The World’s Dying. . . Let’s Blame Someone Else!

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Nobody Just Cares about the Environment…Right?!

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The Introverted Social Worker

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Time to Vote Jeff Bezos off the Island

Clearly, if I put down the chocolate and live to see 80, there won’t be enough fists for me to shake nor enough children for me to yell at to get off my lawn. Okay, okay, I’ll hopefully have just the usual two hands for balling into fists, and lawns aren’t exactly my thing to get worked up about, and I probably will still be renting so people of all ages can frolic or even take dumps on my future landscape. Plus I love children and if I did have a lawn, they’d be more than welcome to play there as children should on a stupid patch of (usually) non-native, water-sucking grass.

Where did that train go?! Time to get back onto my original thought, which is that I am oft very crusty about things big and small, and this time around I’m angry at Jeff Bezos. Jeff and the metaphorical $153B net worth horse he rode in on. Okay, I’m actually angry about Jeff, about that horse, and – most of all – about our world which not only accepts but admires a wealth so staggering and so beyond reason.

Let’s have a think about this, shall we? $153 billllllion dollars, according to Forbes and its net worth updates every 24 hours, because, you know, who wants to live in a world where we can’t check daily to see how Jeff Bezos’s wealth is accumulating? And, in case you were wondering, the answer is fast; Forbes’s 2018 billionaires list, posted in March of this year, clocked him in at a relatively paltry $112B.

So what does it mean to be worth $153? I don’t know; you’ll definitely have to ask Jeff Bezos, as even Bill Gates has been left in his dust. What I DO know is that Jeff Bezos is worth more than the 2017 GDP of Hungary (https://knoema.com/tbocwag/gdp-by-country-statistics-from-imf-1980-2022). I know that if you pick any country in the Caribbean, combine them, sprinkle in some European, African, and Central American countries’ GDPs, he’s worth more than that. I know that if even 1% of his assets are liquid, and he chose to live this amount alone, and he lived to a fairly generous 94, he would have to figure out how to make do on a measly $104,000+ per day. What does that kind of money even mean? How many people in your sphere earn that amount annually?

At this point maybe I should pull back and say that I am very much embedded in our capitalist, rapacious society. I have no illusions that I would take any and all raises offered to me. If I had more money, I would upgrade from my rental basement suite in which only the hardiest bamboo survives and in which sow bugs and spiders wage war. I would buy rainier cherries more, get better concert seats, and not wince when I run my debit card through the machine. And I know it’s all relative; for some, my place is paltial and to have a computer and TV and a cell are remote luxuries. So I’m not necessarily pointing any fingers.

But actually I am. The thing is, nobody is worth $153B. Or if someone is, we all are and money doesn’t actually mean anything anyway. In our neoliberal, comsumerist society, many believe that Jeff Bezos just worked that hard, and is that much better than the rest of us. I actually don’t believe that. I’m sure he worked hard, and in the pathological way that the very, very rich seem to, he probably still does. So do doctors. So do people who take care of animals or prepare my food at Saskatoon Asian or grow the eggplants I eat or who take two minimum-wage jobs at 7-11 and A&W. Yes, Jeff Bezos obviously scratched a societal itch to have books delivered to our doorsteps within days. Yes, he has clearly figured out what he needs to do to ride the wave of tax loopholes, incentives, and money begetting money to see his own fortune increase $40B over a few months. But what has he really done? How is it that he, or anyone, dares to have that amount of money when so many have so little?

Know that when I bemoan the monetary fortune of Jeff Bezos, it is not with the bitter heart of someone who wishes to be in his place. It is with the deeply bitter heart of someone who owns a calculator and can see what that amount of money could do for countless millions of people if it weren’t locked in the hands of a single person. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada’s total healthcare budget for 2017 was $242B (https://www.cihi.ca/en/health-spending). Think of that the next time you hear of someone you care about being put on a long waiting list for surgery. The total budget of the Department of Environment and Climate Change in the 2016-2017 year was just over $1B (www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change). Imagine the clean-water and conservation initiatives we could enact if Jeff were to become our benefactor! Or, better yet, if he fired some of his money to countries that need it even more. Yeah, I get it, money doesn’t work that way. I also get that I don’t know how deeply philanthropic he may be (though if that section of his Wiki page is even close to comprehensive, I’ll summarize his charitable contributions as something like a giant imparting a gift of a giant pea; it’s giant to us, and to him it’s a pea).

