O Canada…who stands on guard for thee?

Even as our world rapidly globalizes, the vast majority of us continue to take pride in our countries of origin. And our respective national anthems connect us to that emotion. I never tire of hearing the Star-Spangled Banner.

Olympics years give all us – from whatever country – numerous additional opportunities to hear our national anthem. And regardless of nationality, it’s always moving to watch the gold-medal winners on the stand as they hear their national anthem played. Live long enough, and you come to recognize and appreciate anthems from other countries.

The Canadian anthem – O Canada – is one of my favorites. [You know you want to hear it. This particular link shows an accompanying video that highlights Canada’s iconic natural beauty. Lyrics include the line, “We stand on guard for thee.”]

If you live in Washington DC, perhaps you saw Juliet Eilperin’s article in Monday’s edition of the Washington Post. In the print edition it was entitled Canadian government overhauling environmental rules to aid oil extraction. Here are some excerpts:

The government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is rewriting the nation’s environmental laws to speed the extraction and export of oil, minerals and other materials to a global market clamoring for Canada’s natural resources…

…The government has added provisions to an omnibus budget bill that would revamp the way the government reviews the environmental impact of major projects, regulates threats to fisheries and scrutinizes the political activities of nonprofit groups…

Economic and political factors account for the controversial gambit. High prices for oil and minerals, along with demand from Asia, have given Canada new incentive to tap into its resources, and new technology has made extraction easier. And while Harper has been prime minister for six years, his Conservative Party won an outright majority just one year ago.

The strategy has won plaudits from energy industry officials and some economists, while sparking an outcry from environmentalists and their allies in Parliament.

“The idea is simple and straightforward: to make Canada the most attractive country in the world for resource investment and development, and to enhance our world-class protection of the environment today for future generations of Canadians,” said Christopher Plunkett, spokesman for the Canadian government in the United States.

Rick Smith, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence Canada, calls it “a war on nature and democracy.” …

In the remainder of the article, Ms. Eilperin goes on to link the policy changes to the Canadian (and U.S.) debates about the Keystone and other pipelines, and Canadian exports of oil and natural gas, both in general and to China in particular. Her article focuses on Canada, but could just as well have been written about Australia…or for that matter, the United States.

Each of these nations has a recent history of protecting the environment within its borders, and in the process effectively exporting the damage associated with resource extraction to other countries.

Until now.

Over the past several years, the world’s declining economic fortunes, trade imbalances with China, and a corresponding rise of Chinese appetite for resources, have prompted Canadian, Australian, and U.S. governments to rethink their policies  toward domestic energy extraction and food production for international markets, and in the process to re-balance their approach to the three competing challenges posed by the real world: energy-, food-, and water- production; protection of ecosystem services; and building resilience to natural hazards.

The three countries in question all boast beautiful landscapes and rich biodiversity. They very much hope and plan to maintain their quality of life. We can expect that all three are adopting so-called best practices for environmental protection going forward.

But these best practices were worked out for lesser rates of food production, water drawdown, and energy and mineral extraction of the past, and they have been tested for only relatively short periods of time. It’s not evident that these past best practices will suffice for the new, higher rates of resource withdrawal, or for the longer, more-extended periods over which we’re all hoping that they will work. [If, for example, the environmental risks of fracking should prove to be limited to those risks as we know them today, it would be a first. History suggests that our awareness of these risks will grow over time, and only belatedly…that by the time we have a full appreciation of the environmental costs, use of the technology will be so pervasive, and we’ll be so far down the road to dependency, that the adjustments will be wrenching. ]

O Canada! (Who) will protect (y)our homes and (y)our rights?

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