The 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights guaranteed “right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property...” The Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 reinforced the concept.
Baron David Hope, formerly of the UK’s Supreme Court, wrote in the House of Lords:
It is the first responsibility of government in a democratic society to protect and safeguard the lives of its citizens.
These are high-minded precepts, but when there is conflict with economic activity, governments quickly push them aside. That is proven by governments admitting little knowledge about destructive effects of oil and gas production, particularly when fracking is involved.
A paper by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health showed that unconventional oil and gas development (hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,”) releases chemicals linked to cancer and childhood leukemia.
- Children with at least one vs. no UOG wells within 2km during the perinatal window had 2.80 times the odds of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“The magnitude of the elevated risk that we observed was fairly striking,” said Dr. Cassandra Clark, a post-doctoral fellow at the Yale School of Public Health and co-author of the report.
In 2021, U of T researchers — working with a small grant not from industry or the BC government — examined health effects of fracking in northeast British Columbia.
With thousands of wells and counting, the Northeast region of British Columbia is one of Canada’s most important hubs of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – the process of blasting pressurized liquid at rock formations to fracture them and release the natural gas trapped inside…
But in addition to releasing gas, fracking also causes the emission of chemicals that can cause or exacerbate health problems including birth defects, cancers and asthma. And while communities located near fracking areas have raised concerns about the health impacts, there has been a dearth of Canadian studies on the topic – until now.
Consistent and robust evidence that drilling shale gas wells negatively impacts both drinking water quality and infant health. These results indicate large social costs of water pollution and provide impetus for re-visiting the regulation of public drinking water.
UBC Assistant Professor Amanda Giang said there are few studies that measure air and water quality near extractive sites, and especially few that look at the difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous homes.
A paper published by the American Chemical Society discussed risks of unconventional gas development but noted “especially acute deficits of knowledge and attention” related to effects on public health, ecosystems, air quality, socioeconomic impacts on communities, and climate change.
Those deficits are not accidental; they exist by design. Before taking power in 2017, John Horgan promised he would be guided by science in regulating natural gas development. His government commissioned a review of hydraulic fracturing that excluded human health from the study’s terms of reference.
The review determined that each activity associated with fracking “represents a specific hazard to the environment.” Reviewers found there were “too few data to assess risk” and that “most of the details for environmental protection are not transparent.”
Did Horgan’s government subsequently prioritize collection and transparent distribution of environmental data that could be used to protect and safeguard the lives of citizens?
Nope! They appointed Fazil Mihlar as Chair of the Oil & Gas Commission, which is supposed to protect public safety and the environment.
Until Mihlar began collecting generous payments from taxpayers for being a regulator who didn’t believe in regulation, he promoted right-wing topics such as opposition to fair trade, taxes, unions and minimum wage laws while saying the economy existed to create wealth, not to create jobs. He promoted coal and complained about efforts to reduce tobacco use. Of course, he wanted governments to remove burdens placed on businesses.
The appointment of Fazil Mihlar as chief oil and gas regulator is entirely at odds with NDP policies before 2017, but entirely consistent with the way John Horgan has governed.
Negative effects experienced in areas of oil and gas production are only a part of the threats. When it comes to climate actions, Bill McKibben writes that compromise and trade-off don’t work:
We have to keep 80 percent of the fossil-fuel reserves that we know about underground. If we don’t—if we dig up the coal and oil and gas and burn them—we will overwhelm the planet’s physical systems, heating the Earth far past the red lines drawn by scientists and governments. It’s not “we should do this,” or “we’d be wise to do this.” Instead it’s simpler: “We have to do this.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says “scientific studies indicate that extreme weather events such as heat waves and large storms are likely to become more frequent or more intense with human-induced climate change.“
Climate hazards such as extreme heat, drought and storms could trigger “cascading impacts” that may be felt around the world within the next decade, warns a study released ahead of the UN climate summit, COP26.
In addition to the obvious ones, individuals face other risks.
University of Bristol Professor Dann Mitchell, an expert in climate science, told The Guardian that long-term health consequences of the climate crisis were not discussed enough. Experts believe climate change may fuel an increase in cases of potentially deadly skin cancers such as melanoma. Skin cancer death rates for men in the UK have tripled in the last 50 years.
Moderation of climate change must be a priority today, with stringent targets for 2030, not 2050. Governments that refuse to act ignore the duty to protect and safeguard lives of citizens.
Categories: Climate Change