Editor's comment: The Dominion of man over the natural world is nearing completion. Notice, one reason for the highway is to get at material needed to make batteries for hybrid vehicles, widely considered by modern society as a "green" endeavour! Sadly, our assault on Mother Earth will only cease when human populations themselves, through one means or another, are brought within sustainable proportions. l.p.
"Conscientious" investments and the tar sands connection by Larry Powell
ROBLIN, Manitoba, CA: I doubt that few investors with a social conscience would assume that the ethical funds they hold would be helping pay for such projects as the Alberta oil sands.
I certainly didn't - turns out, I was wrong!
All five of Canada's major banks lend money to tar sands operators. And all five are actually included in the portfolios of the many ethical investment funds in this country. As if that isn't enough, so too is at least one major corporation, Suncor Energy, which actually extracts the tar from the sands!
Ethical Funds lists Scotiabank, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Suncor Energy among its top ten holdings. The investment company adds, RBC, for one, "provides significant capital to the oil and gas and other smokestack industries." Suncor describes itself as a "pioneer" and one of the biggest players in the development and upgrading of the Alberta oil sands. So far this year, the company has been producing, on average, more than a-quarter-of-a-million barrels of oil per day.
Last spring, a US-based environmental group, Rainforest Action Network, (RAN), listed the five major Canadian banks; RBC, Toronto Dominion (TD), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal (BMO) as investors. At that time, RAN reported that investment totalled almost $50 billion (correct).
For years, critics have been pointing out the profound impact which development of the sands is having on the environment and the health of people, both regionally and globally. Some even describe it as the "dirtiest project on earth!"
The Alberta-based Pembina Institute says, of all the provinces, Alberta was responsible for over half of the increase in all greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2008 - about 52%! (The tar sands, of course, were operating, full-bore, during that period.) Pembina predicts that, given the projected growth of the sands, their already substantial emissions will nearly triple by 2020! The 25 year-old Institute researches and advocates for "sustainable energy solutions that will protect the earth's living systems - air, land and water."
Meanwhile, millions of hectares of pristine boreal forest are being bulldozed to make way for more and more tar sands plants. According to Greenpeace, this could soon amount to an area twice the size of New Brunswick!
The National Academy of Sciences in the US reports that oil sands development has been contaminating the Athabasca River watershed, downstream of the sands, to a greater degree than earlier thought. It warned that oil sands development was elevating levels of poisons in the Athabasca River and its tributaries that were "likely toxic to fish embryos."
Fish with large lesion caught in the Athabasca watershed.
What does the ethical investment community have to say?
I contacted Robert Walker, Vice President of ESG Services of Vancouver, to comment on this story. His firm manages several "sustainable" or "social investment" companies, including Ethical Funds.
As he puts it, "Every major bank in Canada has exposure to oil sands."
Ethical Funds lists "respect for the environment" and a pledge that "disadvantaged communities should not bear the brunt of adverse environmental impacts" among its "core values."
So just how does it justify this state of affairs?
In Walker's words, "Note that we do not describe the companies in our Funds as ‘ethical’. This is not our claim."
Walker recognizes that the companies in question have a chequered reputation in managing their social and environmental responsibilities. But he says his industry is constantly "engaging" and "pressuring" them to do better. It even hands out and publishes report cards on their performances in this regard. All this, he believes, will gradually help convince them to change their ways.
Walker believes banks like RBC can play "a pivotal role in encouraging their clients to tackle climate change."
He concludes, "We are at least partially responsible for progress that banks like RBC are making in this space."
Despite these reassurances, it's not clear just what "progress" Walker can point to; whether his industry is, in fact convincing the banks to become better corporate citizens; or why, as he suggests, it would not be logical for the average investor to conclude - if these companies are embraced within ethical funds' portfolios - that they are, in fact, ethical!
In its defense, RBC does sponsor the "Blue Water Project," through which it promises millions of dollars to help protect watersheds and ensure access to clean drinking water. It's doubtful, however, any of that money has gone toward protecting the Athabasca watershed, the deterioration of which the bank has surely played a part, albeit indirect.
So is the Blue Water Project an example of the bank's good intentions? Or hypocrisy?
If tar sands investment can be considered "ethical," I find it rather hard to imagine what would not!
