmon are incredibly efficient eaters.

Ratio of feed required to edible food produced (pounds)
Wild Salmon 10 : 1 or 15 : 1*
Beef 10 : 1
Pork 5 : 1
Chicken 2 : 1
Ocean-Farmed Salmon 1.5 : 1
*Varies depending on mortality rates and feeding

Many groups feel that one way to save the oceans is to not buy farmed salmon for dinner but buy wild salmon instead. Hold on a minute, to save the wild salmon we need to kill and eat them, thus preventing their ability to spawn and removing them from the gene pool? This is cognitive dissonance if ever I saw it.

For most people commercial fishing is their source for wild salmon.  If terms such as “industrial” or “factory” are considered negative when discussing farming why not when discussing fishing?

Factory ship

A fishing "mothership."

A fishing "mothership."

Contemporary factory ships have their origins in the early whalers. These vessels sailed into remote waters and processed the whale oil on board, discarding the carcass. Later whalers converted the entire whale into usable products. The efficiency of these ships and the predation they carried out on whales contributed greatly to the animal’s precipitous decline.

Contemporary factory ships are automated and enlarged versions of these earlier whalers. Their use for fishing has grown dramatically. For a while, Russia, Japan and Korea operated huge fishing fleets centred on factory ships, though in recent times this use has been declining. On the other hand, the use of factory ships by the United States has increased.

Some factory ships can also function as mother ships. The basic idea of a mother ship is that it can carry small fishing boats that return to the mother ship with their catch. But the idea extends to include factory trawlers supporting a fleet of smaller catching vessels that are not carried on board. They serve as the main ship in a fleet operating in waters a great distance from their home ports.

Greenpeace uses some very descriptive language to explain factory fishing.

“Beneath the serene beauty of our ocean waters lurks a nightmare worse than any Jaws movie. You could compare it to alien abduction – massive numbers of fish are being snatched out of the water by high-tech factory fishing trawlers. This nightmare scenario is real, and the impacts on our ocean’s ecosystems are extensive. Entire populations of fish are being targeted and destroyed, disrupting the food chain from top to bottom.”

Commercial whaling caused the decline of whales, these types of ships are now used for fishing. Would it not make sense that they will also cause the decline of wild fish stocks?

Sea Choice is a sustainable seafood program that supports Alaskan fishing over over B.C. fishing and salmon farms.

“Salmon (Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, Sockeye) From: U.S. – AK  Method: Wild, drift gillnet, purse seine, troll

Pacific salmon in Alaska is among the most intensively managed species in the world, with excellent monitoring of both the fish populations and the fishery. Alaskan salmon dominates the West Coast salmon market. Over the past 20 years, Alaska has landed roughly 10 times as much salmon as California, Oregon and Washington combined.”

How is catching 10 times more salmon better for the environment? How is catching that many salmon sustainable?

Alaska has a hatchery program that is very different from what we are used to in B.C. Here smolts are released into a river or stream with the hope that they will grow to maturity and return to spawn. In Alaska there is a process called salmon ranching, which is also referred to as salmon enhancement. The problem with this enhancement is that it is not for the purpose of saving the wild stocks and growing the population, instead it enhances the commercial fishery and allows for the 10 times greater catch.

Simply put, salmon ranching refers to a process by which indigenous salmon are initially caught and stripped of eggs and milt. The fertilized eggs are then cultured in a hatchery where they will hatch and begin feeding on a feed powder. Mimicking the natural life cycle of a wild salmon, these salmon are then transported from freshwater hatcheries to saltwater fish farms. The juvenile salmon continued to be cultured in saltwater fish farms using net pens to contain the salmon. While in net pens, salmon are fed feed pellets to gain size and strength. Also, by remaining captive in an area suitable for a future commercial fishery, the salmon are “imprinted” to the area where they are temporarily farmed. Imprinting ensures that these cultured salmon return to the same place where they were “born” – similar to natural, wild salmon. Once large enough to successfully compete with wild salmon for food and space, these cultured salmon are released into the ocean to forage for food (referred to as “ranching”). Depending on the species of salmon (Pink, Chum, Coho, Chinook or Sockeye), they will return to their birthplace in two to four years. Upon return, a mixture of wild and ranched salmon are caught by commercial and sports salmon fisherman. Selected salmon are also retained by the source hatchery to be used again for eggs and milt – thus repeating the process.

