My Shanghai surprise – why taxing or banning plastic is futile waste management
The late comedian George Carlin enjoyed mocking environmentalists and took particular aim at their ‘Save the Earth’ zealotry. It’s not the planet that needs saving, Carlin insisted, ‘cause it’ll still be here long after we’re gone.
But Carlin was no absolutist. Noting our ability to generate huge amounts of trash, he conceded that perhaps God did put humanity on Earth to protect her – not by browbeating neighbours into joining Greenpeace, but by encrusting the planet in a thick layer of plastic.
A decade after Carlin’s death, that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an island of plastic detritus reputedly twice the size of Texas – would make international headlines, was both sad and disturbing. Surely humanity’s purpose is more than sheathing our blue-green sphere in polymers.
While footage of sea creatures imperilled by bags, straws and assorted petroleum-based debris is heart wrenching, knee-jerk bans on bags or straws and more recently an idea floated by Environment Canada to tax plastic itself, are totally useless in addressing Earth’s industrial-scale litter problem.
Last September, a 600-meter trash-collecting boom departed San Francisco’s harbour, en route to Pacific Ocean’s garbage island; a preliminary attempt employing new technology to clean up somebody else’s mess.
A 2018 World Economic Forum report concluded that 90 percent of the eight million tons of plastic that end up in the sea each year are the product of just 10 rivers; most of them in Asia. Which is why taxing Canadians for plastic – product that touches nearly every aspect of our lives – will do nothing to mitigate the scourge of plastic pollution in the oceans.
Having traveled up the Yangtze River by ferry some 20 years ago, I already suspected as much as the forum’s verdict.
Beginning in Shanghai in the summer of 1999, I boarded a large flat-bottom boat with around 300 other passengers. It would be the first of about a dozen different vessels, that over two weeks ferried me 2500 kilometres to Chongqing.
After taking my first meal in the ferry’s mess hall, served in a Styrofoam box, I searched everywhere for a garbage can. There were none – passengers simply tossed their garbage overboard and without an alternative, I joined in the littering.
The banks of the Yangtze are home to more than 200 million Chinese who treat the waterway as commuter corridor and as I soon discovered, a dump. I took the trip to get a glimpse the fabled Three Gorges, before a hydro-electric project and dam would change the watershed forever. As my trip progressed, however, so did my treatment of this historic river as trash receptacle.
The closer I got to Chongqing, the narrower the river became and the smaller the ferries got. About 10 days into the trip, I exited the dining hall of a different vessel to engage in the daily ritual of reckless Styrofoam abandonment, but to my surprise there was a garbage bin.
Delighted at the prospect that my littering ways on the Yangtze were through, enthusiastically I added my box to a near overflowing bin. As if on cue a kitchenhand exited the dining hall, gathered up the bag and heaved the entire thing overboard.
Like I experienced and begrudgingly participated in creating, the World Economic Forum’s report describes “rivers of plastic” – its analyses of respective outputs and comparisons to garbage island and other samples, could be traced back to their source.
According to the economic forum eight of these rivers are in Asia: the Yangtze; Indus; Yellow; Hai He; Ganges; Pearl; Amur; Mekong; and two in Africa – the Nile and the Niger.
“The more waste there is in a catchment area that is not disposed of properly, the more plastic ultimately ends up in the river and takes this route to the sea,” said Dr. Christian Schmidt, an author of the study.
Considering decades upon decades of littering on the Yangtze River, it is easy to fathom how an agglomeration of this Styrofoam could combine with other seaborne junk and attain the size of a floating, mid-sized country. That a domestic ban on plastic bags or straws, or a tax on plastic would address such pollution emanating from foreign lands, is patently ridiculous.
The power vacuum left by fleeing president Evo Morales was quickly filled. With members of Morales’ circle resigning under threat of violence and the reported kidnapping of their family, right-wing senator Jeanine Áñez declared herself president.