Tying up this rant with a neat bow, I want to say that I think (most) humans seek justice. Evolution has gifted us with a powerful need to seek justice; in olden times, as now, it didn’t do well for everyone to work constantly to acquire food and shelter, only to have one jeff  – I mean jerk – take the share of thousands. This isn’t an anthropological study so I don’t know what people actually did if/when that happened, but I imagine the dude with the cave with a square footage greater than the total size of the village, plus a summer cave, plus more pre-historic horse meat than he could eat in hundreds of lifetimes while those outside his cave starved, was not revered and admired for his hard work. I’m guessing there was some sort of justice in the form of shunning, forced redistribution of resources, or a similar fun equalizing activity. I may not wax nostalgic for early times that were not only pre-sliced bread but also pre-penicillin and pre-housing barring the entry of predatory animals, but I do like the thought of a time when people simply didn’t truck with any one person having so much. It didn’t make any more sense then than it does now, though we’ve nimbly created and adapted to an economic system where this kind of inequality somehow makes sense to us. He’s earned it. He deserves it. If he weren’t supposed to have this kind of wealth, he wouldn’t. . . and other neoliberal chants we tell ourselves so that we get mad at one another for being on income assistance, or daring to ask for a living minimum wage, or having meaningful resource-sharing with Indigenous people. We continue to go off in the heinous CBC comments sections and in the streets about “my taxes” going to social, educational, and environmental programs, while the richest individuals and corporations keep getting richer, often via tax loopholes or getting government subsidies. Fun fact: In 2017, Amazon, which posted $3B in profits, payed “almost no” federal tax (https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-not-paying-taxes-trump-bezos-2018-4). But hey, remember that time you heard of that one guy who collected income assistance fraudulently?

It’s amazing how the reality of income inequality seems so far removed from our lives that we wring hands and fret over the distribution of money that would actually contribute to a better quality of life for all, in which people, the environment, and animals might flourish, but don’t blink an eye as Jeff Bezos and other ultra-richies walk away with the community’s resources.

Crikey It’s Hard Trying to Be Good!

This just in: I struggle with the qualities of goodness and compassion in myself. In theory, I love them. Weaving flowers in my hair in fits of gratitude for flowers and hair, volunteering at a charity run against terrible diseases, fighting to save the habitat of some cute animal or another…Of course I believe in and want these things! Right?!

Reality can be slightly more complex than the abstract, though. For me, reality puts a chokehold on the beauty of the roses and voluntarism that float in my mind, shaping them into the petty First World curses I shout inside my tiny car when drivers won’t let me into their lane, or into the seething rage I nurse thinking about the heinousness of Orange 45 and his stupid agenda. Reality tackles theory so that instead of taking a tin of freshly-baked vegan shortbread to my neighbours, I duck my head and pretend I don’t see them as I trudge from car to house with rolls of sale toilet paper in my arms. Theoretical me sighs that nobody has ever improved anything by being an impatient dick even as real me feels waves of infuriated fatigue squash me as someone defends the status quo. In the world of theoretical self and the self that is tired of writing its thesis and has low blood iron, the former possesses considerably more compassion.

In this new year, I attempt to channel theoretical me with intensity. I will focus on the goodness and compassion and gratitude that percolate through my brain during happy times and make them the pillars of real me so that I will ooze them – yes, I said “ooze” –  in less triumphant times. I will try hard to cultivate these qualities when the bags under my eyes darken my cheeks and when my cartilage-free joints prevent me from playing volleyball and when for any reason I need to see Kevin O’Leary’s beady eyes in the news. These are the times I must remember to be glad for everything I have, to be kind to people, and to try and understand the perpectives of those with whom I disagree. Po-tay-to/po-tah-to, I don’t care so much about – dude, get a life if those were the biggest concerns in your relationship – but I mean real disagreements.

This journey to be better will continue. Two notable things help me focus on this:

  1. I’ve blown the dust off my old gratitude journal, in which I record 5 things for which I’m grateful, every day. It can be the fact that I have a warm house when it’s -20 outside, the fact that I have access to tomatoes and oatmeal and other nutritious food, or having had a games night with my family. Honing in on the good of a day makes me dwell in the positive. Also, Oprah does it and don’t even argue with Oprah.
  2. I visit this website. I love it, and it roots me in the best qualities that people can cultivate. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu

There. Now you know what I’m doing. What are you up to? 🙂

 

Protectors, not Protesters: We’re All Peeing into the Same Pool

I have been watching for some time the ongoing struggles of the people of the Unist’ot’en camp in BC, the Sacred Stone camp in South Dakota, and Muskrat Falls in Newfoundland and Labrador. For the people of these regions, decisions about pipelines or reservoir flooding are neither remote nor abstract. NIMBY is a luxury they do not have; controversy has come knocking on their doors. Their homes, their water, and their way of life are being threatened.

