Star reporter Will Johnson shares some of his thoughts on climate disruption.

COLUMN: Challenging my climate apathy

The Vancouver oil spill has brought some urgency to my half-hearted environmentalism.

In early April I invited Kootenay author K.L. Kivi to come by the Star for an interview about her poetry book Unknown Hum. Though I was primarily interested in her literary work, I was also aware that she was known locally as a fierce environmental advocate.

“You’re an anti-Jumbo activist, right?” I asked.

Kivi took this opportunity to correct my semantics. The way she figured, it was the developers and future polluters who were “anti-Jumbo”, while she considered herself “pro-Jumbo” because she wanted to retain the area’s pristine state. She explained that true activism is inspired by love for the natural world.

“We have to learn to love our environment again,” she told me. “We need to be in love with our surroundings. With the sky, the air, the ground, the animals.”

I told her she was preaching to the choir, smitten as I am with Elephant Mountain and my newly discovered Nelson refuge. Though I’ve never marched in a parade or considered myself a proactive environmentalist, I am definitely a tree-hugger of some stripe.

But the truth is I’ve never felt any urgency on the matter. When the tsunami hit Thailand back in the early 2000s, it may as well have happened on another planet. The earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan? That was way over on the other side of the ocean.

Then things started happening closer to home—half of New York was submerged by Hurricane Sandy, Toronto got caught in a record-breaking ice storm and Calgarians watched floodwaters sweep their possessions away.

Still, though, I was untouched.

Then, two days after my interview with Kivi, there was an oil spill in Vancouver, just off the coast of the beach I took my partner Darby to on one of our first dates. Toxic blossoms of purple sludge floated suspended beneath the waters where I used to work as a lifeguard.

The sacrifice zone

Having spent my twenties in a self-involved fog in which I rarely considered my surroundings, I feel like I’m just now starting to take stock of our environmental situation. The primary emotion it inspires: alarm.

Maybe it has something to do with living in the Kootenays, the land of default defiance, where protesters routinely parade down Baker Street. But once I acknowledged the looming threat of climate disruption and the environmental devastation of extractive industries I decided that the very least I could do was read a book about it.

At the urging of Citizens’ Climate Lobby area organizer Laura Sacks, who I interviewed last year when she attended one of history’s largest ever environmental protests in New York, I picked up Naomi Klein’s non-fiction tome This Changes Everything and spent a few weeks dutifully highlighting page after page.

A lot of the sky-is-falling stuff I already knew, but I was surprised to find Klein’s ire aimed at environmentalists and capitalists alike. As far as she’s concerned, nothing we humans are doing is working and it’s going to take something extreme to alter our system’s apocalyptic course.

I found her hypothesis—that the forces of global capitalism are at direct odds with the health of our planet—compelling and self-evident. But, like most people, I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

When I attended her sold-out lecture at the Brilliant Cultural Centre in Castlegar, Klein had at least one answer: get arrested.

She praised activist Zoe Buckley Lennox, who scaled a Shell drilling platform in the middle of the ocean. She called for individuals and institutions to aggressively divest from extractive industries and invest in clean energy. She encouraged anyone who could to travel down to Seattle for an upcoming protest.

Turns out Klein was similarly heartbroken to see the news about Vancouver’s spill, as she wrote two of her books in that area. She said the old model of putting aside land as a sacrifice zone is no longer feasible.

“We’re all in the sacrifice zone now.”

Waking the frog

Klein’s talk made me feel daunted, but also hopeful. Hearing her speak, and watching the enthusiastic response from the Kootenay audience, I felt like I was watching the community reach a new level of understanding. There was a giddy, electric energy in the room.

Another person capitalizing on this momentum is author Tom Rand, who came to Nelson on Sacks’ invitation to give a free lecture based on his book Waking the Frog. Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak and the entire city council saw fit to reschedule their normal meeting to make sure to be in attendance.

Judging by his sold-out show, Rand’s message has been well-received locally. And elsewhere in this issue you can read about one Nelsonite who is already putting his vision into action.

Essentially, Rand believes we’re like the pot-warmed frog that is doomed to cook if it doesn’t jump out. He encouraged his Capitol Theatre audience to be among those who make the leap.

Sacks told me there are plans in the works to distribute recordings of his talk and show it in Kootenay classrooms. She’s enthusiastic about his message, and figures his urgings could bring real change.

“It’s not irrational to despair,” Rand tells his readers. “But despair is a choice and not one we need to make.”

Rand says his message is directed at both progressives who see climate change as a threat, and conservatives that don’t. He’s attempting to find a middle ground between them so they can work together for a better future. As a capitalist within the system, he feels he can act as an “insider looking ahead”.

Throughout the book he details ways technology, capital and policy can work together to ameliorate the effects of climate change and encourage the introduction of clean energy. Rand’s book is far too heady and ultra-complicated to summarize in a column, but his most important message is this: we’re all responsible for Earth’s fate.

In the preface he quotes Marshall McLuhan: “There are no passengers on spaceship Earth, only crew.”

In other words: get to work.

Canary in the coal mine

I’ve had some eye-opening experiences related to climate disruption in the past few months, including seeing the Johnson’s Landing slide in person. I met activist Brian Rosen, who just released a song called “Right Upon the Hour”, and I attended a meeting in a local church basement organized by Sacks and other environmental advocates.

I even participated in their sing-along, which consisted of us belting out a climate anthem set to the tune of “Bad Moon Rising” by CCR. (“I see temperatures a’rising…”)

But mostly I’ve just been reading.

Like the majority of us, I don’t have any solutions to the global climate threat we’re facing. And I’m definitely not an expert. But I’m starting to “feel the threat”, as Naomi Klein puts it.

And I’m not the only one.

The day the Vancouver oil spill happened my UBC teacher Steven Galloway expressed his dismay at the news via Facebook.

“What I hope happens here is that we become mobilized and start voting with the protection of the place we live in and our own physical and social and economic interests at heart,” he wrote.

“Because this is a canary in the coal mine, and the canary just died.”



Kootenay Goon

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