War on Nature

War On Nature
Ian Goudie

The great American sage and poet, Gary Snyder, likened what is happening now to nature worldwide – the nonhuman realm of watersheds and ecosystems, to a war against Nature. At its roots, the western culture is driven by capitalism which by definition is about maximizing profits, and often at a substantial cost to the environment. In essence it is based on greed and as Mahatma Gandhi stated “For greed, all Nature is insufficient”. Western culture hardly sees itself as part of a web of life. Nature is treated as something ‘out there’ from which one extracts resources (for profit). The materialistic view conceives of humans as living in peace and prosperity in a technological wonderland where the basic natural laws can be ultimately engineered.

In 2003, the United Nations General Assembly realized that, worldwide, there was a heavy deterioration of the human environment and natural resources, and established the World Commission on the Environment and Development, later known as the Brundtland Commission. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, provided the western world with the term ‘sustainable development’ defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The term was provided in recognition of ecological limits. This requires actions that do not inhibit the long-term health, vitality, and biological diversity of an ecosystem. We do this by moderating our human needs and desires in order to accommodate the environmental limitations.

The Brundtland Commission highlighted that science understands only one in every hundred of Earth’s plant species, and a far smaller proportion of animal species.
Prime Minister Brundtland highlighted that species and their genetic materials promise to play an expanding role in development, and a powerful economic rationale is emerging to bolster preservation.

“If nations can ensure the survival of species, the world can look forward to new and improved foods, and new drugs and medicines. The world is losing precisely those species about which it knows nothing or little; earthworms, bees, and termites may be far more important than we know in terms of the role they play in a healthy and productive ecosystem.”

We can understand this by reflecting on the wonder drug penicillin that was discovered/derived from mold. Who would have thought that the slimy green and black fungus would become a panacea for curing bacterial infections as anitbiotics in humans to this day. In my work on rare and endangered tree lichens in Newfoundland I commonly get asked what good they are (to humans). There is a seemingly naive notion that science somehow knows everything there is to know about such things. Yet, for example, we know more about pharmaceutical properties of species of the tropical rainforests than we know about species in our own boreal forests.

So at the heart of ‘sustainable development’ of natural resources is the importance of conserving genetic diversity. Nature has in the past, and will continue into the future, to be our cornucopia, and through wise use of natural resources we ensure our continued survival. Presently in Newfoundland and Labrador our governments have turned environmental assessment and sustainable development into a farce. As David Abram writes in ‘Spell of the Sensuous’:

“… We are seemingly unaware that we are bringing about our own demise by destroying the whole of which we are a part….”

The recent handlings of the GriegNL project to annually raise millions of farmed salmon in sea cages in Placentia Bay delivers the ultimate insult to science and common sense. Recent publications by DFO scientists detected that 17 of 18 rivers along the south coast of Newfoundland had evidence of cross-breeding of wild salmon with farm escapees, and 13 rivers even had juvenile salmon derived from escapee only (no wild genes). Wringe et al. (2018) published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature where they elaborated on evidence demonstrating the decline of stocks of salmon in rivers when linked to the increasing genetic mixing of wild salmon with farmed salmon. The latter are not genetically adapted to survival in the wild. We are rapidly losing our wild salmon genes. Some years back, the Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada (COSEWIC) had already listed rivers along the south coast of Newfoundland as ‘Threatened’, and rivers such as Conne River, have witnessed their former healthy annual runs of 6,000 to 10,000 salmon diminish to less that 1,000.

Despite all this, our Government is bent-set on supporting the sea-farming of salmon, selling out our precious wild salmon resource for the aquaculture jobs. Sustainable development from the get-go would recognize this approach to farming salmon as fraught with problems, encourage developers to consider land-based approaches, and first and foremost protect our wild salmon genes. Places as far flung as Florida and Russia are already developing large-scale land-based salmon farms; it is destined to outcompete marine operations sooner than later. We are slipping even further behind, and it smells of another inevitable failure, financial loss and ecological disaster. Sometimes it seems like Newfoundland politicians would sell their souls for jobs. What about our natural heritage, and what is to be left for our children? Here we are with the most precious and amazing natural resource in our wild Atlantic salmon, and our senior bureaucrats and politicians sell-out once again. There is always the same taint to this collective unconscious that is always looking to, and subsidizing with tax dollars, foreign investors to somehow come here and save the day with jobs for Newfoundlanders. Whether its cucumbers or bargain basement hydroelectric power or turning the forests of the northern Peninsula into wood pellets, we just don’t seem to see what we got till its gone. If truly “… We love thee smiling land ….” would we not stand on our own feet?

When we look to economically vibrant island countries, such as Iceland, it is apparent people take an active role in cooperative and collectives that drive their resource-based economies. Escapee farmed-salmon are even invading the pristine rivers of Iceland now. Let’s watch how this country, via its people, reacts.