04 November 2011
Before I became too busy biting heads, staggering along in a single-minded pursuit of brains, I did, as Zombie David Suzuki, give a stray thought to the environment and my current lifestyle’s impact on it.
The thought actually had been initiated by a friend who lives in town and his observations about how living ‘the simple life’ out at Tow Hill is not necessarily the greener life. Not unless you’re ready to let go of all mod cons like having a car/truck or electricity.
I drive far more here than I ever did back in the city. A trip into town for anything is 40 minutes of driving and although I could cycle if I had a couple of hours to spare, I’m usually carrying something, like building supplies, groceries, water jugs, gas canisters. That’s not to say that it can’t be done.
There are people here who don’t have a car and either hitch, bike or walk everywhere. It’s a little tougher proposition where I am, off the paved road but it can be done. I’ve heard that Chris the Walker who’s building his place mostly with hand tools, also carries his materials out to his building site by bike, one board at a time. Of course, he’s on a more extended building schedule than most.
Any time that I visit anyone, besides Meredith, I get into a car. Same when I go seeking firewood or go hunting. In theory I could walk out my door and do either but it’s too easy to grab the keys and vastly increase my range and load.
Gasoline is my lifeblood out here. It supplies me with my electricity as well, since I run a small generator to power my large array of electronics. I’m not so sure that solar or wind are necessarily any better from a material lifecycle perspective, since they use large banks of batteries that last up to five years before they go to the landfill.
Even in town, the electricity comes from a large diesel generator (there’s no hydro hookup with the mainland). And pretty much any outing is still made by motorized vehicle. Without getting into the minutia of carbon accounting, I suspect that there are efficiencies and economies of scale to be had in living on-the-grid, in dense urban centers with good public transit.
But there have also been strong environmental benefits through living this kind of life, most of which have been attitudinal. It may seem too lackluster a positive, in one of the rainiest places in North America, but I’ve greatly increased my water conservation.
I use less water for drinking, cooking and washing in a day than most people do just flushing their toilet a couple of times. Instead of taking up to three showers a day, I average about one a week, greatly supplemented with dunks in the ocean. But like many around here, I now have a different standard of ‘cleanliness,’ not so much that it’s lower, but I now think that what we have in the west is artificially inflated and that maybe, just maybe, those dirty Euros have it right.
As an aside, the other day, I heard an interview on the CBC with Katherine Ashenburg, the author of “The Dirt on Clean.” Through her research, she came across such royal bathing habits as one queen who boasted that she bathed every month, whether she needed it or not. There was a king who had only two baths in his lifetime. I will concede that there is such thing as too little bathing.
Ashenburg also mentioned a pejorative German expression, ‘warmduscher,’ literally someone who takes warm showers, meaning someone who is a wimp. I contend that the hot shower is one of humankind’s finest innovations and something that runs neck and neck with sex and wool socks (together or separately) for reasons to be alive.
I also buy less ‘stuff,’ not only because of limited space, and the added cost and decreased availability of goods on the island but perhaps because I’m less bombarded by marketing messages and impulse purchase opportunities every day. I buy really only what I strictly need and reduce by that microcosmic amount the material resources and energy that I take responsibility for by buying crap.
But really, for me it isn’t about such accounting as whether my locally-sourced cedar poles and freecycled windows offset all the synthetic building materials that had to be shipped or flown in from off-island, as to whether living this life is ‘in the green’ from an environmental perspective. To me it’s more significant that I now care more deeply about the environment and this attitude influences all my actions. Living in the city it becomes very easy to think of ‘the environment’ as an abstract concept, something that’s universally good in the motherhood and maple syrup sense (there’s my Can-con).
Rather, here, I eat what comes out of the ocean in front of me, paddle in its waters. I see the effects of clearcut logging as I hunt among the ruined landscape but also buy the lumber to build my shelter and burn driftwood for warmth. (It was a major revelation to me that most driftwood is a byproduct of logging operations). In short, I see a direct one-to-one relationship with what the environment provides me, including the downright spiritual enrichment that I get from natural settings.
That’s not to say that you need to live rurally to get that sort of deep attachment, just that it’s almost guaranteed when you are aware of and rely on environmental health on a daily basis. And this gives me added incentive to speak up to counter developments that will have an undeniably huge impact on the local environment. When I say local environment, it’s really an unnecessary distinction since the environmental health of the world is all interconnected.
The clear and present danger that I’m thinking of is the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project and the associated tankers – over 200 a year, three football fields in length – which would be carrying crude oil through some of the roughest waters on the planet off the coast of British Columbia. Think Exxon Valdez adjusted for inflation. (Check out Raincoast Conservation Foundation at www.raincoast.org or www.notankers.ca if you’d like to learn more.)
It makes me want to channel the undead David Suzuki and bite the heads of those who are pushing for such a shortsighted plan. I’ve been told that, post-Halloween, this is not a reasonable course of action (just as well, I have it on good authority that greedy brains taste bad). Instead, I’ll speak up and take action where I can. I implore you to do so as well, or face the horror of ecosystems that have little hope of rising back from the dead in any of our lifetimes.