We’re All In This Together

Photo by Max Nesterak (@maxnesterak)

Take a good look at this photo. If you are reading this entry around the time it will have been posted, it’s likely that you will understand the basic context in which it was taken. But if you’re from a bit farther into the future — or you need a refresher — allow me to explain.

This photo was taken on Thursday, the 28th of May 2020, on the second night of rioting in the city of Minneapolis, USA. Just a week before it was taken, the world was a very different place — or so we were told, anyway. What made the world as it existed on the 21st of May so different from the world as it existed seven short days later is the reason why the employees of this shop put a cute little sign on the window, extolling passers-by to be kind, gentle, and loving towards those around them. They would have had no idea what would be coming down the road when they first put up the sign, but at the time, it’s likely that they thought they already knew what they should be afraid of.

Plenty of people find the use of so-called “motivational posters” in the office (or, God forbid, in the home) to be somewhat cheesy and unhelpful, but this has rarely seemed to stop certain other people from hanging them up anyway. Perhaps there is some science behind their prevalence — maybe some people do find this sort of thing helpful — but for many of us, there is something about looking up from a tedious task, desperate to finally be done with the thing, only to be met with a photo of a small, fluffy kitten trying to pull itself up from the edge of a counter top, a caption below the image pleading with the viewer to “Hang in there!”, that seems to ever-so-slightly tip the line between bland sincerity and cruel mockery.

In many countries around the world, the entire months of March and April, along with the lion’s share of May, were an exercise en masse in the hanging of motivational posters. This was not the only thing of note happening in these months, to be sure, but a significant amount of time and energy, along with hours of broadcasting space and millions of dollars in advertising efforts, were dedicated specifically to this task of ‘motivating’ the public. At the time it was done, everyone understood the purpose: there was something very unnerving happening around us and someone, somewhere, reasoned that applying a thin coat of empathy on top of the unfolding uncertainty was the very least that they could do to try to help.

And because it was the very least that a person could do, lots of people went ahead and did it. Lots of governments put out ads reminding people to be kind, lots of companies sent out emails with carefully-crafted promises to “be there” for their customers, and lots of businesses, big and small, put up signs that looked a lot like the one in the photo above. These motivational messages, though rarely identical in the most literal sense of the term, mostly said the exact same things: Things are tough, but we’ll get through this. Be kind to the people around you. Thank you for your service. We’re all in this together.

For a few months, much of the world was encased in a delicate narrative cocoon, constructed with razor-thin strands of kindness, compassion, and mutual understanding. Not everyone bought in to this, of course, but enough people did, and whether or not one truly believed in the narrative made little difference in the degree to which one was practically smothered by it. For a brief moment in time, the prevailing message was one of unity and brotherhood. We were expected to see ourselves as fighting together, hand in hand, against the omnipresent Scary Thing that was then bearing down upon us. The smallest acts of ‘sacrifice’, a word that became increasingly stretched to the point of near-parody, could transform the Average Joe into a Hero. At the same time, however, the mildest of transgressions against the “new normal” could turn that same Joe into a Villain — and this brought with it it’s own set of problems. Nevertheless, this was the world that we knew — at any rate, it was all anyone seemed to talk about.

And then one day, almost as swiftly as it had arrived, this paltry fog of empathy simply disappeared, and sincerity became mockery.

What makes this photo striking is that it represents the exact moment at which empty platitudes entered into a collision course with reality, and we all know which of the two emerged from the flaming wreckage unscathed. The reality is, we’re not “all in this together.” We were not when the Scary Thing first appeared to us, and we’re certainly not now that the Scary Thing suddenly doesn’t seem so scary anymore. In fact, the sheer gall required from the legions of PR firms involved in the motivational-messaging process to think that they could ever truly convince us all otherwise could keep at least a handful of philosophers entertained for decades to come.

The messaging may work for some people, but ‘some’ is not the same thing as ‘all’ or even ‘most’. Of course, it’s possible that our leadership knew this already, and the thin coat of empathy was intended only as an ultimately pathetic attempt to keep the lid on the pot well past the its point of boiling over. Whatever the case may be, now more than ever, as cities burn and store shelves are picked clean — for an entirely different reason, this time around — many of us will surely and clearly recognize that we are not “all in this together.” Because if “we” really were “all in this together”, that contingent of the supposed “we” with the power to attack this latest threat, using even a fraction of the ferocity with which they attacked the threat previous, would surely have done so by now.

They can force your place of work to close its doors indefinitely, but they can’t stop it from going up in flames. They can hand out thousands of dollars in fines to those daring to enjoy the sunshine, but they can’t prevent violent mobs from amassing under the cover of darkness. They will tell you that harsher measures are needed because of your ‘mistakes’, and tell you precisely the same when they decide that harsh measures are no longer appropriate.

Welcome to the intersection between anarchy and tyranny. Get comfortable, and remember: we’re all in this together.


Lessons Have Not Been Learned: The WHO & The West African Ebola Outbreak of 2014-16

I warned in my last article that if we didn’t do something to hold our leaders to account for the role they played in making the coronavirus pandemic more difficult to manage than it needed to be, something similar would surely occur again in the future. This was not melodrama on my part: this was an opinion informed by the fact that similar things have already happened in the recent past, for highly similar reasons, albeit on a much smaller scale. In this article, we’re going to learn a little bit about one of these events, with a strong focus on the eerie similarities that this particular disease outbreak shares with our current one.


The story begins in early December of 2013, when a young boy hailing from a small village in the West African nation of Guinea died of a mysterious illness. Multiple members of his immediate family soon fell ill with similar symptoms, later dying themselves, though not before infecting their fellow villagers. Owing to the location of these cases, the sickness was initially attributed to conditions much more common to the area. As a result, it took several months for local health authorities to recognize the disease for what it was: Ebola. By then, multiple residents of multiple villages in rural Guinea had been infected, with 49 suspected (6 confirmed) cases and 29 deaths registered by the time the World Health Organization recognized the existence of the outbreak on March 23, 2014 (Bell et al., 2016: p. 7).

Ebola is an extremely infectious and deadly disease; so much so that it has acquired something of a memetic quality in the Western consciousness as the go-to, “worst disease you can think of” when prompted to come up with a candidate. The reputation is certainly well-earned: both internal and external bleeding from every possible orifice is a hall-mark of the disease’s terminal stages, and even with the best of modern medical care, Ebola’s case-fatality rate (CFR) can still be as high as 25% — up to 90% with no care at all, as would likely be the case for most of these African villagers. By the time the West African epidemic had been officially declared as “over” by the WHO, in June of 2016, 11,323 of the (reported) 28,646 cases in the region had ended in death, giving it a CFR of 39.5%. [1]

While Ebola is severe enough in its own right, a number of explanations have been offered with regards to why this recent round had been so ruthless in comparison to those previous. This “perfect storm of factors”, cited by Wenham (2017) in an article regarding the widespread criticism of the WHO’s response to the outbreak, include:

[T]he unprecedented size of the outbreak, the lack of sufficiently trained personnel, limited resources, weak national health systems, the spread of the outbreak to urban settings, a time lag between the initial appearance of the pathogen and the reporting of it to the national and international communities, the highly porous international borders, mis-trust of government and health officials, the virus’ first appearance in West Africa, an exodus of international health providers and a structural failure of global health governance (p. 1).

Now, it is important to note that none of the above factors can be solely attributed to the WHO’s numerous shortcomings. Indeed, as will be discussed, plenty of blame can be shouldered by government officials in Guinea, where the outbreak began, as well as by their counterparts in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia, to where the outbreak soon spread.

Unfortunately, aside from exactly one sentence referencing the “delicate political and economic situations in West Africa” (p. 2) at the time as a possible reason for their delayed declaration of the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), Wenham’s article is unconcerned with the extent to which WHO officials may have been complicit in allowing economic concerns to super-cede public health concerns related to the ongoing spread of Ebola.

In this case, the Guinean government had plenty of reasons to cover-up, or at least downplay, the true extent of the outbreak. The country holds the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, a rock rich in both aluminium and gallium (used in the manufacturing of electronics), and it has been alleged that Guinean officials were rather hesitant to let any blows come to their nation’s primary source of income (Cheng, 2015: para. 41).

With this being the case, the WHO appears to have been quite content to play along with Guinea’s economic imperatives at the expense of trans-national health and safety. Just two days after the WHO put the world on notice regarding the outbreak in Guinea, cases were already being reported in Sierra Leone and Liberia (Cheng, 2015: para. 21). But at the annual World Health Association conference in May, the Guinean Minister for Health seemed highly optimistic that the outbreak would soon be over, dismissing previous concerns that had been raised by NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, aka Doctors Without Borders) that the outbreak was indeed much larger and much more serious than the Guinean government was willing to admit. While the claims of MSF would later be vindicated by June, the WHO, for its part, made no practical effort to counter the narrative being spun by the Guinean government (Kamradt-Scott, 2018: 202).

Is any of this beginning to sound familiar?

In July, catastrophe was narrowly averted when an infected traveler from the Liberian capital of Monrovia flew into Lagos, Nigeria, the most populous city in Africa with some 21 million inhabitants at the time. Thankfully, a rapid and aggressive response from local health authorities limited the number of Nigerian cases to just 19 (Bell et al., 2016: p. 9). Despite this and other close calls, the WHO did not declare the West African Ebola outbreak as a PHEIC until August of 2014. In this respect, the Associated Press (2015) article cited by Wenham gives us yet another gem from the increasingly-infamous WHO lackey Dr. Bruce Aylward, now world-renowned for responding to a Hong Kong-based journalist’s questions regarding the Taiwanese government’s exceptional response to the coronavirus pandemic by hanging up on her:

Aylward, WHO’s top Ebola official, said labeling the Ebola outbreak a global emergency would have been no magic bullet.

“What you would expect is the whole world wakes up and goes, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a terrible problem, we have to deploy additional people and send money,’” he said. “Instead what happened is people thought, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s something really dangerous happening there and we need to restrict travel and the movement of people’” (para. 16-17).

