Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Million Dollar Conscience

Young Johnny Canuck was brought up by very strict parents. They were well to do and their home backed on a river. So strict they were that when he was ten years old, for example, he thoughtlessly threw a candy wrapper out the car window; they pulled the car off the road and told him to walk back to pick it up, plus withheld his allowance for a week. When he was 21, he was on his motorcycle when he saw an empty potato chips bag fly out the window of the car ahead. He stopped his bike, picked up the bag, caught up with the car at a red light, put the bike on its kick-stand, walked to the car with the bag in his hand, knocked on the driver's window and, when it was lowered, he handed the bag to the driver, saying, "Excuse me, but I think you dropped something." The driver said a meek "thank you", and slunk away under the speed limit. He followed the car for a mile before returning to his original route. For the rest of the ride, he silently thanked his parents for his social conscience and manifest forthrightness. But then, one day, he returned home from a trip a week early, and found his father's crew dumping barrels of oily liquid into the river. The first thing he said to them was not "Hello", not "How've you been?", but "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING??!!" Truth be told, in doing so, they saved $1 million in hazardous material disposal fee. Johnny said good bye, and brought with him only one thing: his social conscience.

Since my physics student days I've been many things: mineral explorer, realtor, environmental technologist, environmentalist, animal rights activist and author, among others, from whose viewpoints I've seen many things. I would like to pull three items from the list to make a point. They are: mineral explorer, environmental technologist and environmentalist.

When I was a university student, with some background in physics and geology, I used to work full summers in the deep Canadian bush. I could have worked as a waiter in some plum restaurant in the city, but I preferred the great outdoors, helicopter access only, complete with back-breaking work for 4 months straight without seeing a single woman (or a divorced one haha), when even bears began to look sexy, and high risks of bear attacks. What I was engaged in was mineral exploration as a geo-chemistry and geo-physics technician. What I was exploring for was the precious metals that make some people crazy, from copper and nickel up to molybdenum and especially gold. I would first conduct a geochemical survey of stream and river sediment of an entire watershed in terms of parts per million (ppm) in metallic content. The resulting map would lead me to the source of the metallic presence in these soils - the ore body, if any, which had been slowly leaching into the watershed by natural means through the eons. Then, I would perform a geophysical survey on the grid I would establish over the ore-body, involving the use of land and aerial magnetometers, tests of ground conductance and impedance, etc., to 3D-determine its shape, size and exact location. If head office considers the ore body worth mining, it would then send in a diamond-drill crew to take core samples in the grid to set physical parameters to the eventual mine. As of this points, things were out of my hands, and out of mind.

Some years later, by some turn of fate, I became an ecological technologist working for an environmental laboratory. The main activity of the lab was to analyse pollutant levels in industrial waste including the discharges from mines and pulp mills, the former in terms of metallic content and cyanide, and the latter mostly of organic content including organo-chlorines (OCs), PolyAmoratic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), and dioxins and furrans (the most powerful carcinogens in the world), by means of instruments as advanced as Gas Chromatographs (GCs) and Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometers (GCMSs), down to the parts per billion (ppb) level. The results were compared against a government-issued list of Maximum Allowable Concentrations (MACs) of individual pollutants. Any reading exceeding the MAC could lead to government imposed penalties, crack downs or, in extreme cases, closing of the mine or mill. Our clients included both industry and government, the former to monitor their own discharges, and the latter to monitor them. It was a no-nonsense system for which I had high regard. The company also produced water purification systems employing Reverse Osmosis (RO), which could service hospitals, industries, communities, even entire armies. It was a great job for a great company of a great industry.

It was seen as a misfortune at the time, but there came a corporate merger which eliminated half of the mid-level personnel, me included. In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise, because it allowed me to become an unrestrained environmentalist.

And now, as I gaze upon the picture of one of the tailing "ponds" of one of the tar sands mines which I personally took in my 3-hour flight over the tar sands,...

... and watch again and again the 50-minute video of the flight I have posted in YouTube,...

... and seeing how devastating the environmental damage to Alberta is, and how astronomical the pollutant levels are, and how a real environmental assessment of the entire tar sands development has never been done, and how weak the government-without-a-conscience could get, and how powerful the sociopathic corporations are, and now their threat of huge environmental risks to British Columbia by pushing more spill-prone pipelines through the BC mountains and valleys, and more Exxon-Valdezian supertankers into BC waters, again without a real environmental assessment ever having been done, and the "neutral" position the BC government is taking,...

... I cannot help but shake my head in disbelief, and wonder what the hell has happened to the Canadian, Albertan and British Columbian "environmental" ministries.

And what happens to Johnny Canuck? It depends on how like his father he is going to be.

Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)

1 comment:

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