Áñez’s rise to power was preceded by racist acts of violence across Bolivia. Footage emerged of Indigenous Bolivians being attacked and forced out of towns. Militias gathered and burned the Indigenous Wiphala flag as policemen cut off this symbol from their uniforms. In at least two cities, security forces opened fire against unarmed native demonstrators. In Cochabamba, Indigenous coca growers wept and tossed flowers on the caskets of their dead. Doctors in Cochabamba assessed what occurred as a “massacre” by the police.
These were acts of terror. In a country where between 40 to 60 percent of the nation’s population is Indigenous, racism fuels the opposition. Morales has helped make himself a target. Although it is tempting to focus on his economic policies (the nationalization of hydrocarbon, for instance, helped lift one-fourth of the country’s population out of poverty), Morales’ legal reforms also brought increased autonomy to Indigenous communities. As Adriana Guzmán, a prominent activist and Aymara leader, remarked in response to the coup, “they [the opposition] have judged the [Morales] government not just because of its political mistakes. They have judged it for being Indigenous.”
Áñez symbolized the right-wing countercurrent brought into motion in Bolivia. As she declared herself president to the public, she held up and shook a large bible in her hands. This echoed Áñez’s ally, far-right Luis Fernando Camacho’s statements earlier that week as he lay a bible on the national flag in the presidential palace. It was declared that with the Indigenous president gone, “Pachamama [the Indigenous Earth Goddess] will never return. Today, Christ is returning to the Government Palace.” Áñez then moved to appoint an “Indigenous-free” cabinet. A presidential decree guaranteed impunity to the military for whatever violence they execute against protestors who might be angered at these offenses.
Of interest to Canadians and Americans is not only the racist and violent sentiment mobilized in Bolivia, but the process that brought Áñez to power. President Evo Morales was asked to step down by the military after demonstrators, militias and police forces responded to reports of election fraud. These reports largely arose from an Organization of American States’ (OAS) mission sent to monitor the elections.
The Buried Report
OAS findings were widely disseminated in South and North American media. The CBC describes the report as having found that the Bolivian “electoral tribunal inexplicably went dark for 23 hours.” When the vote count came back on, Morales had a greater lead over his opponent than before.
In way of a proper description of the election, Kevin Young, author and researcher at the University of Amherst observes: “The preliminary audit of the [OAS]… does contain allegations of widespread irregularities. On the other hand, we have the authoritative report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research [CEPR]…[which] found that there was no evidence of fraud.”
The CEPR report, authored and reviewed by a handful of researchers, notes an important nuance in Bolivian elections. There are, indeed, two counts in Bolivia. The unofficial vote count—also called a quick count—and the official vote count (or the cómputo).
Crucially, it was during the unofficial count that there was a 23-hour interruption.
In line with a trend of ending the quick vote count early, election officials suspended the count at 83.85 percent of tally sheets verified (a higher number of votes than they had promised to quick count a week before the election). The “blackout” occurred after the OAS “urged” that the count be continued. 23 hours after ending the quick vote count it was resumed after pressure from the OAS. Despite the concession to OAS demands, the OAS then attacked the resumption—with public outcry clinging to their words.
The official final results closely mirrored the results of the resumed quick count. Of course, the authors of the CEPR report note, “the legally binding official vote count did not stop for any significant period of time.” Morales’ win with 47 percent of the populations’ support, largely echoed polling prior to the election. Five out of six polls predicted Morales would win by the significant margin that he did.
The ease with which the narrative of a fraudulent election was propagated, and the swift rise of right-wing forces in Bolivia, owe much to U.S. and Canadian foreign policy.
On the U.S. front, attempts to oust Morales from office are nothing new. Over the past few days, actors like opposition-leader Carlos Mesa, the OAS, and high-ranking military, have all been criticized for their relationship to U.S. funding and planning. U.S. intelligence operations, like “Operation Naked King” sought to undermine Morales through campaigns of bribery and destruction. Neil Burron observes in his study of U.S.-Bolivian relations, that the U.S. spent over $100 million between 2001 and 2009 in “democracy promotion” in Bolivia. These U.S. programs continue and are aimed at “undermin[ing] the rise of Evo Morales’s Movement toward Socialism” by financing “‘hard tactics’” namely, “support for right wing departments” in the country’s West. Morales’ mobilization of neglected and abused Indigenous communities was too great a threat to “U.S. [coca] eradication policies” and “the exploitative practices of its transnational corporations.”