Well, yes, genius; we might expect some restricting of travel in affected areas to occur in the event of a known Ebola outbreak, because those people doing the travelling — and I’m just spit-balling, here — might be a tad concerned about, I don’t know, dying from Ebola, as an average of some 50% of patients are known to do. To borrow the analogy used in the AP article, “That’s like saying you don’t want to call the fire department because you’re afraid the fire trucks will create a disturbance in the neighborhood” — or, to be specific to the alleged economic concerns, this is like the manager of a Wal-Mart refusing to pull the fire alarm while sparks are flying in the electronics department because customers might not be interested in buying anything as they rush out the doors to safety.

Now, I get the concern about shutting down the economy to mitigate disease outbreak –really, I do. I understand that there is a need to strike some sort of balance between making sure that people don’t get sick (or, at the very least, that not too many people get sick in too short of a time-frame), and making sure that people can still pay their bills. However, and particularly where a disease with a high CFR is concerned, such as Ebola, I am quite tempted to argue that dead people can’t buy anything at all, ever again, so perhaps it’d be a smarter idea just to shoulder the burden of whatever sales hit may come from sounding the alarm — but I’m not a doctor, so don’t quote me on that.

At any rate, Aylward’s comments would seem to suggest that the PHEIC declaration would have resulted in the rest of the world effectively cutting ties with the affected nations and simply leaving them to their fates. As the same article points out, this was certainly not the case:

After WHO declared the international emergency[,] U.S. President Barack Obama ordered up to 3,000 troops to West Africa and promised to build more than a dozen 100-bed field hospitals. Britain and France also pledged to build Ebola clinics; China sent a 59-person lab team and Cuba sent more than 400 health workers (para. 52).

Clearly, the international community did not abandon West Africa: they took the necessary measures to protect their own citizens from harm [2], then they sent equipment and staff to the region to assist on the ground. This assistance surely saved lives – how many more could have been saved had the PHEIC declaration been made sooner? One has to wonder if the short-term sustenance of the Guinean economy really was worth the permanent loss of those human lives driving that same economy.

The buck doesn’t stop with the Guinean government, of course. By the end of April 2014, the Liberian government had reported just one suspected case of Ebola in Monsterrado County, the nation’s most populous. In defiance of the near-certainty that this was unlikely to be the only case, detected or otherwise, within Liberian territory, the WHO once again failed to challenge the government’s figures, appearing content to take them at face-value, a decision which Kamradt-Scott (2018) aptly describes as “perplexing to say the least” and that “can only be considered a serious error in judgement” (pp. 202-203).

In response to the scathing criticism levied at the WHO over its handling of the situation, it had pledged to establish a Health Emergencies Programme, “explicitly including an operational role for the organization when a state is unable to show the necessary operational leadership and management on their own” (Wenham, 2017: p. 3). But as Kamradt-Scott observes, like similar initiatives that have preceded it, “the [Health Emergencies Programme] is also struggling to gain the necessary financial backing to see the programme fully operationalised” (p. 209).

Of course, Wenham is careful to note that “The success of this initiative will only become apparent when the next global disease concern emerges” (p. 3).

Yeah… about that.


From our present perspective, finding ourselves in the midst of exactly that “global disease concern” that many of the above-cited authors had warned us about just four years ago, it is both disconcerting and, frankly, aggravating to be forced to conclude that neither the WHO nor its member states seem to have learned much of anything at all from their experience with the world’s largest Ebola outbreak on record. On the one hand, these institutions and their leadership push for ever greater inter-dependency and connectivity between nations, economies, and peoples – on the other, precisely when one might reasonably expect the oft-lauded notion of ‘global solidarity’ to be needed the most, time and time again these same institutions have demonstrated that are simply not fit for the roles they have set out to fill.

Anyone familiar with my views on the subject will know that I am by no means in favour of increased, let alone continued globalization of any sort. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume for a moment that globalization is indeed inevitable, and that there really is no means of backing down from it now:

Is this the kind of leadership that we want at the helm? The kind that will gladly pander to selective national interests, even when those interests pose an international risk? If we’re really meant to be “all in this together”, as they like to say, why did the governments of three small countries in West Africa get to call the shots on whether or not several other countries around the globe were exposed to a deadly virus?

Why was the WHO allowed to get away with this? If 11,000 deaths (that we know of) from Ebola was not enough to convince them, let alone their clientele, that something had to change about the way they deal with such things, how sure can we be that 170,000 deaths (at the time of writing) from COVID-19 will be any more convincing?

And as for our leaders — why, oh why do they continue to blindly trust the WHO? This is an especially important question for countries such as Canada, where public health officials are seemingly content to take little other initiative aside from relaying the latest memo received from WHO headquarters to the masses. I must stress that the WHO does not exist because it was somehow determined to be “the best” organization for the task; it exists simply because there was no other organization performing these tasks prior to its creation [3]. Having no natural competition to speak of – like most, if not all other UN agencies – there is no reason for it to undergo sufficient and enduring reform if it is not effectively forced to do so.

Wenham, sadly, like many others, argues that the WHO cannot adequately accomplish its own mandates because it does not have the money or resources to do so. Curious how, despite such failures, the proposed solution to lasting inefficiency seems almost always to be that we should give them even more money than the billions that they already receive. I would argue quite the opposite: if they cannot manage their present operations with the resources on hand, they should scale down those operations to a much more manageable level. And believe me: anyone even vaguely familiar with the organization’s non-pandemic-related controversies, including (but not limited to) spending close to $192 million dollars on travel expenses in just one year, understands that there is a fair bit of fat to be trimmed.

Similar conclusions have been reached by the Harvard-London School Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola, stating, among other things, that “all countries need a minimum level of core capacity to detect, report, and respond rapidly to outbreaks” — rather than relying solely on the WHO to shoulder the burden for them. Additionally, the panel observes that “when preventive measures do not succeed, outbreaks can cross borders and surpass national capacities. Ebola exposed WHO as unable to meet its responsibility for responding to such situations and alerting the global community” (Moon et al., 2015: 2204). They, too, recommend the creation of a “dedicated centre for outbreak response with strong technical capacity” (Ibid.), further noting that “decisive, timebound governance reforms will be needed to rebuild trust in WHO in view of its failings during the Ebola epidemic” (Ibid., p. 2205).

Lastly, the panel would appear to agree with my own observation that the WHO clearly has far too much on its plate as is, and, as I have written many, many times in the past, that throwing more money at a problem need not always be the solution:

With respect to outbreak response, WHO should focus on four core functions: supporting national capacity building through technical advice; rapid early response and assessment of outbreaks (including potential emergency declarations); establishing technical norms, standards, and guidance; and convening the global community to set goals, mobilise resources, and negotiate rules. Beyond outbreaks, WHO should maintain its broad definition of health but substantially scale back its expansive range of activities to focus on core functions (Ibid.). [emphasis mine]

The Harvard-London panel was just one of four that Kamradt-Scott describes as being “of particular note.” “Disturbingly,” however, he elaborates that “very many of the recommendations produced by these commissions echoed the practical steps for enhancing global health security advanced by the various H1N1 [“swine flu”] review panels four years earlier” (p. 206).

When all of this coronavirus business is said and done, can we expect further review panels to make recommendations for reform that will, ultimately, be left almost entirely by the wayside? Call me crazy, but I’m personally unwilling to wait for the next pandemic to see whether or not this current crisis has inspired any feelings of change at the WHO. Even though the Canadian government is now talking about the “critical need” for a review of the WHO’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, I believe that I have made the point well enough that a mere review is simply not enough.

Enough with the reviews, and enough with the panels, unless those reviews and panels will be centred near-exclusively on how much funding we are prepared to withdraw from the WHO until the day comes where they finally get their act together – if such a thing is possible. And if it isn’t, it may just be the right time to bid abolish the organization once and for all.

As for whether or not the WHO could be, or indeed should be replaced by some form of successor, well… I’ll leave that one up to the ‘experts’ to decide.


[1] The ‘true’ CFR for the 2013-2016 outbreak is difficult to determine and may indeed be much higher, as an unknown number of cases (perhaps as high as 70%) were not reported to local health authorities. In addition, the survival outcomes for some 44% of “confirmed, probable, and suspected cases” in the WHO Ebola Response Team’s dataset have not been reported. See: Fourna, A., Nouvellet, P., Dorigatti, I., Donnelly, C. A. (2019). Case Fatality Ratio Estimates for the 2013–2016 West African Ebola Epidemic: Application of Boosted Regression Trees for Imputation. Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciz678. https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciz678

[2] For instance, following a confirmed, fatal case of Ebola in a man whom had flown from Liberia to Texas in September 2014, the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) quickly set about developing and deploying Ebola Response Teams and evaluating local healthcare facilities for preparedness, in addition to implementing stringent screening and monitoring protocols for travelers arriving from affected countries. See: Bell et al., 2016: p. 10

[3] If we’re being pedantic, the WHO was technically preceded by the International Sanitary Conferences (1851-1938; intended to standardize quarantine regulations against the spread of cholera, plague, and yellow fever) and the Health Organization of the League of Nations. However, both bodies were absorbed by the WHO on it’s creation after World War II, and neither of them dealt with public health issues at the same breadth and scale as the WHO does currently.


Bell, B. P., Damon, I. K., Jernigan, D. B., Kenyon, T. A., Nichol, S. T., O’Connor, J. P., & Tappero, J. W. (2016). Overview, Control Strategies, and Lessons Learned in the CDC Response to the 2014–2016 Ebola Epidemic. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 65(3): 4-11.

