Over the weekend I had the intellectually invigorating experience of interviewing British Columbia’s first Green Party MLA, Andrew Weaver. For those in the States who may not be familiar with the designation, MLA stands for Member of the Legislative Assembly. Weaver was touring the Kootenay Mountain region on a listen and learn tour. He was also coming to to give a talk in the mountain town of Nelson. Remember the old Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah romcom Roxanne? It was shot in Nelson. If that doesn’t ring any bells, just think mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, parks, and an historic downtown. That’ll get you there, imaginatively speaking.
Weaver is an affable presence. He spoke for about fifteen minutes to a healthy crowd that filled a venerable stone church near Nelson’s downtown. He was a hand mic speaker, easier with holding it than standing rod still at a lectern. With a soccer shirt and jeans, his casual appearance belied the gravity of much of what he had to say about the state of hyper-partisan politics in the province. Yes, my friends in the States, you have no monopoly on that, alas.
Then the two of us sat across from each other and I started probing. But the answer that proved more revealing to me was his one word response to my query about the nature of economic growth, typically predicated on the use of fossil fuels. I’ve interviewed scores of political figures, and if there’s ever a question they want to dance around it’s the one that goes to the nature of how consumerist societies can cut the use of fossil fuels when that would trigger a significant slowdown to the economy. Yet, short of making those cuts, we doom our children and grandchildren. (And if you think otherwise, you are not paying attention. But that’s another topic, another day.)
So I asked Weaver what’s going to happen if we continue to behave as we have been. “Collapse” was his response. No equivocation. No hesitation. He immediately brought up what happens to bacteria in a petri dish. As biology students everywhere learn, the bacteria proliferates until the colony collapses. Not the most flattering analogy for humans, one could argue, but that’s about where the objections could reasonably end.
It was an apt comparison for Weaver who has a stunning background as a scientist, worthy enough to have made him a lead author in 2007 for the UN’s Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I brought up the question because I want to see it addressed as often as possible. We simply can’t continue to consume as we do without leaving a travesty of a legacy. Naomi Klein wrestles with the need to reexamine our economic system in This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate. I’ve recommended this book of late, but not because I think she does a particularly great job of offering readers a plausible portrait of the what downscaling fossil fuel use would really mean, because she glosses over that aspect of her argument. (For a more complete critique of Klein’s book, see Elizabeth Kolbert’s review in The New York Review of Books: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/04/can-climate-change-cure-capitalism/.) I mention Klein’s most recent work because at least she digs deep and hard on why the prevailing economic model must be reassessed. And that is an important accomplishment.
Meantime, the environmental news, particularly in the American West, continues to prove the axiom that land without water is a desert. The Rio Grande, according to a report in this morning’s New York Times is now a “trickle.” That is not journalistic exaggeration. Neither is it inexplicable. In the forty years leading up to 2011, temperatures along the 2,000 miles of that river have jumped 2.8 degrees F. (Times link: http://www.nytimes.com/?WT.z_jog=1.) That rate is far faster than what we’re seeing in for the world as a whole.
With rising temperatures across most of the planet’s growing regions, is it any wonder that we’ve lost about a third of the planet’s arable land through erosion and other forces?
Perhaps perennial grains need to be looked at much more closely. While they are not nearly as productive as modern varieties, often producing only about one-fourth of the harvest, they are far more efficient users of moisture, and their carbon footprint is considerably less. Another example, perhaps, of how–with great adjustments–we, as stewards of this earth, could begin to reassess our standards and practices.
And avoid all petri dish predictions.