Exclusive Interview With Environmental Activist Richard Caniell

By Citizen Green

Forward Seeking Thank you Richard Caniell for agreeing to this interview with Forward Seeking. You are an effective environmental activist in Canada. Do you have any strategic advice for American activists opposed to the Keystone Pipeline? What have you found to be the most effective strategies in your track record of success in battles for the environment?

Richard Caniell The mass protests at the White House, with 1,250 people arrested, represent the best possible action. I emphatically support the view that the issues of the Keystone Pipeline are deeply connected to those driving the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. This connection needs to be made very clear and widely publicized.

The central issue behind Occupy Wall Street is the huge concentration of wealth in the hands of a very small percentage of the population. This concentration has come about by the massive transference of public assets and wealth into the coffers of corporations. Resource exploitation is a major way that this occurs. The demand for continuous growth in profits for corporations and investors is like a bulldozer running over all objections and all reasons why there should be restraint in activities that damage the environment.

Corporations wage propaganda campaigns in advance of their exploitations, making exaggerated claims that they have to have their way or else the economy will collapse and people won’t have jobs. These claims are most often loaded with other misrepresentations. Unfortunately, when people are trapped in low incomes and are desperate for jobs, they become very vulnerable to believing that unregulated exploitation and pollution of the environment is a necessity for their economic survival. Governments are constantly bought off by industry, especially by the huge campaign contributions corporations can now make to election campaigns.

The Valhalla Wilderness Society, of which I’m one of the founding directors, was first created to save the Valhalla Mountain Range across from Slocan Lake in British Columbia, where I live. At that time the sawmill at the foot of the lake sent a letter to all of its logging contractors, claiming that they would be forced to close if the Valhalla Park was created. This engendered a visceral response in all the logging community in the valley – their livelihood, their family life, was at stake. This gut reaction was quite nearly impervious to facts.

We saw the necessity of going toe to toe with industry, refuting every false claim. We relied on science, exhaustive research and unrelenting endeavors to be accurate in all of our public releases. We found that the whole of the Valhalla Range represented only 3.4% of the mill’s annual cut, and only 1.5% of the entire Tree Farm Licence ceded to the mill by a pro-industry government. The recitation of the facts, in letters to the newspapers, public bulletins, advertisements had an effect on the uncommitted, though we never reached through the gut-level or visceral response generated in the loggers by the mill’s threat.

I also produced two multi-media presentations to show the beauty of the Valhallas, one that travelled BC and one that was shown on national TV.
Later, in our campaign for watershed protection, when the government obtained court orders to remove protesters, using the injunction process, we counter-attacked by showing the government had suppressed or misrepresented the dangers which were at the heart of the protests (as those arrested were prevented from asserting any of the facts supporting them in the hearings on their arrests because the only issue before the court was that they disobeyed a court order (not why).

All this has relevance to the Keystone Pipeline. In every environmental issue, industry and government representatives pump out inflated claims (the sky will fall), corralling the credulous through resonating their general fears of economic decline (after the necessity for economic health and prosperity has been conditioned into every pervious brain.)

It’s obvious enough that the engulfing tide of deadly environmental degradation has not brought economic health to the “99%” of the population. But a great deal more must be done to publicize the dangers and health impacts of the pipeline. For a public that is chiefly concerned with jobs and income, more must be done to show how the impoverishment of our health, through environmental damage, is also economic impoverishment to present and future generations. This is nowhere more clear and powerful than in the case of tarsands oil and climate change. 

In addition, industry is now claiming that, without the tar sands oil, pipelines and tankers, the US will remain subservient to foreign oil, which leads to the necessity to support despotic Arab governments, etc. Fighting back effectively will require exposing the many ways that these fossil fuel industries are degrading democracy at home, in the United States and Canada. Massive protests against extreme fossil fuel exploitation – tarsands, deep sea drilling, fracking – are simply being trammeled. Public processes are being cynically manipulated, as in the conflict of interest in the Keystone Pipeline environmental review process. Pipeline Review Is Faced With Questions Of Conflict – The New York Times

Litigation was another approach we used. It would be valuable to seek judicial direction to establish a moratorium on the Keystone Pipeline until the Congress could consider (as a whole) the entire issue of dangers and consequences. The issue must be made an election issue. Senators, Representatives and the President should be made aware that they are making enemies of the voters because of sell outs of the environment. 