Cheng, M. (2015, March). Emails: UN health agency resisted declaring Ebola emergency. Associated Press. http://archive.vn/veQNb

Kamradt-Scott, A. (2018). What Went Wrong? The World Health Organization from Swine Flu to Ebola. In Kruck, A., Oppermann, K., & Spencer, A. (Eds.), Political Mistakes and Policy Failures in International Relations (pp. 193-215). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-68173-3_9

Moon, S., Sridhar, D., Pate, M. A., Jha, A. K., Clinton, C., Delaunay, S., Edwin, V., Fallah, M., Fidler, D. P., Garrett, L., Goosby, E., Gostin, L. O., Heymann, D. L., Lee, K., Leung, G. M., Morrison, S. J., Saavedra, J., Tanner, M., Leigh, J. A., . . . Piot, P. (2015). Will Ebola change the game? Ten essential reforms before the next pandemic. The report of the Harvard-LSHTM Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola. The Lancet, 386: 2204-2221. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00946-0

Wenham, C. (2017). What we have learnt about the World Health Organization from the Ebola outbreak. Philosophical Transactions B., Royal Society, 372(1721): 1-5. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2016.0307

Coronavirus & The Plague of Self-Interest

Up until just yesterday, Canadians were repeatedly told that closing our borders to travellers from infected regions will do nothing, because said travellers can always bypass flight restrictions by first flying to a country with no restrictions, or by simply lying about their travel history. At the same time, we were told that asking suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients to “self-quarantine” themselves, with virtually no oversight provided aside from (we should hope) their own conscious, is a perfectly reasonable and smart thing to do.

Because people who want to travel, for whatever reason, will do just that, and there’s apparently nothing we can do to stop them. But people who want to break their self-quarantine, for whatever reason, will… not do just that? Our officials may invoke The Science alleged to be informing their actions however many times they like, but one does not need any sort of educational or professional qualifications to understand that this reasoning simply doesn’t hold up.

Meanwhile, in the real world, if we can expect that people might lie about their travel history, we should certainly expect that people might lie about remaining in self-quarantine. Moreover, it now appears that a large percentage of our recent coronavirus cases have been “imported” from the only nation with which we share a land border: the United States. Closing this border would appear to be the most obvious and sensible thing to do — but leave it to the Canadian government to be egregiously involved in the day-to-day lives of its citizens during the best of times, and almost entirely absent and ineffectual at precisely the moment when we really do need them to do something, anything at all.

For the lion’s share of the outbreak, the World Health Organization had embarked upon a most virtuous crusade to combat the real threat facing our so-called “global village”: hurt feelings. Aside from their persistent and rather patronizing calls for people the world over to engage in proper hand-washing protocol, the only other activity of note from the WHO over much of the last two months had much less to do with the virus itself than with how people feel about the virus.

In other words: perhaps the real virus is the stigma generated along the way.

Now, it is quite easy, and admittedly quite tempting, to chalk all of this up to mere incompetency. However, I do not personally believe this to be the case — at the very least, it’s not the whole story. Rather, I do believe there to be at least some sort of method behind this madness.

Imagine: you’re one of the big-shots at the WHO. You have an extremely virulent and potentially deadly sickness making its way around the globe, and you are, of course, expected to do something about it. Unfortunately, as a branch of the UN System, you are forced to juggle your commitment to the globalist project with that of your core mandate — public health. This means that several potential options for combating the spread of the virus are off the table before negotiations even begin.

In brief:

  • You can’t (openly) encourage countries to implement travel restrictions, because this will have too much of a negative impact on the global economy (not to mention the implications of giving the impression that wide-open borders not always being a good thing);
  • You can’t encourage countries to implement more heavy-handed screening processes for potential coronavirus patients, because this will freak people out;
  • You can’t (openly) call for the same kind of large-scale, city-wide quarantines as those seen in China, because the residents of most other countries are unlikely to tolerate such a thing (and it will freak people out, and be bad for the economy);
  • You can’t be entirely honest about the overall difficulty of the situation we’re facing, because this would further undermine the already-limited confidence that much of the public has in your organization. At any rate, you absolutely cannot admit that you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to strike a balance between the interests of the global economy and that of global health, because some people may (rightfully) begin to wonder why on Earth the World Health Organization is concerning itself with economic matters in the first place.

Briefer still:

So — what’s an un-elected bureaucrat to do? At this point, it will help to remember that these are bureaucrats we’re dealing with, here — they’re not saints; they’re people, just like you and me, every bit as liable to fall for the allure of self-interest as any of those currently dodging symptom-checks at airports, hoarding toilet paper, or breaking their self-quarantines to attend public gatherings.

The answer to this problem, then, is simple, if only because it’s the last one left. Basically, you’re going to have to figure out a way of doing something — or at least, looking like you’re doing something — without actually doing much of anything at all. A necessary component of this strategy will entail that your organization consistently down-plays the nature of the risk that this virus poses to the world: so long as the public genuinely believes that there’s nothing to be worried about, they will not be demanding that you take any of the aforementioned, unsightly options.

That way, your overall lack-of-action will appear not irresponsible, but rather reasonable. As far as the WHO’s continued existence is concerned, it doesn’t really matter whether or not their actions (or lack thereof) really are irresponsible, only that they don’t look that way.

Herein lies the danger with putting a single organization in charge of public health on a global scale: like most UN agencies, the WHO is accountable only to itself, despite being charged with the health interests of (for all intents and purposes) the entire planet. If any of us have a problem with the way the WHO is governed, there is effectively nothing that we can do about it — not unless the WHO itself happens to agree with our concerns. Until that day comes, if it ever does, we remain entirely at their mercy.

Again, we must ask ourselves: what incentive do they have to agree with us? In fact, they have much more incentive to outright lie to us, lest their cushy office jobs be put on the chopping block. To an extent, I can understand the difficulty of their present situation: surely, it is no easy task to balance the needs, wants, and demands of some 8 billion people with the needs, wants, and demands of the politicians, bankers and bureaucrats signing your paychecks. I only say “to an extent” because — call me crazy — I don’t really care whether or not anyone gets to keep their cushy office job after the dust settles, and frankly, with so many lives at stake, I can’t understand why we haven’t yet seen at least one or two whistle-blowers emerge whom would presumably agree with me on this point.

To quote @DaveEncompas0 on Twitter, who summarizes the debacle quite nicely:

One of the most striking, morbid symptoms of this era is public institutions’ fixation on the interior, subjective strata of a public they seem to increasingly mistrust. The Managerial State’s surveillance of mind rises in proportion to its failure to attend to material reality. [source]

Indeed, in our present era of global oligarchy, public opinion is not the means of understanding and alleviating concern that it may have once been. Rather, it is a dangerous and institutionally life-threatening obstacle that must be overcome by any means necessary. And if you cannot — or, in this case, are perhaps not allowed to — combat the issue that has caused such negative public opinion, you are then forced to combat — or, in this case, distract from — the negative opinion itself.


The bulk of the preceding paragraphs were drafted prior to the WHO’s extremely belated, “official” designation of the novel coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic. Since then, the crisis has accelerated considerably: just one of many examples comes from the hard-hit nation of Italy, where hospitals are reportedly being forced to choose which incoming patients will be eligible to receive intensive, life-saving care, and which will be left to their fates. Parts of Spain and France are now on lock-down, and multiple nations have suspended both land and air-based travel into their territories, whether for travellers from specific regions or — as is the case in Denmark, Poland, and, quite ironically, a number of Central American nations — from anywhere else in the world. Even Canada, too, is now closing its borders to most, albeit not all, foreigners.

These are dark days indeed, and darker still remain. It may seem difficult to fathom at this stage, but we must remember that this, too, will pass. The day will come when our lives return to normal — though what appears to be “normal” to us on that day may be drastically different from what we would have considered “normal” before all of this began.

Although Canada has not yet initiated any large-scale lock-downs such as those seen in China, Italy, Spain, France, and parts of the United States, many of us will be spending much more time indoors, away from our jobs and other commitments, whether with our families or alone with our thoughts. As tempting as it may be, I think it would be a terrible shame to spend this sudden surplus of free time on fearing for the future. You will likely end up doing this to some extent, anyway — we’re only human, after all. My point is that you should try not to spend all of your time doing so.

At any rate, fear is far from the only emotion that you ought to be feeling at this moment. In particular, if you are not angry with the powers that be for having inflicted this mess upon you in the first place, I would urge you to reconsider.

Yes, we certainly have the right to be upset with the Chinese government for their bungled and haphazard response to the outbreak while it was still contained within their borders. We have just as much of a right to be upset with the WHO and their lackeys for having sacrificed our health and safety on the alter of money, power and “progress.” But do not forget that governments around the world — in all likelihood, yours included — consistently delayed putting the proper measures in place in time to protect you and your family from harm. That citizens all over the world are now being faced with widespread unemployment, uncertainty, and quarantine — mandatory or otherwise — on top of a very real and dangerous threat to their health, was not inevitable. If anonymous Twitter accounts and citizen journalists knew that this was a big deal as far back as early January, it’s a sure bet that our leaders knew as well, if not sooner. All the same, they did nothing.

None of this had to happen. Nearly all of this chaos, both coming and ongoing, could have been prevented. To re-iterate: calling this mere incompetence gives them far more credit than they deserve. It is not incompetence, but cold, calculated malice. Somewhere along the chain of command, a decision was made that your health did not matter nearly as much as your behavior — after all, dead men tell no tales.

God forbid that any of you reading this (or any of your loved ones) become ill with this terrible sickness. No matter who you are, whether you agree with my views or not, I sincerely hope that this virus passes by you and your family without incident. Though the coronavirus has done a better job at exposing the rotten foundations of our globalized economy and its complex, off-shored supply chains than all the thousands of hours of YouTube exposes on the topic combined, the last thing I’d want is for anyone to lose their lives in the process.

Sadly, lives have already been lost. All we can do now is to try to do our best to ensure that we do not lose any more. Do not trust your government to do this for you: remember that the only reason they are acting so swiftly at this stage is because the problem has become too big, too scary, to deflect with simple accusations of bigotry and intolerance.

Do not forget that, when you were afraid and desperate for answers, the government called you a ‘racist’ for having dared to ask questions.

I am not at all certain that our global elite will learn anything of value from this experience. In all likelihood, they will be itching to get back to “business as usual” as soon as possible — as ‘usual’ as it can be, at any rate. We must not allow them to do so. We have a responsibility to those whom have already suffered and perished from the consequences of these decisions to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. And if we do not learn anything from this, mark my words, it will happen again.

