VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Canada’s Paris-pipeline paradox

Markus Hecker, University of Saskatchewan and Jackie Dawson, University of Ottawa

The Canadian government’s decision to purchase Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project shortly after ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change creates an interesting paradox and a national challenge.

The environmental implications of pipeline development have already caused British Columbia and Alberta to feud, culminating in an outright trade war between the two provinces. Canadians are clearly divided on energy and climate politics.

The pipeline would increase current capacity by 590,000 barrels per day to deliver oil and gas to national and international markets. The government, as well as many Canadian businesses and citizens, have argued that this is critical for economic growth and the nation’s near-term prosperity.

On the flip side, these decisions have a significant impact on the ability of Canada to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets and to move towards a “greener” economy.

The fundamental question that needs to be solved is: Can Canada move towards a green economy and meet the GHG reduction targets of the Paris agreement while simultaneously expanding the fossil fuel economy via public ownership of what was the Kinder Morgan pipeline?

What are the risks?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used concerns about safety and the climate to justify the approval of the Kinder Morgan expansion project. When he signed off on the project in 2016, he said “if these projects aren’t built, diluted bitumen would be forced into more rail tanker cars for transport.”

Pipelines are considered to be one of the greenest forms of cargo transport. GHG emission rates are lower by pipeline than by train, for example, and there’s a smaller risk of oil spills because there are fewer transfers.

Yet the environmental costs of a pipeline accident are considerably greater than they are for spills after a train derailment. Pipelines leak larger volumes of oil and it’s more difficult to respond to the spills in a timely manner, particularly for underground pipelines and remote areas.

Critical flaws, global implications

Final approval of the Kinder Morgan project was based on Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) conclusion that it “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

The NEB analysis focused on the potential regional and local-scale environmental impacts from the construction and operation of the pipeline. It did not include any systemic emission-based impacts resulting from oil production, oil consumption or shipping and transportation activities.

The NEB’s focus on immediate and local implications at the exclusion of national and global-scale emissions is reflective of a common but critical flaw of our seemingly universal outlook on environmental issues around the world. That is, there’s a tendency to fail to consider a full evaluation of potential impacts.

An assessment conducted by Environment and Climate Change Canada estimated that the added 590,000 barrels per day in pipeline capacity would result in an annual increase in GHGs equivalent to 13 to 15 megatons of CO₂.

In order to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2℃ — as per the Paris Agreement — an estimated 74 per cent of Canadian crude oil reserves must remain unexploited and advanced carbon capture and storage measures would still be required.

The path forward

So how could Canada resolve the paradox between its Paris commitments and pipeline ownership?

As a start, all revenue that emerges from the pipeline should be put directly into an environmental fund. The fund would be used to support research and technology development as well as programs and infrastructure aimed at reducing the sources of GHGs and enhancing carbon sinks that store carbon dioxide.

In other words, the pipeline could fund emissions reduction strategies and initiatives that just might keep Canada on track with its Paris commitment.

Even if implemented effectively, using pipeline revenues to support GHG reduction strategies will not solve the country’s persistent ethical dilemmas or the mixed messages sent by the federal government on climate politics.

The challenges are complex. They range from human health impacts to socio-economic benefits. They include concerns over access to markets and job creation. But also the cultural and trust issues associated with the pipeline’s impacts on Indigenous lands and local communities, and promises made by the Government of Canada in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

There are no definite answers, but one thing is clear — the Paris-pipeline paradox is unlikely to be reconciled anytime soon.

The ConversationMembers of the College of the Royal Society of Canada’s Working Group on Healthy Environment & Society assisted in the writing of this piece.

Markus Hecker, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Predictive Aquatic Toxicology, University of Saskatchewan and Jackie Dawson, , University of Ottawa

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Killing sharks, wolves and other top predators won’t solve conflicts

Robert Lennox, Carleton University; Austin Gallagher, University of Miami; Euan Ritchie, Deakin University, and Steven J Cooke, Carleton University

In French Polynesia, fishing is an integral part of everyday life. The people living here fish on the flats and along the reef using nets, hooks and line, harpoons, spearguns and traditional artisanal traps.

They fish for food. They are also seeing the benefits of using their traditional knowledge to guide recreational fishing tourists — a business with potential to improve long term employment security.

Abundant sharks in the lagoon led to questions about their contribution to the fishery and whether it would help the fishery if they were targeted. This is a question that is often on the minds of humans when they encounter predators.

As an ecologist working with the fish populations in French Polynesia, I went looking for research about what happens to an ecosystem when a predator is removed. Are the responses predictable? Does it work? Can we make generalizations?

Our new study, published in Biological Conservation, surveyed the research on predator removal and identified several interesting — and perhaps unexpected — trends.

Humans and other predators

Predators are among the most charismatic animals on Earth — lions, eagles and sharks adorn many human symbols. On land, in the air and in water, predators fascinate and inspire, they are quintessential representations of nature’s majesty and might.

In spite of their ecological, economic and cultural significance, predators are among the most heavily persecuted animals, due to conflict with humans and their assets.

Predators attack and kill livestock, hunt economically important prey and can kill or injure people or be perceived as a threat to human safety. These conflicts may motivate humans to try to manage predators to lessen the damages.

One of the oldest and most rudimentary methods is to cull or remove them, even though predators are already rare and some are threatened with extinction.

The motivation to remove predators is easy to understand, but what if predator removal does not even achieve the desired outcomes?

In balance

Predators are essential to ecosystems because they regulate prey populations. Without predators, prey can become over-abundant. This can result in damage to local plants, as well as disease outbreaks that can spread to domesticated animals.

Top predators like wolves dominate small predators like coyotes, keeping those populations in check too. Without predators, ecosystems become unbalanced in many ways because plants, herbivores and small predators change in response to their loss.

In a perfect scenario, successful predator removal would strike a balance. It would reduce conflict and be sustainable, but not cause the predator population to disappear entirely. However, our review of 141 studies of predator removal revealed that success is rarely achieved.

Livestock attacks weren’t always reduced when predators were removed, and the human-wildlife conflict remained. On top of that, new predators often moved into vacated territory and recolonized areas where others had been removed. For example, when caracal (a type of wild cat) and leopard were culled in South Africa, predator conflicts on farms increased.

Caracals and other predators have been blamed for killing sheep and goats in South Africa.
(gundy/flickr), CC BY-NC-SA

A small number of studies have shown successful removal of predators without harming the predator population, and led to increases in the prey population. However, these examples of success were generally from the Arctic where wolves were removed to increase caribou or moose numbers. In that scenario, there are fewer links in the food web, possibly making responses more predictable.

