New Year’s Eve, Goodsoil, Saskatchewan, we’ll be celebrating the wedding of our nephew Regan and Denika—they fell in love as teenagers eleven years ago. A good time to think about love and a collage of other joys (and qualms) as the world turns into 2020—a new decade.
Topping Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2020”
“A dozen nations vie for the title of real-life Shangri-La, but Bhutan’s claim has more clout than most. This tiny piece of Himalayan paradise operates a strict ‘high-value, low-impact’ tourism policy, compelling travellers to pay a high daily fee just to set foot in its pine-scented, monastery-crowned hills. The pay-off for visitors is a chance to walk along mountain trails unsullied by litter, in the company of people whose Buddhist beliefs put them uniquely in tune with their environment. Bhutan punches well above its weight when it comes to sustainability. It is already the world’s only carbon-negative country, and the kingdom is set to become the first fully organic nation by 2020, so it’s only going to get more beautiful.”
Amazing Foresight 20 Years Ago
“What You’ll Need to Know in 2020 That You Don’t Know Now” From Joseph D’Agnese in Discover Magazine, September 30, 2000. “In the year 2020, you’ll identify yourself, gain access to homes and businesses, and board aircraft after a laser has measured the shape of your irises. But the price will be loss of privacy. A record of your transactions, your daily comings and goings, will be just a keyboard tap away from others…Meander the Web today, and almost every move you make is cataloged in service to the gods of commerce. They know what you’re buying. What you listen to. Where you chat. By 2020 you’ll need to know how to clean up that electronic trail day in and day out…we will have to face the fact that technology favors some and eclipses others…You’re going to have to somehow live while you watch a billion people starve, which is going to be a new human experience. How will we do that? Good question. And just one of many difficult questions waiting. How can I choose between two genetic scripts for a child I have yet to know? How much of myself should I reveal on the Web? How will I cope with all these machines when they break down, including the self-replicating nanopests that may be residing in my flesh? In our zeal to be happy little technologists, we’ll turn, much as we do today, to the Web for answers. And we’ll perfect the art of being disappointed. If any medium ever resembled the human unconscious, the Web is it: a place of hidden wonders, stray inane thoughts, peaks of brilliance, valleys of perversity. And no apparent governor. Type your query, hit return, and voilà!—10,000 hits. Good luck shaking them down. Even in 2020 you will always need to know if the facts you’ve dredged up are accurate and truthful. With so many sources doling out information, you will need to know: What is he selling, and why is he selling it? Most unsettling is the fact that these precious touchstones are not permanent. They never will find their way to the library stacks. Instead we are moving closer to Orwell’s nightmare: the truth ceaselessly modified, altered, edited, or altogether obliterated. Here today, gone tomorrow, with nothing but a bewildering ERROR 404 FILE NOT FOUND left in its place… you will be forced to take on moral questions no human has ever faced. How will you contemplate when everything is speeding up and time for reflection is practically nonexistent? That’s you in 20 years. Like the machine that inspired your age, you will be constantly scanning, processing, sifting, searching for a code to guide you through. And yet the key, the compass, the answer, was once offered in a temple at Delphi. What will you need to know in 2020? Yourself.”
A 2020 Pun
At what elevation is your vision the best? See level.
“We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels,” says our prime minister Justin Trudeau. Jen Gerson in Maclean’s magazine has this to say: “He should try making that case in Calgary. Perhaps Albertans would be more amenable to talking about this transition if this country’s commitment to climate change didn’t seem so selective. No one is talking about transitioning B.C.’s forestry industry, despite the fact that the province’s forests are a major carbon sink. Open pit mining doesn’t seem to be under threat. Transportation is one of this country’s top greenhouse gas culprits, yet I cannot imagine Trudeau making a similar comment about southwest Ontario’s car manufacturing plants, nor Quebec’s aviation industry. From a purely environmental perspective the arguments used against the oil sands can be deployed against these, too. The differences are largely aesthetic and emotional. There is a moral component to which industries we’re choosing to “transition.” The oil sands are greenhouse gas intensive. They look ugly. They’ve been the subject of years of protests and exposés. They’re a scapegoat, a channel for all the guilt and anxiety that we Canadians feel about our greenhouse-gas intensive lifestyles. Shut down the oil sands and avoid the much harder questions about why they exist.”
Jen’s fellow Albertan journalist, the venerable Catherine Ford, reminds us that “If protesters want to march against “dirty fuel,” let them attack the source of almost 40 per cent of the pollution affecting the world’s climate—coal…Canada exports more than two million tonnes of coal to China each year. In the first half of this year, these exports were up by 53.7% from the same period in 2018…And from where does the coal get shipped? Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the largest single exporter of coal in North America.”
“My soul is this flame
Insatiable for new expanses
To blaze upward
upward in silent passion…
What has drawn your soul aloft?”
