Climate Change

crumpled 500 ml plastic water bottle with a blue label identifying it as "Big 8" brand, lying amid stones, fallen leaves, grass and a fir branch

This is the second of a two-part series looking at two commercial groundwater wells in Colchester County – one owned by the Sobeys company Big 8 Beverages, and the other by Canadian Springs, owned by Aquaterra. This article examines some of the environmental implications of such commercial water bottling, when the planet is experiencing not just a climate crisis, but also a plastic pollution crisis. This article was originally published by the Halifax Examiner, and the first article in this series is available here.

In June 2013, the year the Sobeys company, Big 8 Beverages, received a grant of nearly half a million dollars from the Nova Scotia government, it installed equipment in its Stellarton facility that allowed the company to produce its own bottles and to “significantly reduce” its costs.

Two years later, Big 8 won Invest Nova Scotia’s “export achievement award.” To honour the occasion, Invest Nova Scotia put together a promotional video for the company, which features narration from Brad Bethell, Big 8 general manager.

The face of a clean-shaven man with short-cropped brown hair and blue eyes in the foreground, with a large plastic bottle of water with a blue tint and cap behind him, and under his face, a blue circle logo with three curved lines inside it, and the words 'Brad Bethell, General Manager" in a blue banner across the bottom of the screenshot, taken from a video.

Screenshot from Invest Nova Scotia video featuring 2015 Export Achievement Award Winner: Big 8 Beverages, owned by Sobeys, showing its general manager, Brad Bethell.

In the video, Bethell said:

Essentially, we can bottle a 500 ml bottle of water inline from a pre-form all the way through to palletizing it without touching it, so it’s very efficient, very effective, and we actually produce over 250,000 single bottles a day.

You really have to understand your market that you’re operating in now, your domestic market, and make sure you’re one of the best. And then once you know the business model, the cost, the logistics, we work with NSBI [Nova Scotia Business Inc.] to make some great contacts to help educate ourselves, on what we need to do to be competitive, and to get into the export trade.

A man wearing a baseball cap and glasses stands in the middle of a U-shaped assemblyline full of plastic bottles full of orange pop with labels identifying it in navy blue lettering as Big 8.

Still showing the Big 8 bottling plant in Stellarton, taken from the Invest Nova Scotia video promoting 2015 Export Achievement Award Winner: Big 8 Beverages.

Invest Nova Scotia also did a Q and A with Julie Nowe, Big 8’s finance and business development manager. Nowe said the “cost reduction” Big8 was able to make by producing its own bottles, and the bottling plant in Stellarton being close to the port of Halifax, positioned Big 8 for exporting “top-quality Canadian bottled spring water or soft drinks.”

“Now we’re exporting to China, Barbados, and Aruba, and we’re looking at further development in Asia and some Middle Eastern countries,” said Nowe.

“We have a niche here because of our excellent water source. We acquire our water from an underground aquifer in Valley, Nova Scotia, which is one of the purest aquifers in Canada,” Nowe noted.

As reported in Part 1 of this series, the two corporations extracting water in Colchester County for bottling are Empire Company that owns Sobeys, which in turn owns Big 8 Beverages, and Primo Water Corporation that owns Aquaterra, which in turn owns Canadian Springs.

According to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSECC), Sobeys has a water withdrawal permit that allows it to withdraw 650,000 litres a day, which works out to 2.4 billion litres a year. For this, it pays the provincial government $360.27 annually. Aquaterra can withdraw 961,000 litres a day, or 3.6 billion litres a year, for which it pays $408.58 annually. Continue reading Nova Scotia is practically giving away ‘some of the purest water in Canada’

Part 2. What are the environmental costs of bottling and exporting Nova Scotia's groundwater?

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This article was originally published by the Halifax Examiner on November 19, 2021.

Sign on Highway 4 in Cape Breton advertising waterfront for sale on the Bras d'Or Lake. Photo by Joan Baxter

Photo: Joan Baxter

Nova Scotia has long been a popular place for settlers, but in the last century it also became a popular place for non-residents — including many well-heeled Americans and Europeans — to purchase properties.[1]

For decades, scholars and successive governments have debated the issue of non-resident land ownership in a province with relatively little Crown land, and waterfronts being carved up into private properties that reduce public access to Nova Scotia shorelines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a real estate boom in Nova Scotia, including most rural counties, as people from urban centres, elsewhere in Canada, and abroad looked for ways to escape crowded areas.

