Tag Archives: environment

Disaster Risk Governance: A pathway toward resilience

A talk for the Multihazard Risk and Resilience Group Seminar at the Western University. MARCH 25, 2021

Canada’s response to global disasters has been characterized by a certain degree of push and pull between the domestic and the international levels, and between the provision of immediate relief and the support of long-term resilience and risk reduction.  In the area of disaster risk reduction, progress at the international level since 2011 has been marked by a sustained movement away from reactive and relief-based approaches toward “disaster risk governance”.  As a signatory to the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, Canada has been a supporter of this move as well as the move to integrate disaster responses with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), blurring the boundary between “relief” and “development” activities and policies.  In this talk, I will explore the meaning of ‘disaster risk governance’ as it is addressed in the Sendai and Hyogo Frameworks, and consider practical examples of how a shift toward governance might improve disaster responses by the Canadian government, and in turn, reduce loss and damage from disasters.

Disaster Risk Governance Video

Should Lakes have rights? the intrinsic value of the nonhuman world (talk)

About how law can borrow from the language of human rights to foster greater respect and protection for the intrinsic value of the nonhuman world.

Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 No 7, Public Act – New Zealand Legislation. 2017.
“Bolivia Enshrines Natural World’s Rights with Equal Status for Mother Earth | Environment | The Guardian.” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/10/bolivia-enshrines-natural-worlds-rights (August 8, 2019).
“Lake Erie Bill of Rights: This Great Lake Now Has Legal Rights, Just like You – Vox.” https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/2/26/18241904/lake-erie-legal-rights-personhood-nature-environment-toledo-ohio (August 8, 2019).
“A Rewilding Triumph: Wolves Help to Reverse Yellowstone Degradation | Environment | The Guardian.” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/25/yellowstone-wolf-project-25th-anniversary (February 14, 2020).
“Kamikaze Tree Has Key to Survival.” https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/outdoors/richard-collins/kamikaze-tree-has-key-to-survival-53684.html (February 14, 2020).
“2020: The Year of Robot Rights | The MIT Press Reader.” https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/2020-the-year-of-robot-rights/ (February 14, 2020).
“Ogopogo Protector Passes on | News | Kelownadailycourier.Ca.” http://www.kelownadailycourier.ca/news/article_e2a5f54a-5c88-11e7-92c9-2b85dc01e30b.html (February 14, 2020).
“This Bird Has Flown: Unravelling the Mysteries of Bird Migration | New Scientist.” https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23331180-500-this-bird-has-flown-unravelling-the-mysteries-of-bird-migration/ (February 14, 2020).
Akchurin, Maria. 2015. “Constructing the Rights of Nature: Constitutional Reform, Mobilization, and Environmental Protection in Ecuador.” Law & Social Inquiry 40(04): 937–68. https://www.cambridge.org/core/product/identifier/S0897654600004226/type/journal_article (August 8, 2019).
Burdon, Peter. 2011. “The Jurisprudence of Thomas Berry.” Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology 15(2): 151–67. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/10.1163/156853511×574478 (March 16, 2018).
Burdon, Peter. 2011. Exploring Wild Law. ed. Eric Burdon. Wakefield Press. https://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/files/extracts/Exploring_Wild_Law_extract.pdf (February 12, 2019).
Burdon, Peter D. 2015. “Wild Law: A Proposal for Radical Social Change.” New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law 13. https://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/nzjpubinl13&id=165&div=15&collection=journals (February 18, 2019).
Callicott, J. Baird. 1997. Earth’s Insights : A Survey of Ecological Ethics from the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. (February 9, 2018).
Callicott, J. Baird. 2013. Thinking like a Planet : The Land Ethic and the Earth Ethic. Oxford University Press.
Cano Pecharroman, Lidia, Cano Pecharroman, and Lidia. 2018. “Rights of Nature: Rivers That Can Stand in Court.” Resources 7(1): 13. http://www.mdpi.com/2079-9276/7/1/13 (February 26, 2019).
Cochrane, Alasdair. Sentientist Politics : A Theory of Global Inter-Species Justice. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/sentientist-politics-9780198789802?cc=ca&lang=en&# (August 9, 2019).
Cronon, William. 2013. “The Trouble with Wilderness or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” Environmental History 1(1): 7–28. http://faculty.washington.edu/timbillo/Readings and documents/Wilderness/Cronon The trouble with Wilderness.pdf (February 12, 2019).
Cullinan, Cormac. 2002. Wild Law : Governing People for Earth. Siber Ink in association with the Gaia Foundation & EnACT Intl.
Daly, Erin. 2012. “THE ECUADORIAN EXEMPLAR: THE FIRST EVER VINDICATIONS OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF NATURE.” Review of European Community & International Environmental Law 21(1): 63–66. http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1467-9388.2012.00744.x (August 8, 2019).
Francis, Pope. 2015. “Laudato Si’ (24 May 2015) | Francis ‘Praise Be To You.’” http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html (March 16, 2018).
Kennedy, Brendan. 2012. “I Am the River and the River Is Me: The Implications of a River Receiving Personhood Status.” Cultural Survival Quarterly 36(4): 10. (February 9, 2018).
Kotzé, Louis J. 2014. “Rethinking Global Environmental Law and Governance in the Anthropocene.” Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law 32(2): 121–56. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02646811.2014.11435355 (August 26, 2019).
LeCain, Timothy J, ed. 2017. “Fellow Travelers.” In The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past, Studies in Environment and History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1–22. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/matter-of-history/fellow-travelers/1D24A77976FFE24180C98E54E7112473.
Natalia Greene, By, congratulate Richard Frederick Wheeler, and Eleanor Geer. The First Successful Case of the Rights of Nature Implementation in Ecuador The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, the Ecuadorian Coordinator of Organizations for the Defense of Nature and the Environment (CEDENMA) and Fundación Pachamama Praise the First Successful Case of the Rights of Nature In. (August 8, 2019).
O’Donnell, Erin. 2017. “Three Rivers Are Now Legally People – but That’s Just the Start of Looking after Them.” Down to earth : science and environment fortnightly. (February 9, 2018).
O’Donnell, Erin L. 2018. “At the Intersection of the Sacred and the Legal: Rights for Nature in Uttarakhand, India.” Journal of Environmental Law 30(1): 135–44.
O’Donnell, Erin L., and Julia Talbot-Jones. 2018. “Creating Legal Rights for Rivers: Lessons from Australia, New Zealand, and India.” Ecology and Society 23(1): art7. https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol23/iss1/art7/ (August 8, 2019).
Rosencranz, Armin, and Dushyant Kishan Kaul. 2017. “Are Rivers Really Living Entities?” (February 26, 2019).
Smith, James L. 2017. “I, River?: New Materialism, Riparian Non-Human Agency and the Scale of Democratic Reform.” Asia Pacific Viewpoint 58(1): 99–111. http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/apv.12140 (February 9, 2018).
Sowards, Adam. 2015. “Should Nature Have Standing to Sue? (Law and Nature) — High Country News.” High Country News. https://www.hcn.org/issues/47.1/should-nature-have-standing-to-sue (April 25, 2018).
Stone, Christopher D. 1974. Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos: William Kaufmann Inc.
Strack, Mick. 2017. “Land and Rivers Can Own Themselves.” International Journal of Law in the Built Environment 9(1): 4–17. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/10.1108/IJLBE-10-2016-0016 (February 9, 2018).
Voigt, Christina. 2013. Rule of Law for Nature: New Dimensions and Ideas in Environmental Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (February 9, 2018).

