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Fueling Climate Injustice

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Issue: 76 Section: Environment Topics: climate justice

April 11, 2011

Fueling Climate Injustice

Tar sands, emissions and US-Canadian militarization

by Maryam Adrangi, SK Hussan

Photo: Jesse Purcell

TORONTO—Over half of Alberta’s tar sands oil goes to the US, making Canada the single largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States. As popular uprisings unfold across the Middle East, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to facilitate oil exports to the US by making them tax-free, arguing that the US needs “secure” oil from its stable northern allies. Over the past forty years, exploration and production of crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands have spiked in tandem with various wars and occupations involving Canadian and US military.

“[Former US Vice-President Dick] Cheney’s National Energy Policy identified expanding Canadian tar sands production as critical to US security,” says Ricardo Acuna of the Parkland Institute, an Edmonton-based progressive think tank. “Reduced tar sands production would force the US to reduce growth in energy consumption, including for their military.”

Acuna has chronicled spikes in Alberta’s oil production in 1973 and throughout the last decade, which correlate to US (and in some cases Canadian) military involvement in the Yom Kippur war, the Iraqi oil embargo and the ongoing occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Pressure from the US has prevented Canada from developing any type of climate change policy, says Acuna, because an ever-expanding imperial military force in turn requires an expanding source of fossil fuels.

According to the World Watch Institute, emissions from military operations cause six to 10 per cent of global air pollution and contribute significantly to global warming. The Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products in the world, burning through 395,000 barrels of oil a day. Emissions from fighter jets and planes cause disproportionately high impacts on the climate because of the way they mix with atmospheric gasses at high altitudes. Much of this fuel comes from tar sands oil.

The US Air Force consumes about 2.5 billion gallons of aviation fuel per year and accounts for more than half of the Pentagon’s energy use. “Only about 20 per cent of tar sands crude can be refined into oil for a conventional car,” says Macdonald Stainsby of Oil Sands Truth, “but it is almost identical to jet fuel.” This helps explain the demand for tar sands oil, which is costly to extract and refine.

The Pentagon highlights its initiative to “green” its operations by building environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient buildings, but emissions due to military activity are still increasing. The Pentagon consumes approximately 22 gallons of oil per on-duty soldier each day, a figure expected to grow by 1.5 per cent every year.

Facts about the Canadian military’s carbon footprint are difficult to come by. The most recent environmental reports released by the Department of National Defence (DND), including from the Army Environmental Programme and the National Defense Sustainable Development Strategy, fail to discuss the impact of overseas Canadian military operations, domestic naval operations and air force operations.

These reports do, however, comment on the DND’s organizational footprint: it is the largest single consumer of federally procured goods, holds seven per cent of federal land inventory, owns the greatest proportion of federal government buildings (43 per cent), and has a fleet of over 11,000 vehicles, 11,000 military pattern trucks, 100 ships and 300 aircraft.

The expansion of Canada’s military operations abroad parallels increased domestic militarization.

For example, the Innu people of Nitassinan have long opposed low-level flights near the NATO air force base at Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador. Their resistance began in 1979, when the government moved to expand the low-level flights from 8,000 to 100,000 per year. For the Innu people, resisting NATO’s air force base was a fight for environmental justice, including the protection of caribou and other species on which the Innu people depend, as well as a fight for their traditional ways of life.

In 1989, several women were arrested for occupying the base’s runways. The women served 19 days in a provincial jail before being acquitted of charges. The provincial court ruled that they were not trespassing, as they were occupying their own land.

By the summer of that year, 250 people had been arrested while opposing the NATO proposal. The opposition ultimately forced the military base to be shut down in 2008, according to the International Campaign for the Innu and the Earth.

Other examples of militarization and resistance in Canada include the Oka Crisis of August 1990, and the secret use of Canadian military at Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake) in central BC in 1995.

"The Indigenous people in Canada are surviving prison-like conditions on reservations controlled by the RCMP and the Canadian army,” said Elaine Thomas of the St’át’imc Native Youth Movement. “Every year Indigenous people are criminalized or intimidated off their original homelands by force, such as the incident at Gustafsen Lake where land mines, grenades and assault rifles were used to attempt to slaughter native people holding a sacred ceremony."

