environmentalists and Tar Sands operators to announce eco-agreement


Well, maybe the subject line to this post is not quite true… but probably soon enough. We can call the products: the eco-tar sands; or Greenpeace Oil; or Suzuki Sustainable Bitumen; or otherwise.

There’s about one word that I would like to send along to the nine environmental groups that signed the “historic agreement signifying a new era of Joint leadership in the Boreal Forest” — The Canadian Boreal Initiative, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Forest Ethics, Greenpeace, Canopy, The Nature Conservancy, Pew Environment Group International Boreal Conservation Campaign, & The Ivey Foundation —

It’s called co-opt.

The definition I think we can run with is: “To neutralize or win over (an independent minority, for example) through assimilation into an established group or culture.

The example given by the Free Online Dictionary is fitting:

co-opt rebels by giving them positions of authority.

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There was a time when several of these organizations were considered “rebel-like” — voices in the wilderness speaking up for things that matter. Maybe many folks didn’t always agree with messages, or tactics, or otherwise; however it was still good to hear another opinion; another perspective in opposition to whole-hog development.

Now don’t get me wrong… I think there is definitely a place for industry, communities (First Nation and settler alike), environmental groups, governments, investors, and so on to come together and devise solutions, or even developing good working relationships.

In fact, I think it’s essential.

However, pardon the cliche, this starts at the ground-level, at the community-level. Not in the ivory tower boardrooms of corporations and environmental corporations (what almost all of these organizations have become).

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Somebody please explain to me where large environmental organizations and large logging companies differ.

Large logging companies seek to remain as sensible, valuable, affordable investments for their investors  — often large mutual fund companies, pension funds, institutional investors (e.g. banks), and so on. These companies pump out distributions, or return on investment, or profits, or whatever else to their investors. In return governments (federal and provincial) give them access to timber and land, with the expectation that jobs and community investment will come along with that.

On the parallel hand, large corporate environmental organizations have created institutional structures that absolutely rely on the philanthropic foundations (largely from the U.S. and Europe) that fund them — and ironically enough, often large foundations that were created as a result of some individual or family exploiting natural resources or otherwise to make their fortune (i.e. there is no such thing as clean money) — with the addition of some individual donations.

Large environmental organizations do what any large organization does these days: they set up a corporate structure — the root of the word corporate comes from Latin corpus: to form into a body. (I’ll quietly point out that’s the same Latin root for: corpse).

And thus, the corpus/corpse/corporate process begins: form a hierarchy or command structure (e.g. we know who the general is of the Suzuki Foundation), draft a strategic plan with vision, mission, goals, objectives, strategies and so on, hire administrators and financial controllers, and year-in and year-out grind out “proposals” and shmooze the philanthropic foundations…

(there’s a reason they call big whitewater rafting trips, or yacht cruises up the “Great Bear Rainforest”, or whatever else — FLOAT & BLOAT)

The funny thing with corporate environmental organizations is that they often operate with the same corporate culture of many big business organizations — secure the cheapest labour possible and demand the longest hours all in the name of “save the planet”.

There are no “environmentalist labor unions”… and I’d be quite surprised to hear of the environmental organization that offers an industry competitive wage with full benefits…

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And thus… organizations (environmental) faced with securing donations and grants to continue (and justify) their existence must enter negotiations and sign deals that render them neutral and ineffective — all in the name of “results-based” operations… They have to resort to signing agreements that use empty meaningless language that parallel insurance agreements that leave insurance buyers screwed when they actually have to make a claim.

I don’t want to paste much of the agreement into these posts as it’ll drive the few readers of these posts away faster than fellow diners after sneezing on the group appetizer tray…

From the “definitions” section of the agreement; ecosystem-based planning which forms the foundation of this agreement:

“Ecosystem-based management” or “EBM” means management systems that attempt to emulate ecological patterns and processes, with the goal of maintaining and/or restoring natural levels of ecosystem composition, structure and function within stands and across the landscape;

This is the same bogus, bullshit language whereby early foresters suggested that clearcuts emulate natural disturbances (e.g. fire, blowdown, insect attacks, etc.).