The Politics of Oil

Talk scheduled for October 18th. Oil is essential to industrial society as we know it.  The history of the industrialized world has been shaped by changes in the environmental, economic, social, and political dimensions of oil.  In this session, we will learn about the history, the present challenges, and the future of oil in an environmentally-stressed planet. Participants will emerge with a deeper appreciation for the complexities of oil politics.


Lee, J (September 7, 2019) “The World’s Oil Glut is Much Worse than it Looks” Bloomberg Opinion

Bloomberg. Woolley, (2013) “Selling Carbon Taxes in the Exurbs” Francis Worthwhile Canadian Initiatives

Finding the Good: Sharing International Development Ideas and Practice in the Current Era

20180609_073819On June 8th and 9th 2018, researchers, students, community members and practitioners gathered at Okanagan College to explore ways of articulating and sharing ethical international development ideas and practices. 50 attendees from across North America joined with leaders locally at Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus for an intensive 2-day conference and dialogue on equality, inclusion, and human dignity. Scholars and practitioners interacted in engaging sessions on gender, local governance, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Keynote speaker Chloe Schwenke, former Director of the Global Program on Violence, Rights, and Inclusion at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), shared her experiences advocating for a human rights framework for development in the Obama Administration. A second Keynote with Michael Simpson, Executive Director of the BC Council for International Cooperation, built on the themes of leadership and change in a ‘Talkshow’ style interview that engaged the audience in generating new avenues of inquiry.

