Where is the Green Party of Canada?
By John W. Warnock
July 30, 2006
There are a number of major conflicts around the globe these days. If you look at the web pages of the various Green Parties in the industrialized world, you will see that they have made strong public stands on many of these key issues. But not so in Canada. While the official policy of the Green Party of Canada, adopted at previous biennial conventions, addresses these issues, the present leadership of the GPC has been silent on all of them over the past few years.
*The US/UK wages war in Afghanistan, backed by NATO and a few other client states.
* The US/UK wages war in Iraq, backed by a declining number of client states.
* Israel, backed by the US/UK in particular, continues its expansionist program, acquiring Palestinian land and resources (especially water) and assumes the right to determine who will comprise the Palestinian government.
* Israel, backed by the US/UK, pushes into Lebanon to change the elected government and continue to determine the border.
* The US/UK, backed by NATO, demands that North Korea not develop nuclear weapons. Only those who have them already can keep them and build more. This is called non-proliferation.
* The US/UK, backed by NATO, demands that Iran not develop nuclear weapons. Israel can have all the nuclear weapons it wants.
* The US, backed by France and Canada, overthrows Aristide’s government in Haiti. Not all democratic elections are a good thing – people can elect “dictators.”
* The US intervenes to support rightist attempt to overthrow the Chavez government in Venezuela. Another elected “dictator” should step down.
* The US backs the oil corporations and condemns the new Morales government in Bolivia, no doubt another elected “dictator.”
* The US, backed by Stephen Harper’s government, supports electoral fraud in Mexico to prevent Lopez Obrador from becoming President. AMLO dares to propose the renegotiation of NAFTA.
In all these events the position of the U.S. administration is widely supported by the major opposition parties and political leaders, the business establishment, the religious establishment, and the mass media. It is the same in all the NATO countries and Japan. While we live in the so-called post modern world, where it is argued that there are no fundamental truths, this looks suspiciously like a conflict between the rich and the poor.
What is happening here? What happened to the four pillars of the international Green movement, to which the GPC is officially committed: ecological wisdom, social justice, participatory democracy, and peace and non-violence?
John W. Warnock was a candidate for the Green Party of Saskatchewan in the 1999 and 2003 provincial elections for the inner city riding of Regina Elphinstone.
Political conflict is rising in Mexico. Election results are in dispute, and workers are striking. Below is the first report in a series by political economist and author John W. Warnock, posted specially to the Act Up website.
Sept 19, 2006
Part 1: The Bankers’ Alliance Holds on to Power
by John W. Warnock
For a brief time the media in Canada and the United States gave some coverage to the July 2 election in Mexico. There was a threat from the social democratic left – the possibility that Andres Manual Lopez Obrador (AMLO) might emerge as the next president. The U.S. government, concerned about the spread of the new socialism across Latin America, settled back when the Mexican establishment carried the day. Nevertheless, the election produced a major shift to the left, angered the poor and disenfranchised, and heightened social divisions and political resistance.
Mexico was ruled by a succession of generals until President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-40) restructured the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). A populist party, it included the trade unions, peasant organizations, a civic alliance, and small business organizations. The PRI governed Mexico between 1929 and 2000 as a one-party state. Through the system known as “Presidentialism,” the PRI completely dominated. Elections were a farce as the PRI won them all, legislatures rarely had any representation from other parties, and the President appointed everyone, including his own successor.
In 1939 a group of right wing Catholics, business leaders and large land owners formed the National Action Party (PAN) to defend the church, protect private property rights, and to push for a government similar to Francisco Franco’s in Spain. They received strong support from the Mexican Confederation of Employers (COPARMEX), whose slogan was “not class struggle but class collaboration.” The PAN provided token opposition to the PRI down to the 1980s when it began to seriously contest local elections, demanding a liberal democratic electoral regime.
Mexico has always been run by powerful wealthy families, foreign capital, large landowners and the hierarchy of the Catholic church. The “bankers’ alliance,” as they are known is Mexico, dominated the leadership and policy of the PRI. It is commonly said that Mexico is run by 300 families. Protected until the 1980s from competition from foreign firms, powerful family groups have run the economy. In 2000 eight groups controlled around 70 percent of the stock on the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores. The most influential organization has been the Mexican Council of Businessmen (CMHN), 37 of the richest men who in 1994 contributed $750 million to the PRI’s presidential campaign.
The first challenge to the bankers’ alliance came in the 1988 presidential election. When Carlos Salinas de Gortari was nominated to be the PRI candidate, the moderate left wing caucus, the Democratic Current, left the PRI and organized the National Democratic Front, an electoral alliance with several small parties, the political left, and a broad range of popular and community organizations, Mexico’s “rainbow coalition.” They supported Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the former PRI governor of Michoacan, for President. The 1988 election was the biggest fraud in Mexican history. With 60 percent of the votes counted, and Cardenas with a good lead, the PRI-controlled Federal Electoral Commission (CFE) shut down the vote count; ten days later they proclaimed that Salinas had won by a narrow plurality. It was Mexican politics as usual. Salinas and his successor, Ernesto Zedillo, pursued the neoliberal agenda of big business and embraced NAFTA.
The PRI’s control over the Mexican political system was broken in 2000. Vicente Fox, the candidate for the PAN, was elected president with 43 percent of the vote to 36 percent for the PRI’s candidate and only 17 percent for Cardenas, now running for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). With the introduction of a modified system of proportional election, the PRI lost control of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and political pluralism emerged. But the bankers’ alliance was not worried; Fox was a businessmen and rancher, one of their own, and the PAN was solidly on the political right.
The threat from the PRD
Lopez Obrador was elected as Head of Government of Mexico City in 2000. AMLO, as he is known, was a history teacher from Tabasco, where he was an active member of the PRI. In 1988 he joined the Democratic Current, left the PRI, and backed Cardenas for president. In 1994 he ran for governor of Tabasco for the PRD and lost in an election stolen by the PRI. He is known for his strong support of the rights of indigenous peoples, his dedication to fair elections and ending corruption, and a willingness to use civil disobedience to confront injustice. As head of the government of Mexico City he led a fight against crime, greatly reduced corruption, worked to help the poor and introduced the first universal pension for seniors. When he left office in 2005 public opinion polls reported he had an approval rating of over 80 percent.