Generally, however, the responses were unpredictable and removing predators often failed for one reason or another.

Coexistence, not conflict

Ecosystems are complex networks of species. They include plants, decomposers, naturally subordinate predators (such as feral cats, foxes and coyotes), pathogens, predators and their prey. Together, they all play vital roles in regulating each other.

When humans remove predators, the effects are consistently negative. The action can, for example, fracture wolf packs into smaller units, or increase the reproductive rates of coyotes to produce even more offspring. This can have knock on effects, including an increase in disease, plant damage if herbivore populations explode and even an increase in the number of collisions between large herbivores, such as moose, and vehicles.

Instead of killing predators, there are other measures we can take to reduce conflict and learn to live with wildlife. In parts of Alberta, biologists are encouraging landowners to use electric fencing around bee hives and chicken coops to fend off bears. These types of non-lethal solutions can be tested and may often be more effective than removing the predator.

Other studies have suggested that “rewilding” an ecosystem — that is, reintroducing species into the ecosystem — can reduce conflicts. When their prey are abundant, the predators have less interest in nearby livestock. One study showed that lynx conflict with farmers increased when their natural prey, roe deer, were scarcer.

Essential elements

Instead of removing predators to manage human-wildlife conflict, we should be looking towards non-lethal alternatives. Using deterrent devices (lights, sounds or flapping material) can keep predators away from homes, fields and livestock.

A predator-proof corral in the South Gobi desert in Mongolia keeps livestock safe from snow leopards and wolves.
(Ksuryawanshi/Wikimedia), CC BY-SA

The services that predators and functioning ecosystems provide to humans are of enormous value, and we would be wise to work hard to conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all.

Predators aren’t only symbols, they are essential parts of healthy terrestrial and aquatic landscapes. And beyond what we value, we should feel an imperative to preserve the diversity of life we share Earth with, most of which precedes our own evolution.

Of course, there will be times when predator removal may be necessary to protect people and their interests. Interventions that champion the principles of coexistence between humans and predators may be more successful and justifiable approaches to managing wildlife.

The ConversationEfforts to protect predators or proactively promote their return, rather than continue contributing to their decline and extinction, are among the greatest conservation challenges we face.

Robert Lennox, PhD Candidate, Carleton University; Austin Gallagher, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Miami; Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, and Steven J Cooke, Professor, Carleton University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Canadians deserve a real pipeline compromise

Peter Dietsch, Université de Montréal

The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is turning into one of the most controversial and divisive issues in Canadian politics in years.

On the one hand, proponents point to the economic benefits for Canada, and for Alberta in particular. On the other hand, critics emphasize the environmental footprint of the oilsands as well as the risks of transporting oil over land and by sea.

Faced with such profound disagreement, the point is not who has the jurisdiction to decide. Knowing that the federal government has the legal power to settle the issue does not get us any closer to figuring out an acceptable way forward. Instead, what’s called for is a real compromise.

The debate to this day has focused on a number of controversies that, while highly relevant, tend to distract us from the larger question of what would be an acceptable compromise.

Here are some examples of these controversies: How should we measure the costs and the benefits of the pipeline? Is it even possible to put a pricetag on the value of an ecosystem as rich as the B.C. coast? Was the review process of the project conducted transparently? Are Indigenous peoples being given an effective voice in the decision-making process?

Suppose satisfactory answers could be provided to these questions — which, it has to be said, seems highly questionable at this stage. Even then, neither a simple yes nor a simple no to the pipeline would represent an acceptable compromise. What would?

Pipeline plus carbon tax

Here is the answer that, explicitly or implicitly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have given to this question: The project gets the green light, but at the same time, Canada will introduce a carbon tax with a price per tonne of CO₂ emissions that will rise from $10 a tonne in 2018 to $50 a tonne in 2022.

The goal of the carbon tax is to help meet Canada’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels), as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement.

A carbon tax can indeed be an efficient way to reduce emissions, but can it be combined with the pipeline to fashion an acceptable compromise? No, it cannot.

We know that the oil from the Alberta oilsands is particularly dirty. It produces three to four times the pre-combustion emissions per barrel compared to regular crude oil. We also know that in order to have a chance to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius, the share of renewable energy needs to increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent by 2050.

An oilsands facility seen from a helicopter near Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2012.

The rest is basic economics: When you introduce a carbon tax, it will — or at least it should — have an effect where emission reduction is most efficient. In Canada, this is clearly the oilsands.

Taxpayers footing the bill for a losing enterprise?

This leaves us with two options to interpret what is going on at the moment. First, the proposed carbon tax does not have any real bite. To do so, the carbon tax would have to impose a higher price on emissions right away. Second, the pipeline has somehow been exempted from the economic logic of the carbon tax altogether and would be built for political rather than economic reasons.

The former would mean that the federal government is hypocritical about the Paris Agreement. The latter would mean that, sooner or later, the taxpayer will have to pay for a project that is bound to lose money under a meaningful carbon tax. Neither throws a positive light on Ottawa’s current position on Trans Mountain.

In any case, these reflections undermine the idea that the pipeline plus a carbon tax in its current form represents a meaningful compromise. However, a pipeline advocate might say, adopting a carbon tax that scuttles the pipeline is not an alternative either. After all, a defining feature of a compromise is that both sides have to make concessions.

A different option? Transform the Alberta economy.

Time for Alberta to diversify

The Trans Mountain pipeline or not, the oilsands are not a long-term strategy for Alberta. The province is already scraping the bottom of the barrel of its oil reserves and will export bitumen of increasingly deteriorating quality in the years to come.

At the same time, renewable energy is set to be consistently cheaper than fossil fuels in a matter of years. Short-term thinking due to election cycles is at least partly to blame for the blind commitment of Alberta governments to the oil sector.

One way to balance economic interests against today’s environmental imperatives consists in subsidizing the transition of the Alberta economy towards a more diversified and greener future.

Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

According to the Alberta government, around 140,000 people were employed in mining, quarrying and oil-and-gas extraction in 2017. Suppose one wanted to retrain 25 per cent, or around 35,000 workers, over the next five years at a cost of $50,000 per worker. This seems generous, since part of the retraining costs could plausibly be shouldered by the private sector.

Read more:
Facing uncertain future, fossil fuel workers want retraining in renewables

The pricetag of such a program would be $1.75 billion per year, and $8.75 billion in total. This is less than the sum Ottawa will have to spend to buy and expand the pipeline — $4.5 billion and an estimated at $7.4 billion respectively.

