Climate Change

Deficits of knowledge and attention, by design

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.

A 2022 study in the Journal of Health Economics found:

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.

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7 replies »

  1. A little late for the Eco-activist Wiebo Ludwig. He fought the sour gas wells
    and their flaring around his Alberta Trickle Creek farm in the 90’s. Had evidence to
    show the health damage being caused but getting any relief from Alberta
    and Encana would only happen when pigs fly.

    The only way (it seems) out of this ideology we have lived under for as long as
    we have is a massive suffering of people that eventually reaches the people
    who over see our lives. Do we really need anymore, reports, books, Youtube,
    research papers, Davos, IPCC, etc on the slippery slope to extinction our species is facing in a couple of generations?

    “Leave it in the ground per Bill M” is not going to happen under the current frame of governance and here in BC you have John Horgan II (David Eby) possibly getting behind the controls of the NDP Armageddon train.

    You have to ignore political history, the human condition and the capitalistic
    model if you think anything will change unless our species faces a major
    calamity at all levels of our existence and we seem to be getting there.
    A wipe the slate clean and start over event seems to be the only option
    left if you may. That is if anybody is still around.


    • From the linked page:

      As countries set net-zero emission targets, and increase their climate ambitions under the Paris Agreement, they have not explicitly recognized or planned for the rapid reduction in fossil fuel production that these targets will require. Rather, the world’s governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. The production gap has remained largely unchanged since our first analysis in 2019.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Imagine five Hiroshima bombs being exploded somewhere on earth — every second of the day. That’s the approximate energy absorbed by our oceans since 1996, according to narrator Robert Krulwich in this 7-minute animation shown on CBS’s Sunday Morning.

    And in this narrated animation talks about the origins of our coal, gas and oil — and how quickly we are using their energy. Krulwich says in 2018, for example, we consumed 100 times all the carbon currently stored in all of the earth’s living organisms.

    It surely can’t be sustainable, burning old energy at that rate.


    • Thanks for those links, Barry. Very interesting and easy to absorb (pun intended), even for an old fossil like me. Well worth sharing widely.

      Perfect illustration of the fatal folly involved in digging up and burning carbon that has been safely buried for eons and then desperately trying to capture and bury it again before it overwhelms and kills our planet. All while the original source, which we know how to harness and use in relative safety, and which will keep producing for another five billion years, sits virtually untapped.


  3. Sadly, the Neo-Liberal world does not believe in global Warming because those on top of the Neo-Liberal world, will probably survive, the war, pestilence and drought and starvation facing us.

    Sadly, Canadian politicians do not care and even the so called “Greens”, rather fight mid east battles rather taking on the the establishment in our country.

    We have become comfortably numb with our impending demise.


  4. It is clear from the forgoing that most of us who tune into “In-sights” have accepted that impending doom is our future. When the Libs. decided to change the Criminal Code of Canada in 2017, by introducing the “deferred settlement agreement ” for those caught cheating and lying ( bribery}, as their escape from going to jail where else is one to go?
    The Canadian bond yield curve is currently negative by . 65 basis points between 2 year and 10 years. This is only the start.
    I think it is time for most of us to write about strategies for personal survival, like making oneself as independent of government provided services as possible.
    I remember a conversation with a French farmer about the 5 to 1 devaluation of the franc. When asked about the requirement to give the government all the privately owned gold and silver he shrugged and pointed out their long history of military generals walking over their fields, as far back as Roman times.

    That was my first lesson in personal survival. Perhaps it is now time to discontinue believing what the establishment want to have us think is the correct story because it is not in our interests to do so.


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