Other polls indicated that Mexicans wanted AMLO to be the next president. While he is not a radical, he supported the broad coalition of peasant organizations that asked for a renegotiation of NAFTA to exempt agriculture and food. He advocates taxing corporations and the rich and using the revenues to expand social programs in a fight against poverty and inequality. Mexicans quickly became disillusioned with Vicente Fox and the PAN, and in the mid term elections in 2003, only 40 percent bothered to vote.
The bankers’ alliance took up the challenge. The wealthy political elite in the PRI began to work out a political agreement with the leadership of the PAN. In 1989 the legislature had created the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which earned the respect of the Mexican people for their commitment to a clean electoral process. But this changed in November 2003 when the two parties in the Chamber of Deputies appointed their allies to the nine-member General Council. Nominations by the other parties to the Federal Judicial Elections Tribunal (TEPJF), the highest electoral court, were also rejected. The partisan nature of these two bodies was demonstrated in the 2006 election.
In 2004 the PAN-PRI alliance stripped AMLO of his legislative immunity so that he could be sued by a landowner for expropriating a piece of land to build a road to a Mexico City hospital. This court action would have made him ineligible to run for President. After a demonstration of over one million supporters in Mexico City, President Fox abandoned the process.
Carlos Salinas, back in Mexico and deeply involved in building the PRI-PAN alliance, helped to engineer a sting operation where several businessmen made payments to two government officials in Mexico City to further their construction projects. The transfer of cash was secretly filmed and then run on television for months to demonstrate that the PRD was not free of corruption. AMLO’ support in the polls fell by 15 points.
The bankers’ alliance directly entered the campaign. Aided by Dick Morris, former adviser to Bill Clinton, they spent more than $19 million on television ads; third party political advertisements are illegal under Mexican law. The U.S. International Republican Institute, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, help train PAN activists. Foreign interference in an election is also a crime. PAN election spending far exceeded the legal limits. President Fox spend six months campaigning for Calderon, which is contrary to Mexican law. All these illegal activities were recognized by the Federal Judicial Elections Tribunal, which concluded that they did not have a significant effect on the outcome of the election.
Election results disputed
On July 2 around 60 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. The results announced by IFE were as follows: Felipe Calderon, candidate for the PAN, 36.38%; Lopez Obrador, 35.34% and Roberto Madrazo, the candidate of the PRI, 21.57%. The margin of victory for Calderon was only 244,000 votes. No major frauds were reported. However, many people went to the polls, found they were not on the voters’ list, were sent to special voting stations, and found there were no ballots. This was especially the case in low income areas where the PRD was strongest.
Going into the election, national polls indicated that AMLO had a lead of around three percent. The two television networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, did extensive exit polls which indicated that AMLO had won, but they did not report the results. A large exit poll by the Instituto de Mercadotecnia y Opinion showed AMLO had won, again not reported by the corporate media. Academics who closely monitored the returns reported by IFE noted that through most of the election night AMLO was ahead by a steady margin of about three percent. Then, with around 70 percent of the vote counted, the reports from the polls changed dramatically, with a five and then ten to one margin going for Calderon up to the end. IFE officials claimed that this discrepancy was due to the fact that rural votes came in last. But Calderon’s support was weakest in the rural areas. Shades of 1988.
Supporters of AMLO gathered by the hundreds of thousands in the zocalo of Mexico City, demanding a complete recount. They camped there for weeks. A poll by El Universal one of Mexico’s major newspapers, revealed that 59 percent believe that there had been fraud. A poll in August found 48 percent watned a complete recount, while on 28 percent supported the announced results. The New York Times and the Financial Times called for a recount in order to establish the legitimacy of Calderon’s apparent victory. But President Fox, Calderon and the bankers alliance said “no!” They would ride out the storm, as they did in 1988.
The PRD presented the Electoral Tribunal with 800 pages of documentation of problems with the election. They challenged results in 72,000 of the 130,000 electoral districts, noting that there were major discrepancies between the ballots delivered to polling stations, the votes counted at these stations, and often between votes counted and numbers on the official voters’ list. In some areas the vote for Calderon exceeded the number on the voters’ list. They protested that officials at IFE had opened many of the sealed ballot boxes after the election, which is against the law.
On August 5 the Electoral Tribunal dismissed the challenges from the PRD but ordered a recount of 11,839 voting stations in 149 districts, covering around 3.8 million voters. On August 28 they announced that they had annul ballot boxes which contained 237,000 votes, but insisted that this had no effect on the outcome of the election. They refused to release any details of the recount.
The PRD and its allies, the Workers Party (PT) and Convergencia, had observers at all the recounts. They recorded the following from this sample:
* In 3,074 polling stations there were a total of 45,890 illegal votes, above the number of recorded votes. This was primarily in PAN areas of strength.
*in 4,368 polling stations a total of 80,392 ballots were missing.
If this sample was characteristic of the entire country, it would mean a discrepancy of over 1.5 million votes, clearly enough to change the election results.
On September 5 the Federal Judicial Elections Tribunal finally declared Calderon the winner of the election. The court noted the criticism of the procedures on election day but argued that they did not have enough information to conclude that this affected the election results.They announced that the ballots would be burned, as in 1988, thus blocking an independent recount requested by a group of academics and El Proceso news magazine.
But this is not 1988. Mass mobilizations have disrupted the political establishment. More have been scheduled. A National Democratic Convention was held in Mexico City on September 16, declaring AMLO the real president, and appointing a commission to draft a plebiscite to call a new constitutional convention.
The media focus on the presidency has obscured the fact that this election has changed Mexican politics. The PRI was routed in the vote for president, the elections for the legislature, and failed to carry a single state. The PRD is now the second largest party in the legislature. If there had been a run off vote for president, which is common in Latin America, AMLO would have likely won, for the rank and file supporters of the PRI are peasants and ordinary workers who hate the PAN. Even more than Fox, Calderon represents the rich and powerful.
Political conflict is on the rise across Mexico. Miners are striking. A national strike was held in February. Police killed two striking steelworkers in Michoacan. Security police viciously attacked street venders in the State of Mexico. Striking teachers and their supporters occupy the centre of Oaxaca City, demanding the resignation of the Governor and have created an alternate government. Police and military are again stepping up the harassment of peasants in Chiapas. The general political trend across Latin America has moved up to the Rio Grande.
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author of The Other Mexico: The North American Triangle Completed. He was a member of the Canadian team of observers for the 1994 and 1997 Mexican federal elections. In February 2006 he did research on the maquiladora zone industries in Matamoros, Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana.
