Reductio ad absurdum: Why we environmentalists are missing the boat with sham hearings, technical arguments


Reductio ad absurdum- Why we environmentalists are missing the boat with sham hearings, technical arguments

I have had the chance recently to sit back and look at what Damien and I and indeed others like Erik Andersen have written over the last four or five years on environmental matters and I wonder whether or not we haven’t fallen into the trap of debating serious social and safety issues strictly on the basis of technicalities. Governments and industry throw out statistics and we dutifully match those with some of our own while we are forgetting more important issues such as do we want pipelines and tankers in the first place?

From BC’s point of view – which is my home – there are two intertwined issues. I will be criticized no doubt for taking the BC point of view but why in the hell shouldn’t I if Christy won’t?

Democracy deficiency

First, I have no say in all this. I’m up against the federal government plus Victoria and hundreds of billions of dollars from them and industry to put their side of a debate I can listen to but not take part in.

Thus, my first point is that there has been, throughout, a democracy deficiency which makes a mockery of the word. It’s said, of course, that democracy is practiced on our behalf by the people we elect to the legislature and the House of Commons. Anyone with half a brain knows that that’s rubbish. None of the MLAs or MPs we elect have any more influence on these events than does a stray cat. If we can’t get our minds around that – if we cannot understand the truth of that, then we might just as well pack it in and accept whatever is meted out to us by our “betters”.

Phoney assessments ignore public

Let’s just look for the moment to two areas in greater Vancouver, Burnaby and Howe Sound. Have any citizens ever been asked to vote on whether or not they want either the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion or an LNG plant?

The honest answer is more than negative because instead of democracy, phoney assessment processes have been set up with an illusion of citizen participation – mockeries of justice.

We know that if authorities tell big enough lies often enough then people will believe them. As if that needed further demonstration, we have countless examples being bombarded into our lives every day.

Nothing to worry about

Let’s look at pipelines. The federal government particularly wants pipelines to the BC coast and in fact agreed with China that with the new trade agreement (FIPPA), one will be built. (I don’t remember being asked about that, do you?)

What about government’s obligation for our safety and well-being? They tell us over and over again that pipelines are safe and – this is good for a wry laugh – if perchance they do leak, why, they will do no damage because the company will clean it up in no time! The same about LNG tankers. Nothing bad can possibly happen and, again, even with some unbelievable bit of bad luck and something leaked somewhere, why the company and the authorities would have that out-of-the-way before you could say “Shazam!”

This means, of course, that there are no concerns about using passages like the Fraser River, Howe Sound, or Juan de Fuca because accidents can’t happen and, forgive the repetition, in the extremely unlikely event a tiny little one did occur, why, the authorities would have that fixed up in no time.

During the time of the more aggressive Enbridge debate a few years ago, over and over the company and politicians assured us that there was no danger of accidents with Northern Gateway and in the unlikely event…blah, blah, blah. The same time, we read on a daily basis what had happened to an Enbridge spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. I was scarcely the only one to ask what the devil would happen if that kind of a spill occurred, say, in the Rocky Mountain trench or the Great Bear Rainforest.

A mathematical certainty

So, before I go further, I submit to you that the evidence is overwhelming on the subject of pipelines, oil and LNG tankers: The companies and governments simply lie through their teeth and are prepared to say anything, no matter how preposterous, to support their demand to use our land and safety for their profit.

In all of this, there’s a shining truth that cannot be denied. There will be accidents with pipelines and tankers as a matter of plain mathematics. It’s a statistical question – the law of probabilities. And the more you do something, the more likely a bad thing is going to happen. One of the major factors is, of course, human error. This will never be eliminated no matter how modern and computerized our activities become.

Therefore, let us take this as a given: pipelines are going to burst, tankers are going to hit things and on and on it goes, no matter what we do or the safety precautions we take.

If that point is made, the companies and the government barely pause to change gears as they go into their “we can fix anything” mode. It doesn’t matter that the Kalamazoo River is still full of Bitumen five years after the spill – why, spills can be easily handled. It doesn’t concern them that many of the locations are out of reach of help or, as we know from Kalamazoo, there isn’t really any help anyway.

Don’t forget Paris

There is a third string to the bow – according to all experts including those at the recent Paris Conference, we’re not supposed to be producing, moving and using this stuff anyway! These fossil fuels are the cause of our climate problems and our poisoned atmosphere. Why, then, are we going through these hoops to increase the use and transportation of the very thing that’s causing us all the trouble and that we have sworn to get rid of?