To return to Dave’s quote: our institutions, both national and international, do not trust us. They do not trust us to make the appropriate decisions with the information they have on hand, and by withholding it, they have forced us to do whatever it is they think we should be doing, whether it is the right thing to do or not. The tragic results are now piling up in hospitals, morgues, and graveyards across the world.

Use this time wisely. Use the fear and anger you are feeling now just as wisely. They do not trust us, and we should make damn sure that the feeling remains mutual.

Do not forget who did this to us, and, most importantly, do not forget why.

The ‘Social Contract’ Goes Up In Flames

If you’ve not yet seen the recent coverage of anti-pipeline road barriers being dismantled by angry locals off Highway 19 on Vancouver Island, B.C., you may want to give it a watch before reading this.

First off, let me express my pride, for want of a better term, that this happened in my old stomping grounds. Many, many hardworking families on Vancouver Island have been hammered by the damage done to our nation’s natural resource sector — first, by the massive layoffs in forestry around the time of the Great Recession, and now, again, by the federal government’s open warfare against the oil and gas industry, which many Islanders had looked to as an alternative. We used to joke that the population of Campbell River (my hometown, just north of this incident) doubled and halved every two weeks with all the folks flying in and out of Fort McMurray.

I was around 14 years old when the local paper mill, the town’s biggest employer, shut down. Over the months that followed I remember seeing groups of friends at school, embracing one another in tears, saying their last goodbyes before some of their families would depart for Alberta’s then-greener pastures. Others still would remain, their households having elected to send dad to the aforementioned oil sands to be away from his family for weeks at a time just to provide for them.

My father, for his part, lost his business in the recession. Not wanting to leave his home of over a decade behind, he spent the next few years working two, sometimes three jobs to keep our heads above water. By the time I graduated high school, there was still little work in Campbell River — so I, too, made my way to the “promised land” of Alberta.

We were all idiots, I suppose.

I’m telling you all this to give an idea of the context in which the events of this video occurred. For every dirty, screeching hippy planting their asses behind an illegal highway barricade, there are surely dozens of ordinary people who are sick to death of this kind of interference in their daily lives. Sick to death of watching their friends and families become so thinly spread across the breadth of this country, desperately tracking down the few remaining parts of it in which there is still work to be found. Just as the recession was not the fault of those who were most drastically affected by it, neither is it their fault that multiple pipeline projects remain trapped in regulatory hell.

And, clearly, it is not their fault that anti-pipeline protesters have upped the ante by blockading the same highways and bridges that every other Canadian needs to get from one place to another — whether or not they themselves are employed in the industry currently slated for death. Hell, even if they were, it is hardly the “fault” of any given O&G worker that any given pipeline might be built — yet, they will be made to suffer the consequences of these blockades all the same.

It’s not their fault that this is happening. It’s not their fault that the RCMP has chosen to do next-to-nothing about it. Nonetheless, when a handful of those sick-to-death people come together to do the work that the police refuse to do, they are the ones who are treated as criminals.

At one point in the video, a protester becomes aggravated by the sight of their carefully-placed barricade materials being tossed rightfully into the roadside ditch by a local who’s clearly had enough of this shit. “He’s removing garbage,” says another local to the weepy protester.

“My sacred items are not garbage,” she counters, with the kind of passion to suggest that the man was throwing a live infant into the ditch as opposed to old tires and rotting plywood. “My sacred items are special!”

Hear that? Those old tires are ‘special’ — sacred, even! Much, much more special or sacred than silly things like — I don’t know — having a job. Feeding your family. Just trying to live one’s life, even as the world around them comes tumbling down in a grandiose hissy-fit.

Unfortunately, I suspect that these protesters — and by extension, their police detail — might be on to something. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to just “live our lives” anymore, not while they have anything to say about it. As noted by a local in this video, paying your taxes and minding your business doesn’t seem to be good enough these days — not to the police, and certainly not to the protesters. Taking matters into your own hands, however, is also not allowed: that’ll get you arrested.

But hey — the police will be receiving their paychecks as usual, despite their active refusal to protect the public from a minority of extremists. What do they care if hundreds, if not thousands of others will be physically prevented from earning theirs? In fact, missed days of work will be, for some, the least of their concerns — God forbid anyone has an important medical appointment waiting for them on the other side of a blocked-up bridge.

The protesting and road-blocking is still ongoing. CN Rail has just announced that it will be forced to close “significant” parts of its rail network if the protests continue. As the world’s second-largest country, Canada is extremely dependent upon its transportation infrastructure to provide goods across the country. The shortages that could result from this are far from trivial: food, medicine, propane, the list goes on. Already our supplies of these and various other necessities are threatened by the mass quarantine of China, and our ever-creative pipeline protesters have somehow managed to find a way to make the situation even worse. Quite ironically, we can expect the isolated and predominantly Indigenous communities of our rural north to be among the hardest hit by these antics conducted in their name.

With the current state of play, it is only a matter of time before someone gets hurt — physically, as opposed to financially, or indeed “spiritually”, hurt. Hence the ominous quotation now making its rounds across Canadian social media:

“If the government will not uphold the rule of law, it becomes incumbent on citizens to do so.”

Canadians have a reputation for being ‘polite’, often to our detriment. As I’ve argued before, this ‘polite’ demeanor is more likely the result of not wanting to rock the proverbial boat than it is a genuine consideration of other people’s feelings. At any rate, my theory is about to be put to the test once more.

If you don’t want to get involved, that’s too damn bad: these protesters, the police, and indeed the upper echelons of government, have all decided that you don’t get to have that choice anymore. As big as our country is, there is simply nowhere left to run: the roadways are littered with trash. We are now sitting in an un-seaworthy vessel without life jackets, watching some of our fellow passengers crowd themselves onto one side, threatening to flip the thing over. Forget not wanting to rock the boat, because it’s already about to capsize.

Will we rock it back the other way, or will we let them drown us all?

The Palm Oil Paradox: Just One of Sustainable Agriculture’s Dirty Little Secrets

In terms of breadth and scale, perhaps the grandest of all the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s efforts in the interest of sustainable agriculture has been in the promotion and production of palm oil, a substance used in a variety of processed foods, as well as non-edible products and, to a lesser extent, as a source of biofuel. Of the countries involved in the palm oil industry, Indonesia heads the list as the top exporter, followed by Malaysia; together, the two countries produce 80% of all the world’s palm oil. [1] Elsewhere, the FAO has managed to introduce a more cold-resistant hybrid of palm tree to be grown in Kenya, which has seen encouraging results: “The potential of the hybrids is considerable,” the project’s website states. “Fruit can be harvested from three-year-old palms, and the palms reach maturity at about six years, if well tended. Mature palms yield about 20 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches per hectare a year, or 4 tonnes of oil. The palms’ productive life is about 25 years.” Moreover, we are told, the cultivation of palm oil is of ecological benefit: “Oil palm is environment-friendly,” according to one of the project’s “key technical officers,” Peter Griffee. “It doesn’t compete with native vegetation or food crops in western Kenya. There’s no need to turn the soil over every year, so there’s less erosion and soil compaction.” [2] But wherever it is grown, the cultivation of palm oil has been frequently touted by the FAO and others as a means of combating poverty, either by providing employment on large plantations to locals whom are needed for the labour intensive task of land-clearing and harvesting, or by its use as a cash crop for smaller, typically family-run farms. [3] In this respect, the enterprise might not sound like such a bad idea – so, where’s the catch?

Unfortunately, in the years since the aforementioned project, perspectives on the environmental-friendliness of palm oil production have shifted massively in the opposing direction. Writes Natasha Gilbert for Nature, “Palm oil was once touted as a social and environmental panacea — a sustainable food crop, a biofuel that could help to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and a route out of poverty for small-scale farmers.” However, more recent research would suggest that not only does large-scale production of the crop lead to “damaging deforestation” in the countries concerned, “the oil’s use as a biofuel offers only marginal benefits for mitigating climate change” — in fact, according to tests conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the use of biofuel emits just 11-17% less greenhouse gas emissions than diesel over an entire ‘life-cycle’ of use. [4] By all appearances, the environmental movement’s honeymoon with palm oil would seem to be over — within the industry itself, however, not everyone seems willing to let go.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a lobby group composed of various corporate stakeholders in the palm oil industry, seeks to “transform markets” and “make sustainable palm oil the norm” by leading the charge on standard-setting and monitoring of sustainable production practices within the industry. At the time of writing, the RSPO’s board of governors includes representatives of palm oil production and processing companies, in addition to those from the manufacturing and retail sectors, companies such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble, and other non-profit organizations like the WWF and the World Resources Institute (WRI). [5]

At any rate, they certainly have their work cut out for them. As alluded to previously, a great deal of the controversy that has emerged over the cultivation of palm oil trees has to do with the large amounts of natural forest that need to be cleared in order to make way for the plantations. This has consequences both for the ecological stability of an area as well as for its animal inhabitants, such as orangutans and other endangered species resident in Southeast Asia, where most of the world’s palm oil is produced. Furthermore, resident respondents in one survey of an oil-producing region in Malaysia expressed concerns that the processing mills in the area were polluting the local water supply, in addition to noting the loss of the natural forest as a valuable resource for hunting game and gathering wild fruits. [6] This latter development is of particular concern to the many households who did not own the land they customarily used for subsistence agriculture; due to the nature of Malaysian property laws, these families did not need to be consulted regarding the conversion of this land into plantations — indeed, as the researchers note, seventy-seven percent of the respondents were not given any advance warning, with the remainder being notified of the change by village authorities. As such, these households were now forced to rely much more on hunting and gathering within the shrinking forests as a main food source. [7] With all of this in mind, the picture becomes more complicated: is it possible to change the inner workings of the industry in a manner that reduces the negative effects of palm oil cultivation, as outlined above, while still retaining the positive benefits to local communities?

