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Over-the-top attack on green movement

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THIS absurd polemic is an over-the-top attack on the environmental movement, as one might anticipate from the title.

It is also the story of conservative journalist Elizabeth Nickson's own attempts to navigate the bureaucracy of land-use policy on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

The ostensible motivation for the book comes from a dispute Nickson has with her neighbours over subdividing her rural lot.

Eco-Fascists alternates thus between a broadband denunciation of all things green and a detailed accounting of her own tedious and picayune conflict involving the arcane business of density transfers, easements and zoning.

The connection in her mind is that her experience is directly analogous to the plight of "a Thai forest dweller, a Sussex sheep farmer or anyone who scrimped over a lifetime to buy oceanfront property." All their dreams are crushed by misguided environmentalism.

Nickson's only other book was a novel, Monkey Puzzle Tree, in 1995. She wrote a column for the National Post which was dropped in 2004 amid accusations of plagiarism.

In Eco-Fascists, she argues that environmentalists use misinformation and faulty science, funded by a network of foundations and wealthy benefactors, to wage a continental scale war on the heartland of North America.

In her somewhat paranoid vision, the tentacles of environmentalism are seen to reach into, meddle in, and ultimately control every aspect of our daily lives. She has come face-to-face with this green, jackbooted octopus in the form of the Salt Spring Island Land Trust, a land-use regulatory body on her island home.

Ironically, though, it is Nickson herself who resorts to misinformation, statistics out of context and even false quotations to bolster her case.

She quotes U.S. President Barack Obama as having announced in January 2011, "Water is not a right, it's a privilege." The quote so well exemplifies her view that eco-fascists, with links to the highest offices of power, are overturning rights long held by western farmers, that she repeats the allegation several times.

However, a call to the White House press office quickly confirms that they have no record of Obama saying this.

Biodiversity is over-rated, peak-oil is a scam, and 90 per cent of the western United States is off-limits from development, according to Nickson. Also, working-class standards of living have declined 20 to 40 per cent because of environmentalism.

Nowhere does she provide evidence for these wild claims.

The crux of her argument is that she blames conservation for taking away the land base that allows rural communities to survive. While here and there land conservation is implemented without proper consultation, she ignores the real forces that are driving rural decline in North America: globalization, de-industrialization and agricultural concentration.

As farms get bigger, and manufacturing is shipped offshore, it is harder for small towns to survive. To blame the poverty and drug trade that grips many small communities on too many parks, as Nickson does, literally misses the forest for the trees.

In passing, she does offer some legitimate criticism of certain environmental groups and regulations. It is plausible that zoning bylaws on Salt Spring Island could be improved. However, to call this eco-fascism demeans the experiences of real victims of totalitarianism.

At the close of the Second World War, George Orwell warned that the term "fascism" was being abused to the point of losing all content. Once we cut out the meaning of our political discourse, he argued, it will become more difficult for us to communicate and even to think complex political ideas. Nickson's poorly argued work offers further proof of Orwell's prescience.

 

Josh Brandon is a Winnipeg-based environmentalist. He is communications co-ordinator for Green Action Centre and is on the board of directors for the Canadian Environmental Network.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 J9

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