“No” means “no”

Now let’s get down to cases. I have no right to speak for British Columbians individually or collectively and I am not doing that. I am speaking just for me.

I don’t want any pipelines into British Columbia. Never mind why I don’t want them, I just don’t and insist upon my democratic privilege to stop them. Going further I don’t want them because they destroy the beautiful environment in which I have always lived and that I wish to leave to my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I have no wish to screw up my homeland to make money for people who shouldn’t be trafficking in fossil fuels in the first place.

Having said that, I don’t want to take the risks that are associated with this industry. These are not fiddling little risks but enormous certainties. The tendency of industry is to expand, so the damage will expand as well. I don’t want to rely upon self-serving governments and industry telling me that they can clean things up as if nothing had happened when I know that’s bullshit.

I deny utterly the right of any other Canadians to put me, my family, community, and my environment at the certainty of ongoing disasters just so they can make money off something which is an internationally recognized poison.

Pipelines and fossil fuel tankers are ever-present, ongoing, serious dangers that contribute nothing but misery to the world at large.

I ask only that we treat these fossil fuels as we in British Columbia treat uranium mining and recognize that they are too dangerous to hand over into the hands of the greedy.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

22 thoughts on “Reductio ad absurdum: Why we environmentalists are missing the boat with sham hearings, technical arguments

  1. I agree, Rafe. Why aren’t we just saying no more pipelines? Even if the pipelines built, they’re unlikely to be used. Alberta’s oil is the dirtiest and close to the most expensive oil on the planet. With Iran selling its abundant, cheap and cleaner oil, Alberta is unlikely to have future overseas markets for its oil. And without federal government subsidies and tax benefits, which Trudeau pledged to end in Paris, tarsands producers are unlikely to make a go of it in the long run. We might as well pull the bandaid off quickly and end the pain. Offer Alberta pipefitters retraining to install solar panels. And now that oil is no longer inflating the Canadian dollar’s value, let’s work to attract other industries to Alberta.

  2. Excellent post and as Rafe has pointed out previously.., all this while a useless opposition party here in BC does nothing

  3. What you describe is also playing out with a government-approved contaminated landfill at the headwaters of our watershed in Shawnigan Lake. No democracy, no listening to the people who are impacted, and now allegations of fraud and perjury against the company and engineers that don’t seem to bother Christy Clark or Mary Polak one bit.

    1. Bill … God willing, yes! My health is not great and I’ve spent more than 25% of the last 3 years in hospital, three times last December. No one wants to hear my grief but at 84, I am all but physically immobile with a solid dose of COPD thrown in.

      Please know that I badly want to join you and I have, God willing, every intention of doing so.

    1. And THIS is exactly what we should be most afraid of. We need a revolution! Why are we accepting these deals that hand so much power and influence to corporate interests? What can we do? Maybe it’s getting time for mass civil disobedience on a grand scale ( if only people would wake up ; too many people thinking they ‘have no time’ because of family and jobs, but neglect to see what will happen to their families and jobs if they don’t get on board). Time to organize!

  4. Rafe, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are speaking the truth. You are a much needed Thoreau.

  5. As for the sham of hearings and technicalities, Raffi, I’d like to share with you and your readers a little from my experience as an activist who has worked for 20+ years on forestry issues in roles both as grassroots community volunteer as well as NGO paid staff.

    From the very beginning of the local standoffs precipitated by the Walbran crisis (where Teal Cedar with the Liberals’ blessing has newly begun to clearcut old-growth ancient rainforest as I write this) and the following splash at Clayoguot, we have been progressively swindled by power plays. I find it most helpful to consider it this way:

    Imagine what happens when you have a meeting between two sides, coming together to “negotiate” the future of our forests. On one side is a rag-tag group of passionate environmentalists and hardcore defenders. Nothing in common but well intentions. Some are degreed (biologists, botanists, etc.) and some are naturalists and some are near evangelical in determination. Many of them are unpaid in their newly acknowledged role as “environmental defender” or if they are paid, it’s modest and month to month.

    On the other side is a team of negotiators who have been paid well to compose and concert a position that is in the best interest of large corporations and their governmental support team. In fact they have likely worked non-stop for weeks or months in preparation for this meeting, at which the two sides sit down together to work out a plan for how best to “manage” our forests, going into the future.

    Now, if you were a betting person, who would you put your money on, for coming out of this meeting with the better deal?

    Who do you think comes up with ideas like “Stump Fees” and “Tree Farm Licenses”?
    (“Special Management Zones” come later.)

