Environmental Policy

A Darker Shade of Green: What’s Behind the Inexorable Rise of Environmentalism

Martin Grünn
March 2, 2022
Calling environmentalism an ersatz religion may be overdone these days. But only because it’s such an accurate observation about a movement that demands absolute faith, expounds ineffable mysteries and warns of a terrifying Apocalypse. Given its recent success in spreading the message, what are the origins of this modern-day crusade? Going back four decades to the Amazon rainforests, Martin Grünn charts the early stirrings of the environmental movement as an irresistible political and social force in Canada and around the world. Then as now, money and power are the keys to imposing a new global dogma.
Environmental Policy

A Darker Shade of Green: What’s Behind the Inexorable Rise of Environmentalism

Martin Grünn
March 2, 2022
Calling environmentalism an ersatz religion may be overdone these days. But only because it’s such an accurate observation about a movement that demands absolute faith, expounds ineffable mysteries and warns of a terrifying Apocalypse. Given its recent success in spreading the message, what are the origins of this modern-day crusade? Going back four decades to the Amazon rainforests, Martin Grünn charts the early stirrings of the environmental movement as an irresistible political and social force in Canada and around the world. Then as now, money and power are the keys to imposing a new global dogma.
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We’re all environmentalists now, aren’t we? But what that means to you is likely different from what it might mean to your neighbour. For some of us it’s sorting our garbage every week and putting everything in the right-coloured bin. Others superglue their breasts onto busy roads. It’s up to all of us to determine where we fit on the green spectrum, from nominal environmentalists – latter-day Unitarians of the Earth, you might say – to the equivalent of charismatic snake-handlers.

Environmentalism has seeped into nearly every nook and cranny of day-to-day life in the developed world. Community clean-ups, Earth Day celebrations and municipal commitments to “fight” climate change are ubiquitous. Virtuous commitments abound by small businesses and giant corporations alike, and pressure from the investment sector (or in some instances the “divestment” sector) is ratcheting up. Compliance is expected, with laggards publicly shamed and/or faced with activist onslaughts.

A colour of many hues: From sorting waste to supergluing body parts, the green movement is both ubiquitous and diverse; at right, a protester in London, England who glued her breasts to the road is removed by police in 2019. (Source of the right photo: Jamie Lorriman)

Green appears to grow ever-stronger with no recognizable endpoint. Despite decades of growing fervour amongst activists, the average Jennifer seems as poorly motivated towards personal sacrifice as she is to sit in a church pew on Sunday morning. But plebeian indifference is compensated by elite commitment and cultural pressure. National and international highflyers are all-in, as are the cultural foot-soldiers – including millions of schoolteachers – appearing to easily reconcile green ideology with their own interests.

Equally concerning is the movement’s apparent natural immunity to facts, such as the unswerving commitment to “renewable” energy despite its clear inability to replace traditional sources. Numerous multi-billion-dollar failures in the “transition” away from traditional power supplies – from Spain to Ontario to South Australia – are simply shrugged off, tax- and rate-payers be damned. Damned to sit in the cold and dark that is.

The trajectory of further developments is uncertain, but it’s unlikely we’ve hit Peak Green. And as an ever-greener journey lies before us, we should look back and discover how we got here in the first place.

Back to the Future

A good starting point for grasping the complexity and inevitability of the green movement is through the eyes of veteran Canadian journalist Elaine Dewar, once deemed “Canada’s Rachel Carson.” In 1988 Dewar began researching a story on the Amazon rainforest and the plight of some of its Indigenous inhabitants. Her interest coincided with one of the first waves of First World concern about the Matto Grosso, the vast, verdant South American jungle. There have been a few similar waves since, including 2019’s hubbub over the “burning of the Amazon,” headlined by supermodel Gisele Bündchen.

In the course of her research Dewar discovered that future Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May, famous environmental popularizer David Suzuki and his second wife Tara Cullis organized several fundraisers in 1989 for Indigenous Brazilians. Both the source and the use of the funds struck Dewar as odd. Why, she wondered, would these activists use money raised from British cosmetics purveyor The Body Shop to buy Brazilian natives a Cessna aircraft?