Within a colonial structure in which every kind of trespass is punishable by law except, apparently, those enshrined in treaties, corporations such as Nalcor and Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company operate with impunity, protected by government and laws that are blind to planetary reality. Those in power, whether corporate or citizen, are insulated by money, distance, and usually race; they frame the conversation so that anyone who opposes their interests is a threat to the status quo, a terrorist, a protester.

In the purest sense of the word, the people of Muskrat Falls and the Unist’ot’en and Sacred Rock camps are protesting something, namely corporate projects (or, in the case of Muskrat Falls, not the project itself but specific negligence), but there is a reason for their rejection of this persistent mainstream label. In everyday parlance, the word protester is a concept, tainted, denigrated, the domain of the criminal and the uneducated. Protesters are radical and fringe-y and why can they not just get a job? Mainstream Canadians and Americans see those who block pipeline development as the enemy, and the media happily follow along for the scandalous ride.

What is less recognized and given less space in the national newspaper is that the original insult, the initial illegal move, was proceeding with the project itself when safety could not be reasonably guaranteed. Against treaty, against human rights documents given lip service by politicians, against planetary limits, the trespass continues. This is the bigger picture, but we seem to be missing it, so zoomed in on the minutia are we. Clause x and by-law y versus the reality of thousands of litres of oil and chemicals dumped into a source of drinking water.

It is with a deep understanding of this discourse, wherein the reaction of people less powerful (and, not accidentally, in all of these examples, Indigenous) is characterized as reckless, violent, and against ethical codes, that the local people ask to be named in the media as “protectors” rather than protesters. After all, they are demanding that governments respect the concept of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), uphold treaties, and respect human rights over those of corporations. They are advocating for themselves, the animals, their children. They are protecting something.

Let me pose a question. If someone urinates in the swimming pool of a rich home-owner, is the resident considered a protester when chasing the offender away or pressing charges?

The answer, of course, is no. You would suggest that the person is protecting their pool.

That is the law. That is the European-based law which most North Americans recognize. Unfortunately, many of us become murkier when it comes to treaties, the concept of unceded land, and universal human rights. Are these not abstract concepts? Obsolete contracts? Dusty and meaningless remnants of a long ago past?

No, no, and no.

What the people of the Unist’ot’en and Sacred Stone camps and Muskrat Falls are doing is letting us know that we are peeing in their pool, and they are being called protesters for protecting it. They are causing the ruckus.

But what is really ironic (sad, infuriating, pick an adjective) is that their pool is also our pool, it is just that we are farther away from the pee and think it will not reach us. They are warning us, but our area is less contaminated and we are okay with that. For now.

I will leave you with the words of the Wet’suwet’en people’s page about their Unist’ot’en camp:

“The Unist’ot’en homestead is not a protest or demonstration. Our clan is occupying and using our traditional territory as it has for centuries. Our free prior and informed consent protocol is in place at the entrance of or territory as an expression of our jurisdiction and our inherent right to both give and refuse consent. Our homestead is a peaceful expression of our connection to our territory. It is also an example of the continuous use and occupation of our territory of our territory by our clan. Our traditional structures of governance continue to dictate the proper use of and access to our lands and water.

Today all of our Wet´suwet´en territory, including Unist’ot’en territory, is unceded Aboriginal territory. Our traditional indigenous legal systems remain intact and continue to govern our people and our lands. We recognize the authority of these systems” (http://unistoten.camp, retrieved October 26, 2016).

Blossoms and Tomatoes

I hope you don’t think this is lame, but I honestly don’t feel like writing about anything right now. The Orlando shooting, the Yulin dog-eating “festival,” the news that 185 environmental activists were killed last year, the ongoing oil gushers in which corporations don’t even get a slap on the wrist, casual and not-so-casual racism and misogyny, people denying climate change, people killing a shark to take a selfie, the shooting of the Olympic jaguar in Rio, fracking…Is there no limit to how horrible people can be?

At another time, I will (hopefully) be more eloquent. I will be more charitable of heart and mind. I will be able to speak of good things. But given my current mindset, I will stop talking and show you some beautiful things from my garden.  Voila!

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