    Those were the early days of such processes. To think that the Clayoquot movement sparked international awareness and launched a global movement that would henceforth attend the plight of such unreasonable and unsustainable deforestation. Our battles to save the forests on Vancouver Island was remarkable in that way, largely thanks to the Clayoquot stand-off and arrests (932) and the smart follow-up European importer boycott campaign that initially forced the forestry companies and government to negotiate in the first place.

    The powerbroker corporate-government industry cabals have since modelled their “processes” around those early days of negotiations. It’s always the same:

    1. Frame the argument or negotiation and thereby set the agenda
    2. Parse the agenda with countless details and technicalities to deflect and divest the attention away from what really matters.

    When I attended the BC Supreme Court hearing (January 4, 2016) for Teal Cedar’s application for an extended injunction in the central Walbran Valley–in order to secure their plans to clearcut vast tracts of the 5% remaining old-growth rainforest on Vancouver Island–I watched as Teal Jones lawyers (sharp in well-tailored suits, two of them working in a team) faced off against the Western Canadian Wilderness Committee’s lawyer (one man in an okay suit).

    (For anyone who doesn’t know, injunctions are the current state-sanctioned tools granted by the courts to corporations who wish to keep protesters and acts of civil disobedience from getting in the way of their doing their business.)

    The Teal team set the stage with two hours of talk. They framed the hearing to be about not whether or not the injunction should be extended, but rather that the extended injunction was a given, and they were just there to consider the details (ie. for how long, and if they could procure a “safety bubble zone”, etc.). See points 1 and 2 above.

    The WCWC lawyer was there not to challenge the injunction, but to clear the name of their Director, who was named in the application as having violated the earlier injunction. And so, in response, did not ask for the application to be adjourned or quashed, but rather asked for the term to be shortened. And challenged the request for the “safety bubble zone”.

    The presiding judge granted the injunction, agreed to the shorter term (until April instead of September) and granted the bubble zone.

    Interesting to note how the times have changed, given the following, as quoted from Wikipedia:

    :The Western Canada Wilderness Committee Educational Report is the first public record of a call to protect the old growth forests within the Carmanah Valley from encroaching logging companies, such as the aforementioned Macmillan Bloedel.”

    That would have been in the late 80’s. Whereas now WCWC (and all charity-status NGO’s) must adhere to strict prohibition against any “political” activity. And since Teal Cedar has been granted legal harvesting rights, accredited by the BC Liberals, they could not and can not today make such a call. Hence, even by subtle association (easily dismissed by the judge) they were named in the injunction and so harkened to the court, but to defend themselves, rather than challenge the injunction. How times have changed.

    Those of us interested in making changes for the better had best come around to learning from these developments. We must do better at setting our own agendas, and harmonizing our energies to best focus our efforts.

  6. Rafe for Premier. Thanks for another telling article. I totally agree we’ve been concentrating on statistics when we should have been hammering away with the fact it is simply wrong. No need to do more than that….and whenever someone says, “What about jobs?” I reply that we only have one environment.

  7. Dear Rafe Mair,

    Your post is explicitly ‘right on’, and I thank you so much for your personal opinion.

    You have admirably identified these ongoing hijinks being engaged in by industry and government for preventing public debate over the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the Woodfibre LNG plant with that accurate phrase, “Democracy Deficient.” Perfect! I also enjoyed your statement about how we shouldn’t be ‘trafficking’ in fossil fuels anyway.

    Masterfully stated all, and I would only ask that perhaps you will consider addressing the Fracking process with its land and safety destructive issues, in any further posts.

    Your fan of many years

    1. Thank you for your post Mr.Mair,

      I agree with everything you’ve said, and am grateful to you for stating your opinion on the serious issues confronting us.


  8. I want a class action suit brought against the gov for endangering my life.
    There is no way I will side with more boom and bust destruction of my lands, air and waters.
    Oil and gas have a long history of destruction, I am witness.

    1. When BC Hydro was partly privatized to Accenture in 2002, there was a class action suite brought against BCH and the BC Government to oppose the deal.

      The BC Government avoided the class action suite by making the agreement between BC Hydro and Accenture exempt from the common law.

  9. Thank you for this no-nonsense approach and for spelling out the utter absurdity of our government’s position whereby they say we are committed to tackling climate change on the one hand, and on the other, we are committed to ‘getting the oil to tidewater’.

  10. Thank you Mr. Mair. You succinctly express what I too believe and feel about these issues (oil pipelines, tankers, democracy, government representation, etc…so much bullshit).

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