Yes. Economic Sense….So You Say.

On the CBC current affairs radio show with Matt Galloway, Wayne Easter former Liberal MP and Solicitor General of Canada said that the Bay du Nord makes economic sense: “I do want to make one point on oil and gas,” he said. “So it’s easy to attack the oil and gas industry. And I really think the Bay du Nord is a really, really good investment.” (CBC The Current, April 8, 2022)

The Bay du Nord oil and gas project was approved by the Federal Government in the same week the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, another code red for the planet, stating that unless immediate action is taken to reduce fossil fuel dependency, we will not have any chance of keeping the global warming increase below 1.5%.

We’re just over 1% now and can see what instability that is bringing for human life. My friend in Edmonton said of the heat dome in Edmonton this summer that going outside felt like being under a magnifying glass. Plastic picnic tables in the parks were melting.

Add 50% more effect and try to imagine how many more fires and floods and droughts and how much unpredictable weather will be the norm; and let us ask farmers what that all means. Farmers in the bountiful farmland of southern Manitoba experienced weather last year they had never experienced ever before. Drought instead of spring rains. And for that simple change, the land having always provided bountiful food, year after year, this year in a single instant of changed weather was a wasteland. Well they got 50-60% of the cash crops they normally have. Putting a good face on it. The government and farmers are being positive, yes, finally some warm weather, some crops. They should be more worried – well, acting as if they were worried, you’d think. They should know these events are no longer once in a hundred year events.

We keep talking ourselves out of any serious action: that seems to be the best we can do. Politicians especially talk it up, like Wayne Easter above, but they do that because they want to be elected and loved and we, the people, won’t elect them if they honestly told us how threatened we are by the climate crisis. Or better, take action like we were seriously threatened. The leaders will talk a good talk, but push it off to 2030 or 2050, with lip service now. We don’t heed the scientists telling us code red; we bribe the politicians with our votes to tell us it’s OK. Down the road things will be different; don’t need to change much now, they assure. When in 2030 people realize it’s a bit late to do much to change what’s coming, they or their grown children might get upset and pull down the statues of the same politicians, all the while, forgetting they, the populace, elected politicians willing to pander to the delusion all is well.

Sure there is a hope. Even though the Ontario government when coming into office retracted on $270 million of commitment to green energy initiatives and are planning to build a highway that will destroy about 75 wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas, engineers and activists are working hard with remarkable progress on designing ways for the world to get off fossil fuel and halt the endless creation of garbage. Engineers are working on the technologies. Small communities of concerned people are effecting new, mores sustainable practices. Unimaginable progress. Actual animal protein, animal meat itself and not a substitute, can be produced in a vat without the animal. Solar is better than ever. Small businesses are appearing that sell only in bulk with the customer providing the containers, no packaging. Is it enough to balance out the ambitious politicians and the mass of the electorate who just want to keep driving trucks and SUVs, most popular selling vehicles today; spend weekends in the mall; eat in predictable restaurants; buy bags of groceries of plastic wrapped food carried home in plastic bags that get thrown out when home; and at home, in comfort in front of large screen TVs, watch sports and Netflix while scrolling endlessly on social media sites that make them feel good about themselves and feel rage against those who differ in their views?

If this general populace along with the politicians and government don’t get on board right now, join in with the activists and concerned citizens, do we have a chance? Is the future to be living under geodesic climate-controlled domes, sheltered from a raging climate outside, eating manufactured food, watching travelogues and David Attenborough documentaries to see what the planet used to look like? Are we clearly making that choice, because we are by default if not choice.

One guarantee is that we have passed any chance of keeping the planet as it exists now. We’re told without immediate and radical change today, no one will recognize the planet in ten years. With each year passing, the weather systems will only grow more unstable. This year the world has put more hydro carbons into the atmosphere than in any year before. There we are!

Do we have a mind? Even the young children we now see running about the school yards and playing in the parks, as they grow into their 20s, their middle years, let alone retirement, will not have any chance at a good life on a stable planet such as we enjoy now, if society doesn’t get more serious and even if we do. As we’re finding out, the breakdown is happening sooner than the scientists predicted. Young people now will spend all of their lives dealing with a planet of increasing instability and unpredictability. Devastation and huge financial costs will be required to fend off the devastation, or more likely, recover from it. Going back to early humans who prayed to the gods and goddesses of the harvest and the oceans, Persephone to return from the underworld each year as the year before, humans for their existence depend on the stability and predictability of the seasons; the spring returning each year as it did before is the only guarantee for a sustainable human life of any possibility or for a just, human society.

