When you write a weekly column in the relatively unrelated realms of culture and politics, you rely on independent stimuli for the idea that eventually becomes the piece.
Frankly, the idea that becomes the column doesn’t often strike until just after the previous week’s work appears online each Sunday morning. Then, as if ordained by the subconscious, it manifests.
Until it doesn’t. Then the real work begins.
On March 10, we all awakened to the news that an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed en route from Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya, killing all 157 people on board.
Many of the dead were flying to attend a United Nations-sponsored environment conference and 18 were Canadians. Many were young emerging stars in national environmental non-governmental organizations, just beginning to embrace the growing international dimensions of their life’s work.
Through my own environmental voluntarism and connections, I knew three of the passengers by reputation.
As I was processing the very sad dimensions of the crash, on Tuesday I had to drive from my home upcoast to Vancouver. I decided to spend the time listening to a prerecorded podcast by Joe Rogan, featuring American environmental journalist and author David Wallace-Wells, discussing his new bestselling book: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019).
The podcast, like all of Rogan’s long-form spoken interviews, was just over three hours in length. It absolutely made the case that our now-arrived climate change emergency is much worse than we think.
Wallace-Wells spent a couple of years interviewing or reading about the work of some 3,000 climate change scientists. His book is an organized and analytic walk through their peer-reviewed findings.
His journalistic musing is applied to weave the obvious and the sometimes disparate thoughts into a human narrative. He makes it clear that all humans will face some degree of contact. It’s not merely a matter of impact on the Arctic and Antarctic, sea level and coastlines – we’re all about to be overwhelmed with changes. And there’s no analogue to the sheer scope of the impending events in our history as a species. Wealth and technology alone won’t get us out of this mess.
These were difficult thoughts to process and integrate as I wove my way south along the curves of the Sunshine Coast Highway.
I spent the remainder of the week in volunteer tasks in Vancouver for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (or CPAWS). My environmental brain was humming throughout. I looked forward to a restful weekend of sunny weather.
As it turned out, Victoria’s inner harbour and the weather station on the Malahat Drive on southern Vancouver Island recorded the highest March weekend temperatures ever. Harbour record-keeping began in 1876.
And there was also Friday, March 15, to contend with. As the world knows by now, a white nationalist terrorist shot and killed 50 Muslim worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. A sickening novelty was added to this vilest of acts as the murderer broadcast a live video of his perversion with a camera mounted on his helmet.
Processing all of these events has obviously been depressing. A textbook case even.
As Sunday passed, I had no desire to write. Anything. My muse had stalled, if not fled.
But as the new week dawned, so did my thoughts congeal on a thematic piece born of this brutal week. I decided to describe it and take hope from a single act that was also posted all over social media.
It was a ceremonial Maori challenge haka, long performed by men and women, this time danced and chanted by a small group of teenage students on a Christchurch street. They are soon joined by scores of fellow students, of many ethnicities, to honour the lost lives of two of their peers.
It was broadcast on Sunday by SBS News out of Australia and millions of people have watched it.
The love for those lost, the obvious Maori spirit shining strongly in the dancers’ faces, and the implicit multicultural challenge to the brutal terrorist act gave me hope.
And I still feel it in my heart and head.