Sitting in bed last night and watching the Vancouver Olympics' opening ceremonies, I couldn’t help but feel a bit exasperated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sucker for the Olympics' opening act, and it was a great show. The stagecraft was amazing. But discordant too. That’s because the second third of the ceremony (after all the athletes had entered and a forgettable musical number) was an homage to Canada’s natural wonders. Ice floes were recreated, three dimensional killer whales swam through the stadium, trees grew out of the stage and reached into the sky…all accompanied by nature-loving dancers and musical numbers. Sadly, there’s no video available, but you can see what I’m talking about here.
So, what’s the problem? Well, Canada. Despite its progressive image (the leaf helps, I think), Canada is more like a rapacious petro-State than a responsible environmental actor. Among the lowlights:
- Canada continues to allow the widespread and often unsustainable hunting of its marine mammal including, most notably, polar bears. The country’s own Species at Risk Act is of little help, as its process is mired down in politics and often driven by economic considerations rather than sound science. Canada is the only commercial exporter of polar bear parts (rugs, boots, etc.) and is fiercely fighting efforts to end the bear trade.
- And those beautiful trees in the opening ceremony? It doesn’t help much that Canada is destroying vast swaths of its boreal forests to extract tar sands oil—a form of heavy crude that’s going to be piped to the Midwest for refining (creating more pollution here). Extraction and processing of tar sands oil releases three times as much global warming gasses as conventional oil.
- Speaking of global warming, Canada hasn’t exactly been a responsible actor on that stage, either. Just this month it submitted global warming pollution reduction targets to the international community and became the only developed country to date that has said it will increase its greenhouse gas pollution over 1990 levels.
So when you see that Maple Leaf flying, think twice. Canada has a lot of things to admire (not least among them Neil Young). But natural resource protection? Not so much.