Divided Mexico. Part 2: Poverty, Inequality, and NAFTA
by John W. Warnock
There was very little coverage of the Mexican election in the North American media this past July. But editorial opinion after the results were reported was uniform: Andres Manual Lopez Obrador and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) should shut up, accept their defeat and wait until the next election. Nevertheless, a few newspapers did mention that the president-elect Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN) would have a difficult time dealing with a “deeply divided country” where around 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Wasn’t the North American Free Trade Agreement supposed to fix this problem? According to the World Bank, 50 percent of the population is living in poverty and around one-fifth are living in “extreme poverty,” with an income of less than one U.S. dollar per day. This World Bank standard may be relevant to some countries in Africa, but it is ridiculous to apply it to Mexico where no one can survive on one dollar a day.
In 2002 the Mexican government introduced its own definition of poverty. It distinguishes between rural and urban poverty. The three classification are as follows, converted from Mexican pesos to U.S. dollars:
(1) Food-based poverty. Income is not enough to cover basic food expenses. This includes 20 percent of the population. Individual income is $50 per month in rural areas and $67 per month in urban areas.
(2) Capabilities poverty. Income is not enough to cover basic food, health, and education. This includes 27 percent of the population. Individual income is $60 per month in rural areas and $80 per month in urban areas.
(3) Basic needs poverty. Income is not enough to cover basic food, health, education, clothing, housing and public transportation. This includes 50 percent of the population. Individual income is $95 per month in rural areas and $137 in urban areas.
Poverty levels in Mexico City
The average household in Mexico has five members. In urban areas like Mexico City, this standard family would be expected to survive of $685 per month. This is the official basic needs poverty line.
These government classifications have been criticized by independent scholars who put poverty levels considerably higher. For example, since 1978 the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analysis (CAM) of the Faculty of Economics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has been collecting statistics on what is actually required to live in Mexico City. Their basic needs basket is very limited: 35 items which includes food, toiletries, public transportation, electricity, and gas for cooking. It excludes rent, education, health, clothing, recreation and culture. While the government’s urban basic needs poverty level was set at $4.57 per day per person in 2002, the actual costs of the CAM basket of goods alone was $28.82 per day.
In 2002 the minimum wage in the urban areas like Mexico City was $4.87 per day. Because of inflation and devaluation of the Mexican peso in relation to the U.S. dollar, between 1982 and 2002 the real value of the minimum wage had fallen by 82 percent. During the presidency of Vicente Fox (2000-6) it declined by 22 percent.
A study by Patricia Munoz of the Faculty of Economics at UNAM found that “the minimum wage that entered into force on January 1, 2006 is only enough to obtain 16 percent of what a worker could buy two decades ago with the same salary.” The minimum wage in Mexico “has suffered the largest, most serious and drastic deterioration in all of Latin America.”
Official government statistics report that 10.78 million Mexicans work for the minimum wage or less, which is around 24 percent of those who have some kind of employment. Forty one percent of workers earn the equivalent of two minimum wages or less.
Finding a job
The average family in Mexico needs a number of sources of income to survive. But the opportunities for employment are limited. Of the population of 106 million, around 44 million are considered to be actively involved in the labour market. Of these, only around 20 million are in jobs that pay a wage or a salary, and in 2004 only 45 percent of these workers were covered by the contributory social insurance system.
According to government calculations, during the years of the presidency of Vicente Fox, around 1.4 million workers entered the labour force each year. However, the economy only created on average 524,000 new jobs per year over this period. Thus 68 percent of new workers have had to survive in the “informal economy,’ remain unemployed and dependent on their families, or have fled to the United States. Around 1.3 million people work in the streets.
During the period between 1961 and 1980 the average per capita real economic growth in Mexico was 3.4 percent, higher than in either the United States or Canada. The rate of inflation was very low, and the industrial sector of the economy grew. So did formal employment and wages. At the time, the World Bank and other institution described this as Mexico’s “economic miracle.”
But this changed with the world recession of the early 1980s and the collapse of the price of oil. The Reagan-Thatcher free market and free trade model was forced on Mexico. Between 1981 and 1990 the average real rate of economic growth fell to -0.3 percent and rose only to 1.9 percent between 1991-2000.
While other middle income countries, like Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have been steadily narrowing the gap between their wages and those of the United states, this has not been true of Mexico. For example, in 1975 manufacturing wages in Mexico were 23 percent of those in the United States; this fell to 11.5 percent in 2001.
A study by Enrique Dussel Peters of the Faculty of Economics at UNAM found that between 1988 and 2001 those industries that were most affected by the trade liberalization policies represented by NAFTA showed a downward trend in real wages but had the highest rate of productivity increases. Employers in the export industries were getting much more out of their workers while paying them less in wages and benefits.
Nevertheless, with the internationalization of production, and the open economy, the major companies are shifting work out of Mexico. For example, the average wage for electronics workers in Guadalajara in 2004 was $US1.80 per hour; in Shenzhen, one of the high wage areas in China, it was $US0.77 per hour. Workers in the maquiladora factories in the border zones in Mexico complain that the shift in production to Asia and Central America has led to a downward pressure on wages during the Fox presidency.
Persistence of inequality
Official government figures show that between 1963 and 1985 inequality steadily declined. With the onset of the “lost decade” of the economy and the shift to the policies of neoliberalism, inequality again began to worsen. Some improvement has been seen since this low point. But in 2005 the top 10 percent of households averaged an income of $US4,261 per month; the bottom 10 percent of households averaged US$166 per month.
The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean points out that Mexico, a middle income country, “competes with other Latin American countries for the first places on economic, social and gender inequality.” Very powerful business organizations preside over a hierarchical class and social system. Mexico is also described as a “pigmentocracy,” for those families at the top stress their “whiteness” and Spanish blood while those at the bottom of the social hierarchy are the dark skinned indigenous peoples, who are also the poorest.
The Mexican government has introduced a new anti-poverty program, Progresa-Oportunidades, which is targeted to those living in extreme poverty. With a budget of $2.8 billion, it provides financial support for school supplies, expanded health services, and a payment of around $US15 per month to women for the purchase of food. By 2005 it provided cash subsidies to around five million families, or 24 percent of the total population. The program has faltered under President Fox.
One of the most serious obstacles to combating poverty is the fact that all Mexican governments have hesitated to impose taxes on corporations, wealth and those in higher income brackets. Between 1988 and 2002 social expenditures dropped as a percentage of gross domestic product from 11 percent to two percent. Government spending in general accounts for less than 20 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic production, compared to over 40 percent in the developed countries.