Peeling a green onion: Veteran journalist Elaine Dewar’s investigation into the role played by Canadian environmentalists in the Amazon rainforest movement led to her insightful (and hard to find) 1995 book Cloak of Green. (Source of top left photo: Danielle Dewar)

Intrigued, what was to be a magazine article eventually morphed into the 500-page book Cloak of Green, published in 1995, which chronicles Dewar’s six-year odyssey as she was drawn deeper into the bowels of the environmental movement. If ever a book should be required reading on the origins of political environmentalism, this is it. Peeling layer after layer from the green onion, Dewar exposed its ingrown and malodorous core. Today the book is suspiciously difficult to get; it is out of print and the few available used copies are listed online at nearly $1,000 a piece. (All references to the book herein are transcribed from the author’s print copy.) [Editor’s Note: Cloak of Green recently became available online at this link.]

Even more remarkable is how fresh the story still seems after nearly 30 years. Several major issues prevalent back then still resonate loudly today. These include the origin and role of non-government organizations (NGOs), the dominant position of a few key activists, the interaction among business, government and NGOs, and the supranational dimension of the movement, as played out through unelected international bodies such as the United Nations and World Bank.

Dewar traces the sinuous trail of money, particularly the ingenious use of our tax dollars, both directly and though non-profits. The rainforest was “sexy,” said one of the author’s many loquacious sources, anthropologist and former Playboy bunny Katy Moran. “It was sexy because it had good story elements: there was the romantic rainforest setting, the little people challenging the big guys, the boost from the weather – the hot summer of 1988.”

The government/NGO complex: As Dewar tells it, future Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May was recruited by the federal government to help funnel foreign money into Canada to be sent onwards to Brazil.

Canadian bureaucrats were clearly caught by the enthusiasm. Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) official Phil Hazelton wanted to send money to Brazil and managed to persuade the American NGO Cultural Survival Inc. to branch into Canada. That way, foreign money could flow into Canada and Hazelton could match those with tax dollars to send south. Hazelton, through one of his U.S. contacts, found May to run the effort. The future Green Party leader had already organized the distribution of tax dollars to NGOs from federal Environment minister Tom McMillan’s office.

The Mulroney government directed a total of about $250,000 (all dollar figures adjusted for inflation) to an array of Canadian groups including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. This was in addition to money going directly to Brazilian activists. An anonymous Ottawa bureaucrat told Dewar that the Canadian embassy in Brasilia was funding numerous local NGOs – with $1.25 million to be disbursed over two years from the “Canada fund.” She also described the, shall we say, ambivalent response Brazilian officials had to the funding of local interest groups by a foreign government. Another Canadian bureaucrat is quoted as saying that there weren’t too many rules in disbursing this money. The only rule he could cite was “don’t buy the minister…new furniture.”

Throw private interests into the mix: Canadian mining company Brascan Corp. had extensive holdings in Brazil, including this gold mine owned by Brascan Gold Inc., at the time the Canadian government was directing money to the Amazon rainforest.

Cloak of Green’s plot thickens when private enterprise joins the mix. Besides finding the now-common corporate donations to green groups, Dewar questioned the use of our tax dollars in a region where major Canadian corporations, notably Brascan Corp., had substantial interests. Owned by Edper Investments – Edward and Peter Bronfman’s holding company – Brascan held large mining concessions in the Amazon region alongside many other Brazilian investments. While tax dollars funnelling into the region might imply our government was advancing corporate interests, Dewar also uncovered more intriguing corporate-NGO involvement, including Catholic organizations working with Indigenous groups to halt Brazilian tin mines. Activists allegedly received money from companies with mining interests in Africa and Australia who were seeking to stifle competition from South America.

There’s an eerie familiarity to the activities of those NGOs in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of today’s state-of-the-art strategies and tactics were already apparent in Dewar’s time. Activists she interviewed called this “The Agenda.” One initiative designed to pressure international finance into following green priorities was called “bash-the-banks” and devised by lawyer Bruce Rich of the Environmental Defense Fund. From this perspective, the current push for “ESG” – environmental, social, governance – standards and the musings of Mark Carney et al. are clearly nothing new. In fact, the World Bank had an environmental advisor as early as 1971. By 1989, environmental assessments were mandatory for all the Bank’s infrastructure loans.

As for following the money, the U.S.-based Tides Foundation was already an enthusiastic funder of Canadian environmental causes back in 1987. Subsequently, independent researcher Vivian Krause identified how Tides has funnelled at least $40 million to Canadian anti-pipeline activists since 2009.