A few months into the pandemic, the German magazine, Der Spiegel, broke the story that some right-wing conspiracy theorists were marketing Cape Breton to like-minded German-speaking Europeans, which added yet another dimension to longstanding questions about non-resident land ownership in Nova Scotia.

This three-part series follows up on the 2020 coverage of this issue, and looks into some of the complex questions it raises, even as the province prepares to change the property tax rate for non-resident owners. The first of the three articles updates the story of conspiracy-minded German speakers promoting Cape Breton as a refuge.

This photo shows the gravel road into the Beaver Lake Estates properties that Golden Lake Estates has been selling to people in Germany over the past two years. Photo by Joan Baxter

Beaver Lodge Estates road. Photo: Joan Baxter

The new subdivision is called Beaver Lodge Estates, and at this point, it’s little more than a gravel road carved into the scrubby woodlands near Cleveland in Richmond County, Cape Breton, about a 15-minute drive east from Port Hawkesbury.

Google Maps Screen Shot showing Beaver Lodge Estates in its first phase

Google Maps Screen Shot showing Beaver Lodge Estates in its first phase

The 57 lots in the Beaver Lodge Estates — where no beaver lodge is visible, by the way — are very basic. And that’s being generous.

Some are still marked only by signs bearing lot numbers affixed to trees. Some are small clearings with no septic system or water supply, accessed by a driveway branching off the two-kilometre-long gravel road that has been driven through the wooded landscape.

Beaver Lodge Estates road in Richmond County, Cape Breton (Contributed)

Beaver Lodge Estates road in Richmond County, Cape Breton (Contributed)

So far, just four of the lots have homes on them, and only two of those are occupied.

This photo shows a Beaver Lodge Estates lot with prefab house. Photo by Joan Baxter

Beaver Lodge Estates lot with prefab house. Photo: Joan Baxter

The land development company behind the venture, Golden Lake Estates, says it is selling off the lots in phases.

Golden Lake Estates website showing Beaver Lodge Phase II. Screen Shot from September 30, 2021.

Golden Lake Estates website showing Beaver Lodge Phase II. Screen Shot from September 30, 2021.

“After the first and second phase of Beaver Lodge Estates were so well received, we were able to continue this development with the third phase and thus 16 more properties,” says the blurb on the website of Golden Lake Estates, the new name for the company that emerged after an “amalgamation” of Cape Breton Real Solutions in September 2020, which attracted negative press coverage in July and August that year.

More on that later, but first a look at who is snapping up Golden Lake Estates properties, and at what price. Continue reading Marketing Cape Breton as a “refuge” for “clear thinkers.” Development companies selling properties to German-speaking non-residents who “want to live with the values of Germany from 1933 to 1945.”

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This book review was originally published in the Halifax Examiner on November 17, 2021.

This photo shows the cover of the book "Testimonio" and it shows Diodora Hernández who was shot near Hudbay’s Marlin gold mine in Guatemala losing sight in one eye and hearing in one ear Photo: James Rodríguez

Book cover featuring Diodora Hernández who was shot near Hudbay’s Marlin gold mine in Guatemala losing sight in one eye and hearing in one ear Photo: James Rodríguez

Alvaro Sandoval is a Guatemalan who knows all too well what it is like to be attacked and criminalized for trying to defend his community from North American gold mining companies, and he has a message for Canadians and Americans:

I would like to call on the people and politicians of Canada and the United States to reflect seriously on your way of life in your so-called developed countries; that your way of life is achieved at the cost of exploiting the natural resources in our countries that you call “underdeveloped.”

Sandoval is from San José del Golfo, a community about an hour’s drive northeast of the capital, Guatemala city.

Like others in his and neighbouring communities, Sandoval began his resistance to gold mining in 2012 when he got wind of plans by Vancouver-based junior mining company Radius Gold to open the Tambor gold mine in the area.

This photo shows Angelina Noj from San Pedro Ayampuc in Guatemala holding her small son Esmit in front of the blocked entrance gate to the Tambor gold mine. Photo: James Rodríguez

Angelina Noj from San Pedro Ayampuc in Guatemala holds her son Esmit in front of the blocked entrance gate to the Tambor gold mine. Photo: James Rodríguez

For more than five years, Sandoval and his family were part of a community movement that maintained a permanent peaceful encampment outside the mine, a camp known as “La Puya” (The Thorn). Riot police were repeatedly dispatched to the site to violently evict the people at the encampment.

