Letters to the editor, July/August 2014

Focus readers, July/August 2014

Statins in the real world

In his recent article, Alan Cassels, quoting Dr Batrice Golomb, was being kind when he said, “…when physicians misunderstand the evidence of harm of statins ‘many patients remain on the drugs and die.’” My choice of words would have been something more like “when physicians are inexcusably ignorant of the evidence of the harm of statins…” In this world of Google, typing in “statins + side effects” brings up a whole raft of links that, for any thinking person, would at least raise some kind of cautionary flag—enough so that a few pointed inquiries before prescribing these drugs would be in order.

Richard Weatherill


What would Gandhi do? 

Thanks to Leslie and Focus magazine for mentioning that many people are turning to a plant-based diet in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Too often analyses of the overwhelming challenges that face our species leave out this simple, yet intensely powerful, solution.

In addition to generating between 18-25 percent of global warming emissions, animal agriculture requires a lot of land and water. Each kilogram of animal protein requires about 6 kilograms of (often genetically engineered) plant protein, whereas 6 kilograms of non-GE plant food could sustain many kilograms of humans. A kilogram of animal protein also requires 100 times more water than would be required to produce a kilogram of plant protein. Cattle ranches and feed production account for over 70 percent of the Amazon’s deforestation, not to mention the land erosion, antibiotics, acid rain and other messes that are part and parcel of the unnecessary murder and consumption of 58 billion land animals annually. 

Janine Bandcroft


What would Gandhi do? Carry on with his spinning and observe that the politically powerful were not ignoring the reality of his effective non-violent actions. But Gandhi’s problems in India and Africa were minimal compared with those confronting us today. We are into the irreversible sixth extinction.

Global warming, population explosion, depletion of food and water, plastic infiltration of oceans and land are just a few of the causes we seem to think we can reverse. Yet surely the evidence suggests that instead of wasting our efforts on reversal of these contributors to the sixth extinction, we should be planning for the difficult decades ahead.

The cause of our irreversible current extinction is none other than greed…Consider the fact that Apple, the world’s largest company, keeps billions of dollars in reserve and channels sales of some of their products through countries with lower tax rates, thereby avoiding tax payable to the US government. Other examples abound with the gross salaries and bonuses being paid to bank and business executives, and the corruption within governments world-wide, Canada being a better example than most.

So what’s to be done to cope with this sixth extinction? Assuming it might be complete by the end of this century, efforts should be made now to cope with depleting resources, the first being food, with water a close second. 

The majority of our food is imported from California, currently in its third year of drought. No point in trying to feed the nine billion inhabitants due by mid century; that’s romanticizing indulged in by the UN and well-meaning environmentalists. Rather we need to take steps to deal with the coming extinction ourselves.

The first simple step is to start canning fruits and vegetables during the summer months. Next, seek ways to grow your own, maybe in conjunction with local farmers. Ultimately, form groups of like-minded people to do this work co-operatively. Going back a century, mutual aid societies were effective and much more humanitarian than insurance companies and government agencies which have since replaced them. 

Groups of about 100 are a workable size, a way to get to know your partners and a good a way to obtain the satisfaction volunteering can give you, that of contributing to your society. 

This is just one way to deal with the coming extinction. Unpredictable hardship awaits the next few generations and surely the baby boomers and older members of our society owe to them our experience in dealing with such a calamity. Meanwhile, I for one am ready to get back to the equivalent of Gandhi’s spinning wheel and seek positive things from pre-plastic and pre-tech times. 

Robin Fells


Israel boycott ad

I commend you for running the ad urging a boycott of apartheid Israel. It is a virtual truism that formerly persecuted peoples in power take on many of the worst characteristics of their oppressors. Sadly, Israel is no exception. From working on and defending the then slim border of Israel in its formative years, I can attest first hand to this.

You have likely received hate mail for your courage in running this ad, for which I doubt that money was your principal motive. Whatever our own opinions on this issue, I support, as a life-long civil libertarian, our right to dissent as well as assent to controversial issues. No free society can exist without our defense of free expression.

David Rothkop


Sewage treatment: Cost/benefits?

