Look, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Chiquita Bananas, after having long ago learned about human-rights repressing, anti-democratic business practices which their predecessor, the United Fruit Company, engaged in throughout Central America in the past century. So I find having to write about what’s been happening in the media today a little ironic. But at the same time, there’s actually a lot at stake, and since much of it is going on behind-the-scenes, I thought I’d take a few moments to share my own observations about bananas and their media-hyped impact on climate change.
For rest assured, despite Ezra Levant’s rant in Sun Media today (“Yes we have no bananas, you hypocrite”, the Sudbury Star, December 20, 2011), the issue at hand isn’t simply about bananas, or even Levant’s strange concept of “ethical oil” (on which he wrote the book – quite literally, he wrote the book “Ethical Oil” from which he now profits through shameless self-promotion of the term). Nor is it necessarily even about human rights – at least not in the way that Levant and others are portraying the matter.
Instead, what we’re seeing playing out in the media today has everything to do with Canada’s war on climate change action, and our government’s shameless shilling for the multinational oil industry. You see, the Harper regime came to the conclusion quite a while ago that fighting climate change for the good of Canadians and providing profit for Big Oil was mutually exclusive. Since then, they’ve gone out of their way to put the interests of their corporatist supporters ahead of those of Canadians. Indeed, with their recent decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Accord, the Harper regime has taken considerable pride in giving the finger to the entire world.
But this isn’t about Kyoto. This is about the Harper regime’s constant war on the interests of Canadians. By continuing their unmitigated acts of sabotage against the interests of average middle-class Canadians by accommodating at seemingly every opportunity the interests of the oil industry, Harper and his ilk are condemning both Canada and the world to the effects of runaway climate change. All of this is being done simply so the oil companies can make even more profit. There is no other reason which stands up to scrutiny.
Sun Media Goes Bananas
Now, if that sounds a little over-the-top to you, consider the humble banana. Levant and his cohorts at Sun Media seem to think that they’ve hit upon a really cheery holiday story which will warm the cockles of their neo-liberal supporters, some of whom, such as Jason Kenney, are ministers of the Canadian government. Levant has tweaked to the notion that Chiquita Brands has somehow made a decision to boycott Alberta’s oil. And in Levant’s world, that’s tantamount to treason against the State! Although which state, exactly, no one is sure (maybe it’s that North American Union which the neo-liberals are just waiting to spring on us all, without any consultation…kinda like yesterday’s health “deal” announcement. But that’s another story).
In response, Levant and Sun Media have called for a boycott of Chiquita bananas. To provide even more ammunition in support of a boycott, Levant points out that Chiquita was just fined back in 2007 for giving “protection money” to South American paramilitary organizations, some of which appear on the U.S.A’s list of known terrorist organizations. And Levant is right: that’s pretty bad. Of course, giving money to the government of Colombia, which continues to threaten and abuse the rights of its own people is also pretty bad. It’s all pretty messy in Colombia, no matter how you look at it. But, depending on who is doing the looking, the mess might not matter so much. And thanks to the Harper regime, Canada now has a free-trade deal with the human-rights repressing regime currently in charge of Colombia. Well, most of Colombia anyway. But that’s another story.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. A little further digging reveals that Chiquita Brands has not launched any kind of boycott against Alberta oil. What they have done is announce that they will try to use petroleum from non-dirty sources for transport fuel, in order to try to limit the effects of climate change, at least somewhat. This does mean that Chiquita will be trying to steer clear of oil produced from tar sands bitumen. And that’s what seems to have Levant’s so upset.
I guess Levant would feel a lot better if the humans-rights abusing, terrorist-sponsoring Chiquita Brands had instead decided to buy tar sands oil. I know that I would have felt better. I suppose that for Levant it’s best to do business with the devil than have the devil take his business elsewhere. But that’s another story.
There are actually a few things at stake here, and singling out Chiquita Brands for a boycott actually plays quite well as a media-hypable proxy for addressing the bigger issues. You see, right now the European Union is considering labelling Canadian heavy oil produced from tar sands bitumen as “harmful to the environment” (and therefore “dirty”) in comparison to oil derived from conventional sources. This means that importing tar sands oil into the EU will require the imposition of a surcharge (a.k.a. “a tariff”), which amounts to a financial penalty assessed against dirty oil producers.
And it also could stand as a precedent which ends up penalizing dirty Canadian industries. The State of California has just recently announced that it will support the EU’s labelling initiative as it pertains to tar sands oil. Presumably, that means that tar sands oil ending up in California may also be subject to a tariff.
And California…that’s the same U.S. state which has been in the news lately because it is part of the Western Climate Initiative (WCI). Recently, the Province of Quebec announced that it was moving forward with establishing a cap and trade emissions trading scheme under the auspices of the WCI. So, dirty Alberta oil could also receive a surcharge of sorts through a cap and trade program if it were to be imported to…Quebec.