The most important contribution to the reduction of poverty in Mexico is the remittance of earnings from family members working in the United States. The Mexican government reports that there are nine million Mexicans living and working in the USA; this increased by 2.5 million during the presidency of Vicente Fox. They are now remitting over $20 billion annually, most important to low income families.
Felipe Calderon has proclaimed that he will make the reduction of poverty and inequality the primary aim of his new government. Mexicans do not expect much to change. The structure of the economy will not change. The general policy shift away from serving the domestic market and emphasizing exports has led to lower rates of economic growth, relatively lower wages, the creation of few jobs, and increased inequality. Across Latin American similar trends have promoted the shift to the political left. Mexico is no exception.
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author of The Other Mexico: The North American Triangle Completed. He was a member of the Canadian team of observers for the 1994 and 1997 Mexican federal elections. In February 2006 he did research on the maquiladora zone industries in Matamoros, Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana.
Canada joins America’s “ugly little war”
by John W. Warnock
October 3, 2006
“After watching Pte. Josh Klukie die, the members of 4 Platoon, Bravo Company, vow to finish their ugly little war.” – Globe and Mail, October 2, 2006
Why are Canadian armed forces fighting a war in Afghanistan? The official position of the Canadian government is that we are there to prevent the relapse of that country into a “failed state” where the Taliban regains political control. Canadian forces support the democratically elected government headed by Hamid Karzai, which includes training the new national armed forces and police.
We are helping to extend the central government’s control over the large areas of the country which have traditionally been controlled by local ethnic groups, their militias, and their “warlords.” While the preponderance of Canada’s spending has gone to support our military forces in Afghanistan, our Liberal and Conservative governments have emphasized that we are also there to implement humanitarian assistance programs. This view is strongly supported by the mass media and Canada’s “embedded” reporters in Afghanistan.
How quickly Canadians conveniently forget the origins of this war. Following the disaster of 9/11 in New York and Washington, Art Eggleton, the Minister of National Defence, immediately announced that Canadian forces operating within U.S. military units would participate in any U.S. operations in Afghanistan designed to eliminate the al Qaeda organization and even to replace the Taliban regime which protected them.
President George W. Bush took his case to NATO, which on October 2 gave its full support to a US/UK military attack on Afghanistan. Enough evidence was presented to convince the European governments that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were behind the 9/11 attack. For the first time NATO invoked Article 5, the joint defence clause, that holds that an attack upon one member is an attack against all. The Chretien government strongly supported this decision. Tony Blair spoke to a convention of the Labour Party, describing and promoting the forthcoming attack on Afghanistan. President Bush declared that no negotiations were being made and rejected offers by the Taliban government to close al Qaeda bases and extradite bin Laden for trial in a third country or an international court.
The UN General Assembly condemned the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and called for “international co-operation to bring justice to the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of the outrages.” Back in 1991 UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar set forth basic principles for solving the political conflict in Afghanistan:
(1) The necessity of preserving the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political ndependence and non-aligned and Islamic character of Afghanistan;
(2) The recognition of the right of the Afghan people to determine their own form of government and to choose their economic, political and social system, free from outside intervention, subversion, coercion or constraint of any kind whatsoever.
Massive bombing attack
Yet on October 7, 2001 the United States and British forces unilaterally launched a massive bombing attack on Afghanistan. In the ground war that followed they supported the warlords of the Northern Alliance in their efforts to overthrow the Taliban government.
On that very day Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced that Canada would contribute a military force to support the US/UK “war on terrorism,” and Operation Apollo was formed. The next day the government sent Canadian ships to join the US fleet in the Persian Gulf. On October 14 Chretien announced that Canada was offering “unqualified support” for the US war effort in Afghanistan.
With strong air support from the United States and Great Britain, the Northern Alliance was able to defeat the Taliban government in a short time. On November 12 the Taliban forces fled Kabul. On November 25 Konduz surrendered. In early December Kandahar fell. At a five day meeting in Bonn, organized by the US government under the cover of the United Nations, various Afghan ethnic and political representatives gathered to form an interim government. On December 5, 2001 this government was recognized by the UN Security Council. It was headed by Hamid Karzai, the candidate supported by the U.S. government. Karzai had worked closely with the CIA channeling arms and cash to the Islamic mujahideen war against the Soviet Union.
There have been two military operations in Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which launched the war, is completely controlled by the United States with some military support from a few European countries. This force, designed to overthrow the Taliban government, regularly engages in counter-insurgency warfare against the various resistance forces.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by a UN Security Council resolution on December 20, 2001, following the defeat of the Taliban and the installation of the new interim Afghan government. This was done under Chapter VII of the Charter, an enforcement mandate. It is not a peacekeeping force. It is not a force in any way under UN authority. All financing comes from the participating governments and none from the United Nations. At the beginning it was under the leadership of the British government. During the first Gulf War the United States was able to use its political pressure and economic power to obtain a similar resolution from the UN Security Council.
Canada jumps in
For the first two years, the ISAF force was confined to Kabul. This allowed US forces to operate throughout the country with very little outside observation.
By mid-November 2001 the Chretien government committed 2,000 Canadian troops to Afghanistan as part of the ISAF forces. By December 20 there were members of the Joint Task Force 2 special forces operating near Kandahar as part of the U.S. military operation. Under Operation Apollo Canadian forces were deployed to Kandahar in February 2002 to defend the airport and engage in combat activities with insurgent forces.
The armed resistance to the US-led occupation began to expand over the summer of 2003. NATO formally took over the command of the ISAF in August 2003. The largest contingent of Canadian forces served in Kabul between October 2003 and November 2005. As part of the ISAF command, they were to provide security and support for the new Afghan government.
The bulk of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan were then shifted to Kandahar where they were part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, working with forces from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, in military actions against insurgents. In July 2006 these Canadian forces came under ISAF authority. In September the US government agreed that all of their ground forces in the eastern region of Afghanistan would be put under the direction of NATO and the ISAF Command. However, the US government also announced that both US forces (OEF) and NATO forces in Afghanistan will be jointly under the command of US General Dan McNeil.
There is little distinction between operating in Afghanistan directly under the US government through OEF or through the NATO-led ISAF. Canadian forces have operated within both command systems. Furthermore, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams have all been closely integrated with the military commands, both OEF and ISAF. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan has also been closely linked to the two military commands. InterAction, a coalition of around 160 independent aid organizations, has protested that the links between their organizations and the military organizations have undermined their efforts and made them vulnerable to violent attacks.