A cursory review of the RSPO’s “Principles and Criteria for Certification” for large-scale producers appears promising: contained therein are guidelines and indicators not only for ensuring better environmental practices, but as well for taking into consideration those households and communities that may be negatively affected by plantation activities, such as including them in consultations despite a legal lack of land ownership. On the other hand, and despite the RSPO having been founded in 2004, there are presently no similar standards or guidelines in place for smaller-scale operations — this is certainly problematic, considering that these ‘smallholder’ palm oil producers make up between 35-40% of the total plantation land in Indonesia and Malaysia alone. [8] Nevertheless, the mere existence of industry standards is surely a step in the right direction. Now, the question is whether or not these standards are being reliably enforced and upheld.

In November of 2012, the International Labour Rights Forum (ILRF), alongside the local NGO Sawit Watch, visited three RSPO-certified plantations in Indonesia with the hope of finding out just that. At all three locations, the field researchers spoke with workers who shared their experiences, from which many frightening commonalities began to emerge: low compensation for the amount and intensity of labour provided; parents having to bring their children with them to work on plantations in order to meet the set harvesting quotas; little or no job security or employee benefits in any respect; and overall poor and/or hazardous working conditions, including frequent exposure to corrosive chemicals without proper protective gear or, when needed, even basic medical care. One worker describes being lured to his place of employment with promises of a good salary and paid accommodation, only to discover on arrival that he would receive no housing, no food, and be paid considerably less than promised for work performed in extremely poor conditions — now, being unable to cover his family’s expenses and forced into taking on debt with the plantation’s on-site commissary, the man has no choice but to continue working there in order to pay it off. At a different site, a ‘casual’ worker (in essence, a labourer who is paid less than a permanent worker, receives no benefits, works unstable hours and may be fired at any time) claims that some of her fellow workers will attempt to bribe the site’s foreman with food and cigarettes in hopes that they will be selected to work a particular shift. [9] 

At the time of writing, only some of the abuses observed by Salit Watch and the ILRF appear to have been dealt with by the RSPO in any meaningful manner. Among the parent companies of the three plantations visited — Wilmar International, Socfin, and Salim Ivomas Pratama Tbk (SIMP) — only SIMP no longer appears on the RSPO’s roster of members. In this case, the ILRF and two other NGOs eventually filed a formal complaint with the RSPO over conditions discovered during yet another visit of the PT Lonsum plantation, one of the three investigated previously by the ILRF and Sawit Watch; a subsequent RSPO-led investigation of the site later confirmed their findings. Following the SIMP’s failure to meet the conditions of the decision rendered by the Complaints Panel, the RSPO terminated the company’s membership and nullified their certification in February 2019. [10] As for Socfin, at the time of writing there appear to have been no formal complaints lodged with the RSPO (according to their database) regarding labour practices on their plantations to date. [11]

Meanwhile, Wilmar International, one of the largest shareholders in the global palm oil industry, has continued to generate controversy in more recent years: a 2016 investigation by Amnesty International (AI) uncovered multiple instances of children on Wilmar-owned plantations engaged in labour contrary to both Indonesian and international law; this, too, seems to have resulted from the children’s parents being unable to meet their harvesting quotas without their assistance, which for some of the workers could mean a reduction in their pay, irrespective of the actual hours worked. As the report explains:

The targets that workers have to achieve are set by individual companies, and appear to be set arbitrarily to meet companies’ needs rather than being based on a realistic calculation of how much workers can do in their working hours. [ … ] Workers can face deductions of their salary for failing to meet their targets, in some cases leading to their salaries falling below the minimum wage, or lose out on ‘bonus’ payments despite working long hours in excess of the working hours limit. Workers are rarely paid overtime for extra hours worked. [12]

Some of the children interviewed claimed to have begun working on the plantations at as young as eight years old. [13] In a statement responding to the findings presented to them by AI, Wilmar claims to have taken all of the necessary steps to remind parents not to bring their children to work with them, and to conduct regular patrols for enforcement — but, as AI points out, this response entirely ignores “the impact of low wages and the use of targets and penalties for certain tasks as causative factors that lead to parents bringing their children to help them with work.” [14] Just as the previous investigation conducted by the ILRF and Sawit Watch had found, some of the sites surveyed did not bother providing proper training or protective gear to workers handling hazardous chemicals; in one instance, a worker described having been splashed in the eyes with a particularly strong herbicide, “leading to severe damage in her eye and optic nerve.” [15]

Not only is Wilmar still a member of the RSPO, a number of Wilmar’s customers are as well — two of them, Unilever and Procter & Gamble, as mentioned previously, sit on the RSPO’s board of directors. With this in mind, it seems quite unlikely that the RSPO’s internal governance is completely unaware of the multiple allegations of this nature that have been levied against Wilmar. What kind of implications do such revelations have, not only for the palm oil industry, but for the very notion of ‘sustainable agriculture’ more generally? The entire, central idea behind the group’s existence has been, ostensibly, to establish standards for sustainable business practices within the industry, and to certify those who have been deemed to meet them: if consumers are to willingly go out and purchase products stamped with the RSPO’s seal, they are doing so with the belief that nowhere along the production chain was the palm oil within the product produced in a manner that violates the sustainability mantra – which, we may reasonably assume, includes respect for labour laws and regulations, at the very least. As it presently stands, it appears that all such a seal provides is the justification for charging a higher price for the end-product — done properly, it is generally more expensive to manufacture products in a non-abusive (regarding both workers and the environment) manner, but this is of course hard for one to verify on the spot when considering whether or not to make a purchase; hence, the alleged point of RSPO certification to start with. With no enforcement of their own standards, however, consumers might well be better off purchasing an uncertified product at a lower price — if they’re being produced in the same, ‘unsustainable’ manner, what’s the point in paying more?

We might wonder how the UN feels about its sustainability ‘branding’ being appropriated by the RSPO for such dishonest and, frankly, downright abusive practices. Well, in 2014, the UNEP nevertheless signed a memorandum of understanding with the RSPO, aiming to “raise the global awareness of sustainable palm oil and generate market demand for an important commodity that has the potential to play a key role in preserving the Earth’s biodiversity.” Said the former Executive Director of the UNEP, Achim Steiner, in a press release, “The RSPO deserves our support in their commitment to produce palm oil sustainably.” [16] But if RSPO-certified companies continue to benefit directly from the exploitation of these workers, such an ‘understanding’ is effectively meaningless: all they are doing is trying to “generate market demand” for a phony product. Even if it were the case that every other RSPO-certified company adheres faithfully to the organization’s standards, this failure to adequately address the severe infractions committed by one of its most prominent members — Wilmar International — completely discredits the supposed value that such certification purports to generate. The sustainability brand, at least as far as the RSPO is concerned, appears to be just another form of marketing: a means of tricking consumers into purchasing products they believe to be more ethically produced, when it is in reality the exact same product in fancier, ‘sustainable’ packaging.

Notes & References

[1] Sonja Vermeulen and Nathalie Goad, Towards Better Practice in Smallholder Palm Oil Production, Natural Resource Issues Series No. 5 (London: International Institute for Environment and Development, 2006), 4.

[2] Teresa Buerkle, “Hybrid oil palms bear fruit in western Kenya,” FAO Newsroom, November 24, 2003, http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom/field/2003/1103_oilpalm.htm (accessed August 21, 2019).

[3] Vermeulen and Goad, Towards Better Practice, 10.

[4] Natasha Gilbert, “Palm-oil boom raises conservation concerns,” Nature 487, no. 7405 (July 5, 2012): 14-15.

[5] “Our Organization,” Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, n.d., https://www.rspo.org/about/our-organisation (accessed August 21, 2019).

[6] A. A. B. Dayang Norwana, R. Kunjappan, M. Chin, G. Schoneveld, L. Potter and R. Andriani, The local impact of oil palm expansion in Malaysia: An assessment based on a case study in Sabah State, Working Paper 78 (Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research, 2011), 8.

[7] Ibid., 12-13.

[8] Vermeulen and Goad, Towards Better Practice, 8.

[9] International Labour Rights Forum and Sawit Watch, Empty Assurances (Washington, D.C.: ILRF, 2013).

[10] “RSPO Secretariat’s Statement on Complaints Panel Decision Regarding PT Salim Ivomas Pratama Tbk,” Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, March 1, 2019, https://www.rspo.org/news-and-events/news/rspo-secretariats-statement-on-complaints-panel-decision-regarding-pt-salim-ivomas-pratama-tbk (accessed August 22, 2019).

[11] That said, according to American policy think tank The Oakland Institute, Socfin’s land-leasing practices have come under fire from locals in Sierra Leone. See: The Oakland Institute, Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Socfin Land Investment in Sierra Leone (Oakland: The Oakland Institute, 2012).

[12] Amnesty International, The Great Palm Oil Scandal: Labour Abuses Behind Big Brand Names — Executive Summary (London: Amnesty International, 2016), 5.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 6.

[15] Ibid., 8.

[16] “UNEP and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Sign New Agreement,” United Nations Environment Programme, November 14, 2014, https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/press-release/unep-and-roundtable-sustainable-palm-oil-sign-new-agreement (accessed August 22, 2019).

COP25: A Canary in the (Decommissioned) Coal Mine?

Just before Christmas, as COP25 wound down to a close, a fun little bit of light reading found it’s way into my inbox, courtesy of the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s mailing list. The article, titled “Deciding What to Think of the First Four Years of SDG Implementation,” tells us all a person really needs to know about the slow-motion car crash that some have taken to calling “climate politics”.

So — four years and several billions of dollars later, now appears to be the right time for our Green Overlords to take a step back and assess whether or not anything of value has resulted from these efforts. Thus, after decades of doing seemingly little more than publishing an endless slew of ‘reports’ on how nothing is getting done, it was apparently necessary to commission yet another of these reports for it to be recognized that this is not exactly what most might call a “winning strategy.” Of course, we need not get our hopes up that this particular report will have any more of an effect on the execution of said strategy than any of its predecessors.

Provided the reader is at least somewhat familiar with the type of people we’re dealing with, here, the results — or rather, lack thereof — ought to come as little surprise: “[W]ith a few exceptions,” we are told, “[the] SDGs have very rarely been used to challenge practices, and have not triggered the transformative project they promised.” Say it ain’t so!

