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.
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.
Winnipeg city council is to debate a motion about composting today. The real problem is not what to do with our waste, but our approach to decision-making.
What drives the system these days seems to be the amount of electronic chatter — much of it from the usual suspects — on both sides of any issue. Councillors seem more attuned to their Twitter than to their better judgment, twisting in the electronic wind to catch the direction of the prevailing public opinion.
It becomes a crude form of advocacy, lighting up the phone tree or triggering the email avalanche to get your way — a chorus of the cranky, all mobilized to tilt the balance in the direction your group thinks everyone should go.
Because no one is really steering the ship, it becomes a competition to see who can grab the wheel and turn it in their favourite direction whenever a decision needs to be made.
The louder the voice, the stronger the opinion and the more likely it will be heard. It turns political decision-making into a referendum of the rudest — who will make the most trouble if they lose? — and not an exercise in wisdom or sober judgment on the part of our elected officials.
As a result, there has been no vision for the sustainable development of the city, nor any overall plan for the future that survives contact with the evidence. Whatever urban planning has been done is often disregarded in practice — perhaps because the electronic wind of criticism has blown in a few cranky tweets or emails.