Having spent 14 years of my life designing and overseeing the construction of sewage treatment plants in England, as well as Victoria’s, and working on the Okanagan’s (where the need for a sophisticated tertiary plant was obvious), I am continually amazed at the lack of balance in those advocating Victoria’s sewage needs treatment. Can we deduce with certainty from the interviews with Drs Garrett and Mavinic (Focus, June 2014) or anyone else that a secondary treatment plant will do any good? Incredibly, no, we cannot. It is a possibility, just as is being hit by an asteroid. 

Instead it would certainly do harm. For at present the control of pathogens, which is the most important issue, is perfect. But a land-based plant needs chemicals and operators and things can and sometimes do go wrong. The plant itself carries health hazards as operators go about their work next to tanks filled with pathogens.

We don’t know the benefits will do any good, but can we reasonably presume that they will exceed the disbenefits from the pollution caused and energy used in the manufacture transportation and installation of the materials on the massive contract? No, of course, we can’t. 

A cost/benefit study would compare the benefits of a treatment plant here with environmental benefits that would be achieved if the money were spent in other ways. The CRD’s proposed plant would look ridiculous.

Then we need to consider the relative impact on Georgia Strait from Victoria’s waste compared with the residential/industrial complexes of New Westminster-Vancouver and and Everett-Seattle-Tacoma. 

After a lifetime working on projects you form judgements. Mine is that our impact is not worth a fleabite. 

Ted Dew-Jones, P.Eng.


Obstructionism in Victoria

Over the last 30 or so years I have participated in many protests against what I consider practices and policies that are seriously harmful—environmental destruction (arrested at Clayoquot Sound), fracking, pipelines, salmon farms, all forms of violence—against women, minorities, animals—war and dumping raw sewage into the ocean.

In most cases we have been pressuring our governments to change destructive, violent or harmful policies. This is grassroots democracy. Change comes excruciatingly slowly. Often we seem to be going backwards rather than forward. And yet we can’t give up, we must continue the struggle. Disappointment and periods of despair are par for the course.

However, two failures stand out for me that are particularly painful—election reform and sewage treatment—not only because success seemed within our grasp but because they were derailed by people who claimed to share our goals and who managed to persuade others—who truly supported the ideals we were trying to achieve—to oppose us.

Both of these campaigns started with small groups and individuals spending many hours over many years lobbying the governments and educating the public. Finally a miracle happened (or so it seemed) after all those years of hard work. The governments actually listened. In the case of election reform the BC government agreed to put it to a popular vote and in the case of sewage treatment the CRD agreed it had to be done and set about devising a plan.

In the first case—election reform—the people of BC told the government in no uncertain terms that the majority wanted to change to a system of proportional representation (PR). The government then appointed a citizens committee to study several different systems and choose the one they determined was the best choice for BC. Done! But someone decided that they knew better than the 100-strong randomly chosen citizens committee that had spent a whole year studying, discussing and deciding, and persuaded enough people that it was not the right system for us. What do we have now? The old unfair system. And where are all those who said they agreed we needed to change to PR, but just not that particular system. Do you ever hear of PR now? So much for making our system more democratic.

Now in Victoria we are in a raging battle over sewage treatment. Again after many years of grassroots work we now have governments agreeing we need sewage treatment, giving us a substantial portion of the funding, and deadlines (recognizing that it is long overdue). 

Again, a small group of individuals, some of whom loudly protested that we don’t need any sewage treatment at all, are now saying that they agree we do need it, but that the CRD, after years of studies and plans, have a bad plan and they have a better plan—which is to go back to square one and start all over again, do more studies. They say they have all now become environmentalists and want only the top-of-the-line plan—and it will be cheaper than the bad plan! Well, who wouldn’t want that? Continuing to dump raw sewage into the ocean for another 5, 10, 20 years is apparently not a problem for them.

Some may think this is democracy. Not me! What I see is obstructionism. When change is in the making that is good for the planet and/or for a better fairer system of election, it is wrong to to pass up the opportunity. 

We have many battles to fight if we are going to hand over this planet to our grandchildren in any reasonable, liveable condition. Save your energy to fight against destruction and violence, not to thwart efforts to change things for the better.

