Nature Wise Columnist Bob Handfield

Nature Wise: Canada’s complacency starting to catch up

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club

For many decades, it seems Canadians felt that Canada was superior in many ways to other countries, especially the USA.

We didn’t have a great deal of gun violence, we looked after our environment, we had great national parks, we stuck by our commitments to international agreements and we were overwhelmingly polite — to the point that our politeness would sometimes be the subject of U.S. late night talk shows.

Unfortunately, the truth is now starting to get in the way of our complacency in a number of areas.

READ MORE: Nature Wise – Are we all on the same planet?

How about we start with just one issue— exporting our waste to less developed countries.

Concern over the shipment of hazardous waste from industrialized countries to developing countries started to become an issue in the late 1970s. Canada participated in the development of the Basal Convention in the late 1980s and ratified it in 1992. It came into force that year after being ratified by 20 countries. It has now been ratified by a total of 172 countries (but not the U.S.).

Among other things, the Basal Convention forbids the export of waste to a country where the consent for such was obtained through false documentation, misrepresentation or fraud. When the convention was written, there was concern it might be ineffective, so it included a provision for bringing in an outright ban on the export of hazardous waste.

In May, countries attending a conference on the convention in Switzerland proposed an amendment to ban the export of all hazardous waste to developing countries. Only two more countries need to ratify the amendment for it to come into effect.

READ MORE: Nature Wise – Pushback against resource development projects

The U.S. would likely oppose the amendment but it isn’t a party to the convention, so it doesn’t get a say. But would you be surprised to know Canada opposes the amendment? After our illegal (and immoral) fiasco with the Philippines over thousands of tonnes of waste shipped there in 2013 and 2014, maybe you shouldn’t be surprised.

After notification by the Philippines in 2014 that the material it accepted under false pretenses (the waste was misrepresented), Canada was legally obligated as a signatory to the Basel Convention to take it back at our cost.

The former Conservative government refused to take any action. And it took the current Liberal government four years to finally take action — but only after a huge outcry from environmental organizations and a threat from the Philippines president to “declare war.”

From a moral point of view, if we generate “crap,” we should deal with disposing of it properly. (For more on this issue see West Coast Environmental Law, RightOnCanada.ca and Canada.ca).

•••

READ MORE: How are Canada’s birds doing and do we even care?

I have written several times about the state of Canada’s birds and their significant population losses since the 1960s.

A new study just released shows the number of North American birds has declined nearly three billion since 1970. But what’s three billion mean anyway? We all get immune to large numbers—the government debt has gone up by $100 million, the earth’s population just passed seven billion or some other statistic so large as to be meaningless to the average person.

Well, if you think three billion is just another number, here is a new way to visualize it. If one bird flew by your living room window every second of the day, 24 hours a day, it would take 95 years for three billion birds to fly by your window.

That’s how many birds we’ve lost over the past 50 years — mostly due to habitat loss and increasing use of pesticides. (For more on this see sciencenews.org.)

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club . The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the club.

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