See a video of this process here.

The beginning two thirds (or so) of life for these ranched fish is exactly the same as farmed fish. How is releasing them for the last year of their life more sustainable?

There are some opponents of this practice but not nearly as many as oppose BC fish farms. As mentioned in the posting Transparency some of the money that goes into these campaigns against fish farms in BC (such as the David Suzuki Foundation) comes from groups who support the Alaskan commercial fishery and it’s ranches. To try and say they have the best interests of the environment at heart is a double standard.

Here is one article talking about the drawbacks of this kind of salmon rearing written in Oct. 2010:

“We hear so much about missing wild salmon and recently a record run. But Simon Fraser University scientists say a population explosion of hatchery and wild salmon in the North Pacific Ocean is leading hatchery fish to beat out their wild cousins for food…“Higher levels of hatchery fish straying onto spawning grounds, combined with low numbers of wild fish, could further erode wild salmon diversity, which helps stabilize their abundances,” explains Peterman. “Many salmon from both sides of the Pacific intermingle in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and/or south of there. Together, these factors create the perfect storm for reducing wild salmon over the long term.”

Here is another, also written in Oct. 2010:

“We’ve been down this road before, in salmon country further south. I watched Oregon’s salmon economy crash after a failed reliance on hatchery-produced salmon. Oregon and Washington are now busy reforming salmon hatcheries, after learning the hard way that a salmon economy built on hatchery fish is a house of cards.”

If the practice of salmon ranching were stopped in Alaska, the Alaskan fishery would collapse and people would be shocked about how few salmon are left.

Alternatively, the Sea Choice guide says:

“Freshwater habitats in Alaska have remained relatively pristine, and salmon originating in Alaska does not face the same damming, deforestation and development challenges as those in California and the Pacific Northwest. The current abundance of Alaska salmon and its habitat reflects the success of the state’s management practices. For these reasons, wild-caught salmon from Alaska is ranked as a “Best Choice.”

B.C. does face the development challenges mentioned and because of this Sea Choice does not recommend salmon caught in B.C. waters. It doesn’t seem to me that the abundance in Alaska has as much to do with the state’s management practices as it does with the abundance of salmon ranching in the state.

What Sea Choice does not point out is that the fish which spawn in B.C. rivers travel through international boundaries to the northern pacific, where they are taken from the ocean by American fishermen and sold as an American product.

What is sustainable seafood?

Is wild salmon the best choice for dinner? How was it caught? Where was it caught? How much fuel was used to catch it and deliver it? What percentage of the wild stock was directly destroyed by that catch?

Sustainable is a word used by people on both sides of these protests, but what does it mean? The Google dictionary explains it this way: 1. Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level. (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture), 2. Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Industry Canada explains it this way:

Sustainable development’s most common definition is “a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, from the United Nations study which first brought this issue to the world’s attention more than twenty years ago (Our Common Future, The World Commission on Environment and Development – Brundtland Commission, 1987). It is an approach to growth that considers the impacts of policies, programs and operations on economic prosperity, environmental quality and social well-being.

Which is more sustainable; an industry that directly kills a population by removing it from the ocean or an industry that strives to have as low an impact on the ocean as possible but is still able to provide a fresh product all year long?

For more information about the aquaculture industry in BC please visit: BC Salmon Facts, Positive Aquaculture Awareness and the blog Salmon Farm Science.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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The Language of Protest Pt. 3 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 3 of 4 – Free Range vs. Feedlot

Mmmmm... BBQ!

There is a lot of debate over how beef is raised, slaughtered and sold. If you Google the terms “feedlot vs. free range” you will not find much in favour of this method of cattle farming.

Popular films such as “Fast Food Nation” and documentaries such as “Food Inc.” paint a very unpleasant picture of cattle farming and particularly how beef is processed and sold.

What is a feedlot?

According to the Google dictionary it is “an area or building where livestock are fed or fattened up.”

The US EPA refers to them as AFOs

“Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) are agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations…. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.”

Not as picturesque as free range cattle, also called grass fed cattle.