Magellan has discovered a huge disconnect between the amount of YTD precipitation here in Vancouver reported in The Vancouver Sun compared to The Globe and Mail’s number, a discrepancy he first noticed three months ago. Both papers report the normal cumulative to be 1,115 mm (+/- 3 mm). On December 28, The Sun reported YTD precipitation of 1127.5 mm. The Globe’s figure was 936.4 mm—17% less. Climate Emergency!!! or Fake News???
Artist Kent Monkman’s Masterpieces
It has been said in The Globe and Mail that artist Kent Monkman, a member of Manitoba’s Fisher River Band living in Toronto, is “about as famous as a living painter can be in this country.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City commissioned Kent to create a diptych for its Great Hall of which Paul Wells in Maclean’s writes, “It’s hard to imagine a more prominent perch for a new commission anywhere in the art world. Monkman has seized the moment with characteristic ambition and irreverence.”
General Fusion Inc., a company in Burnaby, BC, has secured funding to build a prototype plant to make nuclear fusion energy a commercially viable, carbon-free source of power—a plant that can last for decades. The Company expects one litre of hydrogen fuel to generate as much as 50,000 barrels of oil, enough to heat 10,000 homes for a year, reports its CEO Christofer Mowry in The Globe and Mail.
Pantone’s Colour for 2020
Classic Blue, 19-4052, described by Pantone as “a reassuring presence instilling calm, confidence and connection,” a shade that “brings a sense of peace and tranquillity to the human spirit,” that “encourages us to look beyond the obvious…challenging us to think more deeply, increase our perspective and open the flow of communication.”
University of Colorado scientist Roger Pielke Jr. has documented how UN officials at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) has, since 2013, focused on one scenario (“almost a worst-case outlook”) for global carbon emissions instead of producing a range of possible scenarios as it had in the past. Pielke says the scenario “wildly overstates” current emissions and portrays a future that is “highly unlikely if not impossible.” Justin Ritchie, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IEA), has graphed the extreme divergence between the IPPC’s apocalyptic scenarios and the latest trends in carbon emissions and supports Pielke’s argument that we are heading for a long plateau on global carbon emissions.
“The Inuit right to be cold—that is, to maintain a culture and way of life intertwined with the ice and snow—is a fundamental right.” From the article, “Northern communities lead the way in understanding climate impacts,” The Vancouver Sun.
A Real Crisis
According to Citizens for Public Justice, 5.8 million people in Canada were living in poverty in 2018. Yet the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty has been cut in half (1990-2015) according to Homi Kharas in The Economist.
Enough with Celebrities
“The world does not need more successful people…It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” David Orr, in an article by Paul Sears, Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College Emeritus.
UPDATE: And here’s what Bridgette Phetasy had to say at Quillette after Ricky Gervais was a smash hit at the Golden Globes.
“How do we survive our grief in the midst of so many losses in the living world, from white bark pines to grizzly bears to the decline of willow flycatchers along the Colorado River? asks Terry Tempest Williams in her latest book Erosion. Her answer, summed up by Diane Ackerman, is “to speak out and find solace in the boundless beauty of nature.”
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Simon Weil
Belt and Road
“We don’t consider China as an adversary,” our defence minister Harjit Sajjan said in November. “Hongkongers certainly do,” responds Terry Glavin in Maclean’s. “So do the Uighurs of Xinjiang, a Muslim people whose persecution has accelerated to the point that at least a million of them are confined to concentration camps and forced-labour zones laid bare in the greatest detail yet in a trove of leaked Chinese government documents just released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. So do Tibetans, whose dispossession and oppression over the past seven decades is now being replayed in Xinjiang—and whose tragic predicament, once a hallowed cause in Canada, is now rarely if ever even mentioned in polite company.”
IQ, EQ and now AQ—Adaptability Intelligence. Natalie Fratto, an expert on the subject, says it’s the capacity to absorb new information, picture versions of the future by asking “what if” questions, work out what’s relevant, challenge presumptions, enjoy seeking new experiences and make a conscious effort to change.
“When Canadians go to bed at night, they are not worried about GDP,”writes Elizabeth Renzetti. “We need new ways of measuring national economic success so that well-being is as valuable as wealth—and countries and economists are working to find out what that world would look like.” Economists like Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stigitz who has written a book about it: Measuring What Counts: The Global Movement for Well-Being. India’s Ruchir Sharma says, “Redefining the standard of economic success could help cure many countries of irrational anxieties about “slow”growth and make the world a calmer place.” Ruchir says the discussion about economic health needs to “shift to measures that better capture satisfaction and contentment, like per capita income growth.”
