Northvolt | An easy target

If that wasn’t clear enough already, it is now.

Northvolt has become a symbol. The target of choice for those who believe that Quebec and Ottawa are not doing enough to protect biodiversity and fight climate change.

Vandalism on the site of the battery factory and in the offices of one of its suppliers is the symptom, taken to the extreme, of this phenomenon. The enemies of the Legault and Trudeau governments are looking for a target, and this one is ideal. She has an address, a face and promoters. It is a concrete adversary to fight. And as a bonus, the most left-wing activists can collide with their eternal enemies: the pragmatic left, the green-tie ecologists and all those who try to reform the system from the inside instead of denouncing it in the streets.

But when you look at the whole picture, Northvolt’s treatment seems like an obsession. Other more serious issues are, unfortunately, less criticized.

There are several things we can criticize about the Northvolt project.

His assessment was rushed. It will not be submitted to the Office of Public Hearings on the Environment. The evaluation lacks transparency, in particular because Quebec violated its promise to register such projects in a public online register. And finally, there remains the question of whether public investment will be profitable or loss-making.

For all these reasons, the CAQ government is the architect of its misfortune. The fact remains that this project does not deserve to be so widely criticized.

The impact on the climate, fauna and flora must be put into perspective.

First of all, it will help reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) on the planet. In the same way that Quebec pollutes indirectly abroad by importing resources, it will reduce pollution elsewhere by exporting its green batteries. Because, yes, these batteries will be useful. Even if we have to seriously reduce the number of cars, there will still be a need for them and they will have to be electrified.

Then, its impact on our ecosystems remains modest in the face of all human disturbances. The wetlands backfilled by Northvolt represent less than 4% of the area destroyed on average each year.

And finally, even if endangered species are found on the site, this is only one danger among others. The problem lies upstream. This is the politicized and opaque process of wildlife (non-)protection.

Allow me to emphasize these last two elements.

The ransacking of wetlands is the norm in Quebec. Nearly 98% of promoters’ requests are accepted. In exchange, we demand financial compensation to create other equivalent environments. However, biologists admit to not knowing if this is technically possible. And we’re not even trying – less than 2% of the prize pool has been used.

Endangered species are also subject to the same carelessness. In Quebec, the scientific committee gives its opinions to the Deputy Minister of the Environment. They thus remain confidential. And they are not binding. Even if biologists conclude that a species is threatened, the minister is not obliged to add it to the official list. In short, nothing happens.

An example: in 2016, Quebec promised to table a Quebec caribou recovery and protection strategy. We’re still waiting for it. Minister Benoit Charette offered a consolation prize, a pilot project in Charlevoix and Gaspésie, tabled just before the 1er May in the hope that the federal government does not get involved in the matter.

However, for both fauna and flora, we cannot invoke the classic pretext “Yes, but it doesn’t change anything if China pollutes”. The benefits of protection are direct, and the entire population can benefit from them.

The climate and biodiversity crises combine. Their causes and their solutions are similar. And in both cases, for Quebec, most of the problem goes under the radar. Because it is more difficult to protest against processes and statistics than against a tangible enemy.

And there is also something else…

The attempted sabotage on Northvolt’s grounds was obviously unacceptable. A father or mother could have been injured by these incendiary devices. The offices of a social enterprise that aims to recover wood were also ransacked.

This is reminiscent of protests against gentrification (“gentrification”). Small neighborhood businesses are sometimes vandalized. The same comment then comes back: “It’s not the right target!” » But these people know what they are doing. Revolutionaries hate reformists, communists hate socialists, and the far left has special contempt for the center left.

Without precisely identifying those responsible, we can think that these are groups against capitalism. This economic system is responsible for both progress and injustice, as well as the ecological crisis.

On the left, serious economists are looking for a way to replace it while still managing to finance social programs. The terms given – post-capitalism or post-growth – show the still uncertain nature of the approaches. However, one idea always comes back: focusing on the social economy which does not seek profit. This was precisely the case of the ransacked SME, the Urban Wood Valorization Center…

But it is easier to destroy than to build. And in the environment, it is easier to target Northvolt than to identify the heart of the problem. We could even say that this obsession makes us forget the essential.


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