Moreover, “It must be acknowledged that the adoption of such an ambitious agreement was possible only because it does not require concessions or a change in behavior from anyone in particular.” Indeed, it is much easier to talk a big game than it is to play it — an important lesson that most of us have internalized before puberty. One has to wonder why those who seem the least familiar with the basic tenets of human nature nevertheless see themselves fit to micromanage all of humanity.

It isn’t all bad news, though — the report notes that the SDGs have been name-dropped by various politicians and diplomats more frequently in 2019 than they had been in previous years. If only we lived in the fictional universe of Beetlejuice, and all you had to do was say “sustainable development” three times fast and then — Poof! — results! We’d have reached the promised utopia decades ago!

In all seriousness, the bulk of the report is seriously unimpressive. As jaded as I’ve become over this last year of closely following the implementation of Agenda 2030, it is difficult to read its contents as anything but the typical, desperate attempt to blame its numerous failures and setbacks on the scarecrow issues of “lacking commitment” and “reduced financial flows.” Perhaps they have yet to realize — or, perhaps, have yet to accept — that it is difficult to retain much of any commitment, financial or otherwise, to a project that is fundamentally impossible to implement.

If no other lessons have been learned these last four years, it’s that there is a limit to how quickly and radically one may attempt to alter a given society without facing considerable consequences for having done so. Emmanuel Macron may be willing to chance massive protests, walk-outs, even rioting directed against the many unfavorable policies he has imposed upon the French people, but even he seems capable of determining which lines are better left uncrossed. UN bureaucrats, of course, none of whom were properly elected to their positions and all of whom remain entirely unaccountable to any authority not under the UN banner, clearly have yet to come to a similar understanding.

As such, it is somewhat poetic that not only did the COP25 proceedings end up being moved from their original location Chile, partially (albeit not entirely) as a result of UN-backed fiscal shenanigans in the region, but as well that the conference ultimately ended in a colossal failure. Not only did the attendees fail to produce any form of agreement on the conference’s biggest issues, such as the Green Climate Fund; it would appear that both worldwide CO2 emissions and coal extraction are — get this — increasing still (if you enjoy watching the climate cartel circling the drain as much as I do, see Francis Menton’s takedown of the situation here)! In either respect, we largely have the Chinese to thank: after a long period of courtship between the People’s Republic and the UNEP, particularly in the field of mass surveillance technology and methods of behavioral control (previously covered here), it seems now that the PRC has lost interest, at least temporarily, in maintaining this long-standing charade of ‘consensus’ — at least, as far as shuttering the nation’s resource industry is concerned.

And why would the Chinese government do such a thing? Clearly, because they seem to think this whole ‘climate crisis’ business — increasingly, a ‘business’ in the literal sense — is to some extent a crock of nonsense. Where would they get such an idea from, I wonder? Maybe from the Indian government, which has similarly made clear its intent to worry about things like infrastructure development and the provision of electricity first, climate mitigation second — “conditional on higher financial support from developed nations,” of course. At any rate, both India and China are joined by a handful of African nations in declaring themselves to be far more concerned with the real and immediate concerns of their own nations than they are with some sinking, sparsely-populated islands in the middle of the Pacific. And fair enough, some might say — after all, China and India are home to the first- and second-largest populations on the planet, and current projections have the African continent set to double its own population by 2050. It therefore seems difficult to really blame any of these actors for not wanting to shoulder the burdens of any more people than they already have to deal with — this, of course, goes directly against the core pillars of globalism, which would greatly prefer to see every single person on the planet equally suffer the consequences incurred by the actions of just a few.

Predictably, much of the moaning emitted from UN HQ thus far has instead had to do with the United States’ dropping out of the Paris Accords; likely, I would imagine, because it is easier from a public-relations perspective to accuse America of calculated sabotage than it is to admit to having been played for fools by China. But no matter which particular country (or sets thereof) we’d like to point our fingers at, all roads of inquiry lead back to the UN. Perhaps the real question to be asked is this — just how much longer can this show go on?


I first started this blog as something of a ‘companion’ outlet to a book I was (and still am) writing about the development industry, particularly regarding the attempted implementation of Agenda 2030. Naturally, the ‘unholy’ institutional trilogy of said industry — the UN System, the IMF, and the World Bank Group — featured quite heavily throughout, as did the innumerable hair-brained schemes and scams concocted by them in the grand pursuit of an allegedly-better world. Over time, my sights were trained on exactly how these organizations came into being, both materially and intellectually; later still, I became quite concerned with understanding why such a clearly corrupt and self-interested network of bureaucracies ever came to be seen as a legitimate force for ‘good’ in the eyes of the public in the first place, considering all the many reasons said public has been given not to trust them, practically since this whole mess started back in 1945.

And now, I am beginning to realize what a mistake it was to believe that all of this really started as late as 1945. Today, it seems to me that in order to truly understand the many problems that we presently face — as individuals, as societies, and indeed, as a species — it may well be necessary to wind the clock of inquiry back to the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Much like Rome, this self-cannibalizing system of ours was not built in a day; rather, it was slowly constructed over the course of at least a century, maybe even two. “Thankfully” — depending on one’s personal outlook on things — it can all come crashing down much more quickly than that.

Soon after beginning this project, I came to the belief that the UN et al. would never live to see the completion of its driving vision. This was based in the sincere observation that it is literally impossible to attain a number of their stated goals — as just one example, the World Bank’s latest initiative to score a given country’s rate of “learning poverty” based on its proportion of literate ten year-olds goes completely against everything we presently understand about both literacy and our present (in-)ability to test such things in a reliably standardized manner — as well as that it is logistically impossible to carry out a majority of the others. Thus, my main concern was with regards to the lengths to which the UN et al. and its supporters might go in the pursuit of carrying it all out anyway — in other words, I was more worried about the journey toward this utopia than I was about ‘discovering’ we’d been lied to about it on arrival.

My initial research for this project began around October of last year; the actual writing of it began the following January. Thus, around a year after having started all of this, the passage of time and the revelations accompanying it have necessitated that I revise my outlook.

In essence, I no longer believe that the UN will live to see the year 2050, let alone the completion of any projects that they might’ve liked to see done by then. As a matter of fact, I’m not convinced that the UN will live to see the year 2030: if it does still exist in ten years, I find it highly doubtful that the organization will retain anywhere near the same level of authority and influence that it enjoys at present. Indeed, since 2015 the entire UN System has been rattled by a dramatic decrease in perceived legitimacy; should this trend continue over the next five years, that the UN would become essentially defunct (or at least powerless) at some point during the next ten years seems practically inevitable.

By all accounts, such a thing would be a blessing. Yet there still remains the aforementioned problems of figuring out how and why we got ourselves into the position of cheering on the UN’s decline in the first place. I am greatly concerned that, without proper insight into the mistakes we’ve made in the past and present, we run the risk of repeating those same mistakes in the future. The absolute last thing I’d want out of this would be to see the UN shuttered, only to be replaced by an ideological carbon-copy differing only in the level of enthusiasm displayed by its proponents. Put simply, if the UN is going down, I want to make sure that it’s down for good.

Going into the new year — and a new decade — my plan is as follows: I am presently sitting on more than two-hundred pages worth of research and analyses conducted for the purpose of trying to “take down” the UN. Now that I see the UN might very well take down itself (and, accordingly, that my attention may be of better use elsewhere), it would be a shame for all this time and effort to have gone to waste. As such, my goal will be to transform this research into blog and/or video-friendly formats, as I work on re-writing the book through a more ‘philosophical’ lens.

At the same time, I would like to branch out a bit in terms of the topics covered on this blog. Specifically, I would like to focus somewhat less on the material aspects of our situation — the economics, the statistics, the projections — and more so on the immaterial, perhaps even ‘spiritual’ wasteland that presently characterizes Western life, particularly in pop culture and media. Whether we like it or not, in this day and age it is indeed through this medium that a majority of people come to understand the nature of the world around them — thus, the cultural landscape appears, to me, as a wide, open threshold, simply waiting to be crossed. Given that my own educational background and training is, in fact, in culture, ethnography, and semiotics — rather than in green energy or digital finance, which has nevertheless characterized much of my content to date — this is an important discussion that I feel quite capable of meaningfully contributing to. Indeed, I feel as if I have something of a duty to do so.

In closing, I want to thank everyone who has been reading, sharing, and (hopefully) getting some use out of my content to date. It has been your overwhelmingly positive feedback that has given me the drive to keep going with this project, and I am truly, immensely grateful for all your support. This past year has been quite the wild ride, and I very much look forward to seeing where it takes us next.

Best wishes to you and yours in the New Year,

A. E.

A World United in Discontent

On October the 26th, what began as a student-led rebellion against a rise in metro fares culminated in more than a million Chileans across the country hitting the streets in a more general protest of rising wealth inequality — already the worst in Latin America — in addition to low wages, increased costs of living, poor public health care and what they see as a massively outdated and ineffective pension system. [1] Further north, in Ecuador, widespread civil unrest erupted earlier that month, following the government’s decision to end a long-standing fuel subsidy and the subsequent, dramatic rise in pump prices rocking the oil-producing nation. [2] Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, the Netherlands has played host to considerably less-violent, yet no less disruptive, traffic-blocking protests by farmers in rejection of a recent government proposal to slash Dutch agricultural production by some 50%. [3] And then, of course, there’s the French, who will celebrate a full year’s worth of weekly demonstrations against various government policies, not least including their own eco-tax on fossil fuels, this upcoming Saturday.

In all four cases, what we are witnessing is a clash between two worlds, and between the vastly differing sets of expectations that accompany them each. In the blue corner, we have the pseudo-Nirvana of Unlimited Progress and the transnational elites whom champion it; in the red corner, we see the great masses of humanity whom have become keenly aware that this vision of the Anointed Ones has been tailor-made to exclude the common folk. Caught in the middle of the conflict we find the national and sub-national contractors tasked with the dirty work of our enforced enlightenment: the politicians, the civil servants, mainstream media and the cultural industry; all eager to play the part of the dodgy referee.

