THE ISSUE: This summer Montreal Serai focuses on the environment through a variety of viewpoints. Jacqueline Fortson, who has moved to Canada from Mexico, gives us a contemporary photo-essay “Montreal – Nature and the City: What makes Montreal a liveable place?” The Quebec city socialist writer, Malcolm Reid, looks at the relation between the environment and social movements, describing the global biosphere as “the new proletariat.” Reid says nature is the oppressed voice which activists must learn to hear. The Montreal environmental leader, David Fletcher, in his striking essay, “It’s about ecology, stupid!” draws a comprehensive, stark portrait of the current bio-diversity crisis. It is, he warns, a “global winking out of life,” a “waking nightmare” – unless we rouse ourselves. The transport critic of the Quebec’s Green Coalition, Avrom Shtern, writes about car-mad transport, and the urgent need for mass transit of a different kind, while Maria Worton looks through her center-city window and sees a world that is “Living in Traffic.” Rana Bose comments on the BP spill and Subir Das tells us about California politics. And there is much more writing, prose and poetry, in this issue, with more “pushes” to come later this summer.
Amid the varied views presented here though, there is a common theme: we need new vision to break what the poet William Blake called the “mind-forged manacles” of what was once his London and now our world.
THE EDITORIAL: While Patrick Barnard has acted as general editor for this issue, the editorial board has decided to use four short comments from some of its members as an introduction.
I grew up with Strontium-90, the threat of nuclear devastation, fall-out shelters and Coppertone. I was not allowed to suck the tasty marrow from chicken bones and for a few summers even milk was considered suspect. Fifty odd years later, we live with global warming, ozone depletion and traffic pollution, bees disappearing, increasing numbers of cancers, species extinction, deforestation, resource exhaustion, ad infinitum. When googling news about the latest oil spill, not only do I read about it being a massive disaster but how lawyers are making money on it, how politicians are waffling and scuffling and worse, that leaks and spills are more common than we realize. The Gulf of Mexico environmental catastrophe is the elephant in the living room as I recycle my plastics even though I know that only about seven percent is actually reused, as I buy organic food that still uses insecticides, as I bike in city traffic with high UV levels and carbon dioxide emissions, as I use deodorant without aluminum and as I eat genetically modified foods. My dilemma is that, bombarded by media information of videos depicting oil spills, of photos of ocean garbage patches and of daily predictions that climate change will cause massive disappearance of plant and animal species, I cannot comprehend how my recycling will help. But nuclear armageddon did not happen and the new generation is informed and active. And when I ask my friends, what do you think about our planet, one says, do you know that the water around Montreal is cleaner than it used to be twenty years ago, and another, what about the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement to protect our forests, and another, all those companies going carbon neutral, like the airlines, movie studios, the World Bank and you can too. And perhaps I can, in conjunction with the small and the big, contribute.
Oil slick-sick, more of us than ever before must be asking, “How can we do this differently?” We know we’re getting down to the wire. Johann Hari, reporting in The Independent, asks how anyone will deal with accelerating climate change when, “The most powerful country on earth can’t stop a single leaking pipe.” And what else can we do when the earth’s remaining oil is beneath the ocean floor, in the Arctic or in risky conflict zones. Must we really go nuclear? Sure, it’s non-fossil, more climate, plant, animal friendly. Trouble is it’s killed a lot of people, and threatens everyone else.
I was ready for good news when I recently happened upon this wonderful report, http://www.offshorevaluation.org/downloads/offshore_vaulation_full.pdf, an evaluation of how Britain can get 150% of its energy needs through off shore energy production using tidal and wind technologies and an international electricity grid system, creating 145,000 jobs in the bargain. All of which would come at a fraction of the cost of committing to nuclear energy. Every country on earth needs such a report that scientifically evaluates new energy technologies and their geographical application.
How does one get there?! It seems that only public assembly, debate, demand, democracy by any other name, will deliver a movement with the critical mass to incline kleptocratic government to agree energy policy for the planet that does not sacrifice nature or its people.
I believe that human beings do indeed now face a dire threat to our own existence as a species because of our very own activity, and I think that we have probably reached the extinction threshold. Without radical change we will not survive. State socialism, as we have known it, has been a threat to the capitalist oligarchies that rule the world. However, “existing socialism” has failed dismally on the environment, in part because it is actually a form of state capitalism run by managerial redistributors who have the same misguided ideas about nature as their capitalist counterparts.
Out of necessity, human beings, I believe, will rise to the challenge of preserving life for ourselves and our fellow creatures. But the danger of eco-fascism, both of the statist and corporate form, is very great. Hence, the fight for nature and democracy must go hand in hand.
Children are taught that birds do not foul their own nest. The irony is that those very same adults who admonish their children to respect the environment are the first ones to foul it when the lure of filthy lucre rears its ugly head. As a species we seem to have forgotten that money is indeed dirty, literally and figuratively, and that it won’t replace what we have been so diligently destroying. The Cree Indians have a prophecy: “Only after the last tree has been cut down/ Only after the last fish has been caught/ Only after the last river has been poisoned/ Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten.” This issue of Montreal Serai is a nudge towards this simple truth.