Time For Action; Coorporate Environmentalism Isn't Working

by Rafe Mair 

I was under the impression that Canada and the world were going to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. What happened? Did those people who bought new Priuses and installed private power plants on wild rivers help reduce our carbon footprint? Doesn’t appear so. 

Now, here we are, in “Super Natural British Columbia,” acting as enablers to Oilaholic Alberta/Ottawa as they try to turn Vancouver and Kitimat into tar sands shipping ports. We are, in oxymoronic terms, amateur whores permitting devastating spills in our pristine marine environment. 

And make no mistake: Oil spills are not risks, because when there is no time limit, the risk approaches a certainty. No amount of corporate or government horse buns can change that, but we’re bombarded by PR flacks pontificating that studies have been done and all modern technology blah, blah, blah. 

The governments elected to protect us are in cahoots with oil, pipeline and tanker companies, to degrade and ruin our province for money and prestige. If you think former Premier Campbell’s sinecure in London had nothing to do with the HST and oil, drop me a line about the bridge I have for sale. 

A recovery plan: 

How do we reduce our oil appetite when our neighbours won’t? It is a three stage process. 

1. Change: First, we must decide, seriously, that we are prepared to change our lifestyles, drastically, or nature will make the changes for us. As long as we ask government to change policy but reduce our energy bills, they will mine sludge heaps, destroy landscapes, ship oil over our province, down our coast, and treat us like a resource colony. 

No one is suggesting that we live in penury, but we can turn computers off, wear sweaters, ride the bus, and live simpler lives. We have to do that much, but it isn’t nearly enough. Twenty years of Kyoto negotiations and carbon taxes, and we have more CO2 emissions and a hotter planet. What’s going on? A great realization is sweeping through environmental circles and communities of hardworking citizens. We trusted governments and corporations to join the battle to preserve nature, only to discover they’re in cahoots with each other for money and power. We have to make the change in our communities. 

2. Real Politics: We must all get politically active, not just coddle political parties. We must set the agenda and demand any political party we support commits to serious change as the price of our support. 

We’ve seen too many alleged environmental groups line up like puppy dogs behind half-baked “green” initiatives that sold out our land, water, rivers, and people. No more watered-down deals, negotiated by jet-set green hucksters because they get “traction.” We will no longer accept leadership from corporations or their public relations lackeys, astroturf groups, or fake “think” tanks like the Fraser Institute. Soft, greenish compromises comprise the corporate modus operandi. 

When we get politically involved and insist on genuine solutions, real protection of nature, then, and only then will we be truly involved in the struggle to save our province and, indeed, the whole world. 

3. Support the Doers: Finally, we must support groups that are genuinely fighting to save our land and water. Witness the courageous Yinka Dene Alliance who turned down millions of dollars from Enbridge to protect their land from the oil merchants, took a leadership role, and created the Fraser River Declaration, now signed by 61 nations, including the Musqueam. The Tsleil-Waututh – People of the Inlet – and Squamish spiritual leaders have stepped forward to lead. Support that leadership. 

Today, you can find environmental groups with good research teams, mining facts and making them available to us in digestible portions. Network with these researchers, learn, and pass the information on. That is why Damien Gillis and I founded Common Sense Canadian (www.thecanadian. org)

Specifically, we must support those who have made the stopping of pipelines and tankers their #1 priority. Tanker Free BC is the one group lion of assets in offshore tax havens in 2003 – the latest figure I could find. During 2011, Canadian TIEAs with at least ten tax haven jurisdictions came into effect. 

Transfer Pricing 

Peter Gillespie of Inter Pares explains (CCPA Monitor, Dec. 2010), frequently offshore affiliates “are shell companies … little more than a postal address and a bank account…. Today, more than half of all global trade is conducted among affiliates of the same parent company.” 

Offshore affiliates allow a tax avoidance trick called “transfer pricing.” By adjusting its internal pricing, a corporation can shift profits offshore, where it pays little or no tax, and shift costs onshore, where they are deducted against tax. According to Reuters (July 28), “nearly $1.2 trillion of accumulated US corporate profits are now held in overseas subsidiaries” to avoid taxes. 

“Transfer pricing” allows a corporation to claim a “tax deferral,” millions of dollars added to and rolled over year after year. Nicholas Shaxson, author of Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) explains that if corporations leave earnings offshore, “they can ‘defer’ tax on them indefinitely,” like “an interest-free loan from the government, with no repayment date.” 

From the deferred tax item on an annual report, a government could estimate the profits a company had hidden away in offshore havens. Now, however, with the new TIEAs, a corporation can repatriate those offshore profits tax-free, leaving no trace of the deferred taxes. The Tax Justice Network estimates individual and corporate assets held in tax havens globally amount to more than $11.5 trillion. 

Starving the Beast 

Harper is “starving the beast” of government by signing TIEAs and cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 per cent. By shifting the tax burden to low and middle-income Canadians, the Conservatives expect that citizens will clamour for less environmental regulation, and jobs at any cost to planetary sustainability. 

“Is the Environmental Movement Dying?” ran the headline in a Globe & Mail item (Aug. 30) that appeared almost gleeful about a poll showing “the environment has lost its status as one of the top five issues facing Canadians.” Canadians “are tired of being green,” we were told, and “money is what really talks.” 

The corporations and our own governments are doing serious classwarfare on us, folks. Even Warren Buffett has recognized that. At stake is nothing less than the planet.

***

Joyce Nelson is a freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books. 

[From WS November/December 2011]

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