Monday, August 7, 2017

What Would You Be Willing To Sacrifice?

Ed Finn has a blog entry at that I highly recommend. His thesis can roughly be summarized in this excerpt:
The glue that holds any society together is faith in its governments, courts, churches, unions and non-profits -- faith that these organizations, no matter how flawed, will always be committed to serving their basic needs, to protecting them from the worst effects of poverty, unemployment, and sickness.

That glue comes unstuck when governments put private interests ahead of the public interest; when corporations put the uncontrolled pursuit of profits ahead of the well-being of workers and their communities; when unions are stripped of much of their capacity to help their members.

No wonder, then, that so many people have concluded that they can no longer depend collectively on these institutions -- that they are now on their own as individuals, each locked in a struggle for survival, with little or no help from any quarter.
The disastrous result, Finn suggests, is that we increasingly adopt a very selfish outlook on life, moving, if you will forgive a bit of hyperbole, into a stark survival-of-the-fittest lifestyle, a reversion to an almost Hobbesian state of nature.

There can really be no doubt that Western governments, including our 'new' one under Justin Trudeau, are neoliberal in nature. And the kinds of selfishness those governments foster are, without any hyperbole, facilitating the destruction of our world. The notion of sacrificing anything in service of the collective good is being steadily eroded, replaced by a widespread self-indulgence that has been transformed into a virtue.

My immediate concern here is the ever-accelerating rate of climate change, the greatest peril our planet has ever faced. While acknowledging that there are still some very good people today, I cannot escape the notion that the majority would obdurately refuse to make even the smallest sacrifice or lifestyle change that could, if done in sufficient numbers, slow down that rate. And quite significantly, our governments, beyond some paltry carbon taxes, are requiring nothing from us. That vacuum in leadership, in turn, gives licence to the very self-indulgent lifestyles that neoliberalism demands.

The kinds of sacrifices I am talking about are small ones we all could take: not idling our car while waiting for our spouse in the grocery store; combining errands to reduce GHG emissions; walking to the store instead of driving; eating one less meal of beef or pork per week; turning the air-conditioning temperature up one degree and heating temperature down one degree; buying energy-efficient products upon replacement; buying energy-efficient cars; air-drying clothes instead of using the dryer, etc.

All of the above require conscious choices, but none of them is onerous. I shall leave you with some video that highlights the peril we face, as well as this question: What small sacrifices are you willing to make or have made to reduce your carbon footprint?

If you go to approximately the five-minute mark on the following Global National newscast, you will see the impact climate change is having on Vancouver:


  1. I've given up air travel altogether which some family members argue is unreasonable (they think I should fly to them in Ontario or Ireland). In the winter I heat my home, as much as possible, with scavenged wood discarded as unsuitable by logging operations. The discards are usually bulldozed into piles and burned on the hillside. For cooling I've installed high efficiency casement windows with good blinds. On warm/hot days I shut the windows and blinds first thing in the morning, opening them when the cool evening breezes arrive to flush whatever heat accumulates during the daytime. I drive only when necessary and, when I do have to shop (it's about 40 kms. distant), I hit all the shops in one round. Best of all, I inherited a fondness for cool from my mother. Even in winter she liked her house cool enough to hang meat. Me too. That's what sweaters are for. It took me some time to realize this but most of us light our houses at night decoratively rather than for necessity. LED instead of incandescent.

    I don't think there's anything fanatical in these small steps. They're common sense and there's no discernible feeling of sacrifice in them.

    Most people I know have come to live a "climate-controlled" life with their furnaces and air conditioners set to maintain selected temperatures. We can maintain a good measure of this effect without these appliances by properly insulating and ventilating our homes, thoughtful landscaping and dressing to accommodate the prevailing conditions.

    I think it's time for awnings to make a comeback. I'm looking into it.

    1. Your measures seem very prudent, Mound. One of the things we make sure to do when humidity is pending is to shut all of the windows to prevent its entry; it is really quite remarkable how effective that is in reducing the use of air conditioning. We use the car as little as possible, but that is easier for us than others, as we live in a town that is very walkable, with the library about 10 minutes away, the doctor's about seven, and the optometrist about an 18-minute walk. We are also five minutes or so away from grocery-shopping, although to go to certain stores we still must drive. In the winter we keep our heat at about 19 degrees, and turn it down to 17 at bedtime. The dryer is reserved for towels and sheets. The rest is hung on racks. The only meat we eat is chicken; the rest is vegetarian fare.

      I applaud your giving up on airplanes; we are not there yet, as we usually go once a year to Cuba, and last year we had a second flight to England.

      I make no claim to being an environmental paragon, but I do believe each of us has a role to play in climate-change abatement, whether the government wants us to or not.

  2. We have become a passive audience for the neo-liberal message, Lorne. To wit: self interest makes the world go round. And we continue to accept that swill, even as the world falls apart.

    1. Propaganda is never more powerful than when it plays to the selfish aspects of our natures, Owen.

  3. About the travelling suspension, Lorne, I did my touring extensively in the 60s and 70s. I also got to make a variety of trips as a journalist. However, touring in the 60s/70s and touring in the 2010s are vastly different experiences. When I traveled, the Earth's population was still sub-3 billion and the percentage of that population that traveled was smaller still. It was still possible to go to places that had changed only marginally since WWII. There was an authenticity to it that's been diminished since then.

    One example. I rode to Stonehenge on my motorcycle in the pre-dawn hours the morning after the Equinox and was able to stroll the place unimpeded. Today they've constructed a pathway that circles the henge and ropes to cordon off the public and keep them at a distance. The two experiences cannot be compared.

    I lived briefly in the Spanish seaside town of Benidorm. There was a genuine tourism industry there but the architecture and the ambience of an earlier time remained. Two decades later and the waterfront was wall to wall high-rises full of besotted English jabos roaming the streets, bar to bar, barfing everywhere and offending everyone. The two experiences cannot be compared.

    The London I knew and loved in '69/70 has been largely eradicated in the decades since. I took a girlfriend with me when I returned in '74, eager to show her my favourite haunts. In the main they were gone, replaced by different faces and a tawdry cheapness. From London to Polperro to Edinburgh we walked into pubs that had jukeboxes blaring out Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man." It was dispiriting and I've never been back.

    Environmental concern is only part, albeit the altruistic part, of the reason I've given up travel. The other part is that I find it unpleasant to see what has transpired over the past many decades.

    There have been several reports recently of unrest by local populations inundated by hordes of tourists in parts of Spain, Italy including Venice. The permanent population of Venice is now declining, largely due to the tourist onslaught. I don't want to experience that nor do I want to add to it.