Dr. Louis LaPierre and members of the Shale Gas Group, I would like to express my concern with shale gas development as informed by my experience assessing the environmental impacts of major infrastructure projects from both the proponent’s and regulator’s perspectives.
With twelve years working in environmental assessment and policy in the Ontario government, I moved here and since 1996 have worked for the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, 14 of which as Executive Director. I currently chair the Canadian Land Trust Alliance, an umbrella group for conservation trusts across this country. I am on the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Protected Natural Areas in New Brunswick because I care about the future of this province’s wild spaces and species. I speak as an individual, not as a representative of any group.
As a fresh-faced environmental planner back in the early 1980s, I studied and consulted the public on new highways. Walking pastoral landscapes we made lists of plants and butterflies, sadly knowing that a four-lane expressway would soon flatten it all. We reassured people that the effects would be small; the forests and farms soon to be bisected would heal or just cease to be. The need for the highway, the sustainability of the highway or the urban sprawl and loss of countryside it caused were never questioned.
How blithely we paved over class I agricultural land in the interest of cars and development; how irreverently we dismissed the public’s concerns– about homes lost, villages split in two– mostly in order to be able to sleep at night. To address the true impacts would have meant to stop the destruction before it started. From the perspective of today, how I wish I had questioned authority and challenged all we did. Alas I did not. I was a few years into an environmental planning career when I discovered my role was to facilitate the damage, not prevent it.
That was in 1984; global population was 4.8 billion and C02 levels in the atmosphere were 340 ppm. Environmental concern worldwide was growing, but there was not the vast store of scientific data, understanding of the threats or their causes that we have today.
Fast forward to 2012, global population is 7 billion according to the United Nations and the C02 concentration in the atmosphere is close to 400 ppm. The cumulative effects of 160 years of industrial activity supercharged by fossil fuels and unconstrained consumption have caught up with us in the form of climatic changes that are going to eclipse any remediation that could, but likely won’t, be administered. At least we now know how to avoid causing further harm, don’t we?
Yet here we are tonight, discussing the merits of still another emissions-intensive fossil-fuel development, shale gas. Clearly we have learned nothing from our current predicament and past failures. Or perhaps we have learned, but the allure of short-term profits, temporary jobs and delusions of financial bonanzas militate that we proceed blindly down this path, unquestioning and unrecognizing of its folly.
I do not criticize the Shale Gas Group assembled by the Province and guided by Dr. Lapierre. We should criticize its political masters who, encouraged by industry representatives and growth advocates, are willing, no, eager, to sacrifice the clean environment and landscapes of New Brunswick to further their careers and twisted ideas of what it is to have true prosperity. The waste of time, money and human energy that this shale gas misadventure has caused, when we should be focusing on clean, green, sustainable activities and business ventures to actually benefit New Brunswick and bring our children home, is so huge it makes my head spin and my heart break.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives just released a report entitled A Green Industrial Revolution: Climate Justice, Green Jobs and Sustainable Production in Canada (Lee and Card, June 2012). It presents suites of alternatives for oil and gas sector jobs which, it notes “produce more than one-quarter of Canada’s industrial GHG emissions, while employing less than 1% of Canadian workers.” The report calls for a total moratorium on new fossil fuel extraction which would, by the way, include shale gas.
But more meaningful than this, it presents (as numerous steady-state or green economy publications have in recent years) ideas for a way of thinking that must take precedence in all human initiatives now and moving forward: that we need to move to a zero emissions state, that our economy is embedded in the ecosphere not vice versa and that we as a species have no right to expand endlessly and mine our planet (and its other, non-human species) to extinction.
Part of a presentation given to the Shale Gas Group in Hillsborough, NB on June 19, 2012.