More recently, leaked audio recordings reveal coordination between Bolivian police, military, and opposition leaders in planning the removal of Morales. They claimed support from U.S. senators Ted Cruz, Bob Menéndez, and Marco Rubio. Crediting his unique influence in the Trump administration, Senator Rubio is recognized by the New York Times as the “virtual secretary of state for Latin America.”
True to his distinguished role, Senator Rubio tweeted before the OAS released any commentary on the election and even prior to the end of any vote count that “all credible indications are Evo Morales failed to secure necessary margin to avoid second round in Presidential election. However some concern he will tamper with the results or process to avoid this [sic].”
The senator continued to formally condemn the Bolivian election as the OAS issued its report, helping to gather and legitimize support against the results. He was followed by several communiqués from the Trump administration who later congratulated the coup against Morales. In an official public statement, Washington called “the resignation” of Morales “a significant moment for democracy.” They “applaud[ed]” the initiative of “the Bolivian military” and hoped it would send a “strong signal” to other governments in the region.
Turning the Tide
Canada’s role in the Bolivian election follows a similar trajectory. The modest political pressure we’ve applied to the situation has been cheered on and ushered by the CBC. Their leading journalist on the matter, Evan Dyer, has penned articles at every point and juncture of the conflict. Dyer’s pieces’ like “Canada not ready to condemn Bolivia’s dubious election,” play to fears of the “major human rights abuses” committed by Bolivia’s “socialist” allies. He implies throughout that it is our responsibility to “join the European Union, the United States” and several of its “most important partners in the Lima Group in refusing to recognize” the “official election results.”
Responding in turn, Global Affairs Canada issued a statement condemning the election. It cites the OAS report and its findings on an electoral process that “did not comply with international standards” and its concerns over an “unexplained 24-hour interruption.” The statement concludes that “it is not possible to accept the outcome under these circumstances.” One can hardly imagine a South American state refusing to “accept” the elections of Canada and the U.S. (both of whose leaders suffer a much lower popularity than Morales’), but that is only because of our unique role as self-appointed bastions of truth and democracy. Dyer chirps in, applauding our “cautious stance.”
Canada’s political backing for the coup continued as it moved to cautiously “support” the new opposition government even as it took on unprecedented power. We’ve perhaps been more resolute, as foreign policy analyst Yves Engler notes, in our support of right-wing presidents in other countries. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera who enjoys a 14 percent approval rating received a reassuring phone call from Trudeau earlier this month. Although he made no mention of the “ongoing turmoil in Chile” transcripts show the Prime Minister criticizing “election irregularities in Bolivia” and supporting efforts for regime-change in Venezuela.
It is exactly Canada’s support for and strengthening of right-wing forces in Latin America that created an atmosphere for power to be easily stripped away from the Morales government. Far from a coalition of successful pink tide presidents with real power to control the fate of the region, Canada has ensured that the tide turn to the right. Take Canada’s leading role in the 2009 coup in Honduras. Tyler Shipley, an expert on the matter, makes clear that despite “brutal and systematic repression” as well as “assassinations” aimed at “peaceful popular resistance”, Canada quickly approved the new right-wing president and sent its foreign minister to the nation. With amazing haste, Harper later went to sign a trade agreement, aware that the new “far-right military government would be an ideal partner” for Canada’s destructive and exploitative mining interests in the country.