“Everything is going well,” public told
According to our political leaders, generals and the mass media everything is going well in Afghanistan. The government is getting stronger and the insurgency is on its last legs. But reports from Europe are quite different. The central government under Hamid Karzai is seen as corrupt and incompetent. There is growing criticism of the destruction and civilian casualties caused by NATO military actions. The insurgency is reported to be growing stronger. The Northern Alliance appears to be as ruthless as ever. Sharia law has been re-introduced, forms the core of the new Constitution, and women are still very oppressed. The international aid programs are failing, criticized for being too closely integrated into the US and NATO military system. There is a serious hunger situation. Unemployment is rampant. The only part of the economy that is doing well is the production of poppies for heroin. There is still no sight of Osama bin Laden, and on a world wide basis, terrorist attacks are on the increase. The Senlis Council now reports that the revived Taliban and its supporters control around one half of the country.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been to Canada several times. On each occasion she has praised Canada for supporting US policy in Afghanistan and Haiti. This is seen as offsetting the decision of the Chretien government not to send armed forces to the Iraq war.
NATO was formed in 1948 as a military alliance to defend Europe against a possible invasion from the USSR. Of course that reason for existence is obsolete. As the Bush Administration proclaimed in its famous National Security Paper in September 2002, the United States is determined to continue as the world’s only superpower. It will oppose the attempt of any other countries, friends or foes, to challenge US domination. NATO, under US control, serves as a major obstacle to the development of Europe as a power bloc separate from the United States.
The Afghan war also demonstrates that the present role of NATO is to support the general policy goals of the US government. By assuming military tasks in Afghanistan, NATO countries allow the United States to transfer more of its own armed forces to the war in Iraq.
The U.S. government has another objective being played out in Afghanistan. The Bush Administration is setting a precedent where it can use NATO to support its “war on terrorism” and bypass the UN Security Council. Our Canadian Liberal and Conservative governments have agreed with this basic political strategy.
There is an alternate course of action for the Canadian government. This would mean a return to our traditional role of peacekeeping and humanitarian aid:
(1) Withdraw all military forces from Afghanistan and withdraw from all projects being sponsored by the U.S. government and NATO.
(2) Work within the UN General Assembly to develop a new project for Afghanistan which would emphasize emergency food aid, a significant program to help Afghan farmers to produce food for their own people, and health care. This would be completely separate from any US or NATO project..
(3) The application of this revised UN program would exclude the participation of all countries involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
(4) Any security forces needed to protect this UN operation would be drawn, if possible, from Muslim countries and would be financially supported by peacekeeping countries like Canada.
John W. Warnock has recently retired from teaching political economy and sociology at the University of Regina.
Regina Snaps Up U.S. Voting Machines
by John W. Warnock
Those who voted in the recent municipal election were exposed to the first voting machines ever used in this province. The municipal administration has stated that they were very happy with the results and would be using them again. At the poll I attended, I asked who was supplying the machines and was told they were from Diebold Inc. of the United States, a major supplier of voting machines.
There is widespread controversy in the United States over the use of the new electronic voting machines, particularly those which use touch screens. A number of studies done by political science and computer studies departments have shown that the results recorded by these machines can be manipulated. There was a public focus on these machines in Florida during the presidential election in 2000 and in Ohio during the presidential election in 2004.
A widely cited study was done by the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. It concluded that “Malicious software running on a single voting machine can steal votes with little if any risk of detection.” The software can “modify all of the records, audit logs, and counters kept by the voting machines, so that even careful forensic examination of these records will find nothing amiss.”
Furthermore, the Princeton study confirmed that “anyone with physical access to a voting machine, or to a memory card that will later be inserted into a machine, can install said malicious software.” These machines are also “susceptible to voting-machine viruses” which can be used to steal votes.
But what about the system used in Regina, where machines count the votes and post the results on a central data base but retain the paper ballots? The July 2006 election in Mexico showed that vote results can be manipulated at the central computers. This can only be rectified if the electoral authorities agree to a recount of the paper ballots. The majority demand in Mexico for a full recount was rejected by government authorities after a number of limited re-counts showed discrepancies which suggested that if there were a complete recount, the opposition party of the democratic left would have been elected. When a group of university political science departments asked for access to the ballots to perform their own recount, the federal election authorities ordered all the ballots to be burned.
In Ohio in 2004 the Republican Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, flatly refused to allow any recount of votes in disputed areas. Judicial actions by the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, which demanded a count of the paper ballots, were refused by the courts. In the case of Florida in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a halt to a recount that was in progress. A recount carried out later by a group of newspapers showed that Al Gore actually carried Florida.
The controversy does not stop here. Diebold voting machines were widely used in Ohio. Walden O’Dell, CEO of Diebold Inc., was a strong supporter of George W. Bush. At one fund raising event in 2003 he stated that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its elector votes to the president.”
When I voted in the municipal election I asked the poll worker which voting list they were using. They were using none. All that was required was to list an address and sign a name. There was no identification required. In Mexico under the electoral system used by governments of the Institutional Revolutionary Party there was a common practice known as “carousel voting.” The PRI would give a group of people a free breakfast and then load them on a bus and they would go from poll to poll voting all day. This was before the official voting list and voting identification cards. We could try this at the next Regina municipal election, eh?
Why Are Canadians Dying in Afghanistan? For Oil?
by John W. Warnock
Remembrance Day this year brought home to many Canadians the reality of Canada’s war in Afghanistan. Despite a campaign by the mass media, recent public opinion polls reveal that around fifty percent of Canadians think the government should bring our kids home. Our Conservative and Liberal leaders insist we must stay the course and continue to back the U.S. government and NATO. The Bloc Quebecois says we should pull out. Jack Layton and the NDP have offered a qualified call for withdrawal. Elizabeth May and the Green Party have maintained a strange silence on the issue.
Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear some Canadian general or colonel strongly advocate an active military role in Afghanistan. We are told that Canadian forces are fighting a war to defeat the Taliban, defend the democratic government in Kabul, and help with economic reconstruction. But when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice comes to Canada, she emphasizes that Canada is in Afghanistan to support U.S. policy objectives.
The U.S. in Afghanistan
The U.S. government has been in Afghanistan since July 1979, when President Jimmy Carter issued directives to aid the right wing forces trying to overthrow the leftist government headed by Noor Mohammad Taraki. In concert with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakiston, the mujadiheen resistance movement grew, with its core support among militant Muslim fundamentalists and those from the old deposed feudal order. With cash, arms and training from these sources, the Islamic resistence forced the Soviet Union to withdraw in January 1989.