Concessions necessary

Ottawa should invite British Columbia and other provinces to contribute a share to this project.

More talk needed? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, sits with B.C. Premier John Horgan, left, and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, right, in his office on Parliament Hill for a meeting on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in April 2018.

Such a formula — the details of which would have to be hammered out — would require concessions from both sides. Alberta would have to abandon the project, but recall that several existing pipelines are in place and that the province’s economy is doing just fine with those at present. British Columbia and others motivated by environmental concerns would also make a concession in the form of their financial contribution.

For a government that keeps emphasizing its environmental commitments, let alone its commitment to reconciliation with First Nations, it seems baffling that the Liberals are not seizing this opportunity.

The ConversationJustin Trudeau’s government should open their minds to real compromise.

Peter Dietsch, Full professor, Département de Philosophie, Université de Montréal, Université de Montréal

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Birds wearing backpacks trace a path to conservation

Samantha Knight, University of Guelph and Ryan Norris, University of Guelph

With the arrival of spring, we look forward to the return of hundreds of species of migratory songbirds from their wintering grounds.

Sparrows, swallows, warblers and thrushes, among other songbirds, will be returning from their wintering sites anywhere between the southern United States and distant South America.

Some of these birds will return with a small “backpack” that has recorded their entire migration from their North American breeding grounds to their wintering grounds and back.

Birds provide important ecosystem services, such as preying on insects, dispersing seeds, scavenging carcasses and pollinating plants. Unfortunately, there have been dramatic declines in many migratory songbirds over the past few decades, with some of these populations dropping by more than 80 per cent.

If we are to find ways to slow or reverse these declines, we must first figure out what’s causing them. Climate change, habitat loss and predation by cats are among the leading causes of bird declines.

But with the vast distances these birds move over the course of the year, it can be difficult to pinpoint the main cause for a given species — and where it’s occurring.

Migratory connections

To answer this question, we need to know where individual birds spend their time throughout the year.

We have a good idea of the range — or the total area — the birds occupy during the breeding and wintering periods. But ranges are composed of many populations, and we still have a very poor understanding of how individuals within each of these populations are connected between seasons.

Individuals from different breeding populations may remain segregated during the winter. For example, some ovenbirds winter in the Caribbean whereas others spend their winters in Mexico and Central America.

Or a bird may mix with individuals that originate from other breeding populations, such as bobolinks that mix in South America during the winter.

These patterns of migratory connectivity have critical implications for predicting how migratory songbirds will respond to environmental change.

Habitat loss — deforestation, for example — in one place can have different effects. If habitat loss occurs in a wintering area where breeding populations mix, it may have wide-ranging, yet diffuse, effects on the breeding populations. But if the habitat loss occurs in a wintering area that is occupied by a single breeding population, the effect may be more focused.

For example, habitat loss in South America will likely have range-wide effects on bobolinks, while habitat loss in the Caribbean may only influence a portion of the breeding populations of ovenbirds.

Backpacks for birds

We know that the breeding and wintering populations of most species mix to some extent, but we don’t know by how much or where in the range that occurs. By understanding the migratory network, we can predict how populations across the range will respond to future changes in the environment.

How do we determine where particular individuals go? This is where the tracking “backpacks” come in handy.

These devices, known as “archival light-level geolocators,” weigh less than one gram and are small enough to be carried by songbirds.

A geolocator fitted onto the back of a tree swallow, using a harness that loops around the bird’s legs.
Dayna LeClair

Geolocators record ambient light levels every few minutes while in use. We can then use the geographic variation in sunrise and sunset times as well as day length to locate the individual bird.

We can figure out the bird’s longitude — its east-west position — by comparing solar noon, the midway point between sunrise and sunset, with the time of day (using Greenwich Mean Time). We calculate its latitude — its north-south position — from day length.

Each backpack provides a year’s worth of daily light levels, and a glimpse into one bird’s annual journey.

Tracking tree swallows

In 2011, we began deploying geolocators on tree swallows at 12 sites across their breeding range, from Alaska to Nova Scotia and North Carolina.

These iridescent blue birds with bright white bellies can be seen foraging for flying insects in marshes and fields across Canada and the United States in the spring and early summer. Like many migratory songbirds, tree swallows are experiencing population declines in parts of their breeding range. It is unclear what is driving these declines, however they coincide with declines in several species of birds that also feed on aerial insects.

By 2015, our team, comprising 27 collaborators, had retrieved more than 140 of these devices. We tracked these birds from the breeding sites to their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, Florida and the Caribbean.

With this information, we developed the most comprehensive songbird migration map to date. We found evidence for a high degree of mixing within three distinct migratory flyways between the breeding and wintering grounds of tree swallows.

The tree swallow migratory network.
Norris Lab

The tree swallow network

When we analyzed the network, we discovered that tree swallows migrated between their breeding and wintering grounds using three distinct migratory flyways: West of the Rocky Mountains, down the Mississippi River valley and along the Atlantic coast. Breeding populations within these flyways mixed extensively with one another at migration stopover and wintering regions.

We identified important regions within these flyways, such as areas in Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota and the U.S. Midwest, where tree swallows from many different breeding populations congregate. Such areas appear as critical connections within the whole network.

Now that we know more about the connections between breeding and wintering tree swallow populations, we can use this information to investigate threats to declining populations across their range. For example, using chemical markers, range-wide connectivity has been described in eastern North American monarch butterflies and then used to identify the primary threats in this declining population.

The ConversationThis spring, as the migratory songbirds return, take a moment to think about the amazing journey these birds have taken since last autumn — while wearing their backpacks.

Samantha Knight, Lab manager and researcher, University of Guelph and Ryan Norris, Associate Professor, Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – How the hard work of wild animals benefits us too

Kendra Coulter, Brock University

Like other nature lovers and rural residents, I have been marvelling at the many animal courtships and other mating preparations that accompany the arrival of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

The brilliant-red male cardinals who seek out the best seeds and then tenderly feed their female mates, beak-to-beak. The robins who dutifully solicit and assess building supplies as they carefully construct their nests. The squirrels who remember which nuts have been buried where — and whose organizational skills rival the best administrative assistants.

A red squirrel is seen in this photo nibbling on a nut. With spring upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, watching wild animals hard at work is a reminder of how we benefit from their labour.

Along with my endless delight in watching chipmunks stuffing their cheeks to refill their networks of food burrows, as a labour studies scholar, I also recognize that these dynamics are examples of work.

Wild animals work. They work hard.

The idea of work still tends to evoke particular images of manual and blue-collar jobs, but the realities of people’s livelihoods have always been and continue to be much more diverse. This is true for people and animals alike.