Time and Tides: Independent researcher Vivian Krause (left) has documented the relentless flow of foreign funds into Canada to stop pipeline development, particularly from the U.S.-based Tides Foundation. (Sources of photos: (left) Lethbridge News Now, (right) Jennifer Gauthier)

Such campaigns go back much further, however. In the late 1960s, Gary Gallon, an American draft dodger from California, worked as a Vancouver securities trader by day and an environmental activist by night. Initially obsessed with stopping B.C. coal mines, in 1976 Gallon formed a coalition to stop a proposed oil pipeline from Edmonton to the Pacific port of Kitimat, B.C. In 1970 he had already worked with Liberal MP David Anderson, later environment minister under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, to sue an Alaskan pipeline consortium. Gallon’s interests later turned to alternative energy sources, and in 1981 he helped organize a UN conference on the topic, gathering 700 NGO delegates and raising $1.2 million.

It’s easy being green: The biggest beneficiaries of the environmental movement are often the activists themselves, including the always-well-compensated Gerald Butts, former CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada and longtime friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Gallon died in 2003, but most activists seem to have a dogged longevity, forming a kind of perpetual “green class.” As Brazilian activist Juneia Mallas told Dewar, “Environmentalists are a private club.” And once you’re in, you’re in forever. Google just about any name from Dewar’s bibliography and you’ll find they’re still gainfully employed in environmentalism more than 30 years later. Key figures include Charles Secrett, formerly of Friends of the Earth, who is now vice-president of the London Wildlife Trust and in 2000 cracked the top 200 of Britain’s “Power 300” list. Others have softly landed in academia or other bureaucratic sinecures. For Canadians, the key example is Gerald Butts. On the strength of two English literature degrees and a lifelong friendship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Butts has enjoyed lengthy stints in lucrative tax-paid political jobs as well as reportedly receiving over $360,000 in severance from World Wildlife Fund Canada upon his resignation as CEO in 2012. Clearly, one key aspect of sustainability is the sustainability of swank jobs for activists.

Blame it on Rio

A man, a plan, a network: Maurice Strong. That’s not a palindrome, but it succinctly sums up the oleaginous Canadian who catapulted environmentalism onto the international stage. Strong, who bore an uncanny resemblance to the Bond super-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld as played by Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice, transformed himself into the eminence grise of international environmentalism. It is a role he would play for four decades, the embodiment of a networking nexus without peer in the ranks of business or government.

Based on Dewar’s narrative, all the threads of the nascent green movement led eventually to Strong, who died in 2015 at age 86. Fortuitously, Strong gave the journalist unique access to his operation, at times displaying smug pride at his organizational achievements, and her account amounts to a mini-biography.

Separated at birth? Maurice Strong (left), the Canadian-born master networker and tireless promoter of global environmental causes, bore an intriguing resemblance to James Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld from the 1967 movie You Only Live Twice, as played by Donald Pleasence (right).   

Oldest of a four-child Depression-scarred family in rural Manitoba, Strong’s picaresque journey began in 1943 as a 14-year-old runaway. By 1945 the precocious 16-year-old was apprentice fur trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company, where he learned his way around a ledger. This business acumen eventually landed him a job as a crude oil market analyst in the early 1950s, and later a gig working for industry legend “Smiling Jack” Gallagher at Dome Petroleum.

Strong’s success in the private sector tended to be exaggerated by his later boosters, however. The reality, as described by veteran journalist Peter Foster, was that his personal business affairs were “a never-ending series of pratfalls.” When evaluating Strong the businessman, one senior Calgary oil executive who knew him in the 1970s laughed, saying, “Maurice is a kook.” Never excessively wealthy himself, Strong instead showed a remarkable talent to access and leverage other people’s money.

More significantly, Strong’s political and internationalist fervour developed early. Quoted by Foster, Strong described himself as a “socialist in the ideological sense.” He was perhaps inspired by an activist cousin who became a confidante of Chou En-Lai, the “Premier” of Communist China. Strong’s initial foray into the UN was in 1947, around the time he first met Soviet diplomat (later foreign minister) Andrei Gromyko and David Rockefeller, scion of the Standard Oil fortune. According to Dewar, Strong said he told Rockefeller outright that, “I’m deeply prejudiced against you and all your family stands for” – but this didn’t prevent a decades-long association with the super-rich clan.

