Scaring Ourselves to Bits on Salt Spring

National Post Comment January 2003

SALTSPRING ISLAND - One was present at the Re-branding of Canada this week, in the snazzy little theatre Springers call ArtSpring. Environment Minister David Anderson was on his Kyoto victory lap, and dashed over from Victoria where he was promoting hybrid cars, looking entirely cheerful for once. With him were the two other wise men of Sustainable Canada, David Suzuki and Saltspring's Robert Bateman, the visual poet of the re-branding exercise taking place. There's nothing left-wing governments like better than re-branding a country. There is so much pleasure in taking an entire land -- which existed for centuries before you and your bad ideas came along -- trashing the virtues and values that make your pampered life possible, and whipping it off in a whole new direction, leaving behind its corrupt racist traditions and mouldy old unhelpful institutions. And certainly Cool Britannia appeared to usher in an explosion of creative activity in Britain, under Tony Blair, before Britain descended into gridlock and crime.

Bateman is Canada's Thomas Kincaid, which makes one vastly relieved to be Canadian. Sentiment does belong in art, sometimes, and Bateman is a wonderful illustrator of the magnificence that is Canada's wilderness. So much better than the thousands of little twinkling lights on the thousands of little sweet cottages, and stone bridges and chapels in Kincaid's bathetic and wickedly successful off-prints sold by the cartload. If the Land of Liberty wants to move towards happy little communities, lit by God, then Canada, it seems, is looking towards this slogan: Nature Comes First.

Anderson, who has never held a private-sector job, is planning to spend the next few months, he tells us, negotiating with oil and gas companies in order to bring them into line and that they will, yes they will, fall into line. Wild applause. No more discussion about global warming, it's time for action. Wild applause. He tells us that he is thrilled, yes thrilled, by the promise on Saltspring of a bus powered by a windmill on Mount Tuam, because 25% of emissions that cause global warming come from transport. More wild applause. There was no time allowed for questions, but if he negotiates with the oil and gas companies of Alberta, the way he gave a pass to the automakers in Ontario last week, well they should sharpen up their rhetoric, because help is on the way.

On Saltspring, David Suzuki is God, and cannot be questioned. And God says that community control of resources is key, because biologists have found that we must have diversity, or genetic polymorphism, because if there is diversity, the "community" is more likely to survive when rapid and unavoidable change comes along. There is a rapid diminution of diversity taking place all over the planet. We are losing species at a huge and terrifying clip. We are being taken over by the monoculture of global capitalism, which is anti-diversity, and anti-community. We need an "ethno-biosphere," and we all have to dream a new world. Therefore communities must take back their power and insist on resolution at local levels.

Fits of yawning. Are there no new ideas around, because this clunker has been around for such a long time and has been proved to be based on faulty, and worse, emotionally-based research by so many solid thinkers, that it seems impossible that it still has currency.

First of all, the threat of massive species diminution is utter crap. Realistic figures put loss of species at 0.7% over the next 50 years, not insignificant, but much, much smaller than the typically advanced 10%-100% over the next 50 years. In 1980, a U.S. study published under the aegis of President Carter, authored by WWF Thomas Lovejoy, claimed that by the year 2000 at least 15%-20% of all species on the Earth would be extinct. Has that happened? No. Is there any honesty in the doomsday scenario propagated by our leaders and wise men? None at all. Because if there was, they would have to tell us that, in fact, things are getting very much better for every human on the planet and that environmental degradation is diminishing not increasing. And that, in fact, when the developing world gets rich enough to protect the environment, build parks, save wetlands, etc., the human-caused warming and extinctions will begin to reverse themselves. And that all the money we are going to throw away on Kyoto would be far better spent, more humane, and even better for us, in making sure that the millions of children in the developing world had clean water. What we are going to throw away on the hare-brained Kyoto, could probably educate entire generations in, heck, pick a continent.

Never mind. It's lovely fun to scare ourselves to bits and we're here to launch Saltspring's $50 and $100 bill. Yes, we have our own currency, traded on the island, at par with the Canadian dollar. It's pretty. Local characters grace one side, and a lovely painting or illustration the other. It is meant to hasten us on to sovereignty and to fund public goods such as the windmill- powered bus, and low-cost housing. Therefore, it has an expiry date on it. Two years, generally. Tourists are meant to buy it, and take it off island as a souvenir, and it is a scheme propagated by a local dentist with an active mind and one of our local government officials, and a few others, like a stock promoter, who, as a leading business reporter at the Vancouver Sun pointed out recently, appears to have had far greater personal success than many of the companies he has been associated with.

It is a charming thing, when community members find ingenious ways, without more taxing, to fund public projects. So if you come here, take some away with you. But for heaven's sake, don't join our "enabling field of consciousness," because Unreason must not be allowed to contaminate the ethnobiosphere of the sensible. After all, the monoculture? Isn't that where the real money comes from?