More recently, Canada was a major player in sowing further instability in Venezuela. Politician Juan Guaidó enjoyed near anonymity until he declared himself president with immediate U.S. and Canadian support. Trudeau mobilized the Lima group and based his legitimization of Guaidó on misquotations of the Venezuelan constitution and misinformation surrounding the legitimacy of the election of president Nicolás Maduro. The CBC failed to debunk false statements coming from the Canadian government. It was left to a letter penned by 70 scholars and experts to point out (correctly, as we now know) that “[n]either side in Venezuela can simply vanquish the other” and greater intervention can only lead to “unnecessary human suffering, violence, and instability.” Yet, these risks to human life may have been worth it in a fight against a government that “nationaliz[ed] its gold mining sector”—an affront to powerful Canadian mining companies.
Fuel to the Fire
Canada and the U.S. have succeeded in spreading a message across Latin America: elections are optional for would-be presidents. Spreading this message is what they mean by “democracy promotion.” Áñez takes after her right-wing colleagues in the region, symbolizing an entrenched white elite with a corporate friendly platform. Meanwhile, the colourful Indigenous Wiphala flag burns.
As popular—often Indigenous—resistance forms, it will be met with repression. Although the bullets will be fired by the Bolivian military and militia, the responsibility for the bloodshed will very much be shared with the U.S. and Canada.
A former national security adviser to the prime minister told military officials that Canada’s perception of the threats posed by Russia and China need to be clearly recognized, especially as the United States shifts towards a more isolationist economy, reports the CBC.
“The risks posed by these two countries are certainly different, but they are generally based on advancing all their interests to the detriment of the West,” said Richard Fadden, former national security adviser to Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper.
“Their activities span the political, military and economic spheres.”
Fadden, who also served as head of CSIS and as deputy defence minister, made the comments at the annual Vimy Ridge Dinner in Ottawa.
Russia and China have both shown a willingness to “use virtually any means to attain their goals,” while the U.S. has shown at various instances that it’s willing to withdraw from global trade.
The rise of American isolationism, Fadden says, means Canada will need to seek new avenues in addressing global crises without the United States, and instead, with other allies.
But in order to do so, Fadden says, Canada needs to recognize drastic changes that have occurred on the world stage over the last decade.
Canada should “recognize our adversaries for what they are, recognize we have to deal with them, but draw clear limits to what we will accept,” he said.
According to Fadden, Ottawa and our federal leaders need to recognize that the post-Cold War world order “with comprehensive U.S. leadership is gone, and is not coming back in the form we knew.”
While serving as CSIS director years ago, Fadden noted the rise of Chinese influence throughout Canadian municipal and provincial politics.
“The West does not have its act together as much as it could and should,” said Fadden.
Fadden echoed similar sentiment as former U.S. national security advisor Susan Rice, who recently told the CBC that she believed Huawei phones, made by a company who American officials believe is puppeteered by the Chinese communist party, posed a major threat to national security.
“It’s hard for me to emphasize adequately, without getting into classified terrain, how serious it is, particularly for countries involved in the Five Eyes,” said Rice explaining the severity of the threat, while suggested the signals intelligence alliance (Five Eyes) between U.S., Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia would be put into serious jeopardy if Canada went ahead with Huawei 5G.
Fadden also pointed out that radicalization was occurring beyond the confines of Islam and violent right-wing terrorism has become a growing concern.
“Right-wing terrorism is growing and, like its cousin jihadist terrorism, it is a globalized threat,” he said. “We will ignore it at our peril.”
On Remembrance Day, Don Cherry was fired from Sportsnet for a comment he made on Coach’s Corner regarding poppies. He complained that not enough immigrants were wearing them and suggested that it represented a general ingratitude by immigrants of the benefits they enjoy by living in Canada.
His comment, now dubbed the “‘you people’ comment”, caused predictable outrage. The state broadcaster pointed out that Cherry’s remarks could not possibly have merit because of the fact that there are visible minorities who fought for this country. Try not to think too hard about the fact that they conflated visible minorities with immigrants. I happen to be both, but many Canadians happen to be one or the other.
Many in the media interpreted (some in bad faith) it as an attack on all minorities through Canadian history. While there is a general stereotype that people of colour were not born in Canada, I dare claim that it is a fast disappearing one, at least from personal experience having lived most of my life in Ontario.