Jean B. Randall



Sustainability in Spain

I recently travelled in Spain and loved the public bike depots, fast and affordable train system (locally, regionally and nationally), and the bubble-like recycling bins they have every couple of blocks. In spite of a precarious economy, they are adding to their national fast train system, have maintained their pedestrian streets, and protect their treasure trove of heritage sites. They, too, have a national/EU health care system, an aging population, and high unemployment. But Spain has made a huge effort to lure people from their cars, and the wide promenades, parks, and competition for space on the beautifully maintained pedestrian streets has worked in their favour.   Canada, and Victoria as a cruise ship and tourist destination, can definitely learn from what Spain has accomplished.

Judy Lightwater


Fossil fuel industry influence

A nationally distributed June 11 Canadian Press article described how a refinery proposal from Pacific Future Energy Corp (PFEC) would prevent heavy dilbit from travelling through treacherous BC waters—just as David Black’s Kitimat Clean proposal would. A pipeline from Alberta to the east, or Keystone XL, would also keep dilbit out of our waters, but the advantage of a refinery project is that refining in BC could give Canada some added value. The article made me very curious about the oxymoronic-sounding “near zero net carbon” refinery it described. 

While intriguing, the article inadvertently raised some concerns—particularly about the fossil fuel industry’s influence on government and the media. It’s another Canadian Press article about a megaproject that would lock us into 40 or 50 more years of fossil fuel production, with no mention of climate change or global warming. It alludes to the relationship between government and the fossil fuel industry by pointing out that the Premier rightly recused herself from reviewing the refinery because of her ex-husband’s role as executive vice-president of the proponent. His consulting firm, which had the Premier’s past residence as its address, also lobbied the federal government on behalf of Enbridge. 

Past fossil fuel industry influence has also come from Ken Boessenkool, a recent Chief of Staff who was an Enbridge lobbyist. Another example was the Premier’s “transition advisor,” founder of Encana, a company with extensive gas holdings in northeast BC that donated $791,000 to the Liberals between 2005 and 2012 (the third largest amount). The largest donations over that period came from Teck Resources Ltd, who have five coal mines in BC. 

In 2007, BC’s Liberals acted in the public’s interest by requiring GHG emissions to be reduced 33 percent below 2007 levels by 2020, with a further target of 80 percent reduction by 2050. Just as Canada reneged on Kyoto, and is not following through with the Copenhagen Accord that Prime Minister Harper signed, BC’s failure to honour climate promises and regulations is becoming a disgrace. 

What about the fossil fuel industry’s influence on our federal government? This June,  Stephen Harper accused Justin Trudeau of carrying on the anti-energy industry bias of his father Pierre. It begs a question about what Stephen learned at the knee of his father, an accountant for Imperial Oil. 

Recent employee swapping between “Ethical Oil” and government speaks to the close connections between the fossil fuel industry and those who are supposed to regulate them. The result is serious foot-dragging on effective climate regulations. Seven years ago, then-Environment Minister Rona Ambrose said that “from now on, all industry sectors will have mandatory [greenhouse gas emission] requirements and we will enforce those requirements.” Fast forward to 2014: there are still no oil and gas industry greenhouse gas limits, and current Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq claims that it is “premature” to say when these limits will be ready. 

That is not to say they haven’t been busy. Recent work includes:

2013: Closing the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science; the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy; and the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory; and repealing of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. 

2012: Closing Canadian Coast Guard stations; withdrawing from both the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the Kyoto Protocol; repealing the Environmental Protection Act; allocating more resources to the Canada Revenue Agency to investigate the political activities of environmental charities; and muzzling Canadian scientists in many departments.

2011: Closure of the Renewable Energy Branch of Environment Canada, and so on.

When a country like ours, which has had a degree of international respect, acts in this way, it has a disproportionate impact on delaying the international regulations needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our governments could price carbon, reduce fossil fuel industry subsidies and incentives, get decent royalties and taxes from fossil fuel industry megaprojects, and begin supporting the green economy. 

There is still time to honour provincial targets and bring some balance to the fossil fuel agenda, but “eco” needs to come back into discussions about the economy. Climate change needs to be considered in decisions about fossil fuel megaprojects.

Bob Landell