Daily life for wild animals involves an elaborate and constant series of tasks and challenges.

Subsistence work

Finding food and water. Locating appropriate shelter and protection from the elements, in all seasons. Trying to avoid predators, including humans, our vehicles and our weapons. Navigating landscapes that change dramatically and become even more dangerous with every new road, building and pipeline, not to mention the droughts, floods and other weather events that result from climate change.

Raccoons and other animals have to negotiate a number of man-made issues as they seek out food and shelter.
Erwan Hesr/Unsplash

This is subsistence work. This is the work wild animals do to survive.

The dynamics become even more challenging when you add reproduction to the mix. Whether guarding a nest of chicks or a den of cubs, animal parents must be vigilant and highly attuned to myriad sights and sounds. The young must be guarded, fed, comforted and taught.

Young animals are not only taught to survive, they are also taught how to thrive and negotiate the social realities of their species, and often their particular community. This includes the need to understand relationships, social expectations, hierarchies and ways of communicating. This is care work.

Every animal mother is a working mother

The slogan “every mother is a working mother” was coined by feminists who wanted to draw attention to essential, and often overlooked and devalued, unpaid domestic labour.

Feminist political economists now use the term social reproduction to highlight the countless daily tasks carried out in homes and families, predominantly by women. These tasks ensure the maintenance of whole generations of people — and subsidize every society and economy.

I argue that animals also engage in social reproduction.

Biological reproduction is just the beginning. The effect of animals’ subsistence and care work is the social reproduction of their young, their group and their species.

In fact, I suggest we recognize that wild animals are also integral to what I call eco-social reproduction: The subsistence and care work they do contributes to the maintenance of ecosystems.

For example, the World Wildlife Fund points out:

In tropical forests, elephants create clearings and gaps in the canopy that encourage tree regeneration. In the savannas, they reduce bush cover to create an environment favourable to a mix of browsing and grazing animals. The seeds of many plant species are dependent on passing through an elephant’s digestive tract before they can germinate. It is calculated that at least a third of tree species in central African forests rely on elephants in this way for distribution of seeds.

In other words, the subsistence and care work elephants do daily in order to survive and raise their young also benefits other species and their ecosystem: It’s a process of eco-social reproduction.

A least a third of tree species in Africa are thought to rely on elephants for distributing seeds.
Harshil Gudka/Unsplash

Creatures great and small contribute to eco-social reproduction through their daily labour. Those chubby-cheeked squirrels and chipmunks? They are also invaluable seed-dispersers.

And humans are directly affected, most obviously by bees and other pollinators whose daily subsistence labour pollinates about a third of our food crops.

Thinking about wild animals and their actions in this way offers a different perspective on our multi-species communities. If a raccoon leaves a messy mural of orange peels and tea bags on your driveway, you could pause and recognize that she or he is, like you, working to survive and care for loved ones, and perhaps feel some empathy alongside the irritation.

Start seeing animals differently

Animals’ dietary choices also result from need rather than greed and, unlike ours, are not fuelling climate change.

Recognizing the complexity of the lives of the other species with whom we share this planet can also be part of expanding our webs of compassion and solidarity.

We should broaden our intellectual horizons by integrating Indigenous ways of knowing, the social sciences and scientific approaches, as we pursue deeper knowledge, and, most importantly, more ethical action, including in political and economic arenas.

We have many opportunities to see animals differently and more carefully.

There is an axiom that often circulates about the behaviour of Homo Sapiens: “Humans: We’re not the only species, we just act like it.” Let’s not.The Conversation

Kendra Coulter, Associate Professor in Labour Studies and Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence; Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, Brock University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Ego is the Enemy, especially for Academics

by Madhukar Pai

To accomplish the world-changing work we set out to achieve as academics, we need to get our egos under control

“Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego” – Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” is an old saying attributed to Buddha. I just finished reading a book, Ego is the Enemy, that I wish I had read at the start of my academic career. But, it is still not too late for me, as I still have a fair bit of my academic career ahead of me. I can change and get better.

As I read the book, authored by Ryan Holiday, I could not help but reflect on the critical importance of the subject for academics like me. Let’s face it. Academics, like all people, have egos. While I have no data to prove this, I suspect egos of academics are probably bigger than folks in other professions! We die to see our names in print, we fight for credit, awards and funding, we like being called ‘experts’, we ‘profess’ whenever we get an audience, we brag about our H-index and the size of our research labs, we feel validated when others cite or use our research work, and we are gutted when our research is scooped.

These traits, I guess, are ‘naturally selected’ to help us get into and thrive in the competitive academic world we live in. But there comes a time in an academic’s life when the ego might threaten to get out of control. The runaway ego can then become an impediment to the academic’s continued growth and impact. Ego becomes the enemy of success. Holiday’s book provides a stunning array of examples, from all walks of life. Holiday himself is a case study in his book.


Everyone has seen the destructive power of monstrous academic egos – every department in every university can recount tales of legendary ego battles between academics. In fact, departments have been fractured into warring ‘clans’ because of such ego battles! Promising academic careers have ended because of ego clashes. Students’ lives have been devastated by the inability of academics to work together. Outstanding science has never seen the light of the day, because researchers could not agree on authorship, or put science higher than their quest for glory and credit.

Given the importance of this topic, you would think that universities would routinely offer workshops to their faculty on “how to conquer their egos.” Holiday’s book, in fact, could form the core of such a course. Sadly, I have not heard of any such offerings in academic circles.

All of us need to learn strategies and tactics that help us conquer our egos. A good place to begin is with a screening test. Can we use warning signs to detect an over-inflated ego? A positive screening test might help in designing strategies to conquer the ‘enemy within.’ So, here is my initial stab at a list of 12 important warning signs.

Our academic egos are probably spiralling out of control, when we:

  1. stop reading and learning from other’s research
  2. stop seeking input from colleagues and students
  3. can’t tolerate criticism of our research, or take scientific criticism as personal attacks
  4. stop citing others and make our papers mostly about our own work
  5. no longer take the time to meet students and junior colleagues who want advice
  6. attend conferences only when we have a speaking role; or sulk when a meeting is held in our area of expertise and we are not invited
  7. write a negative peer review or tend to reject manuscripts as editor, when our work is not cited
  8. expect all our grants to get funded and all our manuscripts to get accepted; if they don’t, we tend to appeal reject decisions
  9. expect to be a first or senior author on all papers
  10. sulk when we are overlooked for awards and prizes
  11. offer expert opinions on all topics, even topics we have little expertise in
  12. are unable to retire from academia at the appropriate time (i.e. cannot quit when we are ahead); and/or not able to recruit and mentor junior colleagues to take over after us (i.e. no succession planning)

So, what can we do, if the above screening test suggests a problem? I am positive on some of the indicators on this test, and I suppose that is what made me read the book in the first place (I was ‘ready for it’!). Self awareness, by itself, is a step in the right direction, says Holiday. Sobriety, open-mindedness, organization, and purpose – these are other stabilizers that can counter the ego. The long-term goal, Holiday adds, is to become humble in our aspirations; gracious in our success and resilient in our failures.