Horseshit… the only natural disturbance that actually physically removes the wood from the ecosystem is maybe tornadoes — and that still results in wood being deposited elsewhere in an ecosystem —  not cut into 2×4’s and used to hold up cheap plaster walls in an Arizona suburb, in a house bought with a sub-prime mortgage, by someone who probably shouldn’t have been given a mortgage, but the bank sold the mortgage to bank in Greece, or Iceland —  so-fuggedaboutit…

(forget about it)

So tell me —  Greenpeace-Mr. Suzuki-ForestEthics, etc. —  how does a tree leaving the forest on the back of a logging truck in north-central Saskatchewan “emulate ecological patterns and processes”?

And “maintain” and “restore” framed by “and/or“…

For crying out loud! these are not parallel terms, which is generally what “and/or” implies.

Maintain means to keep up or carry on; to keep in an existing state. Thus, something cannot be “maintained in an existing state” if something is being taken out — for example: trees.

Restore means to bring back into existence; reestablish. I haven’t quite met a “restoration” process that means remove indigenous critters — for example: trees.

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This is horseshit, bullshit, cowshit language. Instead of framing things in an agreement like this, in empty meaningless language why not say it, as it is.

For example, Ecosystem-based Management (in this agreement anyways) means:

a system of economic trade-offs formulated in boardrooms in urban environments  that may/may not include local communities, governments, or organizations (aboriginal or settler) by individuals that may/may not have an understanding of actual ecosystem processes and probably couldn’t tell a caribou from a cow.

Oh yeah, I know Mr. Greenpeace, “EBM” is informed by the “Precautionary Approach”… wait lets define that as it should be:

Precautionary approach (definition from page 5 of agreement) means that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage to the revenue streams of the corporations and/or environmental corporations involved see definition of EBM and don’t let a good story get in the way of sound corporate decision-making.

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What does this have to do with salmon?

These types of empty, bumpf-filled, bullshit agreements between industries and “stakeholders” are becoming more commonplace.

Am I against logging? – absolutely not (I grew up in a logging town).

Am I against decisions on rural landscapes being made in urban corporate boardrooms (industry or environmentalist industry)- absolutely!

Where should rural decisions be made… I think you know my answer.


6 thoughts on “environmentalists and Tar Sands operators to announce eco-agreement

  1. kd

    wow, you covered quite a few contentious issues in that post, salmon guy..with very little to do with salmon directly.

    to answer your ending question with another: if you are in favour of local decision making, then you are in favour of an open pit mine in clayoquot sound since the ahousaht fn voted in favour of that development? Or, say if the people of Kitimat were in favour of the northern gateway pipeline project then that’s fine too because the ‘locals’ decided on it? See where this is going?
    Land use or resource use decisions need to be made with a very broad perspective from across all society….not just hard-core enviro groups or business interests.
    Your rant about enviro groups being co-opted by big business raises a bunch of interesting issues, especially the corporate similarities between the two, but the overarching one you didnt really touch on is that interests me is: as a concerned person, do you co-opt yourself by getting involved in the various DFO public input processes?? For example, by participating in the Cohen Inquiry…are you actually part of the problem now of too much process…to little action? Or, do you sit on the sidelines continuing to throw rocks from the outside?? Maybe damned if you, damned if you dont. How do you get input into change without participating? Why continue to participate when nothing ever changes..??

  2. priscillajudd.ca

    Hi there salmonguy,
    Thanks for posting about the latest co-opting scandal. I think you might enjoy this article:

    And to the excellent comment by kd:
    Since all laws are political – make the Commission a political one. Do not sit on the side lines. The government listens to people and the comments on public submissions like “lead removal” which might be taken into account in matters of paint removal policy which exists in paint store training manuals.

    As to environment groups – they are co-opted by donations from government and by staying in the business with having environmental problems – when was the last time they really fixed a problem? As to what factor to use in decision making? All decisions on development should consider leaving a natural planet for humans to live on. Sure we can eat farmed fish and sure we can live in cities without nature – we can cut more trees and call it sustainable but is that what we ought to do?

  3. salmon guy Post author

    yeah you’re right kd — a few contentious issues… which I quite enjoy doing. Much related to salmon though in a few ways though:

    1. the Boreal forest does cover quite a bit of salmon habitat – northern BC (Taku, etc.), Yukon, Mackenzie River — NWT, and through Alaska (not part of this agreement).

