The first-ever hosting of a World Social Forum (WSF) in the Global North was largely a success, based on the sizable attendance and discussions inside and outside of the formal event spaces. The organizers of the event in Montréal calculated there were 35,000 attendees from 125 countries. The events crammed into August 9 to 14, 2016, included 1,300 talks and panel discussions (dubbed “self-managed activities”), 22 convergence assemblies and 200 cultural activities.
There were also significant problems, including insufficient funding and volunteers, the cancelling of many sessions without advance notice, and criticism of having the event in a rich country involving prohibitively expensive travel and accommodation for many people from poorer regions. Moreover, hundreds of delegates were denied travel visas by the Canadian government. Furthermore, the federal government requested that its logo be taken off the WSF website because of objections from some MPs regarding an anti-Israel cartoon published on the website.
It’s impossible to summarize in one article everything that took place, but here is a short swim in the ocean of information presented at the Forum.
On the morning of the first day of the WSF a session entitled, “9/11: An Evidence-based Approach” was held. The presenters, all members of the 9/11 Consensus Panel group, included Canadians Dr. Elizabeth Woodworth, who is the Coordinator of the group, and Dr. Graeme MacQueen, a panel member. Woodworth said there are three new consensus points that show problems with the official story of what happened on 9/11. One is that, contrary to the claim that no steel was recovered from World Trade Center Building 7, and hence no metallography could be performed on it, there is photographic evidence that there was indeed steel available for analysis.
A second point is that, contrary to the official story, there is no evidence that five hijackers boarded American Airlines Flight 77 at Dulles Airport in Dulles, Virginia. Third, at least 12 military exercises were scheduled for 9/11—including seven aerial drills that had originally been planed for October—and not simply the single one mentioned by the 9/11 Commission. The large number of exercises on 9/11 may well have caused some confusion and slowed the military response to the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers.
It should be noted, however, that Barrie Zwicker, a retired _Globe and Mail _reporter and Ryerson University professor, was originally on the Consensus Panel but resigned several years ago. He did so, in part, because of significant deficits in the “Delphi” methodology used for voting on consensus points—for example, a point can be deemed to have consensus backing when only a minority of panel members vote for it. He and others also object to the apparent obfuscation by panel members—including co-founder Dr. David Ray Griffin—of the important work of the Citizen Investigation Team.
Among the other sessions at the WSF were several on the BDS Movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions). There is indeed a strong consensus on the left that BDS is an important component of resistance to Israeli crimes against the Palestinians. This was reflected by the discussions and consensuses agreed on the topic in Montréal.
There also were sessions on five consecutive days in which top experts across North America provided details about the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Among the many stunning revelations by the speakers were that large amounts of tritium—a radioactive form of hydrogen—are routinely released by power plants in southern Ontario. The levels of these releases are far higher than those released by plants in the US and are causing measurable increases in the radioactivity of Lake Ontario. Only at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station has a system been built to remove tritium from the heavy water from both that plant and from the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. And that does not stop the problem; it just keeps getting worse, noted Dr. Gordon Edwards, a long-time campaigner against nuclear energy and head of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
“One of the scandals that led to the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor in Vernon, Vermont, which ceased operations in December 2014, was the huge amount of radioactive tritium that was going into the ground. But much larger tritium releases are going on all the time in CANDU reactors and it’s perfectly okay according to authorities…” stated Dr. Edwards. “What we are doing in Ontario is quite criminal.”
He and other speakers also highlighted the plan to send up to 150 truckloads of highly radioactive liquid waste via roads and bridges from Chalk River, Ontario, to the US Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. This plan was challenged on August 12, 2016, by a coalition of seven American non-profit organizations. They have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington DC, for an injunction until an environmental-impact statement is prepared on the potential environmental impacts and alternative management practices that would make the transport unnecessary.1 Subsequently, Dr. Edwards, representatives from the Ontario Clean Air Coalition and others had a press conference at Queen’s Park in Toronto on October 3 to voice their objections to the plan. “Never before in North America has liquid waste of this nature, containing virtually the entire spectrum of fission products found in irradiated uranium, been transported over public roads…” they declared. “The proposed series of transports of highly radioactive liquid waste over a period of years could have a potentially devastating impact on the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River ecosystem. Depending on the routes chosen, there could be a spill or spills into a waterway flowing into the Great Lakes or the St. Lawrence River, or a spill into one of the rivers connecting the Lakes (St. Mary’s River, St. Clair River, Detroit River or the Niagara River), or a spill directly into the St. Lawrence River itself.”2
Attendees and experts at the WSF hammered out a “Montréal Declaration for a Nuclear-Fission-Free World.”3 Among the main points of the declaration—which was endorsed by more than 100 groups—are:
“we are collectively calling for a mobilization of civil society around the world to bring about the elimination of all nuclear weapons, to put an end to the continued mass-production of all high-level nuclear wastes by phasing out all nuclear reactors, and to bring to a halt all uranium mining worldwide.
…We will use our networks to pressure governments everywhere to put an end to nuclear fission; to expose the dangers associated with the export and transport of nuclear materials and nuclear waste;
…to emphasize our moral responsibilities not to burden future generations with a poisonous nuclear legacy;
…to launch lawsuits and to support whistle-blowers to halt the most egregious examples of nuclear malfeasance; …and to denounce the illegal, immoral, and insane obsession with nuclear weapons arsenals.”
Another series of talks at the WSF was on peace initiatives. One of these was Canadian Voice of Women for Peace’s workshop on “Militarism and Climate Change.” Emily Gilbert, Lyn Adamson, and Hannah Hadikin described the role of the military in increasing carbon emissions, the urgency of climate action, and the plight of climate refugees stemming from both famine and resource wars. The same day as the panel the presenters also discussed these issues on an hour-long local university talk radio show.
It will require immense efforts—far more than those agreed to at the Paris talks for the 21st Conference of the Parties in December 2015—to avoid catastrophe and stay under a two-degree global temperature rise, they noted. Aggressive climate action including a high and rising carbon price, elimination of fossil-fuel subsidies—which current are in the trillions globally—and the conversion to a 100% renewable energy are essential and must happen with a wartime level of mobilization.
Military emissions are exempted from international climate agreements, they noted. Furthermore, the military is unsuited by its structure and modes of operation to prevent or respond to the many crises created by climate change. Yet the military in Canada has a budget of $25 billion compared to $100 million for climate change and $1 billion total for environment.
“Why are we not protecting and defending our environment as a top priority? Increasing temperatures, drought, storms and war are leading to a massive increase in the number of refugees with no plan for their future,” said Adamson.
Rosemary Frei is a Toronto writer and activist.
Lyn Adamson is an activist and trainer in nonviolent action and conflict resolution.