Laying the foundations: Strong (top, at left) was warning about global warming as early as the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972; two decades later he was again leading the show at 1992’s “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro (bottom image, third from left). (Sources of photos: (top) UN Photo/Teddy Chen, (bottom) UN Photo/Michos Tzovaras)

Concurrently Strong began his long association with Canada’s Liberal Party, befriending Paul Martin Sr. This led to Strong’s hiring in the early 1960s by Power Corporation, the powerful and politically connected Montreal-based conglomerate – where he in turn hired Martin’s son, Paul Jr. Eventually Strong moved on to senior roles within the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, including creating CIDA in 1970, and becoming founding chairman and CEO in 1976 of Petro-Canada. The “kook” could now act out his socialist ideology as head of a giant and, for Canada, completely unneeded state-owned oil company.

In his growing role as global environmental fixer, Strong began portraying activist groups – those that shared his own Malthusian bent – as democratically legitimate, even though they were in truth very tiny groups representing essentially no one. This seeding of dark green AstroTurf, according to both Foster and Dewar, had begun as early as a 1972 UN environment conference in Stockholm, Sweden. Strong, by then also a UN undersecretary, was the conference’s general secretary.

Around this time Canada began funding NGOs which, up to then, had been private organizations and/or charities. Dewar spotlights federal tax dollars redirected from Opportunities for Youth grants and the Local Initiatives Program to these groups. Far from being “non-governmental,” these NGOs were so intertwined with government that she termed them “PGOs,” or “private governmental organizations.” As a sign of how blurred the boundaries became, consider that William Turner, president of Power Corporation and a Strong protégé, came to Stockholm claiming to represent an NGO.

Regrettably, Dewar’s revealing and arguably more accurate formulation of “PGO” did not stick. Still, 50 years on, Stockholm’s themes are familiar. From Cloak of Green:

“Strong warned urgently about the onset of global warming, the devastation of forests, the loss of biodiversity, the polluted oceans and the population time bomb. He suggested a tax on the movement of every barrel of oil and the use of these funds to create a large UN bureaucracy to blow the whistle on pollution wherever it was found.”

It’s remarkable that Strong was loudly touting global warming in 1972 – a time when many scientists were predicting the arrival of the next Ice Age; a cynic might ask what scientific “pre-consensus” supported Strong’s bold assertions back then. The 1992 Rio “Earth Summit” in Brazil – what might be called a 20th anniversary refresh of Stockholm – solidified the adoption of these beliefs. This time Strong himself presided.

Greta Thunberg of the 1990s: Severn Suzuki, the 12-year old daughter of Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, gave voice to the environmental “terror” felt by children around the world during her address at the Rio conference in 1992.

All the stops were pulled out for Rio. Environment Canada allocated $2 million over three years for NGOs associated with the summit. May, then a member of both Cultural Survival Canada and the Sierra Club, was also on Canada’s official delegation, her expenses paid by CIDA. A 12-year-old Severn Suzuki – daughter of David – acted as a dark premonition of Greta Thunberg. Addressing the delegates, Severn voiced the “terror” allegedly felt by the world’s children who could no longer rely on clean water, air or soil. Listeners, including U.S. Senator Al Gore, said they were deeply moved. Her six-minute speech led to a place on the UN Environment Program’s Global 500 Roll of Honour (in 1993, at age at 14), various environmental and media gigs, as well as a stint at We Canada. Small world, isn’t it? She recently joined the family business as Executive Director of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Like Suzuki, the ideas of Rio stuck. Dewar describes her own children in the early 1990s talking about “carbon sinks” and a “climate crisis.” Ideas exhaled by Strong at Stockholm were cemented at Rio and amplified by NASA scientist James Hansen’s dire predictions of global warming before the U.S. Congress in 1988. A consensus soon followed.

Microgreens and Watermelons

Public anxiety grew with the spreading claims of environmental calamity. Many wondered how best they could pitch in. “Think globally, act locally” is fine as a slogan, but what could the average person actually do? For decades there have been a couple of ways the public can engage, beyond putting up a lame lawn sign – “Protect our watersheds!” – or removing your bra and whipping out the superglue.