But you know all this. We all know this. We hear enough of its likely, wearing us out. I guess though we have to keep saying it, over and over to ourselves the converted and maybe it will spread. Sorry! I don’t know what else there is. But we get tired of it, tired of fighting the obvious. Tired of looking down the barrel of gun when few of the population seem to care.

Once more, tired or not, here is more of the same: Bay du Nord. I focus on it because it is the perfect example of the heart of the climate change debate, the competing interests and arguments.

The discussion around the Bay du Nord project off Newfoundland is this perfect crystallization of exactly how the climate debate and action is framed. All the arguments and all the facts and all the defences of the economy and all the pleading for facing up to the future are perfectly represented in one week – approval of another oil and gas project, Bay du Nord, and the latest publication of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

CBC The Current provides a fine lens on the debate with an interview with Newfoundland and Labrador Energy Minister Andrew Parsons and then an interview with Angela Carter, Political Science Professor at the University of Waterloo and member of the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s Net-Zero Advisory Council. These two interviews are a clear distillation of two opposing arguments.

Transcript of the April 11 The Current including the interviews with Andrew Parsons and Angela Carter.

Detailed article on the history of the Bay du Nord Project

Newfoundland and Labrador Government site describing the Bay du Nord project

The latest report of the United Nations panel of experts, the IPCC, on the state of the action on the climate crisis.

The Honourable S. Guilbeault is the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change whose office and government approved the Bay du Nord oil and gas project.

The Honourable S. Guilbeault says of himself that he is a “prominent advocate in the fight against the climate crisis” beginning at age 5, unlike young George Washington who chopped down a tree, he climbed a tree to protest the cutting of trees in the Guilbeault’s backyard.

I wrote a letter to Minister Guilbeault this morning.

A lot of me went into the writing of this letter. I have to ask myself what am I doing about the climate crisis? And why am I not doing more? Look to yourself is the advice, before you throw stones. Easy enough to pretend it’s all a simple matter for Minister Guilbeault. To rail against him. I had to look in the mirror first. I have to remind myself I am very good at rationalizations. No pretence Reg. No making yourself look good.

I am privileged to be able to ask the question who am I? because of my retirement and my good health. I have the opportunity to look in the mirror with no excuses for not getting things done. I don’t have the excuse of having to work to pay my own way, typically over my life with only a low income, working long hours, a preoccupation since age 14 when my father said he wasn’t going to pay for me anymore. That was a convenient if not legitimate excuse to explain what turns my life took. And I can come up with lots more. But it is more refreshing to try to be honest, and I am grateful to the muse for whatever honesty I have. It took a whole lifetime to find myself. It is a challenge for me with my retirement and health to face up to myself, do as I please, now that I can live without crutches and dependencies of structures of work and status and youthful traumas to fall back on, account for not getting on with things. The poets and artists and mystics all say though, that is our life, to find our self, a continuing process I am ever grateful to know. And now I have a pension and time to do as I please. With no excuses, what am I to do for my last years.

In an honest assessment and after much reflective thought and journal writing, I understand myself, now in my late years better than ever. I’m grateful to the muse for helping me to be honest and strip away pretences and defences and excuses. I am retired and have my health. I can do as I please without worrying about paying the bills, something I’ve not had since 14 when my father told me he wasn’t going to pay for me anymore. that I don’t have a gift for anything but writing down some words, and even that is of limited application. But it is what makes me, inspires me. It took me a long time to come to that. The only time I ever heard my father raise his voice or see him violently slam the kitchen table as he spoke, was when I said one supper I’d like to write. He glared and shouted at me, you’re not a writer. I’m the writer in this family.’ But he wasn’t. Looking back I saw writing was how I managed circumstances; journal writing was the way I could think through and resolve troubles; it was where I got the most recognition; being able to write was always there, even when at the bottom of the pit, when everything else was taken away, prospects poor, it was always what I could do, write for myself and on that alone go forward positively. I accept it is in me, no longer cowering under my father’s glare, believing more in myself than him, finally. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted to say, “if you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

I’m full of ideas, but don’t get anywhere with them. I had this notion to talk to my neighbours along Garden Ave between Sorauren to Mcdonnell streets, to see ourselves as a kind of micro-society, and ask ourselves ,as this micro-society, what addressing climate change looks like for us. The issue can seem overwhelming, so if we limit it to this block, look for insight, even resources among us to face this issue, that would be a positive and manageable step forward. I had some discussions with neighbours, but I see that all the work an organizer would do to make that happen isn’t in me. Organizing and advocating is not a renewable energy that propels me, but a cost, even a performance, because it is not me; any gift I have or feeling for time well spent is not for building community action. I have never gotten anywhere with my hundreds of ‘great’ ideas. I can hardly manage my own life effectively. At any job interview I would talk the interviewers out of hiring me; I only got employment with someone else speaking for me, setting me up. I don’t excite people with my ideas. A colleague told me I was always two years or so ahead of the department. I had no sense or patience for the long time to effect change. Coming back to speak with Bishops with the results of my long study and exploration into how church can be better, more relevant, was met with the Bishops’ blank stares. I found that my own diocese didn’t even have a personnel file on me. I am just no good at making things happen. I can’t ask anything of others.