And while so many remain captivated by the action in the ring, a number of fist-fights have broken out in the stands. Of particular interest to us is the ongoing scrap between the two ‘halves’ of Canada, East and West, the more vocal members of each having accused the other of rooting for the wrong contender. Insults are tossed two-and-fro at a breathtaking pace; it has become something of a chore by this stage to keep up with who has called whom what, and why. The minute it appears that tensions between the two factions may begin to thaw, someone is sure to remember some thing or another that someone else might have said, or done, or even suggested, at any point between 20 minutes and 20 years prior to now, and to lob this painful memory like a grenade in the direction of the opposing side. And just like that, the fighting resumes before the smoke has had time to clear.

At some point, however, we’ll need to ask ourselves if this brawl is not itself a mere imitation of the main event we’re ostensibly spectating. Are these regional fractures of ours deepening solely as a result of the numerous, longstanding grievances between us emerging from the shadows once more, or is this simply the mask that we, as Canadians, have decided to don before we, too, step into the arena below? Of course, it is more than likely to be a mixture of the two — surely, many of the students in Chile who first began hopping turnstiles at train stations might have been happy to leave the protests there, and none of them could have predicted that this relatively mild act of opposition would later explode into the much more intense, much more generalized rage against the state machinery now wrestling the country into a choke-hold. But no matter how exactly the fighting might have kicked off, it has now taken on a life and character of its own — there’s no going back now.

Perhaps we Canadians share much the same fate: considering that the rise in Chilean metro fares was, among other factors, instigated by fuel prices [4], and that highly similar concerns have been behind the concurrent unrest in France and Ecuador (the Dutch farmers, meanwhile, can look to the same source behind their woes as can those waging war against high fuel prices — the alleged ‘climate crisis’), it seems only natural that the particular region of Canada dependent on a functioning fossil fuel industry would make the most noise in the face of an administration seemingly hell-bent on following the example set by its French and Ecuadorian counterparts.

But with violent demonstrations, looting, and rampant civil disorder not quite being our thing in Canada, and with the country itself being tens of times larger than all of the aforementioned nations put together, it is perhaps just as natural that our own brand of discontent would manifest itself in a spatially grandiose manner — that is to say, in the form of a burgeoning separatist movement. More to the point, however, one does not have to necessarily agree with the notion of a ‘Western Exit’ to be capable of recognizing the genuine reasons behind its very existence: simply put, it is about pipelines in Alberta — but it doesn’t stop there. Likewise, it is about metro fares in Chile, about fuel taxes in France, about fuel subsidies in Ecuador and about farming quotas in the Netherlands — but in none of these cases do things stop ‘there’, either.

Because as deeply personal as this spat between East and West may feel to us as Canadians, these present hostilities do not exist, nor were created, in a vacuum. Yes, the arguments we use, the names we call each other, and the historical grievances we point to, will all be adorned with our own unique, contextual flair. But we’d be fools to believe that we are the only nation presently tearing itself apart at the seams, and nor should we believe it possible to somehow turn back the clock on all of this and go back to the way things were ‘before’ — whenever we wish that to be.

Much the same can be said for the rest of the world: the cat, as it were, is no longer anywhere near the bag. It has become starkly visible to the citizens of these countries, as well as many others, that the powers that be do not truly have their subjects’ best interests in mind; not only that, these millions of people have realized, in their own ways, the futility behind attempting to root out this problem at the ballot box. The culpable actors cannot be voted out, for so many of them are complicit in these plans that there will always be another around to fill any vacancies. They cannot be held accountable for any of their crimes, no matter the degree of evidence available, because they have given themselves the power to be accountable to no one other than themselves. Thus the people have turned to perhaps the last available and viable method of voicing their opposition: protesting, be it peacefully or otherwise. For many of us in Western Canada, surfing the tide of separatist sentiment — regardless of how realistic the thought may or may not be in practice — appears to be the only meaningful form of protest left at our disposal.

In the grand scheme of things, that this division of ours would crop up along regional lines is simply a consequence of both our size and the distribution of our comparatively miniature population. Truly, it is not the case that the English-speaking Canadians in the West are inherently, drastically different than those in the East, culturally-speaking or otherwise, and there are surely many on either side who may feel they have more in common with those on the other. Rather, we should not view it as a mere coincidence that the catalyst for this split happens to be very much the same in spirit as that behind many of the other ‘uprisings’ taking place across the globe: the clash between two worlds, as represented by the ongoing war on fossil fuels; between that of the (trans-)national elites and that of, broadly speaking, just about everyone else.

Of course, not everyone will agree with my view of the situation, nor would I expect them to. There are those who will contend that Western separation is far from a novel idea, and that its re-emergence was an inevitability independent of whatever happens in any other country. Others may counter that if our present conflict isn’t really based in what region of the country one happens to live in, then the whole argument for separation becomes something of a moot point. I can only ask that they consider the broader perspective: Canadians in the West may be asking for independence in a literal sense, but they are doing so at a time when so many others worldwide are asking for a more metaphysical form of independence — independence from government interference with their lives — and for many of the same reasons. Put differently, we might say that they are seeking out the latter ‘type’ of independence by means of demanding the former. But more importantly, because the roots of this current round of Western alienation are not, truly, unique to Western Canada, this is not a phenomenon that can be dealt with by any single act of concession. Yes, it is about pipelines — but it doesn’t stop there.

A brief, self-advertisement

I would like to briefly bring to your attention that a Bitchute channel, containing audio readings of the less image-intensive posts here by yours truly, is now live. Three such articles have been done so far, and my intent is to continue to finish these while I struggle to get over a substantial case of writer’s block.

My idea is that this might be a better means of getting my content out to a wider audience, particularly for those who might otherwise be interested but don’t have the time to sit down and dedicate the extra time toward reading it. At any rate, I can’t be the only one who listens to podcasts and videos while doing chores.

Anyway, if this is something you might be interested in (or you know someone who might be), please do check it out and/or pass along a link to the channel as you see fit. I’ll attach a link to it somewhere on this site as well, as soon as I can figure out how.


A. E.

Between Quebec and The Rest of Canada

For many Canadians, the federal leaders’ debate held on October 7 –one of the very few that would see all qualified, federal parties participate — was their first of the campaign, even as close to the Big Day itself that we are now. In fact, this was the only debate that featured every single federal leader and was held in English — despite English being the overwhelmingly more-common native tongue of Canadians from coast to coast, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

In the lead-up to the debate itself, quite a bit of controversy was levied, both in favour of and in opposition to, the inviting of Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC). Given Bernier’s tendency to eschew politically-correct hogwash, it is understandable that the censors at CTV would be considered about including him. Quite arguably, however, it was not Bernier whom the political/media establishment should have been worried about — in fact, I will argue that it was the inclusion of Yves-François Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Québécois (BQ), that had the most damning impact upon the political consciousness of the nation.

Considering that the BQ, though a federal party, fields candidates only in the province of Quebec itself, many may have been understandably puzzled by his presence at the English-language debate. The reason, however, is simple: the BQ is effectively in competition with the Liberals over seats in Quebec, which, in tandem with Ontario, are typically considered to be vital to the overall electoral success of a given party. Not only that, the BQ has been rapidly rising to challenge the Liberals in recent polls. As such, Blanchet was likely given a podium for the sole purpose of giving Trudeau the opportunity to debate him. Yes — while the other four leaders were appealing to the country as a whole, Trudeau attempted to advertise himself to Quebec and The Rest of Canada simultaneously; Blanchet, meanwhile, predictably remained focused on securing support in only the former. The near-open acknowledgement of this unbalanced political dynamic — a poorly-healed scar cut across the entire history of Canadian confederation — in combination with the manner in which it played out over the course of the evening, is, in my mind, virtually guaranteed to go down as one of the biggest mistakes made by the Liberal Party over the course of the entire campaign period.

It all comes down to the simple fact of Blanchet’s unswerving allegiance to the interests of Quebeckers, and — as he himself said — only Quebeckers. Blanchet did not shy away from the fact that he considers Quebec to hold something of a superior status to all of the other provinces (as evidenced by his frequent references to “Quebec and the provinces” during the debate, as if to suggest that Quebec itself is not a “province”); moreover, towards the end of the debate he stated that, to the extent that the interests of Quebec and that of The Rest of Canada happen to converge, the province is happy to cooperate — the implication here being that, should those interests conflict with one another, Blanchet will pursue a “Quebec First” style of domestic diplomacy. In other words, Albertans should not hold hopes for the Energy East pipeline project becoming a reality any time soon, so long as Blanchet has anything to say about it. Although we may both list our nationalities as “Canadian”, it is quite clear that Blanchet considers the desires of some Canadians to be more important than others.

Of course, none of this rhetoric comes off as particularly surprising, considering that the flip-flopping issue of Québécois nationalism and/or sovereignty from The Rest of Canada has, as mentioned, been a hotly-contested topic since before confederation in 1867. And, given that the BQ openly admits themselves to be laser-focused on the promotion of Québécois nationalism, interests, and sovereignty, it is no more surprising that the party’s leader would continue to walk the walk at the federal leaders’s debate.

What is likely to have unsettled a number of viewers, however, is just how blunt Blanchet was about his priorities — Quebec, and only Quebec — and, more crucially, the dedicated manner in which he maintained that Quebec, while more ‘special’ than the other provinces, should nevertheless continue to receive equalization payments from those other provinces. In fact, Blanchet all but openly suggested that Quebec ought to receive more federal welfare than it already does, on the basis of its having allegedly done “the most” in the fight against climate change. In other words, his belief appears to be that Quebec does not have to cooperate with the other provinces if it doesn’t want to, but should still be able to take money from them. Aside from the aforementioned quip about climate mitigation, no argument was provided by Blanchet as to why The Rest of Canada ought to be on board with this, other than the fact that Blanchet said so.