Unfortunately, while that stereotype is on the decline, another is on the rise. Even more unfortunately, the one that is on the rise has an uncomfortably high level of merit. After all, Don Cherry did not come up with an original idea, he merely expressed the “wrong” opinion in the “wrong” forum.
I know many fellow immigrant-minorities who find it quite puzzling that the mainstream media and a large section of society simply cannot fathom why racist attitudes are apparently becoming more prevalent and acceptable by progressives who hurl racist abuse against anyone who does not accept the “woke” dogma of the day and by the sentiment sometimes called “whitelash”. Did the white people of Canada spontaneously develop previously a non-existent or hidden collective race consciousness?
On the contrary, I cautiously claim that as each generation in society has its own cultural features, so do successive waves of immigrants. This is true regardless of the predominant country of origin or religion of any given wave of immigration. Not that immigrants are the same regardless of their origin, but that immigrants of the same origin will still tend to behave differently depending on when they came to Canada, and this is likely true even correcting for the amount of time spent in Canada.
In other words, an immigrant of “minority x” in 1990 who immigrated in 1975 will be systematically different from an immigrant of the same “minority x” in 2015 who immigrated in 2000. This is despite the fact that they are from essentially the same origin and have spent the same amount of time in Canada. This should not be a controversial statement.
This is because of two changing variables: the state of society in the country of origin, and the state of society in the destination country. Our society has definitely been changing, so it should not be a surprise if the way we integrate immigrants into our society changes as well. In fact, there may be a very strong case that our “immigration culture” has been changing mostly not because of changes in where our immigrants come from or their culture, but because of changes in our own culture and championing the “cultural mosaic”.
Not many people would argue with the fact that our society has become much more accommodating of social minorities, such as people in the LGBTQ community or people living with disabilities. Hopefully, not many people would argue with the claim that this is largely a positive thing for society as a whole.
Under Canadian Human Rights Law, individuals must be accommodated by society, including the government, employers, service providers, and other individuals. This accommodation must seek to prevent discrimination based on a “prohibited ground” to the point of “undue hardship”. Setting aside whether we as a society have enumerated the proper “prohibited grounds”, whether “undue hardship” is an appropriate threshold, or whether that threshold is interpreted as it should be, it is definitely reasonable for individuals to expect at least some accommodation from society because we do not all share the same characteristics, disadvantages, and capabilities, and a blanket allowance for all forms of discrimination will create discontent and will exclude too many people for society to function well.
For much of history, this accommodation was arguably too little, and we had been moving in the right direction for a long time. However, somewhere along the way, it became inappropriate to consider the extent to which individuals can be expected to accommodate society. Society is made up of individuals, and it is impossible for millions of idiosyncrasies to be accommodated perfectly. One individual’s right is necessarily another individual’s duty not to infringe upon that right. Where we create more rights, we create more duties for others.
I am not trying to argue that the poor white people of Canada are being victimized because they now have more duties not to infringe upon others’ rights not to be unfairly discriminated against. Rather, it is that rights must have a limit, or we create unlimited duties that can have negative consequences or even become impractical.
The phrase “Islam is right about women” is one illustration of this conflict. The phrase was coined to point out a popular contradiction in our modern outrage culture. The idea is that you can either be offended because you think the statement is discriminatory against either muslims or women, but thinking that it is discriminatory against muslims is sexist and thinking that it is discriminatory against women is Islamophobic. The phrase does not claim that Islam is worse for women than any other religion, and there is a good case that Christianity, as with most other religions, are sexist as well, at least by modern western standards. However, the illustration only works because muslims are considered, rightfully in my opinion, to face disproportionately high levels of unfair discrimination.
Other examples include: lessons promoting LGBTQ equality being pulled from classrooms because of complaints by immigrants that such ideas infringe upon freedom of thought or religion, claims by trans activists that lesbians are transphobic for refusing to sleep with people with penises, or labelling the term “bisexual” as exclusionary of non-binary individuals.
Excuse the cliche, but the point is this: we can’t only keep asking what our country can do for us, and not what we can do for our country. The country is nothing more than a collection of us, and we can’t expect all of us to do everything for each individual while making no attempt to fit into our society.
