Justify the Means
I realize that the intent of The Walrus is to provide an alternative point of view to so-called mainstream media. In doing so, it has made itself welcome in our admittedly left-of-centre home. This latest edition, however, with its — I guess you’d have to call them cartoons — of prominent Canadians (“Canadian Celebrities,” March) has us wondering what the hell you were thinking. The drawings are asinine and juvenile, and completely at odds with the usual tone of the magazine. Illustrator Charles Checketts has gone out of his way to insult these people, and in the process he has insulted us as well.
The Walrus usually sits on our coffee table until our family has had a chance to read and discuss most of the articles. Friends who drop in have been known to browse the pages, too. Quite frankly, we’d be embarrassed to let any of them see this issue. And if I were one of the caricatured celebrities, I’d be contacting my solicitor.
Richard and Dolores Hallam
Congratulations to Kate Harries on her informative article about the buried history of radioactive contamination in Port Hope (“Nuclear Reaction,” March). It must be very hard for parents and their now-adult children to fathom and accept that over thirty years elapsed before they found out about radon gas readings of 125 times the permissible level, under the local school. And to think that the federal government has just reduced the permissible limit of radon gas by 75 percent, due to its significant role in causing lung cancer. My heart goes out to them all.
Hopefully, Port Hope’s political and business leaders will soon recognize that the short-term economic benefits associated with nuclear refineries don’t compensate for the adverse long-term health and environmental outcomes. Energy alternatives already exist. In spite of huge hidden subsidies to the nuclear industry (including the $260-million cleanup in Port Hope), a greater share of the global electricity supply is, in fact, coming from renewable sources (20 percent, counting large hydro power). And capacity is expected to almost double in the coming decades, while nuclear will barely hold its present share (16 to 18 percent).
Here in Saskatchewan, now the largest uranium-mining region in the world, the new government is promoting a uranium refinery. Our citizens had the good sense to oppose plans to build one here in 1980, but the nuclear industry’s constant promotions, invoking “economic development,” can be mesmerizing. I would like to think that if our leaders made time to read Harries’ article, they would snap out of it.
Fort San, SK
“Nuclear Reaction” would get a much more sympathetic reading if one could be sure Kate Harries knew her facts about the nuclear contamination in the Port Hope area. Unfortunately, it is not clear whether she understands things “nuclear,” given some erroneous, or at the very least misleading, comments on uranium in general. To illustrate and set right a few:
* Uranium hexafluoride, a derivative of mined uranium, is not, as Harries implies, used to fuel light-water reactors. It must first be “enriched” — a process in which the concentration of its fissile U-235 isotopes is increased — and then converted into enriched uranium dioxide.
* Neutron radiation is not produced in the manufacture of uranium hexafluoride. It is a natural consequence of the radioactive decay of U-235 , and occurs whether the uranium exists as a block of metal, an oxide powder, or liquid/gaseous uranium hexafluoride.
* “Depleted uranium,” or U-238 (the more abundant, non-fissile isotope of uranium) cannot be used in nuclear weapons. While it is notorious for use as tank ammunition in such places as Iraq, its hazard on the battlefield doesn’t have to do with residual radioactivity, but rather toxicity.
* Finally (and this is a slightly different kind of red flag), nobody in their right mind, which I have to assume includes the people at Cameco, would ever allow enough enriched uranium to build up in one place to cause a critical reaction if exposed to flood water, as feared by the Families Against Radiation Exposure.
Jack Martin Miller
Department of Chemistry
St. Catharines, ON
An Iraqi in Ferndale
Hadani Ditmars’ “A Culture in Exile” (March) described the current situation in Iraq so accurately it was almost painful to read.
Since the US- and British-led coalition invaded Iraq, Iraqi-Americans have stood by and watched as the land of their sweet childhood memories was torn apart. But what could any of us do? Voting didn’t help. Neither did protesting. The only option for me and other Iraqi-born artists and intellectuals was to form the Iraqi Artists Association.
Our vision was to affiliate with Iraqi artists currently in Diaspora, to create a community that encourages freedom of expression and finds ways to bring our members’ magnificent work to the rest of the world. We believe artists must continue to work in their fields; they help pave the way for tolerance and peace.
When we gather at iaaco-founder Amer Hanna Fatuhi’s art gallery in Ferndale, Michigan, to drink coffee and discuss the arts as well as social, political, and cultural topics, surrounded by the work of exceptional artists, I am reminded of Gertrude Stein. The American writer moved to France in the early 1900s, and her salon at 27 rue de Fleurus (its walls covered with avant-garde paintings) attracted some of the great artists and writers of the time, many of whom were also expatriate writers.
Ferndale is our Paris. Many Iraqi artists have found their Paris in other Western countries as well, not knowing if they will ever be able to return to their birthplace.
Iraqi Artists Association
In “Fat of the Land” (March), Brian Payton correctly notes the important role palm oil plays in reducing trans fatty acids in the Canadian diet by replacing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in numerous food applications. Indeed, given rising expectations for personal health as well as the growing global population and increasing pressure on the supply of vegetable oil for biofuel, cultivation of palm — a highly productive oil-bearing plant — has exploded.
