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A visit to EarthDay.ca gives me pause

CONNECTING the DOTS: All that's 'green' may not be green for all.
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When I visited earthday.ca/april-22/campaign, I was surprised to find a suggestion to “symbolically call in sick in order to take part in group therapy in the form of positive collective actions for the planet in (my city).” Earth Day means we should care about protecting our earth, so what does that involve?

Now don’t get me wrong, I am attached to the earth itself. It’s the home of … my home. I absolutely love getting out of my house - rain or shine, wind, snow - it doesn’t matter to me. I feel part of my planet earth when I get outdoors and to help me do that, I have acquired a cute, small dog who also enjoys getting out of the house with me. And I don’t mind picking up garbage when I’m out there.

But here’s a bad thing. Apparently, some people are suffering from worry over the future of the planet, which is termed eco-anxiety. “A great remedy for it is to act with others, so call in sick on Earth Day and we'll start to get better, together!” says EarthDay.ca.

I don’t think this is a joke and I do wonder about the anxiety level of an employer, or customers, or sick patients if workers or professionals phone in sick for Earth Day. Oh – it’s just symbolically? Not for real?

I think the continued discussion of climate change may well produce anxiety, particularly in kids who are impressionable. They have no long-standing grid for these issues. Sure, they’re concerned. They’re told it’s their future that’s at stake.

Let’s remember that pollution has been a longstanding concern, and that some things have improved.

Taking a longer view, some 50 or 60 years ago the words “environment” and “pollution” came into common use. By the late 60s, young people became concerned. For students in the 1970s, environmentalism was in full swing with worry over the pollution in Lake Erie, one of the most polluted Canadian lakes due to agricultural run-off and the crowded metropolis area with manufacturing surrounding the Great Lakes.

As reported to the US Congress in 2021, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) said that “contaminated ‘areas of concern’ – toxic hotspots which remained untouched and polluted for years, are now being environmentally restored and economically revitalized” pointing to this as “proof that environmental protection and economic prosperity go hand in hand.”

Lake Winnipeg is a snarly problem where eutrophication (algal blooms due to phosphorous overload) is still a problem. It’s at least under study.

Man-made pollution began in earnest when the Industrial Revolution ramped up in the 1700s. In view of the 5,000 or so years of earth’s written history, all this has happened a relatively short time ago. In the 1960s, cars with V-8s and their smaller six-cylinder cousins all used leaded gasoline. They were standard issue and big polluters. Even small amounts of lead pollution is very bad for our health. And within the last 20 years (even just last year for some countries) gasoline with a lead additive is no longer available.

This brings me to a new thrust that is favoured by EarthDay.ca and that is electric vehicles (EV). They would seem to be a clean answer to pollution and to climate change.

EVs are set to replace our hydrocarbon fueled vehicles. In Virden there’s two places with EV charging stations to re-energize the EV batteries: CP Rail Station parking lot and in the Valleyview Co-op grocery store parking lot. 

But there are some wrinkles! Backing up a step, the materials to produce the EV batteries include several metals, cobalt being one of them. Now, I would suggest there’s a concern over sourcing and refining that cobalt. While one problem is addressed, other problems surface.

Cobalt can be mined in countries around the world, such as Canada. However, at present, according to a video, “The dark side of Electric Vehicles” over 50 per cent of the cobalt used for EV batteries comes from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (Gravitas Plus: The dark side of Electric Vehicles aired April 10, 2022)

That is a problem because in the impoverished nation of DRC young children descend into the earth to mine the cobalt ore, earning sometimes as little as $1 per day, for which they risk their lives.

Safety standards are non-existent for those so called ‘artisanal miners’ who make up about 20% of the cobalt mining industry in Congo. They are not all children, but it’s tough work no matter who you are.

Really, EV and their batteries are just one more invention with upsides and downsides, just like the oil and gas industry.

According to a blog by the Wilson Centre (think tank), “Growing global demand for cobalt implies that Congo’s environment will suffer, especially if precautions are not taken to ensure sustainability. The extraction of DRC mineral resources includes cutting down trees and building roads, negatively impacting the environment and biodiversity. Moreover, although cobalt is a crucial component in global greening and renewable energy, its quick extraction contributes to global warming. Cobalt mining operations generate incredibly high carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions and substantial electricity consumption.”

Read more here.

Behind this issue is our disregard for raw products and those who extract them. These labourers are at the bottom of the heap in terms of rewards for effort.

Ask any farmer how much wheat is in a loaf of bread and the farmer will tell you, just pennies worth. That’s another topic, but related, because even in the most developed nations, the primary producer has little bargaining power. And so the wealth from food production is also an inverted pyramid, similar to the auto industry and the production of EV batteries for Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, etc.

For Earth Day, my wish and prayer is that greed of the powerful would not drive the abuse of the vulnerable, often children, and our planet.

It’s very popular to think we are embracing ‘green’ solutions, but we need to be humble about that. The newest ‘green’ invention in transportation, the EV, has a human and environmental cost as does hydrocarbon-fueled travel.