There are many tactics in his book that we can deploy against the darkness of ego:

  1. Find a way to always stay a student
  2. Find a larger purpose and work towards that
  3. Build and work in a larger team where collaboration, not competition, is the culture
  4. Find mentors and colleagues who can critique our work and keep us grounded and sober
  5. Look for role models that we can observe and learn from

Stay a student: In academia, we constantly seek to become ‘experts’ in our narrow field (and we get promoted precisely for this reason). This can, over time, make us resistant to learning, especially if we stick within our narrow field where everyone is aware of our work and our colleagues expect us to come up with good ideas all the time. The more we think we know, the less open we become to learning.

Recently, I attended a conference that was not in my area of research. I was not an ‘expert’ and hardly knew anyone at the meeting. I was an anonymous student again and found myself enjoying all the workshops and sessions. Each of us needs to find a way to ‘retool’ and learn new things during our academic career (this may well be the original rationale for sabbatical leave).

New research collaborations and interdisciplinary projects might be another great strategy for staying a student. Over the past 3 years, I am working closely with a large, interdisciplinary team that includes economists, anthropologists, and researchers who are not in my field. I am learning so much from all of them, and thoroughly enjoying myself at the same time. Further, this collaboration has resulted in several publications, and opened a whole new stream of research activity.

Find a larger purpose: If publishing more and more papers, and bringing in more and more research dollars is our raison d’etre for being in academia, then our egos have plenty to gorge on. What if we had a bigger purpose? When we have a bigger vision, then it should matter less if we are first or second authors, or that our colleagues won the grant that we hoped to get.

In my field, we are hoping to end tuberculosis by 2035. I am naturally drawn toward this larger goal. At the very least, I want to see a visible improvement in the TB problem in India, the country where I do most of my TB work. This bigger purpose of bending the arc of the TB epidemic now permeates my research team, and I can see it have a positive impact on all my staff and students. Yes, we want to do good science, publish papers, and win awards, but beyond all that, we know we have a bigger mission to serve.

We are also aware that we are cogs in a much bigger wheel, and that real reduction in the TB epidemic will require us to be aligned with thousands of others working in TB. So, we collaborate with a number of people, agencies, and TB groups.

Seek/build a culture of collaboration, not competition: Competition can be healthy, but also destructive. In particular, competition within a department or research unit can be really bad for creating a culture of learning, sharing, and caring.

I am fortunate to work in a TB Centre that is collegial, helpful, and humble (which comes naturally to Canadians!). There is little competition within the Centre, and resources are freely shared. In fact, this is one of the main reasons for me taking up a faculty position at my university. Having seen the benefits of this, I reinforce the same values within my own research lab – everyone is encouraged to collaborate, but not compete. In this environment, it is not easy for the ego to run wild. My students and research staff often tell me that they love the culture of collaboration. Liberated from the stress of competition, they can focus on research and be more productive. And by helping each other, I think they are publishing more than they would, if they worked alone.

Learn from mentors and role models: We can learn a lot by observing role models – academics who achieve greatness, and yet remain grounded and humble, and from researchers who can put their higher goals above their desire for recognition and praise. Undeniably, every school has such academics, and I have been lucky to observe and learn from a few myself. I have also worked with some impressive colleagues who gladly take themselves away from the limelight, to make sure the bigger goal is achieved.

The battle against ego must be fought on many fronts, and daily. All of us need to work towards a place where, to paraphrase Holiday, we think less of ourselves, and be less invested in the story we like to tell about our own specialness. As a result, Holiday says, we will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work we set out to achieve (as academics).

This article was originally published by Nature Research Microbiology Community.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Hope and mourning in the Anthropocene: Understanding ecological grief

Neville Ellis, University of Western Australia and Ashlee Cunsolo, Memorial University of Newfoundland

We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions that sustain life, but it is also increasingly clear that we are pushing the Earth into an entirely new geological era, often described as the Anthropocene.

Research shows that people increasingly feel the effects of these planetary changes and associated ecological losses in their daily lives, and that these changes present significant direct and indirect threats to mental health and well-being. Climate change, and the associated impacts to land and environment, for example, have recently been linked to a range of negative mental health impacts, including depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress, as well as feelings of anger, hopelessness, distress, and despair.

Not well represented in the literature, however, is an emotional response we term ‘ecological grief,’ which we have defined in a recent Nature Climate Change article: “The grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.”

We believe ecological grief is a natural, though overlooked, response to ecological loss, and one that is likely to affect more of us into the future.

Understanding ecological grief

Grief takes many forms and differs greatly between individuals and cultures. Although grief is well understood in relation to human losses, ‘to grieve’ is rarely considered something that we do in relation to losses in the natural world.

The eminent American naturalist Aldo Leopold was among the first to describe the emotional toll of ecological loss in his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac: “One of the penalties of an ecological education,” he wrote, “is to live alone in a world of wounds.”

More recently, many respected ecologists and climate scientists have expressed their feelings of grief and distress in response to climate change and the environmental destruction it entails in places like: “Climate scientists feel weight of the world on their shoulders” and “Is this how you feel?”

Ecological grief is also a significant theme in our own work. In different research projects working with Inuit in Inuit Nunangat in Arctic Canada and farmers in the Western Australian Wheatbelt, both of us have spent a combined total of almost 20 years working with people living in areas experiencing significant climatic changes and environmental shifts.

Despite very different geographical and cultural contexts, our research revealed a surprising degree of commonality between Inuit and family farming communities as they struggled to cope, both emotionally and psychologically, with mounting ecological losses and the prospect of an uncertain future.

Voices of ecological grief

Our research shows that climate-related ecological losses can trigger grief experiences in several ways. Foremost, people grieve for lost landscapes, ecosystems, species, or places that carry personal or collective meaning.

For Inuit communities in the Inuit Land Claim Settlement Area of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada, the land is foundational to mental health. In recent years, melting sea ice prevented travel to significant cultural sites and engagement in traditional cultural activities, such as hunting and fishing. These disruptions to an Inuit sense of place was accompanied by strong emotional reactions, including grief, anger, sadness, frustration and despair.

