Friday, May 3, 2019

Probing the dark looking for some light!


How does one stumble through the turbulent storm of daily news from around the world?

People have been asking this question for decades, perhaps centuries; yet, the narratives of conflict, deception, contention and failed resolution pile like trash, spilling from the screen, and flooding our conscious minds.

Six years ago, some now-extinct private company shipped six containers of hazardous materials (labelled recycled plastics) from Canada to the Philippines as part of a contract between the two countries. Of course, the Philippine authorities who originally accepted the shipment, have been over-ruled by their superiors, and now Duterte demands their return. And in the hyperbolic rhetoric of the times, he threatens war with Canada if the containers are not returned. Minister of the Environment, Catherine McKenna, says the trash will be returned, although its final burial place is still unknown.

It is not that this story warrants global headlines for its size. It is as a metaphor that the story warrants attention.

The brief life of the private company, clearly foreshadowed by the error in the labelling of the containers, is just one sign of the times. Another is the “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” notion of Canada’s disposal of our toxic trash. Ironic, and tragic too, given Canada’s proud (if thin and insubstantial) public face as an environmental protector. According to Community Research Connections, a recent study states that Canadians produce more garbage per capita than any other country on earth, approximately 31 million tonnes a year, and only recycle about 30% of that material. Each Canadian generates approximately 2.7 kgs of garbage each day. With 10,000 landfills sites generating Methane gas (21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of impact on climate) some 20% of national methane emissions and 27 megatonnes of CO2. Clearly, Canada has a very long way to go to reduce toxic emissions from our landfills while they are filling at a rapid rate.

Another perspective on this story divulges the blatant, even epic, hypocrisy of my home country, the nation that struts the international stage, behind the face of our photogenic, and admittedly charismatic prime minister, as an international leader on environmental protection. Canada is also committed to continuing extraction of bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta, a heavy crude that is more damaging to the environment to extract that traditional oil and gas. And the federal government has purchased a pipeline for $4.5 billion to transport Alberta’s crude to the west coast for off-shore purchase and distribution.

Naturally, both the toxic trash “story” and the tar sands “story” are portrayed as “out of the hands” of ordinary people, except that real people contributed their trash and real people will burn the refined crude. Also real people work, make a living, buy food and houses to take care of their families….and the “rub” between these two forces will take up much of the ink in many countries as the globe takes even baby steps to address the existential threat of global warming and climate change.

Drug companies are riding a crest of profit from opioids, along with off-shore producers of lethal chemicals like fentanyl, while street deaths continue to climb in many North American cities. And floods are ripping homes from their foundations, and lives from their roots, as tornadoes, hurricanes,  sweep generally from southwest to northeast in North America.

Politicians, especially given the Canadian federal election in October 2019, and the American presidential election in November 2020, promise their often credible, generally simplistic and headline-fitting, remedies, as if the stump and the ballot box still bore an empirical and causational relation to the policies they will ever enact. Fixing the environment, the income/wage disparity, the gender gap and inequities, the corporate elephants, the racial profiling and ethnic identity divisions,  school/education disparities, and the tax code, not to mention the dramatic deterioration of most infrastructure on both sides of the 49th parallel….this is a facile list, provoking nuanced policy differences, generating copy, interviews, op-eds, and water-cooler chit-chat.

However, the disconnect between the voter and the headlines, and the growing distrust in the institutions (including the inordinate influence of money, the obvious deference for dissembling, the clear and pervasive obstruction and refusal to compromise, the self-serving agendas of the candidates among other influences) and the capacity to “vent” without accomplishment, via social media, render each of us on one hand, reporter, editor, judge, jury on the political actors and their decisions, and on another hand, we are also the erosive/corrosive winds and waves that strip the protective cliffs and berms of tradition, custom, respect and honour that once held our institutions in high regard.

Is there a direct (or indirect) connection between the hopelessness of our shared detachment and disillusionment with the public discourse and political debates and our growing dependence on chemicals whether smoked, eaten, drunk and other forms of escapism?

Is there a despondency that has set in concerning our shared perception and belief that our future on the planet is not even relatively secure, let alone assured? Those school children who have been skipping class on Friday’s for months, in the belief that their educational needs and aspirations pale in the face of climate deniers and “do-nothingers.”

Is there a seductive ruse enveloping and sustaining our political rhetoric that threatens to put a tub of mascara on a cauldron of dangerous issues and render our leaders little more than rock-star entertainers, and us as their star-crossed pre-teens?

Is  there also an “underground” volcano of white supremacy, in the face of a rising tide of refugees, asylum-seekers, and immigrants, a tide that crashes on the shores of hollowed-out towns and cities and factories, boiling and waiting to erupt as a gas ignited at each political rally by the current president of the United States along with white militias, racist politicians and frightened isolationists?

And are we in danger of succumbing to our insatiable appetite for the minutest detail of publicly exposed personal ignominy in gossip, and expending too much energy on moral “tsking” and “tsking”….while the large, and life-endangering issues are deconstructed and debased right before our eyes?

Have we tilted our national cultures so far toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) that we have lost sight of the much more complex and mysterious, poetic and imaginative side of our individual and our collective psyches in the lens we look through to apprehend, deconstruct, diagnose and to imagine alternative options when we look at each of our problems, issues, personalities and expectations?

Have we succumbed to the anesthetizing grammar, vocabulary, ideology and practices of the for-profit corporation, rendering every thing, every person, every thought and every experience a “commodity” for sale in the ubiquitous marketplace of salesmanship, and death by a thousand transactions?

Rhetorical questions? Yes and yet the answers from here appear to be in the affirmative.

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