Watermelon politics: Germany’s Green Party is one of the world’s most successful green political movements, marrying environmentalism with strong left-wing ideology. (Source: picture-alliance/dpa/H.Schmidt)

Generally, motivated people either assist activist groups or lend their support to a local Green Party. Green parties are common around the world, but not particularly successful except in a few European countries. Germany, for example, has an enduring fascination with nature, reflected in everything from herbal remedies, naturopathy and nudism, to a culture of hiking, scouting and yodelling. Formed in 1980 at the height of the Cold War, the German Green Party by 1998 became part of a federal coalition government – a success by any measure.

German environmentalism and even nature worship was prevalent on both the political left and right, but German Greens (as elsewhere) are leftists. The label “watermelon party” – green on the outside, red on the inside – is apt. Polices are a mix of environmental aims in ecology, climate and animal protection, and standard leftist fare on the economy, welfare, defence and so on.

At times, German “watermelons” were very red indeed. The Soviet Union actively infiltrated anti-nuclear-energy and “peace” groups in Germany in the 1970s, seeking (as today) to increase the country’s dependence on Russian natural gas. East Germany’s secret police infiltrated the Green Party itself throughout the 1980s.

Canada’s Greens, by contrast, have been a political bust. (Though with internal affairs every bit as lively as their German counterparts.) With the seemingly indestructible May as its leader from 2006 to 2019, the party never elected more than three MPs, and attracted more than 6 percent of the national vote only twice. The party’s electoral failures may largely be due to Canada’s other left parties co-opting the Greens’ policies and stealing their voters and activists.

Who needs a Green Party when you have the Liberals? The Trudeau government includes many former environmental activists, including Steven Guilbeault, the current minister of Environment and Climate Change, who was arrested in 2001 for climbing the CN Tower to protest Canada’s climate policies. (Source: The Canadian Press/Aaron Harris)

It is hard to imagine a Green Party of Canada government being any more ideologically committed than the Trudeau Liberal administration already is – with various hard-left ministers embracing the full spectrum of environmental issues and numerous former activists (like the aforementioned Butts) in key staff positions. Canada’s current Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, dubbed the “Green Jesus” by Quebec media, once scaled the CN Tower in an act of “civil disobedience,” hoisting a sign which read “Canada and Bush – Climate Killers.”

Given that most people tend to avoid direct involvement in politics, the “micro-green” option of supporting grassroots organizations is often more appealing. Such groups have proliferated since the 1970s. But while there may be some genuine local initiatives among them, green groups now tend to be formidable national and international organizations on their own. By the late 1980s, Dewar reported, the Environmental Defense Fund alone employed 75 professionals from a budget of over $12 million. By 1992 the organization’s revenues were over $40 million, clearly not raised from pensioners and birdwatchers alone. Dewar identified only a few of the major foundations that contributed.

Research on tax filings of these organizations reveals massive budgets spanning decades. Economist Robert Lyman reported that Canadian environmental NGOs (aka “ENGOs”) garnered over $11 billion  – that’s billion with a “B” – in revenues from 2000 to 2018. On top of that, environmental law organizations such as Ecojustice reaped $167 million over the same period. By contrast, Lyman notes that all our federal political parties combined raised only $631 million during those years. Strong may have groomed early NGOs to echo government policies, but they have clearly long outgrown government’s control and are pushing their own agendas on multiple fronts.

Micro-green/Macro-cash: Many so-called “grassroots” organizations, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, have fundraising abilities that put political parties to shame.

Krause detailed how over $600 million in foreign money targeted Canada’s economy. Beginning in the 1990s, foreign-funded initiatives ramped up, intending to “white-map” vast areas of western Canada and thus prevent future development. Tides Canada received $83 million to push for establishment of what they termed the “Great Bear Rain Forest” (an invented concept) across an enormous tract of coastal B.C. The areas to be protected conveniently sat astride potential resource development corridors, like the Gateway pipeline route meant to carry oil from Alberta to tidewater for export. Millions more went to Indigenous groups in the region. Meanwhile, the Tar Sands Campaign, with seed money from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, attacked resource development – and pro-development politicians – directly.

Foreign influence on Canadian society and politics often enrages our elites. Prime Minister Trudeau has warned darkly about U.S. money pouring in to support the recent Ottawa trucker convoy, demanding that such funding be stopped. Donations to the truckers were frozen and hackers revealed scores of individual donors, many of whom were harassed and vilified. Similarly, media stories and speculation about “who owns Stephen Harper” circulated online for years during his time in power, despite the fact that the former Prime Minister disclosed most of his campaign donors.