Canadians are bound together by what we have in common, but without the effort of individuals, the few remaining values that hold us together will only continue to weaken and we will become ever more divided into factions competing to score the biggest take for their particular team. Soon, there could be nothing we have in common with each other, other than our shared struggle to compete with each other for resources.
Diversity does not make balkanization inevitable, but our current societal trajectory probably does when “diversity is our strength” is zealously pushed without expecting some common values and customs to be upheld to keep us all together.
Don Cherry was merely pointing out one aspect of that fact.
It’s day 334 of detention for Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, held captive by China in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018.
Meng’s wanted in the United States for charges related to the Chinese tech-giant’s violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran, allegedly conducting business with the rogue Islamist state through a front company in Hong Kong.
Shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, he withdrew the United States from the ‘Iran nuclear deal’, favouring sanctions and sabre rattling to prevent Iran from enriching uranium and building nuclear weapons.
Caught between two economic and military superpowers, Canada got a bit of reprieve this week, at least our pig farmers did, after China lifted its embargo on Canadian pork while similar, retaliatory prohibitions remain for our canola and beef.
If these problems weren’t enough, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s previous government delayed a decision whether to allow Huawei 5G technology onto our domestic telecommunications network – the United States has already banned it over national security concerns.
During a CBC interview aired Monday with Susan Rice, the former U.S. national security advisor to President Barack Obama echoed these concerns and said Huawei 5G presented a clear and present danger.
“It’s hard for me to emphasize adequately, without getting into classified terrain, how serious it is, particularly for countries involved in the Five Eyes,” said Rice who explained threat, then suggested the signals intelligence alliance (Five Eyes) between U.S., Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia would be jeopardized if Canada went ahead with Huawei 5G.
Huawei isn’t the only company that can provide 5G, purportedly capable of 10 gigabytes-per-second of data transfer that can activate a Bluetooth ‘internet of things’ world where all gadgets are operable via smartphone.
But Huawei’s current proliferation in the marketplace and its ties with the Chinese Communist Party, as The Post Millennial previously reported, raise questions about why the Trudeau government dithers on this national security front.
“It gives the China the ability, if they choose to use it, to access all kinds of information, civilian intelligence, military, that could be very, very compromising. As much as I disagree with the Trump administration on a number of things, on this their concern about Huawei, I believe they’re right.”
Rice went on to say that if Canada were to allow the technology on its telecom infrastructure that would forever change the security relationship between our countries.
“That would put the security collaboration which serves the security interests of every Canadian and every American, into jeopardy,” Rice said. “It can’t be done. I don’t see how we can share (intelligence) in the way we have. It’s not a joke. It’s truly serious.”
National security concerns about Huawei 5G are not new – New Zealand and Australia have followed America’s lead, while UK and Canada dither – despite warnings from intelligence experts, and now the former U.S. national security advisor.
Adding more complications to the diplomatic mess, and the Trudeau government’s inability to make a decision on Huawei 5G – one Rice’s interview indicates should be a no-brainer – is the extent to which Huawei has wormed its way into Canadian university research, and the money mainland China students pay to attend post-secondary here.
According to internal documents from the University of British Columbia obtained by National Post, after Meng’s arrest, faculty and administrators were more worried about losing Chinese students, related Huawei research deals and estranging faculty from China, than national security or the university’s integrity.
Huawei research sponsorship at UBC is currently worth $9.5 million and mainland China students make up nearly 10 percent of total enrolment at the university; 5,717 or approximately one-third of all international students at the school.
In the day’s following Meng’s arrest as she was transiting through Vancouver International Airport, teachers and admin contemplated a PR strategy to combat commentary in media critical of Canadian universities’ relations with Huawei.
On December 10, the same day Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in China – the pair have since been accused of espionage – Paul Evans, an Asia expert at UBC’s public policy school wrote colleagues proposing they decide whether to be “proactive or reactive” to events that could impact research cash or students from the communist regime.