Saturday, March 10, 2007

Black Algae

On the website of that Tim person who went around the world on no emissions, he states his mission, to show that if he can go around the globe on no conventional fuel, any of us can get to work or school using far less fuel than we currently consume. There is a statement on it, unattributed, which caught my eye: "Do you live too far away to ride your bike? Maybe it's time to move closer." This I feel is where the green revolutionaries lose the people.

He (or his webmaster) is certainly not the only person to suggest that our own actions even in small ways will collectively save and possibly restore our home planet. Suggesting that each person begin in her own way is simple and it is a useful tool to convince people to take small steps. Sadly, most of the greens I've heard speaking and writing on the subject seem to have lost focus somehow on the 80 percenters out there in the normal, consumer-driven, debt-driven sprawl of north american life. It is exemplary to do great acts to demonstrate possibilities to other people. Pontificating, however, will not lead to one single convinced individual.

We live in a state of perpetual motion. Our employers boost us around willy-nilly, from office to office. We live through down-sizing, layoffs, buyouts and we agree to ridiculous demands simply because it is safer to say yes to moving halfway across the country than it is to look for another job at a company that will likely downsize in the next few years as well. This type of suggestion, pick up your family, move your kids closer to work so they can get driven all the way to the school that is suddenly half-way across town is not just misguided, it is condescending. A single athlete who can pick up and run around the world does not one whit of harm by suggesting we all drive less, but it does remind any person currently on the fence that the people who tell them about global warming and what we should do about it are ludicrously out of touch with the everyday man. And if that's true, what else are they out of touch about?

This is not a time for pontification. We are lucky enough to live in a huge space. We have elbow room and we can stretch a little when necessary. As such we have vastly different cultures in our country that the suggestion to use one method everywhere is harmful and useless for us all.

This is a time of debt-oppression. Consumer credit is the single most disgusting form of manipulation since Machiavelli. It allows companies to pay people the least amount possible, and encourage them still to buy as much as possible. In the name of independence and personal freedom, this crippling debt cycle is sold to us at 18% by our banks, our industry and our neighbors. Even those of us who are aware of it are terrified that any shift downward in this trend would destroy our economy and the world as we know it would end. When executives from Wal-Mart are asked, and they have been repeatedly, about the nature of their business, the horrible way they treat their employees, the impossible demands they make on their suppliers etc, they respond always that if they were so bad, the people would vote with their feet. They actually think that the purchase you make at Wal-Mart because you live in the middle of nowhere and the local grocery, pharmacy, toy store, clothing store, electronics store etc have been closed and there is literally nowhere else to go, that your dollars are a vote in their favour. The choice is yours, and you chose us. I have never been prouder than the day I read about Vancouver refusing to allow Wal-Mart to build a store. Now that is a vote!

This is a time of too many choices and too many turns. How is anyone to know what to do with themselves? You can't move hardly without somehow doing terrific evil to the natural world around us. This is not a time for autocratic finger-pointing. It is a time for leadership. I wish only we had some.

Inspiration is the only way to solve this crisis. We are not now in a moment when simply doing one small thing in the face of this will alleviate our psyche. There is enough going wrong daily to stop anyone in their tracks and honestly ask, why bother? This is a time when we need to know that the best minds of the most people are focusing on the waking world and our limits in our home. Coastal cities will no doubt have different participatory solutions that those on the Canadian Shield. We are a distinct people living in a time when we must save ourselves and yet know it is possible. Pressuring banks for green rrsp's is a good start, as most Canadians have some type of retirement plan in the works. Insisting that banks offer simple investment plans in companies with reputations for actual production rather than simple earnings is a very easy way to participate. There are green companies too who need investment capital, such as solar panel manufacturers, tidal hydro generating companies, water purification plants etc. Hybrid and electric vehicles need to be as modern looking as other cars, at the same price points as normal sedans, they should come with a tax incentive as should the plant that makes them in order to diminish the waiting list. And shopping should not be the national pastime.

Telling someone who just made it past the last round of layoffs and is going out for a quick drink after work that she shouldn't live where she does is insulting and simple-minded. Many of us need our homes to unwind and relax in the face of a massively mismanaged world. We are told often to hang low, keep our heads to the ground. Put up and shut up, it could be a lot worse. Few people I know even bother to write or phone their MP should an issue of concern come up. We are quick to scream about potholes in our streets, but it is rare to see anyone at city counsel meetings, or to hear of anyone calling their city counselor with a concern. And rightly so. We get to work early, we stay late in case someone else leaves on time regularly and gets fired the following week, we desperately fight each other in traffic home to pick up kids from day care and feed them, ourselves and possibly see other humans for several minutes before dropping exhausted into bed. Over time these days and weeks wear us down and blind instruction on greenmaking will be greeted with rueful smiles and turned backs.

We need a locus of energy. We need someone to say, hey look over here, we're getting electricity from the sea without damaging it! Hey, look over there, we can cheaply get a tram system into an existing city infrastructure that everyone can use. We need some goodwill and good cheer. We need a powerful voice that good things are happening to increase momentum. We need laws and structures that protect those weakest among us. We need someone great, a giant to make us grin. We need someone who can respect the intense struggle of labour unions to get reasonable treatment of extremely talented technicians. We need someone who can manage oversight to avoid corruption in huge organizations like unions and banks and universities. We need a spirit who wants good things. Any hippie who decides to run off alone to his earthship will not help anyone that loves their city to do planetary good. We need wisdom and charisma. I don't know the alchemy needed to make such a person who can renew our ability to keep the peace, to set an example without preaching, to live well. But I know that we need it. I can feel the algae growing over my pond and I know I am small enough that to clean it out I will need your help.

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