When it comes to foreign funding of green activism and opposition to our resource development, however, there’s been little coverage, let alone media sleuthing. Alberta’s investigation into foreign interference was relentlessly criticized and derided and called a waste of money. Yet the recent Allan Report, despite its low-key language and various caveats, confirmed the central charge of foreign meddling on the scale reported by Krause and Lyman, concluding that “there are large amounts of foreign funding flowing into Canada” with the goal of influencing public policy on resource development. Nonetheless, the consensus among the legacy media was that the report found nothing. As such, there’s no need to worry, or demand that such activities be made illegal.

Double standard: While the federal government used foreign donations to the recent trucker protest in Ottawa as evidence for invoking the Emergencies Act, concrete proof regarding the role of foreign funding opposing Alberta’s oil and gas industry elicits no concerns from central Canada. (Source of left photo: Shutterstock)

The financial clout and political heft of green activism, exceeding that of political parties and local governments, frees the organizations’ leaders, key supporters and professional cadres from reliance on the grassroots. Their agendas don’t need to be endorsed by majority votes of the public or necessarily even of their memberships at large. That said, there’s still the imperative to torque up individual donors and the public with doomsday environmental scenarios. Stoking public fear is the high-octane fuel of the movement with, as we’ve seen, repetition of essentially the same extreme claims for the last half century. But how long can public anxiety be maintained, and what is the social cost of several generations of environmentally-obsessed, stressed and depressed humanity?

Green Reign

While we may feel disenfranchised at home, and as our domestic policy is increasingly skewed by foreign money, our government spends more of our own money on international greening. Much of this effort is related to reducing domestic carbon dioxide and methane emissions in response to international agreements. Significantly, many key decisions are made at the supra-national level beyond the reach of mere voters.

The environment is, by definition, international, a fact that is critical to the agenda of Strong and his successors. These include World Economic Forum (WEF) founder Klaus Schwab (Strong had once been co-chair at WEF) and other Davos jet-setters, like former Bank of Canada head Carney.

Borders? We don’t need no stinkin’ borders! A key element of the modern environmental movement is its supranational nature, as promoted by Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (left) and former Governor of the Bank of Canada Mark Carney (right). (Source of right photo: Policy Exchange, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Here as well, Dewar usefully documented how the geopolitics of environmentalism developed from its beginnings in the 1970s. In 1989, for example, French President François Mitterrand declared that countries with rainforests should realize they don’t really control them. The socialist Mitterrand asserted that rainforests should be governed by “relative sovereignty” of a “supranational character.” This was around the time Canada was funding NGOs in Brazil, signalling that First World countries felt they could use green arguments to justify intrusion into the internal affairs of others. Dewar believed that the Rio summit was part of an organized effort to undermine national sovereignty by “businesses, lobbies and ‘PGOs.’”

It’s ironic that, just as colonialism was being fully dismantled, some international actors were attempting to replicate its effect by other means. Dewar uncovered the remarkable (and little-known) fact that the U.S. established bio-defence research labs in the developing world in the 1980s. Three were in West Africa and one in Wuchang, Hubei, China – the city now known as Wuhan.

Discussions around Rio had also pressured developing countries to meet new environmental standards. After all, the 1992 UN Report on Climate – only four years after James Hansen’s explosive congressional testimony – had predicted that global average temperature would increase from 1.5 to 4.5oC by 2040. Reactions from affected countries are by now familiar. Delegates from China argued that it was the developed world that had done most of the polluting and that their country would under no circumstances stop using brown coal. Chinese coal production has more than tripled since 1990 and imports of coal have soared as China continues to build coal-fired power plants by the hundreds.

Want a greener world? It’ll cost you: China (top) has demanded that the developed world compensate it for giving up coal with “payments, technological transfers, improvements in the terms of trade and forgiveness of debt”; meanwhile India (bottom) wants more than $1 trillion in cash for the same thing. (Source of photos: Shutterstock)

The Chinese delegates argued further that, if developing countries were to forego rapid industrialization, they would have to be compensated. For starters, this would require “payments, technological transfers, improvements in the terms of trade and forgiveness of debt.” Similarly, at the recent COP 26 summit in Glasgow, India said it would require over $1 trillion by 2030 to meet its internationally-set climate targets. Plus ça change…

By the 1980s environmental activists had concluded that many national governments – especially those of developing countries – were reluctant to cede their sovereignty. What to do? Dewar quotes a Strong associate as saying that, if the Amazon indeed played a role in the global climate system, then the government of Brazil “doesn’t have the full responsibility to…affect the livelihood of the globe.” From these concerns arose the push for tradeable emissions permits, which conveniently fell outside the purview of national governments. Credits and debits would be traded globally “just like pork bellies.” Presumably there would also be sufficient capital flowing, as Strong had proposed for oil trading, to generously underwrite the green establishment, ever-watchful and ever-ready with new advice and demands.