    2. The empty bumpf-language; shoddy process (only two ‘sectors’ involved); lack of thought of participants and signers of agreement; colonial strategy of leaving First Nations out of the initial agreement (oh, but we’ll include them later… doesn’t work for me and what I’m hearing several First Nations suggest — doesn’t work for them either. however maybe there are some that this does work?); arrogance of enviros to think that they have any rights to negotiate this type of agreement (if this is about economic markets and market boycott campaigns, then leave it at that — don’t be giving the public the perception that all is good in the woods, esp. when the agreement does not cover the entire Boreal forest belt, just small parcels)

    It will be quite entertaining to watch enviros fall off this agreement as follow-through is lacking: i.e. Greenpeace will fall off the wagon faster than a Toronto Maple Leafs fan come hockey playoff time.

    3. These types of ‘agreements’ and empty-bumpf language are becoming more commonplace in salmon territory. The Fisheries and Oceans Wild Salmon Policy is full of “ecosystem-based management” —- “precautionary approach” — “ecological benchmarks” — and other horseshit language that doesn’t actually mean anything on the ground, worse on paper, and does little to ensure wild salmon reach spawning grounds.

  4. salmon guy Post author

    your other questions and ponderings are excellent — much appreciated.

    I’ll preface my comments by saying I don’t believe in “either/or” thinking — always “both/and”. Thus, when I have a riff or rant about local decision-making, it’s not to suggest that it should be ‘only’ locals involved — as you’re exactly right broad perspectives are often required (e.g. global warming, or the more government-friendly term “climate change”).

    Your examples, are really good. The proposed open-pit mine on Catface mountain in Clayoquot sound is certainly not as simple as suggesting that Ahousat supports it so then it should go. This is the exact opposite of what actually happens in BC right now. Conservative-thinkers and business interests carry-on and flip out over the prospect of First Nations having “veto” on projects — and so what we have in BC right now is outstanding aboriginal rights and title (because of a kangaroo court, completely flawed Treaty negotiations process and Provincial and Federal governments that insist that litigation is the only other option — which means absolute and complete denial of aboriginal rights and title — granted the Province has backed away a little, lately, on that strategy).

    And so if I was to suggest, yes, a First Nation approves that mining project, so it must go — then I’d be simply suggesting a complete fliparoo of the current balance of power. And thus, if we operated on that platform, the oppressed could simply become the potential oppressors (not that I think this would happen).

    There are other communities that would be affected by that specific proposed development — and thus all would need to be involved: First Nation and settler communities alike. There would also need to be a place for federal and provincial governments, regional districts, civic governments, local organizations and so on.

    The great challenge of this is how to facilitate, how to resolve conflict, and how to work towards consensus (a loaded and difficult term)? Would “democracy” — i.e. majority rules, Robert’s Rules of Order, dictate the process (all in favour say “I”)?

    The proposed Enbridge Pipeline is a really tough one — this starts to tie into global issues. Should we be making oil (fossil fuels) export easier? Do we have any right to suggest to China and India that they shouldn’t be aspiring to the middle class life that many of us have here in North America?

    However, the current process for this (of which Enbridge filed for regulatory approval yesterday- May 28th) is heavily weighted to industry, Chamber of Commerces and the business world. There is little opportunity for local communities opposed, First Nations opposed (of which almost every First Nation along the proposed route is opposed). Or, more accurately, sure they can “participate” but what weight are those voices given?

    Yet, at the same time, some First Nation governments have put themselves in a very difficult spot, as there is a negotiated agreement in place for the proposed Pacific Trail Pipeline which will transport natural gas to Kitimat from north of Prince George for the proposed LNG plant in Kitimat (then put on tankers to Asia). And, so, is this not suggesting that natural gas pipelines are OK, but not oil pipelines…?

    Very sticky situation. I was quite surprised to hear that the proposed PTP pipeline was approved by First Nations along the route — however, this has been kept very hush, hush. There is currently a $15-18 million project funded by Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) to get First Nations people trained and hired on the project. The main office is here in PG, and opens the week after next.

    Curious that the project is apparently moving ahead without approval of the LNG plant.

    One of the biggest issues in this more-balance-of-power-to-local-communities (in my humble opinion) is the religious attachment to science. And going back to the Boreal Agreement… there’s this terribly dangerous perception out there that if it’s “scientific” it must be good. And thus “ecosystem management” is a totally co-opted term. It’s now in the realm of science and thus has become useless to all of us.

