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Responsibility Begins At Home

JOHN MORRISS

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

It’s painful to look at the images of birds and other wildlife dead or dying from being coated in oil from the U. S. Gulf oil blowout. That makes it easy to lay blame, as we’re now seeing in the U. S. The government is blaming British Petroleum for lax safety procedures, and many Americans are blaming President Obama for not being tougher on the oil companies.

All of which conveniently diverts our attention from the real culprits, who most of us can see in the mirror. They’re drilling for oil underwater because there’s not much left to drill for on land, and each of us – particularly in North America – wants to buy it, often for wasteful or frivolous uses. Do we really need an SUV to drive to work in the city, or aV-8 four-wheel-drive truck to go to town for mail in the country?

As of 2006, there were 3,858 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico – a hurricane zone – and many others around the world, including off the coast of Canada. Can anyone reasonably expect that one isn’t going to blow, with disastrous consequences, sooner or later? And in Canada, we even allow drilling in the Beaufort Sea. Imagine trying to repair a blowout in an Arctic winter. The message from the U. S. Gulf disaster is that we need to be looking at our own country’s, and our own personal, environmental responsibilities.

That also came to mind last week when reading a report from a new organization called “Avoided Deforestation Partners.” The first line of its press release reads:

“Leading U. S. farm and forest products groups today called on Congress and the administration to help end tropical deforestation. The groups cited a new report showing that overseas agriculture and logging operations are expanding production by cutting down the world’s rainforests, allowing them to flood the world market with cheap commodities that undercut American goods. The report estimates that ending deforestation will boost revenue for U. S. producers by between $196 billion and $267 billion by 2030 – approximately equivalent to the entire amount projected to be spent by farmers on energy during that time.”

Ending tropical deforestation is a worthy cause, and in the organization’s defence, its report calls for farmers and indigenous peoples to be compensated through greenhouse gas credits and other ways.

However the phrase “pot calling the kettle black” comes to mind when you see that Avoided Deforestation Partners is made up of The (U. S) National Farmers Union, the American Forest & Paper Association, the United Steelworkers (representing forest products workers), and the Ohio Corn Growers Association.

It’s not like the U. S. forestry industry hasn’t had a pretty good shot at the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, and as for flooding the world with cheap commodities, U. S. corn farmers are surely the world champions. In the process, with the combination of soil erosion and overfertilization, they’ve contributed to the “dead zone” – the Gulf of Mexico’s 22,000-square-kilometre area which is almost devoid of marine life, and the world’s largest area of its kind.

And for all the well-known biodiversity in the South American rainforests, which tends to be of the large and visible kind, let’s not forget that some claim that the world’s largest example of biodiversity destruction was the almost total elimination of native prairie on the North American Great Plains. Its plants may not have been as large and spectacular as the trees of the South American rainforest, but in numbers of species and annual production per acre, they may be their equal.

Not that we can turn that clock back, and not that we don’t need much of that land for food. And the report acknowledges a reality which often seems to escape farmers – if you reduce production, the price goes up.

But again, just as the U. S. group wants to save the environment somewhere else, it wants farmers somewhere else to be the ones to reduce production.

There are some good ideas behind this report, but they will never be implemented until U. S. farmers – and farmers everywhere – admit that responsibility, like charity, begins at home.

JUST CHECKING THE FACTS

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz (page opposite) says that our reporter found the proposed changes to Canadian Wheat Board voting rules “confusing.”

The point at issue is whether eligibility to vote extends to either those who have “produced” or “delivered” grain to the CWB.

Questioned the day of the announcement, Ritz said “We’re talking delivered here.” Some, including the Western Barley Growers Association and Grain Growers of Canada in releases supporting a change, said “delivered” or “sell.” And the government’s release said – erroneously – that a 2005 CWB panel had recommended “produced” when it was actually “delivered.”

Mr. Ritz is correct in saying that the reporter found this confusing. This is why he decided to double-check the facts – as first stated by the minister. [email protected]

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