Moral Laxity


Climate change changes everything, says Naomi Klein. Certainly this extends to our moral responsibility for actions taken day to day. But more on this later.

This webpage bears witness to decades of irresponsible actions on the part of British Columbia’s civil servants, professional foresters, professional biologists and government advisers – people not above placing the short-term interests of their corporate “masters” ahead of the long-term interests of their fellow Canadians.

As flashpoint, consider the heroic efforts of a small community in BC’s Clearwater Valley to safeguard natural values consistent with its proximity to a vast wilderness preserve, Wells Gray Provincial Park. For more than twenty years this community has fought for a meaningful say in government decisions pertinent to its long-term well being and economic prospect.

If this goal has proved elusive – and it has – it is owing to sustained resistance of a great many government bureaucrats indissolubly wedded to unsustainable forestry practice. Crucially, these same bureaucrats have also shown themselves willing to enforce broken-treaty governance, blithely dismissing a formal land-use-agreement long in place between local residents and the BC government.

As one might expect, disregard for basic democratic principle must sooner or later yield less-than-desirable outcomes. Here are five such outcomes pertinent to the Clearwater Valley: (1) precipitous decline of an endangered species; (2) increased risk of wildfire; (3) catastrophic floods; (4) diminished economic prospects; and (5) cynicism and disengagement.

Taken together, these outcomes translate to diminished environmental, economic and psychic resilience in a region formerly of great natural wealth. By definition, resilience is the ability of a system to cope with disturbance or stress and rebuild itself without losing its defining characteristics. Loss of resilience is much to be regretted even in the best of times. In time of deepening climate change, its loss is little short of tragic.

The United Nations calls climate change “the defining issue of our time”. Not long ago, its worst impacts might have been avoided, but no more. As global carbon emissions continue to rise to record levels, humanity now has little choice but to brace for an uncertain future.

That Canadians rank among the highest per-capita carbon emitters in the world is no secret – in second place after Saudi Arabia. In light of the existential threat posed by climate change, the moral implications of this are clear and unequivocal: Canadians owe it to the world to do better.

This brings is to industrial logging which, in BC, has lately transformed vast tracts of oldgrowth forest from carbon sinks into a potent source of carbon emissions. Forest removal alone is enough to bring this about, but the situation has lately been made much worse by carbon emissions arising from wildfire. In 2017 and 2018, for example, BC’s forests released more carbon than all other provincial sources combined. And there’s more to come, with wildfire set to double in BC by 2050.

As the impacts of a warming world continue to grow, so does the moral responsibility of those who carry out reckless government policy. Sooner or later, poor behaviour on the part of such people must be called by its real name: a betrayal of public trust.

Such harsh allegations call for robust examples. Here are ten examples pertinent to the Clearwater Valley:

In any mature reading, the government and industry bureaucrats named in these examples have much to answer for. Multiplied across the globe and compounded over time, such people place in jeopardy generations of humans hundreds of years into the future. It is well past time they were called out for their bad behaviour.

Far from enforcing a toxic neoliberal ideology, civil servants, professional foresters, professional biologists and government advisers owe it to future generations to do just the opposite, that is, to damp, insofar as possible, reckless environmental policy. By the very nature of their employment, such people are uniquely in position to form a first line of defense against policies that pay for today with tomorrow, undermining resilience rather than strengthening it.

In systems theory xxx…

Post script: And while we’re on the subject of betrayal of public trust, it’s worth mentioning that many environmentalist organizations now variously in bed with corporate operatives may be doing more harm to regional resilience than good.