One male who grew up hunting and trapping on the land in the community of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut explained:

“People are not who they are. They’re not comfortable and can’t do the same things. If something is taken away from you, you don’t have it. If a way of life is taken away because of circumstances you have no control over, you lose control over your life.”

Chronic drought conditions in the Western Australian Wheatbelt elicited similar emotional reactions for some family farmers. As one long-time farmer described:

“There’s probably nothing worse than seeing your farm go in a dust storm. I reckon it’s probably one of the worst feelings […] I find that one of the most depressing things of the lot, seeing the farm blow away in a dust storm. That really gets up my nose, and a long way up too. If its blowing dust I come inside – I just come inside here. I can’t stand to watch it.”

Sweeping away the dust in the central Western Australian Wheatbelt Feb. 2013.
Neville Ellis

In both cases, such experiences resonate strongly with the concept of ‘solastagia,’, described both as a form of homesickness while still in place, and as a type of grief over the loss of a healthy place or a thriving ecosystem.

People also grieve for lost environmental knowledge and associated identities. In these cases, people mourn the part of self-identity that is lost when the land upon which it is based changes or disappears.

For Australian family farmers, the inability to maintain a healthy landscape in the context of worsening seasonal variability and chronic dryness often elicited feelings of self-blame and shame:

“Farmers just hate seeing their farm lift; it somehow says to them ‘I’m a bad farmer’. And I think all farmers are good farmers. They all try their hardest to be. They all love their land.”

For older Inuit in Nunatsiavut, changes to weather and landscape are invalidating long-standing and multi-generational ecological knowledge, and with it, a coherent sense of culture and self. As one well-respected hunter shared:

“It’s hurting in a way. It’s hurting in a lot of ways. Because I kinda thinks I’m not going to show my grandkids the way we used to do it. It’s hurting me. It’s hurting me big time. And I just keep that to myself.”

Many Inuit and family farmers also worry about their futures, and express grief in anticipation of worsening ecological losses. As one woman explained from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut:

“I think that [the changes] will have an impact maybe on mental health, because it’s a depressing feeling when you’re stuck. I mean for us to go off [on the land] is just a part of life. If you don’t have it, then that part of your life is gone, and I think that’s very depressing.”

Similarly, a farmer in Australia worried about the future shared their thoughts on the possibility of losing their family farm:

“[It] would be like a death. Yeah, there would be a grieving process because the farm embodies everything that the family farm is … And I think if we were to lose it, it would be like losing a person … but it would be sadder than losing a person … I don’t know, it would be hard definitely.”

Ecological grief in a climate-changed future

Ecological grief reminds us that climate change is not just some abstract scientific concept or a distant environmental problem. Rather, it draws our attention to the personally experienced emotional and psychological losses suffered when there are changes or deaths in the natural world. In doing so, ecological grief also illuminates the ways in which more-than-humans are integral to our mental wellness, our communities, our cultures, and for our ability to thrive in a human-dominated world.

From what we have seen in our own research, although this type of grief is already being experienced, it often lacks an appropriate avenue for expression or for healing. Indeed, not only do we lack the rituals and practices to help address feelings of ecological grief, until recently we did not even have the language to give such feelings voice. And it is for these reasons that grief over losses in the natural world can feel, as American ecologist Phyllis Windle put it, ‘irrational, inappropriate, anthropomorphic.’

We argue that recognising ecological grief as a legitimate response to ecological loss is an important first step for humanising climate change and its related impacts, and for expanding our understanding of what it means to be human in the Anthropocene. How to grieve ecological losses well — particularly when they are ambiguous, cumulative and ongoing — is a question currently without answer. However, it is a question that we expect will become more pressing as further impacts from climate change, including loss, are experienced.

The ConversationWe do not see ecological grief as submitting to despair, and neither does it justify ‘switching off’ from the many environmental problems that confront humanity. Instead, we find great hope in the responses ecological grief is likely to invoke. Just as grief over the loss of a loved person puts into perspective what matters in our lives, collective experiences of ecological grief may coalesce into a strengthened sense of love and commitment to the places, ecosystems and species that inspire, nurture and sustain us. There is much grief work to be done, and much of it will be hard. However, being open to the pain of ecological loss may be what is needed to prevent such losses from occurring in the first place.

Moonrise near Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada.
Ashlee Cunsolo

Neville Ellis, Research fellow, University of Western Australia and Ashlee Cunsolo, Director, Labrador Institute, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Hope rises for a world free of TB

Madhukar Pai, McGill University

World TB Day 2018 is turning out to be special — never in the history of tuberculosis (TB) control has there been greater political attention and commitment to tackling the infectious disease that causes nearly two million deaths a year.

I was recently fortunate to be in New Delhi, where I witnessed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launch the TB Free India campaign at the Delhi End TB Summit.

In his opening speech, he declared that “India is determined to address the challenge of TB in mission mode. I am confident that India can be free of TB by 2025.” He made the remarks in the presence of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and several other international global health leaders and ministers.

This follows two major TB commitments in 2017. First, in July, the G20 leaders’ declaration from Hamburg included TB in a plan to respond to the antimicrobial resistance threat. Second, in November, a WHO Global Ministerial Conference on TB was held in Moscow, Russia, for the first time — culminating with the Moscow Declaration to End TB and the agreement of 75 ministers to take urgent action to end TB by 2030.

To cap off this crescendo, later this year, in September, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will hold the first-ever high-level meeting on the fight against TB. This will be the third time the UN has called for such a meeting on a health issue.

Ending TB finally looks like a goal that could be met — if, and only if, political leaders globally can step up with investments and actions to match their political declarations.

The global TB burden

Tuberculosis as a disease has always suffered from neglect and lack of urgency. This is reflected in the chronic under-investment in TB care and control in most high-burden countries.

Not surprisingly, the TB epidemic has raged on in many low- and middle-income countries.

In 2016, there were an estimated 10.4 million new TB cases worldwide. TB continues to rank as the leading infectious killer, and 1.7 million people died from this curable, bacterial infection during 2016.

Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, spoke at the opening of the first WHO Global Ministerial Conference titled Ending Tuberculosis in the Sustainable Development Era: A Multisectoral Response in November in Moscow.

Recently, the Global TB Caucus released “The Price of a Pandemic 2017,” a new report that estimates that deaths from TB will cost the global economy nearly US$1 trillion over the next 15 years.

So unless there is serious political commitment, funding and execution, it will be impossible to meet the global End TB targets.