Doubtless there are challenges associated with sustainability, as there are with all agricultural endeavours, but government, non-governmental, and industry organizations are actively addressing concerns. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, to which Payton specifically refers in his piece and which my organization supports, is helping to minimize carbon dioxide emissions on palm plantations by driving adoption of Kyoto Protocol concepts. And the entire Malaysian palm oil industry is highly regulated, with strict requirements to preserve the country’s rich biodiversity.
Finally, in assessing the cost-benefit ratio of palm, we cannot overlook that, in addition to feeding us, it is providing employment to thousands in the developing world.
Vegetable Oil Industry of Canada
Only in a society obsessed with food avoidance (carbs, salt, trans fats, etc.) could we be so short-sighted. The solution, of course, is not to engineer cheap substitutes for the vending machine fare that currently passes as nourishment (with or without the dreaded trans fats), but to embrace whole foods and self-sufficiency. As Michael Pollan wrote in his essay “Unhappy Meals” in the New York Times, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Mai Gwaii Flies High
I live at the edge of the Western world, on the islands of Haida Gwaii, where, despite the ravenous maw of consumer culture, I am surrounded by wild waters, deep forests, and four-legged, finned, and feathered friends. Isolation forces engagement with nature: a big storm delays the food ferry, a strong wind cuts power, and snow means you walk. In this context, I rely on The Walrus, the cbc, and the Guardian to keep me up to date on what’s happening in the rest of the world.
Thankfully, the March issue of the magazine arrived on time. I was nodding along to Ken Alexander’s editorial on last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (“Bali Dancing”), when suddenly there it was: greed. “We exist,” he writes, “in a fearful, greedy present.” Nowhere in print have I seen the West thus described, and I applaud you for it. A survey of philosophical, religious, and spiritual systems suggests that greed is always the precursor of doom, and it’s time we had the word thrown at us to make us stop and think about who we are and where we’re going.
Rev. Sara Eaton
Queen Charlotte, BC
Grab your mai tais and pull up a chair! “Bali Dancing” conjures up some great images, and I agree with most of what Ken Alexander says about Canada’s resistance to greenhouse gas reduction targets. But in turning over so many rocks, he’s missed some basic points.
All treaties are, at bottom, trade agreements. Someday soon, there will be pressure within countries that have acted on this particular file to enforce carbon content restrictions on imports. In fact, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, wending its way through the legislative mill south of the border and designed in part to ensure that US efforts to curb emissions do not merely move economic activity to countries like China, provides for the imposition of import tariffs on the basis of product carbon content. If the US is prepared to go this far, think about what other countries might contemplate and what that could mean for Canada’s business prospects.
Of course, much of the opposition to Kyoto and a Kyoto follow-up agreement centres on the China question: what’s the use of limiting emissions if China isn’t part of the deal (or India, for that matter)? As Alexander argues, we in the developed world have been putting CO2 in the atmosphere for the better part of two centuries, and it is only fair that we go first. But there’s a practical argument for getting on with it, too. Without an effective agreement to arrest greenhouse gas emissions, all any country will be able to do is deploy whatever wealth it has to adapt to the environmental fallout, by relocating people and infrastructure, diverting water, etc. China and India, already experiencing climate change–related flooding and drought, cannot risk the relatively little wealth they have in efforts to mitigate global warming unless they are sure the developed world is doing its part. In other words, only when Western countries are in a position to jointly threaten China and India with trade sanctions that are as expensive as non-participation can those countries be expected to react.
All of that notwithstanding, I could understand (if not support) Stephen Harper and John Baird’s position if they intended to exploit what they perceive as a brief window of time in which to accumulate wealth by pumping oil while the pumping’s good. But have we heard anything about high export tariffs? Not a peep. Deafening silence, too, when it comes to the question of how Canada will participate in the new economy. The failure of our policy is astonishingly complete: little concern for the world, nothing in the bank, and no vision for our future.
I enjoyed Ken Alexander’s scathing article about Canada’s complicity in the push to maintain business as usual in the face of a climate crisis. However, I’m not sure what to make of the fact that the story is interspersed with full-page, eye-catching advertisements selling, for example, 300-horsepower SUVs and travel to India (a wonderful place, but you can’t get there by foot). Does The Walrus consider what ads it displays and where? If so, what is really being said here?
Perhaps the current government’s stance — we have the oil, we need the oil, and we’re going to use the oil, so let’s not pay lip service to the consequences — isn’t so disreputable after all. At least it’s not taking the moral high road while catering to the gluttonous desires that have brought us to this crisis in the first place.
Because of an editorial “oversight,” the author of “The Caribou Hunter” was misidentified on the cover of the April issue. Christine Pountney wrote that story; Janice Galloway wrote “Opera,” a piece of short fiction in the same issue. The Walrus deeply regrets the error.
The Toronto riding of St. Paul’s failed to elect an MP from the winning party in six of the seventeen federal elections between its creation in 1933 and the 1993 vote. Incorrect information appeared in “A Legend Is Born” (March).
“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Write to us at [email protected] or 101–19 Duncan Street, Toronto, ON M5H 3H1.
Letters may be edited for length, height, width, depth clarity, and accuracy, and may be published in any medium (such as disappearing ink).