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  • Hooked on materialism

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic

    While the politicians offer blah, blah, blah, we citizen/consumers can buy less to help cool down the planet and protect nature.


    JUST DAYS AFTER WE MOVED HERE three decades ago, the Welcome Wagon rolled by with a basket of coupons and samples from local businesses. One offering was a complimentary, in-home consultation with an interior designer. 

    She was an interesting person who had incorrectly assumed via telephone that I lived in an orange house. Something about my aura, I think, but never mind. I don’t remember any of her suggestions but I do recall her lamenting how hard it was to make a living when so many people in this town tended to “let their homes go,” in terms of style and décor. 

    “All those seniors in Oak Bay, they just keep using their old furniture and stuff, and they never change paint colours or lighting or flooring or anything,” she bemoaned. 

    Her comment came to mind when I heard that 109 shipping containers had fallen into the ocean off the deck of the MV Zim Kingston, a huge container ship besieged by both a rogue fire onboard and a fearsome storm just off the island’s west coast. The wind and water eventually bullied four of the containers onto the rocks at Cape Scott, where they strew their contents like battered piñatas. So far, more than a hundred fridges and hundreds of bags of packing material and assorted debris have been removed from the beach. All that from four containers. 

    The other 105 are now presumed to be drifting down to the ocean floor. According to various reports, they are filled with everything from Christmas decorations to yoga mats to industrial parts—and clothing, of course. It seems we can never have enough Christmas decorations and clothing.



    Zim Kingston, off Victoria, a symbol of our consumerism (photo Canadian Coast Guard)


    At least two of the lost containers held hazardous materials—potassium amyl xanthate, used in mining and pulp mills, and thiourea dioxide, used in the manufacturing of textiles. Two other containers full of the same toxins were destroyed in the fire that they also reportedly caused. Collectively the four released 57 tonnes of hazardous materials into the environment.

    Into the ocean and the air.  

    The Zim Kingston, on its way to Vancouver, was carrying at least 2000 containers when the mishap occurred, no small load of potatoes, but yet just a fraction of the 822,797 full containers (each at least 20-feet long) received at the port in the first 9 months of this year, according to the Port of Vancouver’s Accumulated Container Traffic Report. (Outgoing freight amounts to about half of that. Indeed, we’ve become a country of buyers.)

    This incoming volume to Vancouver alone boggles the mind. And yet it amounts to only a dewdrop on the gargantuan parade of goods zigzagging non-stop around the globe. We like our stuff, and besides, it keeps the economy going. The GDP robust. The factories hopping. The people employed. The extraction industry powerful, omnipresent and fully enmeshed with enterprise and life. And so it goes, around and around. On the back of the neglected, undervalued burro we call Earth.

    We are a people hooked on materialism, which has long been overprescribed by clever marketing as the surefire way to happiness and social stature. The consequences are now threatening to annihilate us, but who wants to brood about that? It’s a lot easier to ignore reality and accept breezy assurances from vested interests. 

    What we’re really waiting for/counting on is a “presto” type of government fix that will make all the climate change and global warming threats disappear without demanding any hardship or lifestyle adjustments from us. 

    Our prime minister is eager to be that fixer and he’s worked out a plan to make that happen. In Glasgow at the most recent feeble-toothed COP, he announced with great pause and emphasis that he would, “cap oil and gas sector emissions today, and ensure they decrease tomorrow at a pace and scale needed to reach net-zero by 2050.” This, he declared without offering details on the pace and scale, would be “no small task” for an oil and gas glutted country like ours.

    What he’s really saying is that Canada will not be reducing or even curbing fossil fuel production. Instead, we intend to capture the industry’s emissions as they’re produced, using as-yet unproven and underdeveloped carbon sequestration technologies that we already know are going to be costly and not without their own carbon footprint. In theory, such a plan would allow the extraction and burning of as much fossil fuel as the market wants without producing any new emissions. Presto—we have a license to keep on keeping on. (I’d love to see a Lorax-style illustration of this plan in action.)

    Many of Trudeau’s observers were notably unimpressed. “Trudeau has identified the problem correctly, which is oil and gas, but has come up with the wrong solution, which is looking at emissions and not production,” tweeted Dale Marshall, national program manager at Environmental Defence.

    With Trudeau glommed onto this new approach, we will continue to be burdened with unbridled extraction and it’s many devastating consequences—the oil spills, the plastics and other pollutants that have seeped into every corner of our biosphere, the continued destruction of irreplaceable habitat and species, the sheer waste of everything poured into obscenely huge garbage dumps, and the increasing inequity that all of this fosters. Politicians will talk about these consequences in their own separate silos, but they stubbornly resist the imperative to address them together as parts of the same problem and solution. 

    Years ago, it was predicted that unless we took serious measures to mitigate climate change, our economy would largely become one of misery. In BC, in 2021, this prediction is coming true. The mopping up after the miseries of an ongoing pandemic, an unprecedented heat dome, a prolonged drought, devastating fires and November’s catastrophic flooding has provided work for thousands and cost us billions. Ironically, we taxpayers, who’ll be shelling out for those costs, are indirectly giving the industry another hefty subsidy.  

    We can’t go on this way much longer. Our burro is buckling, and we along with it. The eminent journalist and writer Andrew Nikiforuk warned during a recent lecture at UVic that we must shrink the economy by 40 percent now, to ensure a livable planet in the near future. 

    The good news is that we can start trimming it today, by doing just one thing: buying less. That would concurrently begin cooling every system up and down the chains of commerce in every sector everywhere. Ultimately it would result in a much-reduced need for fossil fuels and other finite and carbon-laden resources. 

    While the politicians gum their way through endless conferences and meetings about carbon pricing and taxes and sequestration while quietly continuing to hand subsidies and free rein to the emitters, we can do better. We can collectively start reducing demand. 

    Thirty years ago, this might have been considered the quaint domain of seniors. Now our shared survival depends on it.  

    Trudy wishes everyone a happy holiday season in the company of your own special people. May your traditions, old or new, be gentle on our Earth and steeped in love and meaning. May there be food on your table and gladness in your heart. 


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