The Land, The People and The Economy

By | March 4, 2016

Originally published as a column on NewsKamloops on Friday March 4, 2016. 

On Tuesday night I was part of a group of people who gathered at TRU to watch the documentary ‘Fractured Land’ featuring Caleb Behn, an indigenous young man who is both a lawyer and an activist. His Goliath is the fracking industry in the BC Northeast and the possible development – unless something happens to halt the project – of the site C dam, which will add more insult to the injury already hurting the area.

It was hard not to shift in your seat as the show drew to an end and left everyone wondering what the best way to do things is after all. People have a love-hate relationship with fossil fuels, more so in the areas where the consequences of taking them out of the ground is seen in declining health, an increased rate of birth defects and also in the way their immediate natural world is affected.

Is leaving everything in the ground the solution? That’s naiveté at its best. Not because it is a bad idea but because we are still dependent on fossil fuels and the industry will not hang its hat any time soon. A smooth enough transition to renewable energy sounds commendable but… our leaders are still talking pipelines, fracking wells are still being drilled and an environmental black-eye like site C dam project is still to become reality.

The recent Paris meeting COP21 had many nations, especially island dwellers who are literally in harm’s way, trace the lines in the sand in regards to what temperature increase their now fragile worlds can tolerate before tipping point(s) becomes evident. That is, in less palatable terms, the point of no return.

But once the colourful sparkles of fireworks died off and the champagne glasses were put away, the New Year came with some uncomfortable surprises. It’s getting hot, scientists warn, and it’s getting shifty, weather pattern-wise, as is the case on the East coast. At the time of this writing on Thursday, March 3, the latest measurements showed that the average temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere have pushed through the 2 degrees Celsius above the usual (normal) values.

You know it’s getting hot when the Iditarod organizers have to haul in snow to make up for the missing white matter. That’s snow proofing and it cannot do more than be a Band-Aid solution.

That uncomfortable shifting in one’s seat again. But all is not lost. If it’s hot in one spot only many will carry on with their lives as if nothing is happening. If it’s hot in most places, people start to notice and action follows. There’s hope.

Luckily the dreary news coincides with the wrapping up of the Globe 2016 Leadership Summit in Vancouver. The conclusions included plans to phase out coal, reduce the methane emissions generated by the oil and gas industry and a province-specific carbon pricing scheme.

It sounds optimistic though the pipelines stay for now, which is not optimistic. Nor is the existent dialogue between the present government and oil companies regarding Arctic drilling, but if enough eyes are on it, perhaps public consultations will become a must and thus we will have a chance to speak up.

We are but a country among many contributing to the rise in greenhouse gases and though our contribution is low compared to other countries such as the US and China, the undeniable reality of intersecting economies should understandably push our present leadership towards finding solutions to reflect the present environmental challenges (yes, trade partnerships signed by the previous and present government can get in the way).

But there is a bright side too. Climate change has become a topic, a hot one and not just in environmental circles. Dialogue brings hope and it brings solutions.

Protecting the environment does not have to be the deadly enemy of economic growth, our PM Justin Trudeau said not long ago. The green energy sector can create jobs while honouring the commitment towards our beautiful blue dot, and it can assist, at a large scale, our transition to renewable energy sources that will see us on a more hopeful trajectory as a planet.

One thing is clear though. Economic growth can easily transition into being powered by greed rather than morals pertaining to the benefit of us all, and when it does, ill effects become ignored or concealed. Here’s to hoping that we have learned enough from the past and present in order to make the future a better one where greed need not apply, not if survival is intended.

As for doing something at an individual level, I have been told repeatedly, that will not help much. True, but it will save us from occasional despair and it will lead to a shift in how we think at community level, which counts.

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