If I were fighting the Keystone Pipeline, I would want to research the earlier pipeline battles in court, such as Texas Eastern Transmission Co. v. Wildlife Preserves, Inc:

48 N.J. 261, 225 A.2d 130 (1966) and 49 N.J. 403, 230 A.2d 505 (1967) (ed: Case numbers for successful court battles that favored the environment)

In this issue the pipeline company, in order to achieve its purpose, had to condemn lands for a right of way. Using power of eminent domain, it sought to extend its pipelines over as much “undeveloped” land as possible. Indifferent to the destruction of habitat, the pipeline company intending to create a 50-foot right-of-way (so-called Algonquin route.) The issue finally went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found on behalf of Wildlife Preserves (an independent environmental group).

Research should bring public attention to this and other decisions, as the language of the higher courts is extremely valuable in publishing the reality of the issue. The total damage must be taken into consideration, including: cutting of trees, erosion, pollution, sedimentation, heavy equipment’s impact on habitat, the devaluation of surrounding real estate values and the portentous consequences of a spill (which the history reveals is quite common.)

Forward Seeking As a music historian, sound engineer, and collector, you have commented that the impulse to conserve nature and to preserve great music often occur in the same personality. Your record label Immortal Music Performance Society has restored and published many rare treasures from our musical heritage. Can you say more about your philosophy? Immortal Performances Recorded Music Society

Richard Caniell Great music and nature are not separate, they are two embodiments of the same principles and truth at the heart of existence. They show us interconnectedness and flow, which are the secrets of the well-being of everything that lives.

In my life I have seen priceless treasures of both lost due to the profit-first nature of the corporations controlling them. I have been an activist to preserve both. These things are lost due to humanity’s general desire to profit excessively from everything. When I look back, I see that the work I did could not have been accomplished if I had insisted on profit and an affluent life.

I think there is a law in life, that people defend what they truly love. Different people are moved by different things, but the pivotal point is when a person is fed so deeply by ideals that they yearn to serve them. When this longing emerges, it will be drawn to what it is meant to protect, nourish and serve. For me it was music and nature.

Forward Seeking Do you have any last thoughts for us?

Richard Caniell I have always thought that if the general public understood how severely their children are threatened by environmental destruction, they would be compelled to take action to defend their children. But industry/government propaganda deceives people, thereby sabotaging this natural response to threats. So everything possible must be done to get out the truth of environmental issues. That’s an environmental group’s first duty: to tell the truth to the public about the radical threats that humanity faces today, so that the need for radical change can be accepted.

Forward Seeking Thank you, Richard Caniell, environmental activist and music conservationist, for sharing your thoughts and time with us.

About the Valhalla Wilderness Society: The VWSwas founded in 1975, in the small village of New Denver, British Columbia, Canada. It started as a group of local residents who wanted to save the forested slopes of the Valhalla Range in southeastern B.C. from logging. After an intensive eight-year campaign, Valhalla Provincial Park was won.

The Registered Charity VWS became involved in other provincial, national, and international environmental projects. It spearheaded protection of the Khutzeymateen Valley (Canada’s first sanctuary for grizzly bears) and Goat Range Provincial Park. Eighteen years ago the Society initiated the campaign to preserve a sanctuary for the white Spirit Bears of Princess Royal Island. This work has made the Spirit Bear and its need for a sanctuary renowned all over the world. In February 2006, the B.C. government and First Nations agreed to protect a large spirit bear sanctuary. Valhalla has spearheaded campaigns that now protect over 1.25 million acres. The Society also played a key role in the creation of South Moresby National Park Reserve.

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