Dear EarthTalk: Why were some environmental websites blacked out all day back on June 4? Was this some sort of protest, or did they get hacked?
— Ned Cooper, Detroit, MI
It wasn’t hackers this time. In fact, a group of environmental and social justice organizations representing millions of Canadians blacked out their websites for 24 hours this past June 4 to protest efforts by Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to push through a budget bill that would significantly weaken environmental protections.
Organizations leading the black-out include the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Greenpeace, Nature Canada, Sierra Club Canada and World Wildlife Fund Canada, and several others. More than 13,000 other websites—including those of many major U.S. green groups including the Sierra Club—also participated in the black-out and continue to support the effort calling for stronger, not weaker, environmental protections. Reports the Black Out Speak Out website: “The environmental changes are particularly undemocratic and worrisome given the extent to which the government is going to please powerful oil interests…”
Green leaders say Harper’s motives stem from his interest in expanding and exploiting Canada’s tar sands oil and gas deposits, which constitute the second largest petroleum reserve in the world (after Saudi Arabia’s). “Harper’s attacks are happening for many reasons, not the least of which was the success of environmental groups in Canada, the U.S. and Europe in threatening what Big Oil wants most: unlimited tar sands expansion and pipelines like the Keystone XL to send its oil around the globe,” reports Michael Marx, director of the U.S. Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil campaign, on the Huffington Post website. “He put the interests of the oil industry first and looked the other way when it came to enforcing laws about air and water pollution, endangered species and the health of downstream communities.”
Marx says that “tar sands oil companies are destroying a pristine forest the size of England, accelerating the rate of climate change, causing thousands of wolves, bears, migratory birds, and caribou to die, and leaching toxic chemicals into rivers, as downstream communities experience a spike in cancer rates.”
According to Marx, Harper’s government is trying to disarm its opposition by threatening the charitable status (and thus the fundraising ability) of green groups who oppose tar sands, subjecting them to onerous tax reporting requirements to bog them down. “‘Black Out, Speak Out’ is a warning that the Harper Government has gone too far,” says Marx. “This protest has brought together a diverse array of Canadians to defend their democracy and right to have an open debate about the future of their country.”
“Hopefully Black Out, Speak Out will mobilize thousands of Canadians and Harper will learn that it’s one thing to attack environmentalists and quite another to attack freedom of speech,” says Marx. “If the Harper government pursues this repressive policy, it should expect the backlash to spread in Canada, the U.S. and in Europe.”