It’s Not Easy Being Green

Environmentalists play an important role in advocating for the health of our communities and our planet—campaigning for causes such as sustainable fisheries, cleaner air and water, and reduced dependency on fossil fuels. The organizations come in many varieties.

In 2008, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s vessel Farley Mowat was seized after violating regulations for observing seal hunts and colliding with a coast guard vessel. The Society abandoned the ship rather than pay the cost to get it back.

After a prolonged period of rusting in various Nova Scotian ports, it is finally being scrapped. Shelburne is finally being rid of it at great expense for cleanup to taxpayers. There are, among other hazards, an estimated 10,000 litres of oily water in the bilges. Sea Shepherd’s irresponsible actions are an embarrassment to the environmental movement.

Lafarge Canada wants to burn discarded tires in its high-temperature kiln instead of coal and petroleum (pet) coke, a change that will require a $2 million investment. Those tires have been going to C&D recycling which shreds them into pieces that can become part of the asphalt in paving projects.

This saves the province money, since Lafarge is charging about half what C&D has been charging to take the tires. It also means less greenhouse gas emerging from the kiln, as rubber burns more cleanly than coal.

Some argue that this is offset by the GHG emissions from rock crushing equipment needed to make gravel for asphalt, that would otherwise be displaced by shredded tires.

Whether or not this is true, it is incorrect for opponents of the plan to describe the payments to Lafarge as a subsidy when it receives half the price paid to C&D. That saves taxpayers money.

AquaBounty Technologies is a biotechnology company notable for its research and development of genetically modified fish. AquaBounty salmon are much more efficient converters of feed into protein, so they grow faster. They are sterile and grown in landlocked tanks in Prince Edward Island and Panama.

The salmon were approved for human consumption in 2015 in the United States and 2016 in Canada.

Cultivation of the AquaBounty salmon in land-based pens is opposed for various reasons, including dealing with the effluent and the possible impact on aquifers. It is an awkward position for environmentalists to take. They have been championing land-based aquaculture with non-GMO fish, which would have exactly the same issues, as an alternative to marine-based pens.

What is really driving the concern is that the salmon is one of the first GMO animals to be approved for human consumption.

We have been consuming GMO grains for two decades and, more recently, GMO fruits and vegetables. Numerous studies have found no credible evidence of risk to human health. The improved productivity of GMO foods makes it possible for our planet to feed more people.

Golden Rice, a GMO product that makes up for Vitamin A deficiency, is even more valuable, saving millions from death or blindness.

More than 90% of corn, soy, and cotton grown in the United States is GMO. Farmers who do not use it have a hard time competing with the superior technology. The same thing could happen with salmon.

AquaBounty is not financially robust and may not have the resources necessary to get the product and process right.

That said, if such a technology does succeed, it is likely to become a dominant force in the aquaculture business, just as has occurred with agricultural products. Should Canada let its aquaculture industry wither if that happens?

The environmental movement damages its credibility and effectiveness if the focus is always on opposing change rather than helping change occur safely.

The growing consensus on the need to manage and respond to climate change is a good example of effective advocacy by environmentalists. This is arguably the crucial issue of our time.

It is not enough to call for rapid reduction in the use of fossil fuels. We also need a realistic approach to replacing them.

South Korea has 50 million people in an area twice the size of Nova Scotia. Rwanda has 11.6 million people in an area less than half the size of Nova Scotia.

How are these and other densely populated countries to provide adequate amounts of electricity without using fossil fuels? They have little hydro and do not have enough room for many solar and wind installations.

The environmental movement should be campaigning for safer and more cost-reliable nuclear power, which does not require huge amounts of space. We don’t see much of that kind of advocacy.

Instead, for example, Greenpeace fights nuclear power with the same enthusiasm as it fights climate change. In contrast, the Environmental Defense Fund recognizes the contribution that nuclear power can make to reducing carbon emissions.

Or consider these recommendations from a recent UBC paper: give up the car, stop eating meat, avoid transatlantic flights and, most importantly, have one fewer child than you had planned.


To be credible and effective, environmentalists need to be sensible. Support the safe development of food technologies. Even more important, support the safe development of all options for reducing carbon emissions.


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