“There’s no reason why the earth should have to pay for our economy,” Rexton Mayor Randy Warman declared. Warman, attending an Earth Day Art Exhibition hosted by the Council of Canadians Chapter in Kent County on April 22, firmly rejects the notion that people have to choose between a healthy economy and environmental protection.
“We don’t have to choose between jobs and the environment,” Warman said in a room at the L’Ancre Centre in Richibucto adorned by artwork celebrating the Earth and pleading for its protection. It makes far more sense, he says, to create jobs “with development that works in conjunction with the environment rather than against it” by destroying resources and polluting the land.
The artwork on display celebrating the Earth at L’Ancre was created by Aboriginal, Francophone and Anglophone K-12 students in the area. Four years ago, many of the young artists witnessed their own family and community members successfully resist attempts to force shale gas development on them using violence.
Warman was at the Earth Day event, along with Richibucto Mayor Roger Doiron, to draw winning tickets for prizes being offered by the Council of Canadians Kent Chapter. The Council of Canadians is a nation-wide citizens’ group that works for environmental protection, justice and democracy.
“Children know instinctively why the planet is important,” Council of Canadians Kent County member Denise Melanson said. “Children have a natural reverence for Creation that we as adults too easily forget.”
“We all know deep in our hearts how important protecting the environment is, but too many people think that if something makes money, then it’s OK to harm the environment,” she said. “Without water there is no life, and deforestation is a major threat to our water.”
“Earth Day is important because we’ve only got one Earth, and once the resources are used up and the water polluted, they’re gone forever,” Warman said. “We can do a lot better than clearcutting the forests or fracking [for shale gas] by focusing development on areas that don’t destroy the environment.”
Debbie Hopper teaches at Elsipogtog School, and some of her students have artwork on display.
“Many young people from Elsipogtog became environmentalists after the threat of the shale gas industry and their concern over water,” Hopper says. “The students realize that we have nothing without water – we simply cannot live without it!”
Several students also told Hopper that “every day should be Earth Day.” She says that Indigenous students will often talk about their culture, the sacredness of Mother Earth and how she provides for all living creatures.
“The importance of each generation taking care of the planet for the next seven generations is a beautiful part of their culture – imagine if we all lived by those values.”
Like the artwork reverencing the environment, Elsipogtog band councilor Robert Francis is quick to point out that every person alive “relies on Mother Earth for his or her subsistence.” The protection of land and water needs to be a priority both for our own health and for future generations,” he said.
Francis also wants the Province of New Brunswick to meet its legal obligation to consult with First Nations people about development on First Nations land. To date, the Gallant Liberals have steadfastly ignored their legal duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples about economic development, despite repeated requests from Elsipogtog for such consultation.
Last November, the refusal of both Liberal and Conservative provincial governments to consult with Aboriginal peoples about development and resource management practices on Aboriginal land resulted in Elsipogtog launching an Aboriginal title claim in court.
Francis is optimistic that the alliance of Aboriginal, Francophone and Anglophone people who defeated shale gas will also be maintained on forestry. “We live on the same planet and we drink the same water,” he says.
Like Francis and Mayor Warman, Hopper’s students are also convinced we can do a lot better than destroying the forests by clearcutting or polluting sources of fresh water by fracking.
“Water is a prime concern in Kent County,” Warman says, adding that the clearcutting of provincial forests not only destroys forests, but also is a threat to water. It is well known that the clearcutting of forests seriously degrades the water in areas where the cutting takes place.
Provincial governments should not be looking for “big resource companies or heavy industry” to provide a “fix all” for the province’s economic problems,” he says. “Big companies and heavy industry are never locally owned, and they have no personal stake in the well-being of communities.”
“Further, most of the money being made from large scale projects leaves the local community, and development by heavy industry usually doesn’t last very long.”
By contrast, Warman says, locally owned businesses are sustainable and do have a stake in the well-being of their communities. “If the province had put as much effort into developing local business as it did into shale gas, we’d be a lot better off.”
Hopper notes that her students are “really worried about the forests,” and wonder what will become of the animals. The short answer is that New Brunswick’s forests and the wildlife in them will be wiped out if provincial governments continue to refuse to do anything to protect them.
On a day when scientists in America were marching in the streets protesting the ‘war on science’ being waged by U.S. President Donald Trump, it is a sobering thought to realize that grade school students in Kent County are better informed about the environment than the President.
Dallas McQuarrie, based in Kent County, writes on environmental issues for the NB Media Co-op.