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Don’t Blame God or Nature. We’re the Culprits

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Traditionally, we've labeled events over which we have no influence or control "acts of God" or "natural disasters." But what's "natural" about climate-induced disasters today? Scientists call the interval since the Industrial Revolution the "Anthropocene," a period when our species has become the major factor altering the biological, physical and chemical properties of the planet on a geological scale. Empowered by fossil fuel–driven technologies, a rapidly growing human population and an insatiable demand for constant growth in consumption and the global economy, our species is responsible for the calamitous consequences.


We now know that the weight of water behind large dams and injecting pressurized water into the Earth for fracking induce earthquakes. Clearing large swathes of forests, draining wetlands, depleting water for industrial agriculture, polluting marine and freshwater ecosystems with nitrogen, plastics and pesticides from farmland and cities, expanding urban areas and employing ecologically destructive fishing practices such as drift nets and trawling all combine to produce species extinction on a scale not seen since the mega-extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

But we use language to deflect blame from ourselves. Not long ago, wolves, seals and basking sharks were called "pests" or "vermin," regarded as nuisances to be killed for bounties. Insects are the most numerous, diverse and important group of animals in ecosystems, yet all are affected by insecticides applied to eliminate the handful that attack commercial crops. One egregious class of pesticide is neonicotinoids, nerve toxins to which bees—important pollinators—are especially sensitive. Ancient forests are called "wild" or "decadent" while plantations that replace them after clear cutting are termed "normal."

One of the rarest ecosystems on Earth is the temperate rainforest stretching between Alaska and northern California, pinched between the Pacific Ocean and coastal mountains. The huge trees there have been decimated in the U.S. Fewer than 10 percent remain. Yet environmentalists who called for the entire remnant to be protected from logging were branded as "greedy."

Former BC Premier Glen Clark famously labelled environmentalists like me "enemies of BC" Former federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver called us "foreign-funded radicals" while others said we were "eco-terrorists." The real enemies, radicals and eco-terrorists are those who rush to destroy forests, watersheds or the atmosphere without regard to ecological consequences.

Recently defeated BC Premier Christy Clark called opponents of pipelines or LNG plants "forces of no." We who want to protect what we all need to survive would more accurately be called "forces of know" who say "yes" to a future of clean, renewable energy and a rich environment.

We seem to have forgotten that the word economy, like ecology, is based on the Greek oikos, meaning "domain" or "household." Because of our ability to find ways to exploit our surroundings, humans are not confined to a specific habitat or ecosystem. We've found ways to live almost everywhere—in deserts, the Arctic, jungles, wetlands and mountains. Ecologists seek the principles, rules and laws that enable species to flourish sustainably. Economists are charged with "managing" our activity within the biosphere, our domain.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper decreed it was impossible to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid climate change because it would destroy the economy. To people like him, the economy is more important than the air that provides weather and climate and enables us to live. At the same time, many "fiscal conservatives" rail against an effective market solution to climate change—carbon pricing—ignoring the example of Sweden, which imposed a carbon tax of about $35 a tonne in 1991, grew its economy by 60 percent by 2012 while reducing emissions by 25 percent, then raised the tax to more than $160 in 2014.

We know climate change is caused primarily by human use of fossil fuels. It's influencing the frequency and intensity of such events as monstrous wildfires (Kelowna, Fort McMurray), floods (Calgary, Toronto), hurricanes (Katrina, Sandy), drought (California, Alberta), and loss of glaciers and ice sheets. There's no longer anything "natural" about them. We must acknowledge the human imprint. If we're the cause of the problems, then we must stop blaming "nature" or "God." We have to take responsibility and tackle them with the urgency they require.

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Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.


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