This is why the G20, Moscow, Delhi and UNGA meetings are so critical — to convince our political leaders that they need to wake up to the realities of the TB epidemic, and step up with clear actions and commitments.

India’s leadership challenge

Will our leaders deliver? Following the Delhi End TB Summit, I am feeling optimistic they will, because they’ve seen the impressive progress made in global HIV and malaria control, and have understood the human and societal benefits to tackling killer diseases such as AIDS and malaria.

India’s leadership, in particular, is absolutely fundamental to meeting global End TB goals.

India accounts for a quarter of the global TB cases, and nearly a third of all TB deaths. TB is a huge drain on India’s economy. So without progress in India, there is no hope for ending the TB epidemic.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates the End TB Summit in Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi.

While everyone has welcomed India’s ambitious plan of TB elimination by 2025, the world is watching whether India will follow up on the prime minister’s commitment with the substantially increased budget that is required, and rapidly execute the ambitious TB Free India campaign. 2025 is just seven years away and the clock is ticking!

The 2025 target is audacious. Anyone who understands TB knows the 2025 goal is not realistic. But the international TB community appreciates the ambition displayed by India. It is great to aim high, and even if India doesn’t reach that goal, it would still represent progress if the TB Free India campaign is implemented.

A big question for the TB community now is this: How do we hold our leaders accountable for their big declarations and commitments? What kind of sustained effort would be required to convert the political aspirations into tangible progress on the ground?

BRICS countries can lead the charge

Thinking beyond India, I am convinced other high-TB countries also have a key leadership role to play.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) together
account for 46 per cent of all incident cases of TB and 40 per cent of all TB-related mortality.

With strong economic growth in BRICS, and their growing stature and leadership in the political as well as scientific arena, these countries are well-placed to lead the charge against a disease that is a leading killer of their citizens and a huge drain on their economies.

The U.S. government, the largest donor in the fight against TB, is rapidly scaling back on overseas aid, slashing billions from global health and humanitarian aid.

As wealthy donor countries focus their priorities on populist and nationalist demands, it is unclear whether any other rich country will pick up the slack.

It is therefore critical for countries most affected by TB to step up, show leadership and invest in TB control. The world simply cannot depend on a few wealthy countries with very low TB incidence to support all the effort that is required to tackle TB.

Lastly, investments in TB must occur as part of overall health systems investments required to realize the goal of Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

UHC is a human right, and all countries have agreed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals with the following target by 2030: Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines for all.

The ConversationIf countries achieve UHC, the battle against TB can be won.

Madhukar Pai, Director of Global Health & Professor, McGill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Beyond beasts of burden: How to reward our animals for their work

Kendra Coulter, Brock University

Animals do a lot for us. So what should we do for them?

Dexter, an emotional support peacock, made global headlines recently when United Airlines refused to allow him on a flight.

His story is the latest to reanimate the public discussion about the certification and regulation of service animals, and the rights of people with disabilities. But this unusual situation is also an opportunity to reflect on the work we give animals, which species we employ and what our responsibilities are to them.

We have long used the labour of animals — few communities in Canada would have been built without horses’ strength, power and co-operation.

Much like people, today’s animals are less likely to be used for manual labour, and are more often employed in service work. They assist with law enforcement, and even sniff out endangered species, smuggled goods and insect infestations.

Service animals are typically paired with humans and engaged in full-time, round-the-clock labour. They may physically guide someone, assist with daily tasks or monitor the person’s physical and emotional state, then respond with a warning, an intervention or calming touch.

Therapy animals usually work part-time, and either are visited at care farms or are transported to long-term care homes, schools, libraries and detention centres to participate in a range of programs and interactions.

A U.S. Army veteran simulates having a panic attack as he works with Jersey, his new support dog, as part of a training session together in October 2017 in Collinsville, Ill.
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

In Canada, we also now have institutional or facility dogs that comfort and support child witnesses as they participate in court cases.

Animals — whether they are dogs, horses, chickens or rats —are using an intricate combination of their physical, intellectual and emotional abilities in their work for us.

Rats, for example, are now employed in a range of ways, including for detecting land mines and forewarning people of seizures.

Academic research is beginning to reveal the depth and breadth of the cognitive skills, emotional lives and cultural practices of animals of all sizes. When working for us, many animals engage in nuanced communication, they control or suppress their feelings to behave appropriately, and actively assess people and complex environments.

In most cases, particularly when we entrust animals to care for us, we have evolved beyond seeing them simply as beasts of burden. We are more likely to recognize the active roles animals play and the choices they make and see them as subjects, not simply objects.

Yet most animals are still legally positioned as property, and their work lives are ultimately governed by humans. As a result, we have significant responsibilities.

The largest group of domesticated vertebrate animals in Canada — the 700 million farmed creatures who live short, difficult lives, and then are killed to be consumed as food — is an elephant in the room, so to speak.

Pigs are seen at the Mober SENC farm in Saint Hughes, Que., south of Montreal in 2009.

We could view the required and repeated physical production of babies, milk and eggs as a kind of bodily work.

Whether we see farmed animals as working or not, there are crucial discussions about their living conditions taking place, and whether we should be using animals in this way at all, especially given the expansion of plant-based foods and drinks, and lab-grown “clean meat.”

As a labour studies scholar who has been studying work involving animals for a number of years, I have seen the good, the bad, the ugly and the more complicated. A few things are clear, however.

Not all species or individual animals want to work for us, and we ought to recognize this fact. Work should be about collaboration, not coercion.

If some animals are going to work with and for us, we should only offer them humane jobs and pay careful attention to their work lives in a full sense. This includes their hours of work, their leisure and social opportunities and their lives after their formal jobs have ended. We must prioritize not only animals’ physical health, but also their psychological well-being.

Clearly the world of work is changing for people and animals alike, and it is challenging our conventional ideas and approaches. As a result, we ought to harness the potential of solidarity and reciprocity in our relationships, as well as in our political arenas.

As a start, we should strengthen and expand our antiquated animal cruelty laws, and properly fund their enforcement.

The ConversationBut we also need to create new policies and programs that reflect and genuinely respect the diverse realities of animals’ labour, interests and lives. In other words, it’s time we do more political work for the animals who do so much for us.

Kendra Coulter, Associate Professor in Labour Studies and Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence; Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, Brock University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Social media full of vitriolic myths in the aftermath of the Stanley trial

Keith Thor Carlson, University of Saskatchewan

Social media posts on Facebook and Twitter, and online comments in the days since Gerald Stanley’s acquittal have been saturated with disturbing rants. Many of them are written by Canadians who — from my perspective as a researcher of Indigenous and settler history — are expressing anxiety that the privilege and comfort afforded them through our system of settler colonialism might be slipping away.