In 1984 Osama Bin Laden founded Makhtab al Khadimat, which recruited Muslims from the Middle East to go to Afghanistan to fight in the war against the Soviet Union. His operation was heavily financed by Saudi Arabia, but also the United States. The aid was funneled through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Bin Laden went back to Saudi Arabia in 1989 but returned to Afghanistan in 1996 to set up his al-Qa’eda operation with the toleration of the Taliban leadership.
Once the Soviet Union withdrew, the U.S. government abandoned the country, focusing on events in Iran, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the first Gulf War. The Afghan government under Dr. Mohammed Najibullah lasted for another three years. When he was ousted in 1992, Afghanistan collapsed into a vicious civil war between various political-military forces, ethnic groups, and religious factions. Kabul was destroyed by artillery and rocket assaults from all sorts of warring groups. An estimated 50,000 civilians were killed. Massacres were common. Women and children were murdered. Hundreds of thousands of people became refugees. Chaos reigned. From 1992 to 1996 the Northern Alliance between Tajik and Uzbek warlords ran the Afghan government, supported by the U.S. government.
In 1994 the Taliban emerged, primarily a Pushtun group of Sunni Moslems with a fiercely radical political and religious orientation. They received strong support from the government of Pakistan. The Taliban military force moved north to unite the country. Like the other political factions, they launched a murderous assault on Kabul and seized power in 1995. Many commentators have attributed their success to the desire of the Afghan people for an end to civil war and a stable government. The Taliban forces then pushed further north to take possession of 90 percent of the country. Very quickly they received the full support of the governments of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Why was this the case?
The Struggle for Oil
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the U.S. government sought political and military agreements with the new Central Asian governments. The key here was the undeveloped oil and gas deposits in the Caspian Sea region. U.S. national security policy shifted from the Cold War against communism to protection of existing sources of oil and diversification away from reliance on the Persian Gulf. In support of this goal, the United States today maintains 250,000 service men and women overseas at 725 bases in 38 countries, in addition to five aircraft carrier battle groups. This is outside their commitments to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Central Asia has been a key focus of U.S. policy. The goal has been to tie the oil and gas; resources to the West and block Russian domination of the area. As always, the U.S. government operates closely with U.S. oil corporations. In 1993 Chevron ventured into Kazakstan. In 1994 a consortium of oil corporations, including Amoco, BP, Unocal and Pennzoil signed a joint venture with Azerbaijan. The American Petroleum Institute supported this objective, calling the Caspian region “the area of greatest resource potential outside of the Middle East.”
From the beginning, the U.S. government strongly supported the building of an oil and gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. They refused to support a pipeline through either Russia or Iran. The American oil corporations also supported this policy, preferring the major markets in India, China, Japan and the west coast of the United States to the more competitive markets in Europe.
In 1993 the governments of Turkmenistan and Pakistan negotiated the building of the pipelines. They were joined by the Union Oil Corporation of California (Unocal), who hired Henry Kissinger, Hamid Karzi and Zalmay Khalilzad as advisers. Amoco hired Zbigniew Brzezinsky. Turkmenistan hired U.S. General Alexander Haig. When the Central Asia Gas and Pipeline Consortium (CentGas) was created in 1996, both Enron (Kenneth Lay) and Halliburton (Dick Cheney) were to be involved with the development. Condoleezza Rice, then on the board of directors of Chevron, supported the project.
The key to the building of the pipelines was always the creation of a stable government in Afghanistan. Even before they seized power, the U.S. government supported the Taliban, concluding that it was the only political force which could create a national government. The Clinton Administration actively supported the pipeline agreement with Turkmenistan. Khalilzad became the special link between Unocal, the Taliban and the U.S. government. Unocal and the CentGas consortium were quite willing to deal with any government which could control the country.
The pipeline plan received a setback in 1998 when terrorists with supposed links to bin Laden bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. Bill Clinton responded by launching Cruise missiles on bin Laden’s bases in Afghanistan. The Taliban government agreed to extradite bin Laden to Saudi Arabia for trial for terrorism, provided evidence of his complicity was produced. None was produced. But Unocal withdrew from the pipeline project, concluding that the Taliban government was unstable and unreliable.
The Pipeline Must Go
In 1999 the governments of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a new agreement to promote the pipelines. The following year Unocal resumed talks with the Taliban government. Additional UN Security Council sanctions were imposed on Afghanistan after the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000. The Taliban government continued to agree to extradite bin Laden provided proof was presented tying him to the terrorist acts. But still no evidence was produced. The Taliban government hired Laila Helms, niece of Richard Helms, former director of the CIA, as their negotiator in talks with the U.S. government.
The new administration of George W. Bush began talks with the Taliban government, which went from February 2 to August 6, 2001. Dick Cheney’s report on U.S. energy needs, released in May 2001, called for major U.S. involvement in the development of the Caspian Sea reserves. The allies for this project were the Taliban and Pakistan governments, both of which were strongly anti-Iranian.
What could be done with the Taliban government? In June 2001 Chokila Iyer, the Indian Foreign Secretary, reported that the United States and the Russian government were planning a military attack on the Taliban through the borders of Tajikstan and Uzbekistan. They were to back the warlords of the Northern Alliance in an effort to overthrow the Taliban government. The Indian government agreed to “facilitate” this action. The planned attack on Afghanistan was widely discussed at the July 2001 meeting of the G-8 countries in Geneva.
Shortly after in July the United Nations hosted a meeting between the U.S., Russia and the six countries that border Afghanistan in Berlin. The eight governments agreed that what was needed was a new government of natural unity which would be followed by international economic aid and the building of the pipelines. Naif Naik, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, reported that at the meeting the U.S. government threatened the Taliban that if they did not agree to this proposal they would bring on “a military operation.” Naik reported that U.S. officials told him that military action against the Taliban government would begin by the middle of October 2001.
Then came the events of September 11, 2001. The Bush administration made new demands on the Taliban government. Once again, the Taliban agreed to extradite bin Laden to another country for trial, but only if some evidence was presented demonstrating that he had some ties to the U.S. airline hijackings. An agreement was reached to extradite bin Laden to Pakistan, but this was then rejected by President Pervez Musharraf, now closely allied with the U.S. government. The White House stated that “there would be no negotiations, no discussions with the Taliban.” On October 7 US and UK bombers attacked Afghanistan and increased their economic and military aid to the warlords of the Northern Alliance.
