by Stan Hirst
Langdale, B.C. on a Sunday afternoon in early spring. Background of sunny weather and balmy breezes. Add in a few thousand Sunshine Coast vacationers and day-trippers heading home. Result = a humungous line-up for the Horseshoe Bay ferry. Which is how I found myself in a tightly packed line of parked vehicles with nowhere to go for an hour and a half.
Behind me was a spanking new red F-150. Made my 13-year-old RAV look a little faded and submissive, but that has nothing to do with anything (except my ego). The F-150 driver was a well-built middle-aged dude with greying hair and a goatee. What to do? What all mature males do when forced into confined situations of course – shoot the breeze.
Pick-up Truck Guy (or PUG for short) turned out to be a lumberman. Owned his own cedar milling operation south of the Fraser River. Just a few weeks earlier I had ventured closer to poverty by having a new cedar fence built around my own humble abode on the North Shore. Turned out the folks who built it were PUG’s competitors just down the road from his own yard.
He must have been doing pretty well at the lumber business since he owned a summer home on the Sunshine Coast. He needed no prompting to pull out his smartphone and show me pics of the house which he had built himself. I was genuinely impressed.
He was interested in what route I had taken to get to Langdale. When I mentioned Powell River and Saltery Bay he launched into an almost bucolic musing about salmon fishing, especially for chinook. It seemed to be an annual event for him. As I do fairly often when the conversation involves salmon off the B.C. coast, I threw in a few casual comments about commercial salmon farms and declining sockeye runs. He didn’t rise to the bait. He hadn’t checked out any salmon farms, didn’t know anything about their operations.
From salmon to dams wasn’t a big jump in conversation (we were in B.C. after all), and just one step from there to B.C. Hydro. PUG allowed as how his uncle had worked for Hydro. When he told me the name the old Six Degrees of Separation concept proved itself, as always – uncle had been the Chief Engineer during my own years with Hydro. We were getting along famously.
It was inevitable that, at some point, climate change would sneak into the discourse. One reason was the threatening black clouds scudding overhead. Another reason was that I tend to throw climate change into any conversation where phrases like “heavy rain”, “weird weather”, “unseasonal”, “forest fires” or “freezing my ass off in summer” are being deployed. His reaction was unexpectedly vehement. “Its all BS! “
In my experience, climate-change denialism has usually been linkable in some way to ignorance or, more frequently, to a basic lack of interest. That certainly wasn’t the case with PUG. He obviously had thought about it, and his strong opinions were fact-based, as far as he was concerned. “There’s only 0.04 percent carbon dioxide in the air! How’s a little extra going to change the climate of the entire Earth eh?” I gently pointed out that CO2 levels in the atmosphere measured on Mauna Loa in Hawaii were now at the highest level in 60 years of monitoring. “So? Still just a tiny little amount in a whole lot of air!” I started to manoeuvre my way towards a discussion of the greenhouse effect, then gave up. No way through there.
I tried another tack, something a little closer to home. “Forest fires are way more widespread now due to changing climate. Must be affecting the wood supply?” He shrugged it off. “Didn’t bother me any. Supply and prices are always moving around. Anyway, I deal mainly with cedar, fires have been taking out mainly pine and spruce”.
He enquired as to my profession. I told him that my working days were done, but that I had a lot of years in a lot of countries behind me. Somehow the conversational links then went from climate change and flooding to Bangladesh where I spent some years of my life and where there is lots of flooding as well as lots of people and lots of poverty.
“That’s why this global warming stuff is all crap” said PUG. “Makes no difference to all to the people in Bangladesh if the air is a little warmer and it rains a little more or less. What would help them is a bigger economy, higher employment, more exports and lower child mortality!”
At that point he surprised me by mentioning that he had learned all this by watching an online video of Hans Rösling’s presentation on the dynamics of population growth, child mortality and carbon dioxide emissions
I have to admit that I was stumped to learn that a hands-on B.C. lumber man like my new PUG friend knew all about Hans Rösling and his cutting edge graphic presentations on global resource and population themes. I also have to reveal that I felt a pang of regret after I remarked that it was too bad that Rösling had died last year. “Nooo! Damn! That guy really knew how to present data with his 3D moving graphics. Not many get that right!”
The conversation became somewhat eclectic after that. Floods, climate change, poverty, foreign aid, world politics. We were busy trading more name-droppers when David Suzuki suddenly leaped into the conversation. I had carefully skirted any mention of my connection to the Elders, so it was a bit of a conversation-stopper when PUG declared “Suzuki is a hypocrite!”
Me: “How’s that then?”
PUG: “He tells everyone what to do, what not to do, and how to live. But he himself has got properties all over the place. Talks up a storm on global warming and then spends thousands of dollars flying around everywhere!”
Me: “I hear he also spends thousands of dollars on carbon offsets”.
PUG: “What’s a carbon offset?”
The PA cut short the evolving conversation. “The ferry has arrived. Please return to your cars.” We shook hands and traded a few final smart-ass comments. He roared off with all 395 horses kicking. I followed in my humble 13-year-old RAV.
Sitting in the Queen of Surrey’s coffee-shop, I thought about the hour-long conversation I had just had with my fellow British Columbian. Stand-out characteristics – competence, self-confidence, strong opinions, some very wrong ones, unfortunately. Curious about things he hadn’t directly experienced. Open to new information but also very refractive to new ideas on things he had already decided upon, for whatever reason.
Maybe I should go back to Langdale next weekend and try this again