Rather than exploring the structures that have provided privileges to some while denying them to others, or finding ways to express empathy for those who are hurting, some Canadians are seeking solace in tired, hurtful and long discredited settler colonial myths.

These myths generally fall into two categories: Those we tell about ourselves, and those we tell about Indigenous people. Together they serve corrosive purposes that risk driving Indigenous and settler Canadians farther apart and making reconciliation ever more elusive.

Myth: Colonial discovery and settler destiny

Starting with the myth of the Doctrine of Discovery in the 15th century, settlers have rationalized that we could claim North American lands because Indigenous peoples somehow didn’t really own them.

This concept is principally based on the ethnocentric prejudice that Indigenous people did not look and act like Europeans. The British legal concept of Terra Nullius, which incorrectly defined tracts of North America as empty lands, reinforced the idea that Indigenous people had no right to the land.

In the United States, settlers invented the myth of Manifest Destiny: A God-given “obligation” to expand from the Atlantic coast to occupy and control the entire continent. As settlers transformed forests and plains into agricultural lands and won several strategic battles against both European and Indigenous peoples, they reasoned their success was proof of America’s right to displace Indigenous people.

In the late 19th century Social Darwinism helped to give such myths a degree of quasi-academic credibility. Scholars began describing the successful American expansion across western frontiers as a product of Anglo-American racial superiority.

In Canada, the mythology was similar. The biblically inspired name, “Dominion” of Canada, literally embodies the idea of settler Canada assuming God’s “dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth” (Psalms 72:28).

Thus, Canada assumed sovereignty over vast territories by positioning Indigenous peoples as mere occupants of lands within their Dominion.

Meanwhile academic historians like Harold Innis and Donald Creighton provided an interpretive framework that explained how the pursuit of natural resources by British capitalists and French fur traders had facilitated Canada’s east-west, coast-to-coast orientation. In this narrative Canada exists not because of the continent’s natural north-south system of mountains and rivers, but despite it.

Myth: Good and bad Indians

If our national story was one of transcending nature, the Indigenous peoples’ narrative, according to settler beliefs, was one where they had allowed themselves to become prisoners of nature. Settlers believed Western history and belief systems explained all humanity. Within this framework, Indigenous people were treated as having not yet acquired all of the rights and privileges associated with modern civilized society.

Therefore, settler policies and actions aimed at acquiring Indigenous lands did not take into account the multiplicity or sophistication of Indigenous cultures, politics and economics. Rather, Dominion settlers defined all Indigenous people monolithically as “Indians.”

Over time, settlers began dividing Indigenous people into groups according to how they responded to us and our agendas.

In the 18th century, settlers regarded Indigenous people who sided with them in conflicts as “noble” Indians; those who sided against were “savage” Indians.

By the mid-19th century, such labels and belief systems increasingly served the settler colonial agenda — to displace Indigenous peoples from their lands and resources. “Noble Indians,” were the “wise” ones who accepted the inevitability of settler colonialism; they recognized that resistance was futile. “Savage Indians,” conversely, were considered “savage” precisely because they rejected American Manifest Destiny or Canadian Dominion. Their resistance justified state violence to remove them from their lands.

Myth: The vanishing Indian

After witnessing the effects of rounds of devastating diseases (smallpox, influenza and measles) to which Indigenous people had no immunity, settlers additionally developed the myth of the “vanishing Indian.”

In the 19th century it would have been accurate to describe the number of Indigenous peoples as “diminishing” — their population had been steadily, and sometimes rapidly, declining ever since first contact with Europeans. But by assuming that “diminishing” would necessarily result in extinction, settlers conveniently absolved themselves of having to account for Indigenous peoples’ futures.

So long as Indigenous peoples were destined to die out, there was little need to prioritize compensating them for their lands (as in British Columbia), honouring treaty agreements (as in the Prairies) or in working with them to envision a future where they might exist as distinct peoples with their Indigenous rights and cultures intact.

Myth: The generous settler

The myth of the “vanishing Indian” also allowed settlers to create a sub-myth. If Indigenous peoples were destined to disappear and if Indigenous cultures were incompatible with the Western industrial society (as the myth maintained), then according to settlers, the only thing to do was to invite (and later to compel) Indigenous people to assimilate.

Residential schools were, as the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School explained, designed to “kill the Indian and save the Man.”

Once these programs were established, settlers congratulated themselves for their generosity, and boasted how the creation and funding of the residential schools took place despite Indigenous people not contributing directly to the government’s tax revenues.

The myth of the benevolent settler: Carlisle Indian School Students.
Children and Youth in History, Item #291

Settlers believed themselves benevolent as they reserved specific tracts of lands for Indigenous peoples’ exclusive use, even though their quality and quantity were well below what was offered settler families and communities.

They thought themselves altruistic as they provided welfare relief to Indigenous peoples who remained on reserves where there were few economic opportunities. This spawned yet another myth, that of the “lazy Indian.”

Time to put these myths to rest

Indigenous resistance to these policies simultaneously reinforced in settler minds the myths of the “ungrateful Indian” and of Indigenous peoples as “tax burdens.”

Efforts to explain how these systems created not only trauma for those directly affected, but also inter-generational injuries for their descendants has served to reinforce for some settlers the myth of Indigenous peoples who can’t “get over” the past.

To the extent that isolated reserve life highlighted territorial displacement and social marginalization, some Indigenous people fell victim to chronic unemployment and binge drinking; laws preventing them from purchasing or consuming alcohol meant that social drinking was not an option. Thus emerged the myth that Indigenous peoples were genetically predisposed to alcoholism.

Too often young Indigenous people fall victim to predators who steer them into tragic situations. The need for the current national inquiry into the fate of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls speaks to the power of the myth that paints Indigenous people as victims of their race and culture, rather than as victims of colonial attitudes and circumstances.

In the wake of the Stanley trial, a large number of non-Indigenous Canadians have shown that they have no qualms about using the most vitriolic and hurtful of these long-discredited colonial myths to protect their own privilege and comfort.

We can do better.

If reconciliation is to ever be more than an aspiration the onus must be on us to abandon the myths that blind us to our culpability for the historical systems of oppression that continue to marginalize Indigenous people.

The ConversationKeith Carlson is currently working on a book tentatively titled Myths and Legends of the Xwelitem (i.e. Settler Colonial) Tribe.

Keith Thor Carlson, Professor of History, Research Chair in Indigenous & Community-engaged History, University of Saskatchewan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.