I write things down. Best I can do. I was reputed to be a good preacher in my young days preaching but I realize as I read the old sermons that I held the people’s attention, rapt attention for sure, with my writing, not my elocution. What held their attention I realize was the delivery of the words I’d carefully written, having weighed every syllable; the diction and syntax is they’d listen. At the end of the service I was often asked for a copy of the sermon. But it was a captive audience. In the end, it didn’t amount to any future for me; it wasn’t enough on its own to make anything of. I loved making radio; I wasn’t that good at organizing and developing the enterprise of my show. My colleague and friend could get 30 people in his small apartment all excited about his show, eager to work on it. I spent my time alone rounding up content, cutting tape, writing scripts, narrating and mixing the shows. I spent my time huddled in the timeless confines of a studio cave, joyfully working away. I’d often ask various persons to join on this and that show, and we’d share an intimate and focussed time crafting the show from inside the cave. I was not one to organize people, harness their energy, build excitement, rally folks to a cause to make good cause. That wasn’t in me. I do the work; take it or leave it was the best I could do. Not great on selling ideas. Ansel Adams earned most of his income over his life from teaching; he spent all his important time in his darkroom alone working away; he only had success in his life with his work, when a man came along and promoted Adam’s work for him, got Adams to open up his dark images to appeal to a wider audience, and with that magical promotion, Ansel Adams’ images are everywhere and his work heralded. And actually he was no slouch in promoting his ideas, but it took another level of ability to make the huge difference his work has. And he had the work to begin with. I had creative notions, but were always on the fringe, never with any wide appeal, a few people, not a captive audience, who only came to church to hear my sermons; a small loyal audience for WorldSpirit, a handful of people ready to participate in experimental liturgies, the odd colleague to risk going outside the box, to try a different lesson plan .

The realization for me, why I can feel blessed, is that it’s fine just to do as one chooses, to follow one’s heart. I was thirty years old standing on a busy street corner in Vancouver waiting for the light to change. I saw the reflection in the store window opposite of all of us waiting to cross the street. I was surprised to see that I was the tallest person standing at the corner. I sensed in myself that I was the shortest. Why am I so hard on myself for what I’ve done in my life. I’ve come a long way from that street corner. Each of us has come a long way in our particular journeys. It’s not how much we do or that we save the world or the world honours us. It’s enough that we do what is in us to do, not perform for others, for their attention and recognition, but live genuinely which the mystics and poets teach. They tell us that in to find our own self, journey within is not an egotistical pursuit, but quite the opposite; it is to find there deeply in our inner Self, our connection to the world and to each other, how we all are connected and belong together. Robert Sardello writes ” love is the soul’s way of knowing its own being.” Joseph Campbell said “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Thomas Moore writes that “we are what inspires us, not what we intend or make ourselves to be.”

I’ve given all this personal accounting while writing about issues of climate change because the issue seems existential, far bigger than any one or any one million of us; a matter of our relationship with our mother earth, the very thing we are made. Our response to the climate crisis can only come from who we are dee within. It’s not about opinion or preference or even science; it’s about being, and how we are being human. Only through finding our genuine self can we be genuinely in the world. So what my reflection, and I admit it could just be an inventive mask or rationalization, yet nonetheless gets me by, is that we do not have to prove anything to anyone; we have to be ourselves, and being ourself find our connection to all things alive, and only then can we love earth and home and who we are, and only then care enough for it. A lot of our thoughts become our identity that we defend and we promote with a kind of performance of ourselves, this seeking of approval, needing recognition. The wise teachers tell us to relax into our being, into divinity that is deep in us, and only the sense of presence of the world, of being present to the world can sustain us, there we are our own Self and feel ourselves belonging in the world, not discontent in our constructs of how we should be and working so hard to match some expectation constructed for us, but present to all.

