asymmetrical environmentalism

It has always been a problem for small organizations to take on large entities, be they corporations or governments. The difference in resources was, in the past, sometimes insurmountable.

It has always been a problem for small organizations to take on large entities, be they corporations or governments.

The difference in resources was, in the past, sometimes insurmountable.

This was especially notable in a northern context, such as the Yukon.

Some well-funded company or government department would engage a local community in consultations and meetings.

The end result would be a one-way flow of information from the company or government to the local community in order to win support for whatever development or concept was being proposed.

Thanks to technology all that is now out the window.

There is now a way for small groups or even individuals to reach out and provide information that shows what the corporation or government is proposing is not beneficial to the community and the environment.

The rise of the internet allows almost any individual or small group to marshal information sources and get their message out.

For example, someone has posted a very amateurish, but very effective, video of Yukon garbage burning on YouTube.

Type ‘Yukon Garbage Burning’ into the YouTube search engine and it should be the first result listed.

Be careful that the computer speakers are not on too loud, as most of the video has death metal music playing in the background.

While this video is a bit rough around the edges, it gets the message out to the entire world about the Yukon government’s garbage burning practices in the communities.

The Yukon government can hire as many consultants as it wishes to produce as many reports as it wants touting the effectiveness of garbage burning, yet a single video that shows the toxic hell that is a community garbage burn vessel negates all that.

This form of activity, at least in military circles, is known as asymmetrical warfare.

A combatant, perceived as the ‘weaker’ in conventional terms, uses new or unconventional strategies to redefine the battle.

In environmental campaigns this has been going on for years.

One only has to look at the stunts that Greenpeace has done worldwide, such as climbing polluting chimney stacks or blocking pipes pumping pollutants into rivers.

These actions, while getting the attention of mainstream media, did require individuals actually doing something risky.

The spread of the internet and the availability of portable cameras has changed that.

Now all individuals have to do is record what is going on and then distribute it.

One picture or video widely distributed can negate hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of consultations by any company or government.

There has also been increase in accessibility to previously restricted technologies.

Google Earth is equivalent to giving everyone, and every environmental group on the planet, their own personal spy satellite.

It permits almost anyone with decent internet access to look down upon environmental messes made in the Yukon.

The abandoned pits at Faro, the impact of placer mining upon stream valleys in the Klondike, the clear-cuts caused by past logging in the southeast Yukon and the old oil and gas seismic exploration lines near Eagle Plains are now laid bare for one and all to see.

Advances in digital technology and the related means of distributing information through digital conduits such as the internet have changed the environmental playing field.

It must be noted that the digital era has also made it possible to spread positive aspects about the environment.

The beauty of the Peel Watershed has been extensively documented through digital media, and now some of that is available on YouTube.

The Peel Watershed is undergoing a land-use planning process at the moment, and a draft plan has just been released for public comment.

Even if a person has not been into the heart of the watershed, its beauty and environmental significance can be appreciated through digital recordings widely available on the internet.

After viewing some of these recordings, it is easy to understand why a member of the public would write in to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission and advocate for a high degree of environmental protection.

There is not much the industrial development companies or their supporting government departments can do in response.

They cannot post images of uranium mines or natural gas wells devastating a natural landscape and hope it will sway public opinion in favour of such industrial activity.

It just will not work.

Thanks to information technology, one citizen can show the entire world bad environmental practices that are happening in the Yukon.

It can also show the beauty that already exists here, and is worthy of saving.

Asymmetrical environmentalism means the rules of waging campaigns to protect the environment have changed.

It means each and every Yukon person can, if they choose, stand up and show the world their concern over whatever environmental issue they choose.

The resource extraction industry and certain governments have yet to figure out a way to respond to this, which means they are in the process of losing this particular campaign.

One does hope that this means the environment could end up being the winner.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse

based part-time environmentalist.