Although the Canadian company Radius Gold – that promotes itself with the motto “Relentless Exploration, Great Discoveries” – initiated the mine, it didn’t keep it very long. In 2012, shortly after two hitmen on a motorbike shot at and attempted to assassinate community member, Yolanda Oquelí, Radius sold its interests to its junior American partner, Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA). However, Radius Gold maintained a royalty interest in the mine’s gold production.

After years of community resistance to the mine, in 2016 the Guatemalan Supreme Court finally and definitively revoked the company’s license. The gold mine – which had been illegal all along – was closed down. It had never obtained “free, prior, and informed consent” from Indigenous communities in the area.

This photo shows popular art on a wall saying “Todos somos la puya” (We are all The Thorn”) inspired by the resistance to the Tambor gold mine in Guatemala. Photo: Catherine Nolin

Popular art on a wall saying “Todos somos la puya” (We are all The Thorn”) inspired by the resistance to the Tambor gold mine in Guatemala. Photo: Catherine Nolin

Sandoval and his daughter Ana would like to see people in North America help reign in their mining companies that are wreaking havoc on Indigenous lands and people in Guatemala and beyond:

We call on the Canadian and American people to investigate and learn about how your companies come here and violate our rights; how your companies participate in and take advantage of the corruption of our governments that serve the interests of your companies to then violate our rights and harm the wellbeing of our natural resources, our communities, and our people.

We call on your politicians and business leaders to reflect on how you do your work as politicians and business people; we call on you to do your work in an honourable way and not in a way that profits from the blood and tears of other people. Like you, we merit respect in life.

The Sandovals’ messages are contained in a new book that details in sometimes horrifying detail the behaviour of Canadian-owned mines in Guatemala, a country that suffered 36 years of armed conflict, which only ended in 1996 when a Peace Accord was signed.

The book documents the complicity of the Canadian government in promoting Canadian companies and mining-friendly laws in the country on the heels of decades of genocidal military governments, and the unwitting complicity of the Canadian people whose pensions are invested in those companies. Continue reading “It pains me to tell you that the image of Canada is severely damaged:” damning testimony in a new book reveals the horrific record of Canadian mining companies in Guatemala

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(This article was first published by the Halifax Examiner on September 14, 2018)

A no-fracking float in a 2011 parade in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. From 2011 until 2014, when Premier Stephen McNeil put a moratorium on the practise, Nova Scotians staged frequent demonstrations to call on the government not to allow fracking in the province. Photo: Joan Baxter.

On a late summer evening in September 2018, about 200 people gathered in Pugwash, filling the Northumberland Community Curling Club for a debate framed around the resolution “fracking will be beneficial to Cumberland County” in northern Nova Scotia.

The audience was, not surprisingly, clearly divided between those in favour and those against. For many, including several members of the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition (NOFRAC), it was like déjà vu, a step back in time to 2011 through 2013, when they took to the streets frequently in their efforts to try to convince the then-NDP government to ban on fracking.

Eventually the NDP government of Darrell Dexter launched an independent review of the socio-economic impacts of the process under the leadership of then Cape Breton University president, David Wheeler.

It’s now four years since the report by a panel led by Wheeler recommended that a great deal more knowledge was needed about the many risks of hydraulic fracturing before the controversial practise be allowed in Nova Scotia. A few weeks later, the government of Stephen McNeil passed a bill to place a legal moratorium on fracking in the province.

But the matter has hardly been laid to rest, and certainly not by die-hard proponents of fracking, who have been popping up all over the province this year. Continue reading “Pig in a poke”: die-hard proponents want to open Nova Scotia to fracking

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BY Joan Baxter

“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” This hard truth comes from a 183-page document that makes a plea for our species to come to our senses and hear “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

It’s a powerful cri de coeur for humankind to stop the plunder of the planet, confront climate change and end unfettered capitalism that is driving the destruction and disparity between rich and poor. It continues: “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.”

Strong words, revolutionary even. The kind of language one might expect from the environmental or social justice groups often labelled “radical” or “extremist” by the powerful elites these statements condemn.

But they’re not. They come from the Encyclical written by Pope Francis, arguably the single most influential man on the planet as spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. Continue reading It’s way more than the economy: climate change, unfettered capitalism and Canada’s election

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