That’s the great risk for letting social media companies have a free hand to shape our behaviours. The online business model is to get our attention and keep us longer on the screen all the while collecting more and more data from the surface of our lives. This data is bought by companies wanting to sell to us, products or ideas, in fact, to shape our behaviour to serve their intent. Over 70% of what people watch on YouTube is recommended to them. People are not primarily watching what they choose to watch. They are seduced into watching mostly what someone else wants them to watch. After watching one video, more appear seconds later to keep us so we don’t go away; they are incredibly good at doing that. These recommendations we aren’t choosing to watch start to shape us, bring our behaviour in line with the intentions of the sponsoring company, stealing our attention, what we would choose for ourself, stealing it from us replacing it with their intention, their business or idealogical purpose. We aren’t our own Selves but live in the intent of others. Relax into who you are, the sages whisper. It may turn things inside out, they say, confuse and disturb you because now it is you alone, not your performance, your dependence on others to define you with their intention, parent or social media influencer, not your performance to maintain your sense of self while living in the conceit of another; to be who you are within you, in that deep inner silence residing at your core, so say the mystics and purveyors of poetry and art. To your own Self be true carved into the stone at the entrance to the cave. To let go of all, be naked looking over the precipice into a billion light-year universe, to fall into who you are. Whew. A big ask!

Quentin in Arthur Miller’s After the Fall speaks in conversation to God: ‘I’ve quit the [law] firm, didn’t I write you about that?…It just got to where I couldn’t concentrate on a case anymore; not the way I used to. I felt I was merely in the service of my own success. It all lost any point…I think for many years I looked at life like a case a law a series of proofs. When you’re young you prove how brave you are and then how smart; then what a good lover; then, a good father; finally how wise or powerful or what-the-hell ever.” The stripping away for Quentin gave way to despair as he realized ‘[looking up one day, all this endless argument with oneself, litigation of existence before an empty bench, no judge in sight.]’ In place of empty despair as Quentin was left with is the idea of finding a Self in one not governed by an ego in need to control and manage, but a self with a sense of belonging to all of life, companion to all of life, made of earth and given breath. ‘There is a divinity,’ Shakespeare writes, ‘that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.’ I see faith as letting go, trusting in the deeper wisdom we fall into, a listening to the world for what it has to tell us, what the morning light of the sun passing through a leaf, or the crack in the pavement, or the rain blowing through one’s coat, to be present to what these might tell us about life, and then in that in a silence of that pregnant moment when it suits, the world will come to one, when we least expect it, and if we let go and make ourselves present, the silence may have something to tell us about life. We are nothing our own self, not performing some conceit, living in someone else’s conceit, but there feeling the world in the silence. And as T. S. Eliot and so many others before and after him have expressed, the whole of this adventure has been to return back home and see it as if for the first time.

Enabling change, being an activist and organizer, despite the ideas that flow through me, is not something I have in me. Minister Guilbeault is that kind of person though, one who is good at taking action and navigating the world and capitalizing on his work; effective at making a place for himself and his vision. He knows how to use the levers of society, to make a difference, get people to pay attention; he has done that so well over his life. He has had a great career of advocacy, advising governments and organizations the world over, has done extremely well to advance his vision.

I’m not writing to him to tell him off. I’m writing him because it’s the only thing I can do. I have to do something. I can’t do what he does or ever imagine getting to the elevation of purpose that he has got himself. I write to remind him of his vision, which he proudly celebrates in his personal profile, which he appears to me to have compromised too much. Yet, what do I really know? Issues are not that simple, but then sometimes the choices are clear cut. From way down here, the decision to approve Bay du Nord looks like one more instance where virtue and power are so compromised in each other’s company, purpose, as always, ends deferring to self-interest. For all of the public relations gloss you heard above from Wayne Easter and others, the choice was made for the established stakeholder who has, we can see, a tight grip on power.

In our society the status quo is asserted with sophisticated public relations strategies and enough affluence to pacify people, give them no reason to have their comfort disturbed. In totalitarian regimes with less sophistication or wealth, the management of power comes as a direct repression of dissident voices. In either case, truth is sacrificed under the shadow of power. The Christian story of Easter, being marked this weekend, represents that insight. It was a foregone conclusion that the upstart, 30-year old Christ would be the one crucified, his life snuffed out, not the life of Pontius Pilate, not the power-placating Governor in the Roman Empire, not him, who most historians believe retired in comfort and enjoyed a long life on earth. And perhaps it was a foregone conclusion that once the Christian Church was embraced by that same Empire, the empire came to influence church more than church empire. In the last moments of An Easter Meditation with reference to Empire and Crucifixion, the delineation of power is captured in the words identifying the dissonance between the ways of the world and the ways of god. Peace to you, says one. Peace.

M Guilbeault, I wrote:

How can I any longer believe in climbing trees to keep us from destroying our own home? 

What hope can there be when one as yourself who has pounded on the door of authority to wake up, now given the keys to that room, chooses to divert huge sums of money into fossil fuel extraction in Newfoundland in the very week the latest IPCC report, another code red, says we must stop, right now, investing in fossil fuels? 

There can be no hope now, all the efforts lost; the courage of conviction lost in the best and brightest of us.

April 8, 2022