EDITORIAL: The Audacious Geography of Hope

Rossland Telegraph
By Rossland Telegraph
February 19th, 2009

On Monday of this week, I went to a talk in Nelson by Chris Turner, the Calgarian author of The Geography of Hope (Note to Self: does he pay royalties to Barack Obama or is Mr. Turner just audacious?), a book that bravely attempts to grab a very ferocious bull by both horns. Unfortunately, they turn out to be the horns of a dilemma.

Turner, an earnest speaker, spent the first half of his talk reiterating the twin dangers our feckless, improvident species faces: economic catastrophe and environmental meltdown. He notes that ‘peak oil’, the point in time where demand for crude irreversibly outstrips supply (with potentially apocalyptic results) may already be upon us, or will be within a couple of years. He also notes that our collapsing economy is at least partially the result of a fatally-flawed economic model that demands unlimited growth while requiring cheap and abundant fossil fuels. Good stuff. And then, during the second half of his talk, Turner suggests that we address all this by…buying fresh veggies from roadside stalls—you know, like what they do over yonder in Europe.

That’s a cruel way of putting it, but it points out an essential problem in both Turner’s argument and the situation we’re all facing. Turner spent the second half of his talk listing an impressive number of wonderful, existent technologies that, if implemented simultaneously by six or seven billion people, would solve all our economic and environmental problems in a week. Hooray! The dilemma, of course, lies in the fact that getting the world up to speed on solar roofs and wind turbines will take at least a century, while in reality we’ve got a few years left at most to fix a broken world.

There is nothing, for example, on the automotive horizon that will replace the gas-burning car, no matter what they tell you. Invent a workable, affordable electric car—a big task, even assuming we still have an economy containing people with the ability to buy them, then figure out how you’re going to generate all the electricity it will take to run two or three billion of them. Coal? Nuclear? And, besides, the time frame is impossible anyway.

So while Turner was right about the problem and right about the solution, he failed to make them meet in the middle, failed to supply a time frame.

What to do?

In my more cynical moments, I think of environmental boosterism as the cynic’s ‘born-again’ experience. College grads typically view the world through ironic lenses (Turner himself is the author of a previous book called Planet Simpson), but at some point they decide to drop their cynicism and adopt an evangelically positive view of the future, no matter how impractical or unlikely to come true.

So what to do? Bury out heads in the sand as we toss canvas shopping bags in the backs of our SUVs as though we had a spare century or two to solve our problems? Or should we give up and bury ourselves beneath a pile of old Simpsons DVDs?

Or is it finally time to wake up and make some big boy (and girl) decisions?

Turner made at least one great point Monday: Europe is further ahead in Green initiatives than North America because traditionally higher energy costs over there have created a greater sense of urgency around conservation; European governments fund zero-emission towns and residential/business developments. Nothing much like that over here.

If there’s anything worthwhile we can do while there’s still an economy to work with, it would be to create our own local sense of urgency by setting impossibly high goals for ourselves here in Rossland.

Why not think big? What about a campaign to make Rossland a zero-emission city within five years? We’d be a great test case for such a project, given our wasteful and precarious perch on top of a frozen mountain. As the economy continues to tank, the government will be spending lots of money on infrastructure, and a zero-emissions project like this would likely be looked upon favourably as, if nothing else, a great PR stunt. Impossible? Probably. Doomed? It’s likely. Worth a try? Definitely.

Any other ideas out there? If so, post ’em at the new Telegraph forum on this issue.

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IDEAS to improve Rossland environmental and economic

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