Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy G-20!

Being that this is the one year anniversary of the G20 riots, just days after the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots, rioting is very much on my mind. I was listening to CBC radio yesterday, and on air was an eyewitness account of the chaos that was the Toronto G20 riot. I started to think about what a thin veil there is on our society.

My thoughts first went to putting myself in their situation. What would I do if I were stuck downtown and a police officer, who'd taken off his badge and was nameless, started beating me with a baton? Simply for being there. Or what if I had to watch Jenn being arrested, and was beaten? I understand that there was an element of the crowd that was not there to watch, and that they were up to no good, but surely we have better plans and tactics and training in place than to beat people and remove our responsibility as an officer of the law.

So I was then watching the documentary "Home" with a link my friend Ivona sent me from Taiwan. It is a brilliant compilation of motion photography about our impact on the planet and the cycle of carbon that makes it possible, about the plants millions of years ago that converted water into oxygen by trapping the carbon in their cells, that now we are irrevocably releasing back into the atmosphere. You can watch it here.

I learned much from it, but certain things stand out. First, with 70% of the oxygen we breathe created by blue-green algae that is now in danger in a poisoned ocean, we are even running out of the oxygen we breathe. I thought: if we fuck this up, there's no fixing it. We are already poisoning the oceans, so when is the tipping point? Are we already past it?

So tonight my odd brain started putting the concepts together. How long will it be after we run out of oil (or rather, I used that colloquially and need to correct myself. The crash will come not when it runs out, but when it becomes too expensive to produce the food we rely on for agri-business) .... ahem, how long would it be after we ran out of the oil to produce the food, before each and every major center like Toronto, Chicago, and New York melted down ... not over a silly sporting event or a political issue, but over the basic necessities of life? How do you feed 4 million people in Toronto without the tractors to produce wheat in Saskatchewan, nor the trucks to transport it?

It's not a given, this outcome. Another thing I learned from 'Home': One quarter of the people on the planet use the same means of food production as people used 6000 years ago. I immediately thought: One quarter of the people on the planet would probably be better off if our modern western society collapsed, as they would at least be able to breathe cleaner air while they lived the way they always have.

We in North America, and in Europe, would be looking at a complete breakdown of the institutions that define us should oil run out. We have no experience with making things from scratch like our ancestors had to, even just a mere hundred years ago. Could we make soap? Farm implements? Magazines? What would we do without computers?

First we have to know that we cannot sustain this. Look around at all the plastic products and ask if these will be here in three hundred years. That's a blink in the grand scheme of things. Now, look around and take account of all the things that are using power.  Where will the power for those gadgets come from? How reliable are those electronic things, and how long will they last if we no longer can power the machines to create their replacements? All those things will go dead without power to run them. It seems basic, but this is exactly my point. We seem to have forgotten our basics.

This culture of entitlement, that requires the latest and greatest gadgets, that feels it needs fast food, really, in truth, needs to learn frugality. We need to make products that last as long as possible. We need stainless steel laptops, cars that don't rust, and run on clean energy. We need toothbrushes designed not to break down. We need houses that produce their own energy. We need to grow local veggies, buy from local producers, eat less meat, and more variety, and reject consumerism. We need to allow commercial ads to fall on deaf ears. We need to make all these things happen personally, while remembering that machines are dependant on oil while people are dependant on food. Most of us will be farming when the oil runs out, merely for subsistence, or we will be starving.

So back to our riot situation. What is different about our police and the ones in Syria? Libya? Palestine? India? Is it our training? Beliefs? The righteousness of the people they are clubbing? We have to get it out of our heads that we are somehow better, because in reality nothing is different. They all take orders, they all do what their superiors tell them, and the people in power are not much different from one another.

Now don't get me wrong, our people in blue have much to be proud of, and have become examples in the world for how to do things. As ashamed as I am of the G20, I know that their crackdown was done out of fear. That is why I have to think of how they would react against a rioting mob the size of Scarborough. We have to stop being so smug about things and think about basic human nature, because if the oil runs out, we will all be back to basics. Further to that, how would we enforce a declaration of human rights to two million starving, rioting people, when our police can't even maintain control over several thousand?

If we don't solve these "small" environmental and supply issues, the larger issues will be on us faster than we know, and not in a way that is pleasantly solved by a bunch of eggheads. It will come down to brute force, and chance will determine who is in control at the time.

Or, more broadly, keeping in mind the crisis of carbon fuels, how do we ensure that the good things we have learned as a species, like DNA and molecular theory, and superstring theory, or the CERN findings, make it through to future generations, and that all we've accomplished does not just get forgotten?

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