If you believe, as I do, that our investment money should be going to less harmful and less polluting ventures than this, I'd urge you to do something about it, also.
As a result of all of this, I have chosen to shift my modest investments away from those involving the tar sands and, into less harmful ventures.
Manitoba Water Stewardship's Hydrologic Forecast Centre has issued a high water advisory for the Assiniboine River and its tributaries, from the Shellmouth/Russell area to Headingley, as a result of ice jams.
Shellmouth Dam (above) in more normal times. Also see photo (below) just below the dam. Pics by l.p.
· The Assiniboine tributaries and the main river remain well within their banks at most locations. However, due to the recent heavy snow followed by a sudden drop in temperatures, ice jams and flooding are occurring at various locations downstream of the Shellmouth Reservoir, Miniota and in the Brandon area. · This local ice-jam flooding is expected to continue at locations on the main river and some larger tributaries like the Souris and the Little Saskatchewan rivers until the freezing process stabilizes in the next two weeks.
· Communities in the Assiniboine Valley, especially in low-lying areas such as Russell, St. Lazare, Miniota and Brandon, should be aware that ice-related flooding could occur.
· The Shellmouth Reservoir has been declining since late September when the outflow was 3,360 cubic feet per second (cfs). Today the flow is 1,600 cfs and the level of the reservoir is 428 metres (1,404.22 feet). The inflow into the reservoir is 1,570 cfs. The outflow will be kept constant at 1,600 cfs for the next few weeks to ensure the reservoir is at an acceptable level before next spring.
· Manitoba Water Stewardship is closely monitoring river and lake level conditions.
Weather - The weather forecast calls for clear periods for southern Manitoba and temperatures remaining in the -10 to -20 C range for the next five days. This should help reduce ice jams and related flooding.
San Francisco, CA – November 30, 2010 – Centre for Food Safety.
Genetically Engineered Sugar Beet Seed Crop Must be Removed!
Finds Government and Monsanto rushed to illegally plant herbicide resistant crop.
Cdn. Biotechnology Action Network
Press Statement, December 1, 2010: Yesterday a US federal district judge ordered Monsanto's genetically engineered sugarbeet seedlings be uprooted. This is the first court-ordered destruction of a GE crop in the US. The decision (November 30, 2010) follows a challenge from farmer and environmental groups based on the risks of contamination. The judge noted that non-GE crops were at risk and that the US Department of Agriculture, by allowing September plantings, tried to circumvent his prior ruling that the sugarbeets were illegal, pending an environmental assessment.
Below is a letter from CBAN to Canadian sugar company Lantic, and a press release from US group Center for Food Safety which represented groups in the legal challenge.
******** LETTER FROM CBAN TO LANTIC:
President and CEO, Lantic Inc.
4026, Notre-Dame Street East
Montréal, Québec, H1W 2K3
Fax: (514) 527 1318
RE: Request for Lantic to phase out GE sugar following US court-ordered destruction of Monsanto's genetically engineered sugarbeets
December 1, 2010
Dear Mr. Makin,
We are writing to bring your attention to the new court-ordered destruction of genetically engineered (GE) sugarbeet seedlings in the United States (November 30, 2010) and to ask that Lantic plant only non-GE sugarbeet seeds in 2011, reversing your 2009 decision to process GE sugar in Canada.
Lantic Inc. is currently the only Canadian sugar company that processes GE sugarbeet. This is an unacceptable situation for Canadian consumers.
In correspondence in 2009, CBAN warned Lantic that the the GE sugarbeets were highly controversial, were accompanied by many serious concerns, and would meet with widespread consumer opposition. We requested a meeting to discuss these issues and repeatedly provided information about the risks of GE sugarbeets to Lantic and to the Alberta farmers who grow sugarbeet for Lantic. Though this correspondence was met with silence from Lantic, we hope you will now pay sufficient attention to this critical issue in order to phase out your use of Monsanto's genetically engineered sugarbeet.
We request that you take urgent action to ensure that sugar in Canada is reverted to its previous non-GE status. We trust that Lantic will want to avoid being isolated globally as the only producer of GE sugar. For your information, please find below a US press release describing the court decision in brief.
Sincerely, Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network