The New Afghan Government
Under massive air attack from the US and UK forces, the Taliban government was rapidly defeated. Hamid Karzai was chosen by the U.S. government to head the new regime in Kabul. He had long been closely linked to the U.S. government, as the CIA agent, based in Pakistan, who channeled the $2 billion in U.S. aid to the mujahideen. The core of power in the new government is held by the Tajik and Uzbek warlords.
By February 2002 the Karzai government had revived plans for the oil pipelines, a new proposal was drafted in May, and a formal agreement was signed in December. Unocal is again the lead company.
However, construction has been blocked by the advancing resistance to the government in Kabul, which is corrupt, incompetent and very unpopular. The legislature is dominated by regional warlords, drug traffickers, members of known criminal gangs, and many who should be indicted for war crimes and murder. Other forces have joined the revived Taliban in the resistance movement. The rallying cry, once again, is to rid Afghanistan of foreign occupiers.
Despite what we hear from our political and military leaders, this war to support U.S. oil policy is not going well. Just recently it was reported that in 2005 there were 150 insurgent attacks against NATO forces each month; this has risen to 600 in 2006. Back in 1979 Zbigniew Brzesinski urged President Jimmy Carter to lure the Soviet Union into Afghanistan to trap them in their own “Vietnam war.” How long will Canadian forces stay in Afghanistan? We have already surrendered our long tradition of peacekeeping under the United Nations.
John W. Warnock recently retired from teaching at the University of Regina where he specialized in the political economy of Canada-U.S. relations.
Richard Heinberg: "How Will You Heat Your Homes in Saskatchewan?"
By John W. Warnock
November 30, 2006
Last night 350 people braved the cold in Regina and went to hear Richard Heinberg, one of North America’s top experts on the oil and gas industry. He presented data showing the disappearance of oil and natural gas on a world wide basis and in particular in North America. He pointed out that the best geological research in Canada predicts a fairly rapid decline in natural gas production in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin. He asked: “What are people in Saskatchewan going to do as the supply of natural gas declines and prices start to dramatically increase?”
He is dead right on this. In October Natural Resources Canada released its new study: Canada’s Energy Outlook: The Reference Case 2006. While predicting the demand for natural gas to steadily increase by around 1.2% per year, they expect that conventional natural gas production will peak in 2006 and then start to decline. The extraction of coal bed methane gas will increase, but it cannot begin to replace the loss of conventional natural gas.
Shipments of natural gas to Eastern Canada will have to decline, hopefully replaced by imports of liquified natural gas (LNG). The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline will be built and this gas will be available for customers on the prairies. But Natural Resources Canada ignores the fact that all of this gas is expected to be used to expand the extraction of tar sands oil, to be exported to the United States.
So what are Canadians going to do? Natural Resources Canada projects that net exports of natural gas to the United States will decline from 3,700 billion cubic feet in 2005 to 1,300 billion cubic feet by 2020. As Heinberg reminded us last night, there is the unpleasant fact of the proportionality sharing clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This states that Canada cannot reduce its exports to the United States below the average of the most recent three years. We are dreamers, he suggested, if we believe that the U.S. government will be willing give this up.
The production treadmill
If you ask anyone in the NDP government, or the opposition parties, they will say that the oil and gas industries are booming in Saskatchewan. We have never had it better. We have good reserves of heavy oil. Bids for exploration and development are rising. Many more natural gas wells are being drilled. But what does this really mean?
Between 1995 and 2003 natural gas production in Saskatchewan reached a production plateau, averaging about 285 billion cubic feet per year. But over that period the number of new gas wells drilled rose from 268 in 1995 to 2314 in 2003.
This follows the pattern of peak oil and gas seen in the United States and elsewhere. As we run out of natural gas, many more wells have to be drilled just to maintain existing production. New wells produce for a much shorter period, now with 50% of total production occurring in the first year. In Saskatchewan regulations used to specify that only one well could be drilled on every section of land. Now in the Hatton district in the Southwest corner of the province, the norm is between four and eight wells per section, and in special cases permission is given to drill twelve.
This is not an oil and gas boom, it is a sign of a collapsing industry. The rapid increase in the drilling of such marginal wells is only made possible by the existence of monopoly or excess profits, which have occurred over the past three years. Oil and gas corporations are awash in retained earnings and have relatively few places to invest to rebuild their reserves. Of course we are all paying for this through the tripling of oil and gas prices over the past three years.
Heinberg stressed that we need to press hard on this issue. Around 80% of us have natural gas heating. Natural Resources Canada projects that between 2005 and 2020 the production of natural gas in Saskatchewan will decline by 75%. This fact seems to have escaped all of our local politicians as well as those people in charge of Sask Energy and Sask Power.
What are the alternatives?
There are good alternatives, which Heinberg outlined. We know them from the studies done by the Saskatchewan Energy Development and Conservation Authority, before it was abolished by the NDP government in 1995. It starts with serious conservation programs, the promotion of energy efficiency, and the introduction of demand management programs. We have excellent wind and solar potential. Biomass in the North can provide heat and electricity. Burning coal for electricity can be reduced through the progressive introduction of switchgrass and fast growing trees, which are planted on marginal land and do not take away from the production of food. Geothermal heating can be greatly expanded. Electricity can be used to support transportation by public transit and trains. Automobiles can be built that are much more efficient. But all of these options take time to develop. When the crunch comes, as it certainly will, we can have rationing, as we had in World War II. But given the current political climate, most likely we will get rationing according to ability to pay.
Peak oil and gas is occurring right as we are beginning to experience the cost of fossil fuel development: greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Heinberg stressed that we will have to reduce our general consumption levels and start to produce food for local consumption. The looming crisis requires a decentralization of energy production to local communities, not new centralized “clean coal” megaprojects. North American integration, pushed hard by President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, is the wrong approach in a period of uncertain climate. What would happen in Saskatchewan if we had an ice storm in the winter and much of the province had no electricity for days?
As we found out in the last municipal election, there is little concern over these very important developing issues. Business as usual prevails in all the corridors of power. We continue to build larger houses for smaller families. Urban sprawl, dependent on automobiles, marches on. The giant box stores and chains, so admired by our local politicians, promise us that everything we need can be supplied from China or Vietnam. As Heinberg argued, it is time to start thinking about the future we are giving our children and grandchildren.
