Sunday, July 26, 2009

Anniversaries in the Movement

This is a big year for environmentalist organizations across Canada. As mentioned previously in this blog, it marks the fortieth anniversary of Toronto's Pollution Probe and the British Columbia-based Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC). Of course, that's not all. Also celebrating their fortieth anniversaries in 2009 are the Conservation Council of New Brunswick -- which I understand is the oldest environmentalist organization in the Maritimes -- and the Conserver Society of Hamilton & District, which was originally known as Clear Hamilton of Pollution (CHOP). I wouldn't be surprised if there are other groups celebrating their fortieth anniversary in 2009 ... and if so I hope somebody sends me an email about it.

I wonder how many of these organizations have taken the time to write down their histories. I suspect very few. That said, there's no time like an anniversary to undertake such a project.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"it's no longer a movie": Three Mile Island, The China Syndrome, and Anti-Nuclear Activism in Canada

On March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania experienced a partial core meltdown. Just twelve days earlier The China Syndrome, a Hollywood blockbuster starring Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, made its theatrical debut. Suddenly, the safety of nuclear energy was at the forefront of public debate.

Energy Probe, a Toronto-based organization, had long expressed concerns about the economic and environmental shortcomings of nuclear energy. As it turns out, Lawrence Solomon had just finished an anti-nuclear pamphlet the morning of the Three Mile Island accident. Upon hearing the breaking news, he quickly changed the headline to read "it's no longer a movie: it just happened in Pennsylvania (and it could happen here)". After churning off a batch on the Energy Probe Gestetner machine, staff visited nearby theatres and handed out the copies to unsuspecting moviegoers. As Solomon explained to me in an interview, "The China Syndrome ended up being a perfect fundraising opportunity for us." Funding would take on particular importance the following year, as the organization severed its relationship with the Pollution Probe Foundation and struck out on its own.
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