But while Canada may have conducted green interventions in Brazil back in the 1980s, the tables have long since turned. Foreign money now tries to keep vast amounts of this country’s wealth “in the ground,” disproportionately affecting Canada’s western provinces. And, as discussed above, there is little curiosity about who funds these initiatives and who benefits from them. The planet, perhaps; certainly not average Canadians.

Like the Amazon, Canada’s resource-producing regions are now to be “managed” as a kind of vast ecological preserve. Dewar rightly ridiculed such ideological hubris: “How could [you] manage a subcontinent when [you] couldn’t manage the sewage system for São Paolo?” Or Montreal for that matter.

A New Kind of Class Warfare

It looks like Big Dark Green is here to stay. One reason for the phenomenon’s sustainability is the enormous flow of cash. From modest beginnings, green activism is now a multi-billion-dollar global business. Its leaders and cadres are tight with politicians, international banking and supranational agencies, ensuring the continued money flow. Players flow seamlessly between environmental organizations, governments, corporations and academia. Though lacking democratic legitimacy, activists are still deemed “stakeholders” in government decision-making, often ahead of average citizens.

A second reason is the allure and resilience of the ideology. Many adherents are simply not persuaded by data showing that strong economies and greater wealth means a cleaner environment. A significant share of people apparently want to believe that humanity is destroying the Earth, or even that humanity represents a cancer on the planet. Those views aren’t disappearing. In the second season of National Geographic Network’s Mars series, for example, which concerns human exploration of the Red Planet, a major theme is that we should not “economically exploit” Mars at the expense of its “ecosystem.” You’ve been warned, Elon Musk!

Environmentalism’s golden two-fer – the self-satisfaction of virtue and a potential paycheque – is apparently irresistible, especially for the young. Billions of tax dollars are being spent on green programs. We know where the money came from – our pockets – but although we’re not exactly sure where it went, the recipients likely did very well for themselves.

Hands off: In a sign of environmental controversies to come, the National Geographic Network series Mars declares the Red Planet off-limits to economic development – better that its resources be left in the ground (or in space) than be used to better the human condition.

What may yet derail the project, however, is the persistent, yawning gap between green aspirations and reality. This is particularly evident in the energy “transition.” The rich may be able to afford the extravagant costs of green policy experiments; meanwhile the poor and middle class are slammed since they pay a much greater share of their income for energy and the other essentials of life. There is also the contradiction between economic constriction in the West versus wanton development elsewhere – China being the worst example – and persistent energy poverty in the poorest countries.

In the West, conflict appears inevitable between the green laptop class and the unwashed “yellow vests” (viz: truckers) who want to preserve their standard of living. Meanwhile, the world’s poorest also want a better life – and won’t be denied.

Martin Grünn has a Ph.D. in the natural sciences. He lives in British Columbia.

Source of main image: Shutterstock.

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Canadians have grown familiar with the frequently rocky post-pandemic service quality in the restaurant, hospitality and retail sectors. As well as standard refrains like “We’re short-staffed,” “We can’t find good people,” or “We can’t match the wages of other industries.” Less visible than these inconveniences is a potentially far greater problem lurking in the manufacturing, natural resources, transportation and other sectors: an acute shortage of certified trades workers. Giving three cheers to Canada’s hard-working tradespeople, Gwyn Morgan charts the growth of the economy-threatening shortage, surveys the damage it is wreaking, looks at some of its avoidable causes, and proposes some remedies.

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Can We Handle the Truth? Assessing Covid-19 Communications

That society is comprised of thoughtful, competent adults is the underlying premise of all democratic societies. But if grown-ups can be trusted to pick their own governments and paths in life, why are they treated like children when it comes to Covid-19? Why is it so hard to get the straight goods on everything from comparative risks to surface cleaning? Martin Grünn tackles the lack of clarity in government messaging and explains how proper data and analysis can reveal – rather than obscure – our path out of the pandemic.

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