In addition to providing a summary resource to share the highlights from the two day Conference, the purpose of these Proceedings is to contribute toward a network in which dialogue between scholarly insights and practical development work can improve the participation of people experiencing poverty, social marginalization, discrimination, and oppression both at home and abroad.

For more information and to view the Proceedings, visit the Conference webpage.

Click here for the Conference Proceedings.




Mars is the Planet We Want

The atmosphere on Mars is composed of 96% carbon dioxide, with an average temperature of minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Only 16 of the 39 total Mars missions have been successful.  Mars is about as far from habitable as we can imagine any environment.  Pretty inhospitable, right?  So what is it about Mars that captures the imagination of the public?

As our own planet degrades, are we simply casting around for any alternative, no matter how challenging or unlikely? Afloat on a sinking lifeboat, are we (and by ‘we’ I mean the world’s 2% who have any hope of escaping) planning on being castaways for generations into the future?   I think not.  I think Mars has appeal for other reasons, and these date back to the era of colonialism in the late 19th century.

Colonialism was the ultimate escape from the uncomfortable truths of home, it glorified a narrative of supremacy and heroism.

From the 1870s to the 1890s European powers fought, pillaged, destroyed, and exploited the peoples and territories variously under their control around the world.  Africa in particular was an object of focus, a field of colonial competition and experimentation.  Although the forces at work driving colonialism were at least partially strategic, they were also cultural, gaining importance due to broad social trends that gave meaning and legitimacy to an otherwise obviously violent project.  At least part of the drive to dominate was an awareness of the losses at home, the shortage of resources and the decline of life quality that had accompanied industrialism.  Colonialism was the ultimate escape from the uncomfortable truths of home, it glorified a narrative of supremacy and heroism.

The natural world played an important part in this project.  Colonialism was celebrated in the drawing rooms and smoking rooms of English nobility, adorned with the heads of hunting trophies, some beautiful, some made fearsome to elevate the social status of the hunter.   The larger and more dangerous the prey, the more remote and unforgiving the location, the more revered was the hunter who made the shot.  Check this piece by Maximilian Werner to see how this biosocial dynamic, including its gender dimension, still holds sway. The exercise of domination over nature embedded a narrative of triumph over adversity, struggle and reward, similar to the social Darwinist theories of racial superiority which were also gaining traction as more remote peoples and lands came under colonial control.

As England degraded physically and the environment became more and more polluted by coal smoke, with forests long since cut down and cities overrun with poor migrating for work in the industrial centres, a movement arose to preserve and protect the countryside and the rural way of life.  Romantics painted a rosy picture of the village, with quaint gardens and carefully tended homes, and mourned the loss of Hobbiton (OK, that came later, but you catch my drift).

20181109_130452For the colonial mindset, nature could be only two things:  it was either a garden, or a wilderness.  The garden metaphor viewed the colonies as representative of the quiet English countryside, well tended and cared for, planted and grown with care using the knowledge of scientific methods to regulate the relationships between species.  Ecological science, and particularly amateur collectors, made a strong impression by carefully gathering, cataloguing and classifying every new species and specimen ‘discovered’ in the remotest outposts of empire.  The endless frontiers would provide valuable information from which to garner wisdom about what had gone wrong in England, and the urge to recreate the Garden of Eden (to somehow earn a ‘do-over’) was strong.

The incorrigibility of Mars is no barrier, in fact it is the fuel for a profound sense of longing and loneliness.  Mars is the frontier we’ve already destroyed on Earth, the potential garden which we’ve already mismanaged.