Now, that’s what Blanchet said at the debate — the reaction to what he said, on the other hand, may prove itself to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

To my admitted surprise, Trudeau was the only party leader to push back against Blanchet’s flagrant Franco supremacy during the debate itself, countering that (to paraphrase) “Quebeckers can do whatever Canadians can do, as Quebeckers are Canadians by definition.” Of course, to anyone in the audience that had been paying attention, this was clearly not the case — if any other province had attempted to assert itself and advocate exclusively for the interests of its citizens in the manner that Blanchet had just done for Quebec, they would have been dragged across the coals and denounced as ‘sewing division’ by the mainstream press, rightly or wrongly. If nothing else, the debate served to make it quite obvious to The Rest of Canada that there are, in fact, a multitude of things that Quebec can do and say that the other provinces cannot. I believe that this factor alone — a glaring spotlight cast upon the unspoken agreement that a stringent, highly-effective social hierarchy exists here in Canada — ought to be enough to strike serious doubts regarding the unity of our nation into the hearts of Canadians across the country.

For Alberta, having seemingly taken on the role of the “red-headed stepchild” of the provinces and, beyond being named-and-shamed for its fossil fuel activities by both Blanchet and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, received effectively no attention from any of the party leaders regarding any of the multiple problems it is currently grappling with, the damage inflicted on its increasingly-tenuous relationship with the federal government by being so blatantly degraded as Quebec’s Piggy Bank ought to be fairly obvious. The Rest of The Rest of Canada, meanwhile, ought to be asking themselves, if they haven’t already begun to do so, the very same question that Albertans — and other Western Canadians, for that matter — have been asking for some time, now: Why isn’t there anyone at the federal level who cares as much about the people in my province as Blanchet and the BQ seem to care about those in Quebec? If we really are all equal partners in this national project of ours, why are the concerns of some of us seen to be more worthy of discussion than that of the rest of us?

Some of the other, very important issues featuring in this election which were either glossed-over or ignored entirely over the course of the debate include, but are not limited to, the rising rates of crime, and violent crime in particular; the opioid epidemic; the perilously overwhelmed immigration system; the ever-worrying state of the national economy; our disputes with China, no less their continued detention of Canadian citizens; and our country-wide shortage of health care professionals. These are all issues that affect Canadians in B.C. as much as they do Canadians in Nova Scotia — but these, for whatever reason, were not considered to be topics worthy of much attention.

The province of Quebec, meanwhile, was given its very own seat at the table, purely by virtue of Trudeau really, really needing to win some seats there. Not only that, its very name was invoked almost twice the amount of the next-most popular term, “climate”. Quebec, and all things Quebec, was quite well represented in the discussion, indeed — if only The Rest of Canada could have said the same. But as much as the political class may ultimately aim to win-over all Canadians, they especially need to win over the ones in Quebec.

Meanwhile, as the hands of the clock strike ever closer towards midnight, Trudeau has since switched tactics on the Quebec campaign trail: rather than appealing to Quebeckers to choose the Liberals over the BQ, he has begun to ask them to vote Liberal in order to stop the Conservatives from winning too many seats overall. That’s right — by means of a gruesomely hypocritical about-face, Trudeau now wants Quebec to be the deciding factor in how The Rest of Canada will be governed. Of course, owing to the present distribution of parliamentary seats, this has always been the case to some extent, as Ontario and Quebec hold the highest numbers of them — 121 and 78, respectively — over all the other provinces. What is different this time, however, is that Quebec is now being made to choose explicitly between two, possible positions within the confederation: Quebec as Part-of-Canada; or Quebec as Part-of-But-Separate-From-The-Rest-of-Canada.

Certainly, they have a difficult choice to make. Unfortunately, neither option offers any hope of repairing the damage that has been wrought upon the country by a century and a half of selective, provincial favoritism. It should be said, however, that we shouldn’t really fault the people of Quebec for wanting to vote for the guy who will stand up for their interests — surely, if The Rest of Canada had the option, they might very well do the same. Time will tell, but perhaps this catastrophe of a leadership debate (and election campaign, more generally) will help to provide the impetus for the right parties and leaders — provincially, if not federally — to rise to the challenge of giving their respective constituents precisely that privilege. At any rate, the possibility no longer appears to be as far-fetched as has previously been assumed.

Organic Energy, The Rich Man’s ‘Idiot Tax’

Just last night, a considerable amount of controversy erupted over the revelation that the Liberal campaign has used not one plane to transport their staff from sea to shining sea, but two — one for people; the other, allegedly, for their luggage. Not to fear, however, as the LPC swiftly issued a press release stating that they had “purchased carbon offsets” to cover their air travel emissions; the Conservatives, meanwhile, they were quick to point out, had not. I’m not entirely sure how this explanation has worked out for them thus far, considering the vast majority of the responses I have seen on social media have been very much along the lines of, “What the f**k is a ‘carbon offset’?”

And, in all fairness, it’s a pretty good question.

In order to find an answer, I had a browse through the website for the company the LPC is alleged to have purchased these “carbon offsets” from: Bullfrog Power Inc., which bills itself as “Canada’s leading green energy provider.” As it turns out, however, Bullfrog does not itself provide energy of any sort — rather, they take your money and use it to pay actual green energy producers to generate it. So, more like green energy retailers, right?

Nope, not even that.

Bullfrog does not change anything about the energy consumption practices of its clients: it will not somehow make your home run entirely on green energy, nor will it even have any effect on how much “dirty” energy you’re currently using. Starting at just $11 a month, you can simply pay Bullfrog to pay for green energy to be sent to the electrical grid, “on your behalf”.

That’s it. Moreover, this appears to be their entire business model.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why on Earth would I pay extra for energy that I will not personally be consuming?” Great question! Using the analogy of a sink being filled with two taps of water — one “dirty”, the other “clean” — they say that, as you are adding the dirty water from the one tap and draining it through the sink (consumption), you can pay to also have the other tap turned on; this will fill the “sink” (grid) with a higher ratio of clean:dirty water than it had held before. Supposedly, the idea is to get to a point where we don’t need as much water from the dirty tap, because the clean tap has enough to fill the entire sink.

The analogy works, but perhaps not for the reason they think — they leave out the part where the sink, much like an electrical grid, has a limited capacity to hold water/energy and will hit capacity much faster if there is more water (of any sort) flowing into it than before, and it is not accordingly being drained at a higher rate. In other words, increasing supply without increasing demand. This is a bit of a problem, as the entire premise rests on the idea that there will be an increase in demand for green/renewable electricity — but once the water is in the same sink, it’s not possible to scoop out a portion and determine how much of it came from either tap, and exactly the same holds true for electricity in the grid. If you’re on the grid to start with, you don’t get a choice as to how the energy you draw from it was produced. Thus, in order to ensure that it was all produced in a “clean” manner, you would have to prevent the dirty water from getting into the sink in the first place — i.e., stop using fossil fuels entirely. But until we are in a position where we can feel safe shutting down all of our “unclean” energy sources without really throwing a wrench into the works — and we’re not — the entire exercise is pretty much pointless.

In the meantime, you’re basically sending Bullfrog money to help subsidize the massively inefficient and unreliable production of energy by renewable means, and in return you’ll receive a monthly bill that maybe makes you feel better after having been relentlessly shamed by the media for the fact that you exist. Crucially, your actual electrical bills are not going to be impacted in any way that benefits you: again, since you don’t get to choose where the energy you use comes from, it’s not as if you’ll get to pay less carbon taxes in exchange for having also payed for low-carbon energy production. If anything, your bills will probably increase as time goes on, considering that renewable energy is much more expensive to produce than it is via fossil fuels — after all, if it were cheaper to produce, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. All in all, you’re paying more money now for the opportunity to pay even more money later.

But don’t take my word for it — even a representative of Greenpeace has spoken out against the use of carbon offsets as a “get out of jail free card”, owing to the obvious fact that you cannot justify increasing (or maintaining) your emissions simply by paying extra to do so, any more than you can justify beating your wife because you donate money to a battered women’s shelter. If the theory behind reducing CO2 emissions holds that a build-up of the stuff in the atmosphere is bad, it follows that you would actually have to reduce the amount being emitted in order to keep it from building up. Regrettably, it is not yet possible to cut a cheque fat enough to stop the first law of thermodynamics in its tracks.

Essentially, this is the same marketing tactic used by companies who offer to donate X amount of proceeds from a given product for each item that is sold: the ‘donation’ is contingent upon your purchase. They don’t just donate the money outright because they want you to buy the product so they can make a profit — even if they donate 5% of the proceeds to charity, they get to keep the other 95% of profit that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Carbon offsets/credits appear to function in much the same way: Bullfrog isn’t going to just invest in clean energy and tech with their own money (and given the non-profitability of the sector, I can’t say that I blame them); they want you to give them money so that they can invest X amount of it on your behalf, while keeping some undisclosed amount for themselves. The only product that they’re really selling here is, by all appearances, the opportunity to “feel good” about doing something for the climate, while not actually doing anything for the climate.

My mother used to refer to lottery cards and scratch tickets as the “idiot tax” — a non-mandatory tax paid by people dumb enough to think they have a reasonable chance of winning more money than what they’d paid for the tickets in the first place. Now, with all due respect to lottery players (I’ll grab a card or two myself sometimes), what I’m sensing from this whole carbon credit scheme is very much along the same lines: it’s an extra carbon tax paid by people dumb enough to believe that it’s OK to drink a cup of cyanide if you chase it with a cup of water. At the very least, I can understand why people play the lottery: there is a chance, however infinitely small, that one may receive a tangible reward for doing so. With carbon offsets, you are only compensated insofar as you believe that you’re doing something to help.

The whole thing sounds so unbelievably stupid, it’s hard to believe the fact that carbon credits/offsets have managed to become an industry at least profitable enough to have won the favour of the leader of a G7 country, who is perfectly willing to donate what is probably taxpayer money to companies like Bullfrog “on our behalf.” Until, that is, you remember that said leader has a higher net worth than he does functional intelligence; perhaps the same can be said for every other person buying into this scheme. At any rate, I’ve become increasingly convinced that, given a well-written and convincing enough proposal, I could probably get the federal government to send me money to find a way to transmute nickel into gold — only one way to find out!