Hands Off Haimen!
HANDS OFF HAIMEN!
What do protesters in Haimen, China, and in Fanny Bay which is located on Vancouver Island in BC, have in common? Plenty! What links these two Pacific Rim towns is not some insipid Chamber of Commerce-initiated Sister Cities designation, but their common struggles against King Coal. On one shore, are Chinese industrial consumers, and, on the other, Canadian suppliers of the toxic fruits of the mining industry.
In the case of Fanny Bay, there is overwhelming opposition to Compliance Energy Corporation’s proposed Raven Coal Mine which seeks an Asian market for its product, and in Haimen, there is mounting unrest and resistance as thousands have taken to the streets protesting what some news commentators refer to as a proposed expansion of an existing coal-fired power plant or what others view as another plant to be opened adjacent to the existing one. While the Chinese authorities have offered to “temporarily suspend” the power plant expansion/building project, Haimen activists have not been so easily appeased and insist that it be “cancelled” entirely. Because of this impasse, the situation remains tense and volatile. Haimen fears further pollution of the water which has already harmed its fishing-based economy, and points to an increasingly blackened sky with still higher levels of cancerous air pollution to come if the announced project proceeds. As one protester has poignantly expressed the situation of those in the uprising, “ We are fighting for our right to breathe.”
Similarly, Fanny Bay residents have concerns about the potential for air borne coal dust and water contamination should the Raven Mine be approved. The community has a long history of a shellfish-based economy centered in Baynes Sound that goes back to the pre-colonial practices of the ancestors of the K’ómoks people who now oppose the mine. In both places the concern is about damage from water and air pollution, and there are similarities between the receiving coal port of Shantou in China and the proposed exporting coal port facility which might be constructed in Port Alberni on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, even though the Port Alberni Trades and Labour Council has come out unanimously against it and in favor of a job future based on a more environmentally sustainable economy.
As BC premier Christy Clark publicly licks her chops at the prospects of achieving her promise to the industry of eight new mines in BC, she spins a smiley- faced vision of shiploads of BC coal merrily headed to China. Under the misleading rubric of a “family values” agenda , she has attempted to sell the project to a skeptical BC populace who, much like their Chinese counterparts, have never been given the chance to vote for or against her in a provincial election. Ever helpful to one of their own, her corporate cronies in the mining industry have ever so thoughtfully agreed to provide coal mine-related jobs to some BC family members. The protests of Haimen residents, who have families too, provide a clear picture of the social consequences of such policies abroad. From her grandstanding photo ops for China Southern Airlines inaugural June 15 flight from Vancouver to Shantou (the closest port city to the town of Haimen which is officially under its jurisdiction) to her recent cheerleading junket tour of China on behalf of the mining industry (which includes her “can do” support for the nefarious oil tar sands mining operation in Alberta and her desire for giving a provincial “green light” to proposed mining and pipeline projects that would bring the mined oil through BC to Prince George or Kitimat on the West Coast for shipment to China); Clark seems to have taken on the mantle of BC’s roving mining ambassador to Asia. So much for the concerns of all those in BC who want to put the brakes on climate change: full speed ahead says Captain Christy!
Interestingly, BC’s environmental review process does not even consider the consumption of fossil fuels mined in BC but burned outside of the province to be part of its purview or responsibility. And so, pollution by power cartels like Huaneng Power International, whose plans for a new power plant facility have led to the popular resistance in Haimen presently occurring even in the face of police violence and tear gas, are not subject to review since the plant would be releasing carbon in China even if the coal was mined in BC. It seems the BC government has conveniently “forgotten” that we all live on one planet where global warming is concerned.
In fact, a report released in December 2011 by the Carbon Monitoring Action organization has found Huaneng Power International to be “the most polluting power company on earth.” Moreover, it is also involved in a nuclear power joint- venture that partly relies on Canadian technology. Such embarrassing international facts point to the darkside of Christy Clark’s relentless BC boosterism abroad. Only the burning of fossil fuels in the process of mining them, or their transportation in BC, is considered by provincial government regulatory agencies as being subject to their review. Meanwhile, they increasingly fast track and rubberstamp climate-changing mining operations with a few token mitigations that are never enforced, or, if they are, the fines are so small compared to the profits reaped that the mining companies just write them off as a cost of doing business. In essence, the entire environmental regulatory process can be seen as largely serving a safety-valve function when it comes to opposition from citizen groups who seek respectable forms of redress to their grievances within it.
In conjunction with the extremely narrow focus taken by BC regulators, political hacks like Canadian Environmental Minister Peter Kent can hang such “greenwashed” public relations oxymorons out to dry as “ethical oil” and “clean coal” in Durban as part of his role in sabotaging even the pitifully inadequate Kyoto Accords on carbon emissions in response to the dictates of Stephen Harper’s brave new one-party state. Meanwhile, the BC government hypocritically claims itself to be a “green province” (at least when it comes to the burning of carbon within its geopolitical boundaries). These colonial boundaries are themselves based historically on stolen unceded land and exist amidst ongoing indigenous resistance to both mining conglomerates and colonialism itself.
Those people who do participate in the environmental review process charade in good faith, rather than boycotting or disrupting it, are forced by its protocol to argue only in terms of the potential effect of a proposed mine on their locality, and so their concerns, no matter how well researched or argued, are typically addressed only by manipulative government face-saving mitigations that never challenge the right of the mine to exist in the first place. And when someone argues against the mine, his/her objections are dismissed in the corporate press as NIMBYism. In essence, the concept of Not in My Back Yard is a “damned if you do or damned if you don’t” double-edged sword. Under the present system, local people, who are directly experiencing the problem of corporate pollution in their “backyard,” cannot defend their land base without being accused of NIMBYism even though this kind of argumentation is predicated upon the narrowness of the environmental review process itself which assures that such a limited focus is the only one that will be recognized by the regulators.
In this procedural game of Catch 22, not to offer a dissenting point of view is interpreted as approval and to offer one is viewed as “negative,” or can be interpreted as “self-interested” because of its specificity, as a result of BC governmental restrictions on the range of dissenting commentary to be permitted for consideration. Moreover, serious planetary concerns about climate change or international ones about the dire situation of the people in Haimen are disallowed. In other words, the review process is designed to create the illusion of participation and to co-opt potential opponents by embroiling them in an endless bureaucratic maze worthy of Lewis Carroll or Franz Kafka. When viewed in this light, that environmental review process is not a failure, but rather it is accomplishing exactly what it is designed to achieve. The only failure is the failure of imagination on the part of those who can’t ever see through it and constantly get caught in its tarbaby trap. Expecting justice out of a false sense of entitlement, they receive humiliation, frustration and aggravation instead.
As we enter 2012, it is increasingly impossible to ignore the growing impact of climate change or disregard the global connections between grassroots activists in places like Haimen and Fanny Bay. In bypassing the Canadian, BC and Chinese governments entirely and giving voice to grassroots international solidarity, we can begin to escape from the mire of phony government solutions to corporate pollution and forge a different path together hand-in-hand. Instead of the overt and covert racism against the Chinese displayed by those, including many environmentalists, who are critical of the juggernaut of Chinese industrialization; let’s distinguish the Chinese government from the Chinese people and find bold new allies among those, like the defiant Haimen protesters and resisters, who dare to challenge the Chinese coal industry/police state complex. Our common watchwords might be:
Hands Off Haimen!