“Since the late 1990s, a growing number of ranchers have stopped sending their animals to the feedlots to be fattened on grain, soy and other supplements.  Instead, they are keeping their animals home on the range where they forage on pasture, their native diet. These new-age ranchers do not treat their livestock with hormones or feed them growth-promoting additives. As a result, the animals grow at a natural pace. For these reasons and more, grass-fed animals live low-stress lives and are so healthy there is no reason to treat them with antibiotics or other drugs.”

Since the industrial revolution, the bulk of the human population has become concentrated in cities. One downside of this is that we move further from our food production, creating a great disconnect between what we think we know about farming and what really occurs when food is raised for the billions of people who now live on this planet.

As children we learned about farms with red barns and happy farmers in overalls surrounded by a few animals. But this isn’t real. And this leads to a serious misunderstanding about what is good for food production, and what is good for animals.

The more we are separated from our food sources, the more humans like to anthropomorphize animals. We see an image of cattle close together and we know that we would not like to live that way so we decide that animals should not live that way. As adults living in urban centers we read an article or two about “feedlots”, we see a few pictures that don’t fit with our ideal image of a farm and we start to form opinions about how cattle should be raised.

[When commenting on free range cattle] “Those cows will stay on pasture eating grass for their entire lives, “doing what God intended a cow to do,” said Seth Nitschke, who owns Open Space with his wife, Mica.”

This disconnect from where our food comes from leads to groups like PETA that don’t like any form of meat production:

“Many organic and free-range farms cram thousands of animals together in sheds or mud-filled lots to increase profits, just as factory farms do…”

PETA’s opinion aside, the life of free range cattle seems idyllic, but is it really? No needles, hormones or close quarters but also no shelter, no diet control, no salt lick, no medical care (i.e. antibiotics)… free range doesn’t necessarily mean healthy and happy.

There are environmental issues to consider, too. Would free range cattle be able to feed the growing population of this world? Free range cattle need a lot of grass to graze on. That is land that could be used for growing crops. Soy is being grown not just for food but also as an alternative diesel fuel. What is the best use of agricultural land?

It is so easy to say “no” to a practice because you are removed from it and it makes you uncomfortable, but have you looked at all sides of the issue? Have you investigated the ultimate outcome of your protest?

There are many websites with negative perspectives of feedlots, using language and carefully chosen images to paint a dark and dreary image of sad animals, crammed together, being force fed, drugged and never seeing green grass.

But the truth about feedlots (especially those in Canada) is not what you may believe.  For an example from Ontario check out the virtual farm tours (also see other links at the bottom of this article). The site points out that the animals do not spend their entire lives in pens.

“Cattle being raised for market are moved to feedlots (penned yards) from the open range and pastures for the final months before marketing. They’re fed a high-energy diet of grains, corn or hay silage or hay. The consistent, high quality feed brings them to market weight faster then on grass alone.”

Here is more information from the virtual tour:

“About the Life Cycle of Beef Cattle

Cows are generally bred in the summer because farmers try to time the birthing of calves for the spring. This is so that the calves can be born outside and both cow and calf benefit from fresh pasture and decent weather.”

The tour of the feedlot will take you to the feed control room. Here you will find a description of what kind of food these cattle are fed.

“Once they are moved to feedlots at about fifteen months of age, the cattle are fed a nutritionally balanced mixture of forages such as grasses, alfalfa, or clover with vitamins and minerals added to balance the animal´s nutritional needs. By the end of their stay in a feedlot, cattle will be eating a diet that consists of about 90% grain like corn or barley.”

In BC barley is used exclusively.

The fact is that farmers, whether they are growing grass-fed, free-range or feedlot beef, want their animals to be comfortable and healthy. A sick animal or an animal under a great deal of stress will not grow or gain weight. Any farmer interested in a profit from her herd will ensure the health and well being of her animals.

If you are concerned about where your meat is coming from or how it is raised, ask questions. Talk to your grocer or butcher about where they purchase the meat. Even better, take the time to talk to a farmer about what they do and how they treat their animals. Talk to livestock and poultry feed suppliers and ask questions. It is amazing what you can learn from people who work with animals everyday.

Here are some internet resources to get you started:

Alberta Feedlot Management Guide 2nd Edition

Farmissues.com – your gateway to information about Canadian food and farming

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association

Government of Saskatchewan – Agriculture

For a skeptical but balanced look at an American feedlot read this article:  Cattle Feedlot: Behind The Scenes

Part 4

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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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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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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