    (“Science” also came up with maximum sustainable yield — which is fine for farming wheat… not fine for trying to look after fish.)

    And so, yes, totally agree with you — broad perspectives are essential; however, more key is how do these perspectives get balanced? how do decisions get made? And how do we deal with the huge elephants in the closet in BC — of how do we sort out the land question. Little of the BC land base has been settled by Treaty with First Nations – and thus much of BC remains as disputed territory: not Crown Land. Continuing to operate as if non-Treaty land is Crown Land is only going to cause litigation to proliferate and industry to largely stay away.

    tough, hard issues….

  5. salmon guy Post author

    now lastly — “to participate — or — not participate”… a pondering I often ask myself, and am asking again as I see more useless processes and participate in various conferences that are largely a waste of resources and largely of time.

    For example, I’d be curious to ask all of the enviros that participated in the Boreal Agreement negotiations — what their carbon footprint is from all of the flights that were required for the agreement participants to get to meetings? If they are so concerned about climate change (Dr. Suzuki) then how does one justify flying all over the planet to protest against industries that continue to add CO2 to the atmosphere?


    And I’m certainly not innocent in this process… what about the metal in the vehicle I drive, lead in the batteries, gas in the tank burning…?

    Thus, the endless chasing of my own tail… or… is the tail chasing me?

    And really, what it comes down to for me, is that it’s all personal choice. I can choose to participate in the Cohen Commission, or not. I can choose to participate and part way through decide “this is a waste of time”. Or I can choose to participate and ten years later realize it was a waste of time.

    I quite strongly believe that throwing the proverbial rocks (in a metaphorical sense) is vital. Change does not come from the times when everything is all fine and dandy (esp. in our personal lives); change comes from complexity, chaos, and tension. It’s the old throw a rock into a glassy pond and watch the ripples go.

    I try and do this in my own life, and certainly try and do it in almost any process I participate in. Just mess things up a little bit, ask some hard questions, change habits and status-quo operating principles. If we all sit here and merrily move along the easy paths then we’re all going to end up like the incredibly fat sloths in the movie Wall-E (if one has seen it you’ll know what i’m talking about). In the cartoon-movie, people have become so lazy and bored they float around in lawn chair slurping on whatever they want. There’s no need to walk or do things that matter.

    To finish this point… I do think that things change. Change is always happening — it is the only constant on the planet. So, yes, in a few decades of our lives and with things like wild salmon, for example, it can seem like “nothing is changing” however it is.

    With something like DFO (Fisheries and Oceans)… they will have to change. They are about to go through major attrition in their employees. There was a curious article in the Globe and Mail the day before yesterday that suggests that people over the age of 55 will out-number children by 2020. This is huge. This is a bomb in so many ways that I don’t think any government is prepared to handle.

    There is very little interest in fisheries science as compared to other disciplines and even less interest in working for DFO. Why would anyone want to do that? The institution “managed” Atlantic cod into oblivion; is “managing” wild salmon into oblivion, and is quickly working itself towards an Agriculture institution as opposed to an exciting institution where one can get out into the rivers and have their hands and feet in creeks, streams, rivers, and the ocean. It “negotiates” buy-back schemes of licenses; attends endless meetings with awful PowerPoint presentations, angry “stakeholders”, and in window-less meeting rooms; and is so big, so hierarchical, bureaucratic — and quickly obsolete — that full benefits, a pension plan, and a full airmiles account don’t seem so appealing. (Gee… where do I sign up).

    And thus… local engagement, local participation, and local decision-making are essential. Not the be-all — end-all; but a crucial step, balanced with the broader interests.

    DFO for example, could simply be an institution providing the support and funding for large watershed roundtables (and expert facilitation, mediation, and conflict resolution) — not the ones holding the hammer, the nails, the boards, owning the building site — and pretending to the be foreman — all at the same time. (Especially when the foreman is an individual with a long career in revenue Canada and couldn’t tell a sockeye from a Chinook — and thinks an oolichan is those rowdy folks at English soccer games…).

  6. salmon guy Post author

    great article – thanks Priscilla. Really good read. Am looking for the fellow’s books through the library now, as it looks like he has a few interesting ones.

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