John W. Warnock is the author of Selling the Family Silver: Oil and Gas Royalties, Corporate Profits, and the Disregarded Public, available on line at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Saskatchewan Bucks the Trend on Sustainable Energy
By John W. Warnock
May 3, 2007
Global warming and climate change has dominated political debate over the past year. If the polls are accurate, the great majority of Canadians want action to be taken by our leaders, but little has been forthcoming. The Ecologist and others have called for a “second industrial revolution”, transforming our economy and society from dependence on fossil fuels by switching to alternative energy.
In Saskatchewan we have always depended on coal and natural gas to provide our energy. We also built SaskPower, a Crown corporation, to produce and bring electricity and natural gas to all rural, northern and remote areas. The centralized system has served us well, but we now need a change of direction.
The move to distributed generation
The new trend is toward “distributed generation”, which is a shift to local generation of power and energy for local and regional consumption. This development is well on its way in Europe. The new alternative includes a range of policies to support the generation of energy by households and businesses, with the emphasis on conservation, demand management and renewable energies. The change is also seen as a requirement for protection against the dangers from the widespread power outages that we have seen in recent years. With climate change, these are expected to intensify.
However, distributive generation in Canada runs into entrenched bureaucracies and fixed political attitudes. SaskPower has a strong commitment to going slow on alternative energy. Our political leaders are calling for refurbishing our coal fired plants, spending $2 billion on a new “clean coal” operation, and holding out the prospect of a nuclear power facility. All these depend on the retention of the centrally run provincial system.
Learning from others: the example of Washington state
Saskatchewan used to be known as the most progressive place in North America. But we also have a contradictory tradition of rural conservatism and parochialism. This helps explain why we have such a poor record on sustainable energy, global warming and climate change. What can we do? There are political and individual options.
Last January I spent some time in Seattle. I looked into how the city and the state were approaching energy use and climate change. They are far ahead of Saskatchewan. To begin, a broad coalition of groups organized Initiative 937, adopted in a state wide referendum, which requires utilities with over 25,000 customers to implement conservation measures and acquire new supply from renewable energy sources. The state government has passed legislation enabling this initiative. The Seattle government has strongly supported this goal. In their new plan, adopted after wide consultation with the public, Seattle City Light, a public utility, will acquire 460 megawatts of new energy over the next 20 years through conservation, geothermal, wind, hydro, biomass and landfill gas. This move had bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats.
The U.S. federal government, Washington state, the City of Seattle and Seattle City Light now provide individual homeowners and businesses with a variety of tax rebates and incentives which encourage them to weatherize and install solar, wind and biomass energy systems. Net metering is widely available, and in Seattle individual home owners who install energy production systems feed their surplus power into the city grid and then take back energy when they need it. The price is the same either way, and this form of net metering allows individual energy producers to avoid the cost of battery storage systems.
Examples from Seattle
On January 31, 2007 I was at the University of Washington where a group of organizations had an outdoor display celebrating wind and solar power in Seattle. On that day the American Solar Energy Society released a national plan to use conservation and renewable energy to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 60% – 80% by 2050.
Pam Burton from Puget Sound Solar explained to me how they renovated and upgraded their large old two-storey Seattle home. They went to R-34 in the walls, R-57 in the ceiling, and R-33 in the basement walls. They replaced the standard windows with reclaimed low-E Argon-filled windows. “You can’t put in too much insulation,” she argued. “This alone reduced our energy use by 67%.”
They have added large solar collectors, as their goal is create a Zero Energy House. “Seattle has less solar potential than Germany, where solar energy is most developed, and far less than Saskatchewan,” she proclaimed. They bought a 1997 Solectria (Geo Metro) car, which was on display along with several others. “We power our Solectria from our solar collectors,” Pam stated, “and it serves us well for all our Seattle transportation needs, about 4,000 miles per year.”
I had a conversation with Robert Jones, a local organic farmer. He also maintains a house in Seattle. “If we are being serious about this issue,” he argued, “we have to look at the size of the houses we have. Families get smaller, and new houses get larger. I have an older 1200 square foot bungalow. I added insulation. I put in larger south facing windows. I installed two 75 watt solar collectors, which cost me about $2000.”
He then talked about the advantages of wind power. “I also installed two small wind turbines, which I built myself, and they are connected to ordinary automotive batteries. In the worst month of the winter, my total cost for power and heat is only $30. This works well, for when the sun doesn’t shine, the wind always seems to blow.”
Wind power at the household level
In Saskatchewan we see new wind turbines in rural areas. But in Europe and Japan, small wind turbines are everywhere in urban areas. Many of these are the new Vertical Axis Windmills. In Europe it is common to see the 2.5 kilowatt hour VAWs mounted on the roofs of houses. They are now very silent, cause no noticeable vibrations and function with wind as low as 3 mph. In Seattle a small wind turbine which produces on average 400 watts of power costs $600. In Japan small wind and solar generators are widely used in urban settings. They are often a single solar panel on a pole, around eight feet tall, with a vertical wind turbine built into the pole.
Germany provides large incentives for home owners and businesses to install conservation and alternative energy. They pay around 45 cents for a kilowatt hour of energy fed into the grid. They know that alternative energy provides far more jobs than the fossil and nuclear fuel industries. Germany is now a major exporter of the new technologies.
Can North Dakota show the way?
In contrast to Saskatchewan, North Dakota is going all out for wind power. They are building large wind farms, small wind farms, wind systems for small towns, and Indian bands are now adopting their own local systems. They have introduced net metering and incentives to encourage energy production by households and small businesses. This strong commitment to the new energy has paid off. L. M. Glasfibre of Denmark has built a plant to construct wind turbine blades at Grand Forks. It is the largest manufacturer in the city, employing 700 people. D. M. I. Industries is building wind towers at Fargo. North Dakota is presently negotiating to establish a wind turbine industry in the state. A missed opportunity for Saskatchewan, as they will dominate the prairie market.
A new solar technology has been developed in South Africa. It does not use silicon but Copper-Indium-Gallium-Diselenide (CIGS), which is much more efficient than silicon in converting sunlight to electric current. Tests conducted in Europe found that the new solar panels are twice as efficient as the silicon system and operate much better in winter. This new solar technology is being installed across South Africa, and IFE Solar Systems of Germany, one of the world’s leaders in solar energy, has opened a major plant in Germany. What about Saskatchewan? Well, we have lots of coal, and the industry employs at least 350 people.
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and long time environmental activist.