Opinions

The economy takes precedence over the environment and ethics

This is the third article from Stephanie Piamonte in a series that examines why millennials are, or seem to be, disengaged from politics, and whether the problem is our generation, or if it is generational. The first article can be found here and the second article can be found here

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Stephanie Piamonte

For a millennial, negotiating the challenges of the environmental legacy we are given is perhaps the defining issue of our time as well as our future.  The decision to ban the sale of bottled water on campuses across Canada suggests that unlike our government, millennials believe that when it comes to environmental issues, ethics take priority over economics.

In 2011, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Accord in order to avoid what the government claims would have been $14 billion in penalties, although this figure is contested by critics.  According to former Environment Minister Peter Kent, the Liberal government was to blame for signing the accord and doing little to achieve reductions in greenhouse emissions.

“Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past,” said Kent in an interview with the Canadian Press.

In September 2010, the University of Ottawa was among the first universities in Canada to ban sales of bottled water on campus.  In its website for the Back the Tap campaign, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) clearly laid out the issues behind such a ban.

The CFS rejects the notion that natural resources are also economic resources.

“Water is a commons.  This means that it belongs to current and future generations, as well as the earth and other species.”

In other words, water belongs to communities, not corporations, and governments exist to manage this natural resource as a public trust, ensuring water is clean and accessible.

Water is a human right, a notion backed by the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council.  Since water is essential to human life, the needs of people and the planet should take priority over profit.

The manufacture of bottled water also creates greenhouse gases at the level of production, transportation, and disposal.  Both water and oil are expended in disproportionately large quantities to produce what is, in Canada, widely available in taps.

Most importantly, we already have a better alternative available: tap water.  It’s free.  It usually comes from within a watershed.  It is more regulated and is therefore safer than bottled water.  The City of Ottawa conducts 125,000 tests on its water annually, compared to water bottling plants which are inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency once every 12–18 months.

In a press release related to the bottled water ban, the U of O said it is “committed to making a difference.  Our efforts will create a cleaner environment and a healthier quality of life for all of us, and Canada’s university is proud to lead by example in tackling the global challenge of environmental sustainability.”

But our federal government, on the other hand, seems committed to economic motives rather than a careful consideration of environmental or ethical concerns.  When Neil Young recently spoke out against the tar sands development in Canada, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) spokesperson Jason MacDonald said “the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.”

While the PMO was busy attacking Young, an artist who for better or worse has used his influence to protest development that is outpacing preservation efforts, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was in Washington pushing for a decision on the Keystone pipeline.

With campaigns like Back the Tap, millennials are demonstrating that, unlike the government, they will not sacrifice principles for prosperity.  Because for our generation, what is pristine is too precious to become polluted.

We want to hear from you, consider the following and let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter @The_Fulcrum

We’ve stopped selling bottled water on campus.  Is the next step banning all bottled drinks?

Why do we pay more for a litre of water than we do for a litre of gas?

For information on the federal government’s systematic attack on the environment, check out the Fifth Estate Program “Silence of the Labs”, which suggests that Canada is not only withdrawing from its international environmental obligations, but also from its obligations to the Canadian environment and its people.

Check back for next issue’s article on peacekeeping.