What other provinces are also a part of the WCI? Why, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia. Together with Quebec, that means that over half of Canadians may one day end up paying more for dirty Alberta oil through some sort of surcharge levied through a cap and trade scheme.
Look, call it what you want, but the fact is that oil produced from tar sands bitumen produces significantly more greenhouse gases than oil derived from conventional sources (between 3 and 5 times as much). So, from the point of view of carbon pollution, the oil is dirtier, period, end of story. And we know that the historic build-up of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is what’s responsible for global warming and the Earth’s changing climate.
Interestingly, the Harper regime has probably done its corporatist oil-industry buddies no favours by pulling out of Kyoto. What Harper has accomplished is to hand the European Union the smoking gun it needs to affirm that Canadian tar sands oil really is dirty and therefore to subject it to a tariff at the time of import. And while its true that the EU imports hardly any dirty oil from Canada right now, it’s the precedent of the matter which is much more important.
And if the importation of dirty oil itself can be subject to a tariff, what about products produced exclusively from energy derived from dirty sources? Why not subject them to a tariff as well?
Climate Change and the Economy
EU nations, including the tar-sands supporting United Kingdom (with David Cameron’s government playing Harper’s proxy at the EU negotiations), have met their Kyoto greenhouse reduction commitments, and in many cases, have exceeded them. The governments of the European nations made the hard choices back in the late 1990s to take Kyoto seriously. It turns out that those choices weren’t really all that hard to make, as producing cleaner energy has actually led to job creation throughout the EU, and especially in nations such as Denmark and Germany, which (along with China) are now the go-to places for clean energy products and research and development. The EU nations accomplished all of this while still growing their economies. Their success story doesn’t at all mirror the Harper regime’s narrative which pits the choice of “jobs” against “the environment”. But that’s another story.
With the EU having done their heavy-lifting regarding climate change, Canada’s withdrawal from Kyoto has come as a bit of a slap in the face. That Canada’s withdrawal has come at the same time of an announcement to continue to expand the dirty-oil producing tar sands (coincidentally timed to take place during the Durban COP-17 climate change conference) will not be lost on the Europeans. With Canada’s declaration of war against those wishing to stave off the economy-crippling horrors of climate change, labelling tar sands oil as “dirty” now more than ever seems like an easy decision for the EU to make.
And make no mistake: the economies of most nations in the world face significant risk from a changing climate. That Canada, which has been pushing the completely misguided notions of “climate prosperity” and “ethical oil”, will also suffer from the upheaval of climate change seems to matter little to the Harper regime. Canada’s economy is integrated with the global economic village, and our economy is sure to be negatively impacted by economic upheaval throughout the globe. For the Harper regime, that average Canadians will suffer from global economic devastation isn’t nearly as important as the need to continue to enrich the Harper’s oil interest buddies and supporters.
And that’s what makes this all a human rights issue, and a moral issue. Is it moral for Canada, one of the world’s biggest per-capita polluters, to sabotage international efforts which seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions and which (hopefully) will lessen the social/physical/economic impacts of climate change? Is it ethical to put the corporatist interests of Big Oil ahead of the interests of just about everyone else on the planet? By declaring war on efforts to combat climate change, Canada’s government has made its decision. I’ll leave it to you to determine whether it was a moral one. I suspect that you know my own opinion.
Saving the Planet, One Banana at a Time!
Which brings us back to bananas and the boycott against Chiquita Brands for having the audacity to finally make an attempt at being a “good corporate citizen” (at least as far as climate change goes…which, by the way, will almost certainly impact Chiquita’s own bottom line, as they have invested heavily in agricultural activities in tropical areas of the world, which are sure to be some of those hardest hit by climate change…so Chiquita probably does have a vested interest in taking climate change action). If Chiquita can be made to bend on the concept of “dirty oil”, it will prove to be yet more ammunition in the fight against labelling at the EU, and (probably more importantly) by California (and potentially other WCI partners). And if the boycott works and leads to Chiquita backing down, woe be to any other business which decides that it’s going to try to implement a similar action in the name of “environmental responsibility”. Including those businesses which operate almost exclusively in California and which may not have a choice in the matter. Canadian boycotts of Californian businesses may yet prove to be the sort of political wedge issue which neo-liberal Republicans in California might use to gain control of the State and turn back the clock on dirty tar sands oil decisions. There is a long game being played here.
The banana may yet become a more compelling symbol in the fight against climate change than “350” or “2 degrees C”. Although the science would likely prove otherwise, I can certainly see the slogan, “Eat a banana, save the planet” catching on, at least for a little while, thanks to Sun Media.
(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)