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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Still not much in the way of direct (or indirect) work on my book.

For the past couple of days I have been sunk in gloom over global warming and the environment. It was triggered by reading a news piece mentioning James Lovelock's book The Revenge of Gaia, a work in which the famous maverick geophysicist states flatly that it is too late to avoid environmental catastrophe in the coming century. The best that humanity can do is try to mitigate the worst of the effects. He apparently states that there will be a massive die-off of humanity (no doubt among many other species), leaving survivors numbering in the hundreds of millions--no more. Even if our most radical efforts at curtailing carbon emissions were to be implemented immediately, it would be to no avail; and of course, they will not be implemented.

In my heart I've been an environmentalist since at least 1971, when the U.S. conducted a nuclear-bomb test on Amchitka Island, as I mentioned in an earlier post. I felt frustrated and angry that pollution was being poured into the world's air and water. I remember mentioning it to Dad once while we were driving over the Lions Gate Bridge.

"All these cars are just sending pollution into the air," I said. "They've got to stop people driving so much."

"A car like this is not a problem," said Dad. (He was driving a red 1971 Triumph sedan.) "Four cylinders, very little pollution."

I felt a little better, but we were still putting out some pollution.

I worried about it, just as I worried about nuclear war. (In fact the second film I made in high school was a short, apocalyptic drama about two teenagers being killed in a nuclear blast.) I thought that the oil embargo of 1973-74 was a good thing in that it got people thinking about how to conserve gasoline and not drive so much. I remember too feeling good about attending a presentation in my high-school social studies class in 1975 given by a passionate, curly-haired Brit, connected with the upcoming Habitat conference in Vancouver, about the importance of sharing the world's wealth with its starving inhabitants. I hoped that Habitat would help make a difference, and I was glad there were people who felt as strongly about it as this man did.

As the years wore on I mainly joined the inertia and indifference of society. I was always environmentally aware, but I did not make major personal efforts to effect social change. I was naturally thrifty in any case, and believed in getting the most use out of resources; I never liked waste.

Kimmie and I became environmentally conscious shoppers in the 1980s, and participated in recycling programs before these were brought to residential curbsides. I never wanted to own a large or inefficient car. In the 1990s we became members of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, and more recently regular donors to the David Suzuki Foundation. I've even voted for the Green Party.

But behind it all there has been a sense of a great wave or tide, human behavior in the mass, to which each of us contributes very little but in which we are all carried. This mass behavior arises out of the values we hold, the collective sum of our values--our mythology. Our relationship to the Earth, to our environment, is dictated by our mythology. Whatever catastrophes we face are the direct result of holding the myths we live by. There is nothing that forces humans to consume or to grasp for wealth; many people do not and most cannot. It is our beliefs about the universe and our place in it that governs our acts.

Lovelock's eco-catastrophe of the 21st century is already in progress, he says. We are fish swimming in the sea of our daily lives, unaware of the tsunami we ourselves have created. I think of the great tsunami that hit the coast of the Pacific Northwest on 26 January 1700 (timed exactly because of the meticulousness of Japanese record-keeping at that date), product of the most recent subduction earthquake in these parts. It was so violent that whales were thrown onto hillsides, where their skeletons were found centuries later. There was a catastrophic die-off of sea creatures, abruptly and unexpectedly flung from their element to their deaths.

Is this us?

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