by Stan Hirst
I admit it. I chose the title of this post because of its alliterative appeal. Just a little whimsy to brighten an otherwise grey and depressing North Shore winter scene staring at me on the other side of the window. Grey scene leads to a gloomy theme.
It also seemed descriptive of the subject issue which blares forth incessantly from the media, i.e. the enormous disagreement between those, such as the Suzuki Elders, concerned about our shared environment, on the one hand, and those who see such concerns as overblown and a hindrance to progress and prosperity.
Climate change is certainly the current leader in the partisan debate, world-wide as well as within the Canadian context. Oil and gas pipelines, salmon farming, fracking and hydropower also occupy a fair share of the media volume on contentious issues in B.C.
The coronavirus has now bumped climate change and other issues off the media perch, albeit in the short term. Concern for the health, lifestyle, economic and political impacts of the coronavirus is serious, well articulated and shared by the majority of people at both national and international levels. By comparison, concern for climate change impacts (which will be more widespread, more destructive, and way more costly to more people) is muted, more likely to induce shoulder shrugs in many and, significantly, very likely to induce antagonism in many business and political quarters.
The perceived threat of dying would seem to be one big difference between being assailed by a changing climate or being cut down by an Asian virus. In films which have a pandemic virus as the archvillain (Contagion comes to mind), people of several nationalities die in spectacular fashion against suitably ethnic backdrops. There is no doubt whatever that the virus is the direct culprit. People die in climate change movies too but its not the climate change that actually does them in, it’s drowning in a massive flood, being obliterated by a hurricane-induced flying roof, or falling through a hole in the melting ice. These sets are like modern war movies where heroes, villains and villagers are killed by bullets, rockets, mines or karate chops, while the real underlying causes of strife and death – politics, tribalism and corruption – are mere underplayed backdrops.
It would be nice to believe that the tremendous efforts made by talented and concerned people around the world to mobilize public concern for climate change will make a significant net difference to public attitudes. Thus far I have not found any data to prove that is indeed the case for anywhere outside of western Europe. I concede however that measuring a positive response to educational films, books and lectures is not as easy as detecting the negative ones.
Praise for the likes of Al Gore, Leonardo de Caprio and Jeff Bridges who have invested much time, money and effort in excellent films on climate change is usually embedded in review columns buried in the middle pages. When they do attract attention it comes in the form of personal attacks or sniping, seldom in constructive evaluations. Praise for the efforts of youthful crusaders such as Greta Thunberg is to be found on social media frequented by equally youthful people, but she is widely denounced and reviled on many internet forums.
Finally, there is the daunting issue of sponsored ignorance in the form of antagonism from the resource industries. Let’s leave that for another post.