Home is what we make of it

(January 6, 2017)

The news in 2016 was again dominated by the plight of refugees, people forced by circumstances not of their choosing to look for a new home.

When Hospitality House Refugee Ministries decided this past fall to open the gates for private refugee sponsorships for Winnipeg, they got more than 30,000 applications in six weeks — not skilled immigrants, just people looking to join their families, who want a new home here in Manitoba.

The news was perhaps more dominated by weather, however — the real and projected effects of the Earth’s changing geology, not just its climate. Geologists have conceded the existence of a new age of the Earth, the Anthropocene, because evidence of human interactions with the planet itself will be found in the distant future by whoever digs through to find our level in the dirt, just as we dug up the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs did not wipe themselves out, however — as a species, we are the first on Earth to potentially have such a dubious distinction.

So this year, concern for the Earth as our home was paired with the desire for people to find a new home.

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Carbon Tax Won’t Drive Change

(December 15, 2016)

We live between two basic truths about the choices we make: the society that lives for today at the expense of tomorrow has no future, but the society that lives for tomorrow at the expense of today will not survive to enjoy it.

Clearly, if we want both to survive and have a sustainable future, we need to find a third option, but it is not the one picked by the Trudeau government. You can’t have your pipeline and cancel it, too.

For example, take the proposed carbon tax. By itself, it will not move our society far enough or fast enough toward a sustainable future, but it helps. In addition to somewhat increasing costs for everyone, if it is spent only on reducing greenhouse gas emissions it will generate a new government revenue stream and encourage opportunities for green investment, both of which are needed to leverage the kind of changes we must make.

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Pipeline Spending Outdated Thinking

(December 1, 2016)

With the first snow on the ground and Christmas coming, it’s time to talk turkey about pipelines, and the turkey has landed with the Trudeau government’s pipeline announcements. Two projects were given the go-ahead Tuesday — an extension of Enbridge’s Line 3 and a tripling of capacity for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain line to Vancouver.

How Canada got here is not just about the facts. It’s about the story, the moral narrative, in which facts are included or excluded as the storyteller requires.

One narrative is unfolding south of the border in North Dakota at Standing Rock. It is obviously about aboriginal land rights and treaties, but it is most importantly about whether corporate interests require a licence to operate.

Not merely a legal licence, but a social licence, as well. In other words, when resources (such as land and water) that belong to all the people are put at risk by the actions of a small group, using them for their own benefit, does the rest of society need to give permission first?

The other narrative about pipelines is the one that has brought our society to where it is today — with its huge disparity in personal wealth, between the one per cent and the 99 per cent; its prosperity with respect to other countries; and the luxuries many of us enjoy as a result.

In that narrative, economic interest trumps everything else. Government exists to facilitate the acquisition of money by those who have the means to use the taxation and legal systems to their advantage. Environmental concerns are like bugs hitting the windshield on a summer’s highway drive to the lake — if there are too many, you need to pull to the side of the road and clean them off before continuing on your journey, but you certainly don’t stop for very long.

If we don’t change the story underpinning the choices we make as individuals and as a society to move away from focusing on economics, however, we will continue to change the planet into a place where no one — rich or poor — can easily or happily live.

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