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Time for a renewed focus on Planetary Survival?

A Canadian Government Environmental study of the effects of tailing ponds, a by-product of Canadian Tar Sands oil production shows that an un-Godly mixture of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals are leaching into the ground water and finding their way to the Athabasca river, a major waterway in northern Alberta.  Canadian oil extraction from tar embedded in sandy soil has been called the dirtiest oil production in the world.  Canadians have been comfortable however with the negative impact of this production because of the wealth that it has generated for the Province of Alberta.  But this new report, which comes from the environmental section of the conservative government of Canada, raises new concerns. The report has received major coverage in mainstream media outlets in Canada and raises new questions. Are Canadians beginning to return to concerns about the environment after years of being caught up mostly in the economic challenges of the post 2008 crisis?

On the East Coast of Africa another fossil fuel related issue has been gathering regional and global attention. The island of Lamu off the northern coast of Kenya is part of an extraordinary archipelago containing marine treasures and home to a thousands of years old Swahili cultural community where donkey carts are still the main transportation.  Lamu has been a cherished travel destination for 50 years.  It has a reputation as an ‘island paradise’.  It has come to global attention that Lamu is the site of a proposed 32 tanker oil terminal that would transfer oil to be piped from Southern Sudan and Uganda for transportation to China and point East. Speculation and interest from the global petroleum industry has turned what may have been an idle dream of a few entrepreneurs into a very real possibility.  Lamu, like the Athabasca river in Northern Canada are but two out of thousands of stories of environmental destruction in the face of the drive to meet global capital’s need for fossil fuels.

What does this mean for higher education institutions?  When we speak of  ‘social responsibility’ of higher education, do we include the threats to the very ecosphere or biosphere that sustain the human and other forms of life itself?  Global public opinion and political will ebbs and flows on issues.  Sometimes we are concerned with security, sometimes with jobs, are we seeing the pendulum swing back towards concerns about our relationship with what Indigenous People’s call Mother Earth?

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