It’s real winter here. There’s a foot or more of snow on the ground. It’s cold, not a damp, coastal cold that lasts for a few days; it’s a dry, mid-continental cold with a frozen wind that sets for weeks and cuts through every layer of clothing.
I’m back in central Canada for my dad’s 90th birthday. The plane touched down at the stroke of midnight on the New Year as the snow blew horizontally across the runway. The planeload of tired strangers made a half-hearted attempt at a “Happy New Year” cheer as we waited to get off the plane. I was ready to reunite with family but not ready to reconnect with the climate I’d left behind years ago.
Thunder Bay is defined by its edges. It’s on the edge of Lake Superior’s north shore, on the edge of the boreal wilderness, the edge of the Canadian Shield, the edge of the U.S. border, the edge of civilization.
I write this column from another edge. Southwestern New Brunswick, where I live now, is on the edge of the East Coast, also on the edge of the U.S. border. My neighbours and I are not at the centre of the modern passion play where the big decisions are made, where the dramatic events happen, where the great art and culture is made and played.
So I don’t write about local events as much as I write about how the world looks from here, about the large features on the distant horizon that will affect us all.
Though I’m sick of writing about it, I realize there’s only one thing on the horizon that matters and that’s our addiction to fossil fuel. Everything we’ve done over the past 150 years is attached to it, everything.
I write about it because I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to change my own habits or anyone else’s. I write about it because I know that we still don’t understand the enormity of our situation. I write about it because I believe that our view from the edge of things gives us, somehow, a clearer perspective than those who are so embedded into the fossil fuel-driven system they don’t have the time to see where they’re at.
After we got off the plane I walked through the empty terminal and outside into the cold and hitched a ride to a hotel in a courtesy van, checked into the hotel and went down to the bar for New Year’s nightcap. I was alone at the bar except for an old woman in a sparkly dress and her husband dressed like Arnold Palmer. We struck up a conversation. They thought I was “from away” and set out to tell me about the city, its new medical commerce industry and new hospital.
The man told me he was a Conservative. We talked politics and finally I asked him if he knew why we were in Afghanistan. He told be it was because “it’s the right thing to do.” I asked if he knew about the new TAPI pipeline plan to bypass the Russian and Iranian stranglehold on natural gas. He didn’t want to know. In fact he got upset. His parting shot was, “if you ever want to go into politics you’ve got to learn how to lie.” And that was it.
I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to say that we’re in Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons, or anti-terrorist reasons, both of which are in fact getting worse since we arrived. Since the 1960s that country, then a modern and progressive state, has been devastated by war, its civilization bombed back to the Middle Ages.
I don’t want to tell you that biodiesel is the answer to replacing oil. It’s not. Neither chopping down tropical rainforests to grow vast plantations of palm trees nor converting huge North American agricultural areas to corn for biofuel does anything to solve the oil crisis.
I don’t want to tell you that our governments are working hard at migrating to new energy technologies, especially here in New Brunswick, because they’re not. Our Canadian government is hard at work promoting one of the most environmentally damaging projects on Earth, the tar sands, while here at home in New Brunswick we seem to have handed over the entire energy policy to Irving Oil, with the exception of maybe the controversial and ill-advised refurbishing of the Point Lepreau nuclear plant, another potential ecological disaster of epic proportions in waiting.
I don’t want to lie about the hidden corporate influence over our democratic processes, or condone the loss of civil rights like, for example, Obama’s new National Defense Authorization Act that “allows” the U.S. to go into any country and seize any citizen suspected of wrongful activities.
If the refusal to join the mainstream and draw curtains of lies over the rush for the last reserves of fossil fuel means that I’m on the edge, so be it. Unless we acknowledge our actual political situation and remove the veils of deception, any hope of transitioning to viable alternative forms of power is a hollow exercise destined to fail.
I’m going outside now. Damn. I wish I had a warmer coat.