On the other hand, the wilderness represented those areas yet to be tamed.  Large areas of Africa were virtually uninhabitable due to disease,  climatic hardships, wild animals, and dangerous and resentful local populations.   The causes of these hardships were unknown, but not unknowable.  Setbacks were common, and did incur some measure of humility and respect for the mystery of nature and the depth of the challenge of controlling what were essentially uncontrollable forces.  In the Western part of North America, wilderness was much less threatening, and its imminent loss inspired a sense of strong protection, even reverence, for the ‘natural cathedral’.  In Africa, the drive to protect wilderness took the form of hunting reserves where wild animals were protected and cultivated.  In North America, it took the form of the creation of national parks with mountain vistas which would be destinations for leisure and health as well as hunting.

peasants-in-herb-gardenSo how does the present-day vision of Mars come into this?  The colonial imagination of the garden or the wilderness is still present in Western, now in many senses, global culture.   Mars is the new canvas for the population to project its longings and dreams, and accuracy is still no part of the picture at all, just as it was with Africa.  The incorrigibility of Mars is no barrier, in fact it is the fuel for a profound sense of longing and loneliness.  Mars is the frontier we’ve already destroyed on Earth, the potential garden which we’ve already mismanaged.

In an Anthropocene epoch, when nothing on Earth is outside of human influence or touch, our own planet disappoints.  As the quintessential mysterious unknown, great status and wealth is to be gained by the race to conquer Mars, regardless of whether it turns out well.  Just as the drive to dominate ultimately undermined colonialism itself, so may the urge to colonize Mars destroy not only Mars, but also end up undermining efforts to protect what is left of the only home we’ve ever known.  One can argue this point, and perhaps I might be too pessimistic.  Might Mars end up being a wellspring of information that might be leveraged to save ourselves and our own planet?  Can we learn the real lessons of the wilderness and the garden?  I fear instead that we are not departing from the past but recreating it, not because poor Mars might end up being another junkyard (although it’s on the way already) but because we have yet to demonstrate the moral fortitude to be able to see ourselves in Mars.

Is the World Getting Better or Worse (Talk)?

This presentation takes a practical look at recent trends in the world and analyze whether the world is getting better or worse. We will look at trends in democracy, human rights and freedoms, economic growth and inequality, environmental degradation and climate change, human health, population, and governance, among others.

About Turn: Canada and Climate Change Policy (Talk)

Hear about the history of Canada’s efforts to address this crucial global problem of climate change and explore the challenges ahead. Canada is struggling to balance an economy highly dependent on natural resources with the increasingly urgent need to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change: Deconstructing Conservative Fatalism

Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Recent comments about climate change policy from conservative world leaders Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott suggest an important shift in conservative thinking about climate, science, and the role of country governments in tackling the problems of climate change.  Having lost the public relations fight about climate knowledge, conservatives now either vacate the field or adopt a discourse of what Stephen Colbert might call ‘truthiness’.

Like the child in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, the conservatives under Stephen Harper have ‘called out’ the world over inaction on climate change.  This strategy has had some success.  Harper stated recently that “no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country. We are just a little more frank about that, but that is the approach that every country is seeking.”

In this way, conservatives can claim to be the real ‘truth tellers’ who can then freely take the low ground of inaction.  By doing this, they make common cause with critics of climate politics while also maintaining a distance from the more extremist deniers [who quite frankly are starting to look rather foolish]. This discursive strategy is nothing new to the Harper conservatives, who have had some success in using it to justify pulling out of the international effort to negotiate a new agreement.

In Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, a child is the only one who sees that the Emperor is not wearing rich clothes but is indeed wearing nothing.  The child has done what none of the Emperor’s advisors dared to do, and so has credibility because of his/her relative freedom from social constraints.  These constraints restrict what subordinates may say to the Emperor, and so make it difficult to oppose his views.  The child, unrestricted by expectations, has the ability to speak their own mind without fear of the consequences.

Much is forgiven when a speaker can be said to be ignorant and unsophisticated, and the moral of the story is that wisdom and social value can come from the mouths of innocents not captured by the oppressive dictates of social expectations.

Peaceful and productive international relations thrive on the mushiness of language in describing aspirations and expectations.

However, taking a ‘truth teller’ role in international relations has many more risks and is far more complicated.  Peaceful and productive international relations thrive on the mushiness of language in describing aspirations and expectations.  Norms are built in the space created by uncertain statements, blurry commitments and nondescript agreements.

Social expectations and norms in other settings can become a straightjacket of nakedness, as the moral of the Emperor’s New Clothes suggests.  But international relations is different.  In IR, social expectations and common norms are flimsy and weak.  The risk of defection from any common enterprise is so high that the appearance alone of cooperation (nakedness) is often the only thing carrying the projects of climate change agreements forward, and making progress possible.  Bravery means a willingness to be at least a little bit naked, and aware of one’s own vulnerability.

