At COP15 Alberta’s tar sands firmly secured the position of international climate change whipping boy and strengthened the misconception held both nationally and internationally that Alberta is a vacuum of environmental ideals and values. Why has a province that’s population has such a strong self identification with natural beauty and environmental quality become a symbol of environmental degradation and miss management? Albertan’s while not your typical environmentalist, generally have a strong environmental ethic of preservation and stewardship, which i believe has been misrepresented and exploited by the Alberta Progressive Conservatives.
In my discussion this week with the members for Stand With Fort Chipewyan (full interview here), Avnish (of Straight Outta Edmonton) spoke of how the governments policies (or lack of) on environmental regulation, monitoring and enforcement are the corner stones of that communities problem and the systemic policy failure that brought it on. There is no disguise that the ideology of the PC government is based upon market fundamentalism and environmental policy is by no means exempt from subordination by market logic. This neo-liberal ideology inspired the self-reporting structure and minimization of emphasis on enforcement, so as to make sure that the market is ‘distorted’ as little as possible by environmental policy. The only thing i believe fundamentally about the market is that fundamentally it is not a tool that alone can manage societies or economies within our natural constraints. The self reporting policy essentially privatize the access to environmental information and is a mere extension of the neo-liberal thought that the best government is less government because private enterprise )read the market) can manage it better.
Fort Chipewyan is an excellent example of how the current structure of the Alberta governments environmental regulation and enforcement does not work, for if it imposes undue risk or harm upon a marginalized minority systemically it should not be considered acceptable by the majority. Self reporting and the Alberta government has failed not only the residents of Fort Chipewyan but all of Alberta. When the responsibility for collecting and sharing the information regarding environmental quality is so extensively transferred to private enterprise it creates incentives to cheat and break the rules. This is clearly shown in how the Alberta government has set high standards in legislative endeavors which fail to achieve the results due an incompatible ideology of implementation. The struggle of the residents of Fort Chipewyan to have their concerns recognized show how entirely one sided the system of environmental monitoring and enforcement is for industry. The state of affairs in Fort Chipewyan bothers me out of concern for my fellow Albertan’s human rights but also as an environmentalist. It makes me wonder how many other communities and thousands of un-inhabited ecosystems have silently been polluted across this province under this flawed neo-liberal eco-management.
Alberta’s air, water and land belong to Albertan’s and such we have a right to information regarding its health and quality. It is the responsibility of our government to be managers of such public information and ensure it meets the standards set democratically and demanded publicly. We have been placing the management of our natural environment and the information required to sustain it in private hands, we need to stop asking what is the most efficient way to protect the environment but how can we as citizens of Alberta be better stewards of our environment. I believe this is a basic principle that can be easily excepted by most Albertan’s across all party lines. Even if you believe that the market is the desired tool for management having a neutral arbiter of this information actually improves market efficiency by eliminating the incentive for cheating which distorts the market way more than government involvement by obscuring the actual environmental and social costs associated with certain economic activity. The political, economic and ecological challenges the provinces is currently grappling with are all rooted in a crisis of democracy. Over the decades of tory rule the essential functions of the public bureaucracy have been transferred to private hands. Self reporting removed most if not all public accountability from environmental monitoring allowing incidents such as the polluting and ignoring of Fort Chipewyan. The only way we are going to resolve the issues plaguing this provinces is by democratizing the pervasive neo-liberal dogma of government structures and making things public and thus political once again.
I stand for cleaner air, I stand for fresher water, I stand for more wilderness, I stand for democracy, I Stand with Fort Chipewyan.