Ellen Gabriel, community spokesperson during the Oka Crisis, described the extreme force used against the Mohawk people in 1990 as nothing new. “For two and a half centuries, the colonizers have criminalized Indigenous peoples to justify the illegal theft of our lands,” she said. “The state authorities had more weaponry and resources than the small communities of Kanehsatake and Kahnawake. The Government of Canada and Quebec condoned the hundreds of human rights violations by both the SQ [Quebec provincial police] and Canadian Army.”

In February 2010, Canadian military and police forces were brought in to provide security for the Vancouver Winter Olympics, decried country-wide as an environmentally destructive project, which siphoned public funds and was held on unceded Indigenous territory.

Similarly, Canadian military and police displayed a massive show of force in Toronto during the G20 meeting in June 2010, repressing grassroots activists and arresting more than 1,100 people. “The policing of protest in Canada has gradually militarized, but this summer’s G20 protests launched police tactics to a new level with the use of ‘less-lethal weapons’ (Tasers, sound cannons, rubber bullets), military formations, and pre-emptive arrests,” according to Lesley Wood, Professor of Sociology at York University.

Increasing militarization at home and Canada’s expanding military presence abroad are intimately linked with increased state-sponsored violence against people and the land.

The G20 has been widely criticized for being a non-democratic self-appointed body whose member governments and corporations are responsible for over 90 per cent of the world's wars and 80 per cent of the world’s greenhouse emissions. The anti-G20 mobilizations saw environmental justice, anti-war and migrant justice organizers working together in a rare show of cross-pollination that is becoming increasingly necessary.

“Wars and climate change are inextricably connected, working together to push people out of their homes,” said Farrah Miranda from No One Is Illegal-Toronto. “And while countries like the US and Canada profit from these wars and environmental disasters, they also militarize their borders, only allowing in those they displace as temporary workers, [who are] exploited and easily deportable.”

Forced migration due to climate change is on the rise. Professor Norman Myers of Oxford University has argued that by 2050, "when global warming takes hold there could be as many as 200 million people displaced by disruptions of monsoon systems and other rainfall regimes, by droughts of unprecedented severity and duration and by sea-level rise and coastal flooding." If the world population rises to nine billion by that time, the 200 million people who will be displaced represents one in every 45 people on the planet.

“Environmental justice activists in Canada and around the world are increasingly...organizing against local and global militarization,” said Sakura Saunders of Toronto’s Mining Injustice Solidarity Network. “In many of the communities that Mining Injustice Solidarity Network works, such as Tanzania and Papua New Guinea, we have seen state forces partner with mining companies to forcefully evict people from their land. In other areas, we see military aid undermining struggles for the self-determination of Indigenous peoples [who] happen to live in resource-rich areas.”

Activists say that as environmental movements, and anti-war and occupation movements enter into conversation, an analytical shift is required.

“Connecting issues of militarization and environmental injustices requires looking at environmental issues in more complex ways, and to understand that environmental issues do not impact everyone in the same way,” said Ilaria Giglioli, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley. Giglioi, a Palestinian solidarity activist, offered an example. “Israeli deep well pumping in the West Bank has lowered the water table; the settler land grab has resulted in over-exploitation and over-grazing of Palestinian lands; and human and animal migration has been negatively impacted by the construction of the Apartheid Wall—all these impact the Palestinians more.”

This is just one example of how anti-war and social justice movements are beginning to understand and respond to the increasing deterioration of the environment, and how environmental justice organizers are recognizing and reacting to the impacts of war, colonization and immigration policies on communities around the world.

Maryam Adrangi is an environmental justice and Indigenous sovereignty activist in Toronto. SK Hussan is a migrant justice, anti-war and Indigenous sovereignty activist in Toronto.

This article was published in A People's Forecast: The Climate Justice Issue, our 2011 special issue. To read more articles as they are published, click here.

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