For this reason, Conservative ‘truth telling’ should be seen for what it is:  first, it is an unabashed instrumental rationalist strategy for defecting from a common effort to address climate change.  It is not a cowboy-esque statement of independence worthy of respect for its pluck and grit.  It is not brave.  It is not radical.  It is not inspirational.

78806802Second, using ‘truth telling’ as a political tactic obscures the fact that defection imposes costs on all of the other countries seeking a means of fairly distributing the disastrous effects of adaptation to climate change.   Defection means cheating.  Any common benefits that come from an agreement, such as a reduction in emissions, will be enjoyed by all, whether they have paid any part of the cost of adjustment.

Conservative ‘truth telling’ is not brave.  It is not radical.  It is not inspirational.

Canada and Australia, as wealthy developed economies, will be enjoying the benefits of the economic adjustments imposed on poorer, less developed economies.  Canada is not the weak ‘child’ calling out the powerful Emperor, but rather, Canada is like the Emperor exploiting the helplessness of his subjects for his own vanity.

Any real effort to ‘tell the truth’ about climate change needs to demonstrate a willingness to pay a price for the achievement of real emissions reductions.  No one is saying that countries aren’t reluctant to take on that price.  To say so is not ‘truth telling’ but a recognition of the difficulty of achieving agreement.

To recognize the difficulty and then back away from it reveals a self-serving policy that celebrates weakness and apathy, not strength and independence.  Conservatives are banking that their celebration of ‘do-nothing’ policies will play on peoples’ fatalism and fear about climate change.  Let’s not let the Emperor succeed in this vain pretense.


The Place of Intrinsic Value in Environmental Politics

The news this year on the climate front continued to be alarming, especially the record low extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic.  The anthropocentric case for doing more to combat climate change seems self-evident.  A changing climate is very likely to be less hospitable to human needs than a stable one.  Arguments solely from self-interest therefore appear fairly quickly in the discussion of what to do.

But what of arguments not based on self-interest?  What place is there in the environmental discussion for a non-self-serving ethic, based on the idea that the natural world has intrinsic value, independent of human needs or human culture?  In fact, these ideas have been elaborated since the early days of the Does nature have its own intrinsic value?movement by Arne Naess and many others.  The notion of intrinsic value has seen its most prominent political expression in the discourses around parks and protected areas.  Groups like the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society continue to be  influential in establishing that ecological integrity should be a guiding principle of parks governance.  Protected areas symbolize many things, but one of the impetuses for protection is the awareness and recognition of a natural world with its own logic, its own measures, and its own ethical integrity, independent of the human.

Arguments that go beyond human self-interest, however, have not made a huge impact in the climate debate.  One problem is that an ecocentric ethic has been too closely associated with wilderness preservation.  Wilderness preservation is a legitimate basis for political action, however, wildernesses today are too physically remote, too closely managed, and too narrowly defined to be a solid basis for elaborating a larger argument about intrinsic value.  Biodiversity holds more promise, since natural biodiversity can be understood to operate from non-human principles.

Searching for intrinsic value.But what if the biosphere changes radically in response to climate change, what then becomes of an ethic of static preservation and intrinsic value?

In fact, I would argue that the best way and most effective way to integrate an ethic of intrinsic value in political decision making is to use an expansive and embedded approach. Such an approach would first of all recognize that intrinsic value and use value are not mutually exclusive ideas, and that something can be valued both for its usefulness to humans, and for itself.  Aristotle used the example of eyesight.  We value our eyesight both for its usefulness (we can see things and interact with the world more effectively with sight) and for its intrinsic value (we can appreciate sunsets and see the faces of loved ones).   The key test is not whether it would benefit humans to protect it, but would we miss it if it were suddenly taken away?  We can all imagine the sense of loss we would feel if our eyesight were suddenly removed, and we can all imagine the sense of loss as species disappear from the tree of life and the biosphere becomes irrevocably changed and even degraded.

This is a basis for building political action because of its universality.   Cultures may not agree on the value of any individual species but they can agree on the big picture of loss.  Practically speaking, the notion of intrinsic value for Canadians can be easily compared to the language of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Just as rights require entrenchment and defence by government and ordinary citizens, so, too, does nature.

Let’s not be afraid of the language of intrinsic value.  It is already all around us in political discourse.  Arguing that nature should be protected for its own sake makes a more robust position in favour of protection possible.  For example, it puts the onus on oil pipeline companies and developers to prove the worth of their activities, rather than on nature to prove its worth in human terms.