From Christopher Ketcham in This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West. “Here’s what I do know: to those who would say the best we can do is a planet awash in poisons, its wildlife decimated, its landscapes impoverished, its climate unhinged, its societies mostly in poverty dreaming of money, sick with the diseases of envy and accumulation, trapped in an architecture of competition and exploitation, while the rich command institutions that determine the destinies of all via a fiction called the corporation; to those who welcome a world of strip malls, sprawl, skyscrapers, all-night lighting, roads, highways, parking lots, traffic jams, airports, carports, container ports, beach resorts, mansions, slums, fences, dams, dikes, cell towers, Wi-Fi hubs, 5G fields, oil fields, gas fields, pipelines, power plants, refineries, wind farms, solar arrays, strip mines, tailing heaps, leach pits, landfills, oceanic garbage gyres, military bases, missile silos, bunkers, arsenals, factory farms, mono-crops, grazing and timber checkerboards, the whole hideously ugly shrieking groaning speeding doomed empire of growth; to those who stoop to suggest the summit of human affairs is this pell-mell madcap system in which our mother earth is merely a source of raw materials and a sink to dump filth, disorder and entropy—to these maniacs the reply is obvious enough that I ought not have to express it. What I also know is that the hundreds of millions of acres of public lands, badly beaten though they are, are the last redoubt in this country against the metastatic advance of techno-industrial man. Therefore it is here we must take our stand, throw our bodies on the gears of the machine and make it stop” and as Thoreau said “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour.”
Carrots may improve your vision, but alcohol doubles it.
The median total pay of CEOs in Canada in 2018 was almost $6,800,000. The median wage earnings for all Canadians (in 2017, the latest from StatsCan) was $36,980. In terms of wealth distribution, in 2017 Japan was “the most equal” society on the planet; many CEOs earn less than their employees writes Pico Iyer in A Beginner’s Guide to Japan.
“No songbirds, no wildflowers. Nothing but collapsing hives and lines of the rich getting ready to board a ship for a night on the moon…Yet still I keep thinking that something wonderful is about to happen. Maybe tomorrow. A tomorrow following a whole succession of tomorrows.” Patti Smith from her new book, The Year of the Monkey.
“Quiet: the one thing the herd cannot abide.” John Kaag.
In 1913, Gustav Bischoff, former president of the American Meat Packers Association, predicted that by 2020 humans’ diets would consist of mostly vegetables because of a shortage of meat. Tad Friend talks about the concept of “Beyond Meat” in The New Yorker. He notes that methane is 25 times more heat trapping than CO2. That if cows were a country, their emissions would be greater than all of the EU and behind only China and America. That every four pounds of beef you eat contributes as much to global warming as flying from NYC to London. Because cattle use their feed to grow bones, a tail, etc., their energy conversion efficiency, the number of calories their meat contains compared with the number they take in to make it, is a woeful one percent. Dr. Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media in London, notes that each pound of beef we consume requires 440 gallons of water (US gallons!). Here’s another shocker from Aaron—70% of a food’s final price is the cost of transport, storage and handling. (The good news is that genetically modified wheat has tripled yields and, as a result, the number of people worldwide experiencing hunger has been cut in half. )
Many writers in the LRB’s book Foodists echo the same thoughts. A third of the planet’s surface is given over to rearing farm animals or their feed. If the cereals fed to animals reared for meat went to humans instead, an extra three billion people could be fed, about the number at risk for malnourishment. Vaclav Smil, an energy expert from Canada, says if our individual consumption of meat was 15-30 kilos per year, we—and the world—would be okay. StatsCan says on average we each consume 25 kilos of meat annually—which, according to my math, means we each use up 91,476 litres of water.
“You Americans have mastered the art of living with the unacceptable,” Breyten Breytenbach, an antiapartheid activist says. And what does he suggest we do about it? Support people on the margins. Because it’s from the margins that the centre is moved.
Is an uncomfortable position.
Is an absurd one.”
“77 Sunset Me”
How can you cry when you hear about the imminent death of someone you don’t know? When he’s one of your favourite writers. Peter Schjeldahl is (I’ll cry again at “was”) to art as Richard Feynman was to theoretical physics. A highlight of my life was when Myra and I heard the discussion/interview/conversation between Peter and comedian/writer/musician/art collector Steve Martin at the New Yorker Writers Festival in 2012. I bought Peter’s latest (brilliant) book of essays about art for Clare for Christmas. Here’s what 77-year-old Peter has to say about his imminent death from lung cancer in his essay “77 Sunset Me.”
“Death is like painting rather than like sculpture, because it’s seen from only one side. Monochrome—like the mausoleum-gray former Berlin Wall, which kids in West Berlin glamorized with graffiti. What I’m trying to do here.” And his advice, “Take death for a walk in your minds, folks. Either you’ll be glad you did or, keeling over suddenly, you won’t be out anything.”
“I want more joy, more deep thinking, more diary entries, more gauziness, more time to write in my diary, more beautiful moments captured, more ordinary real odd weird stuff written down, more delight, more half-formed thoughts, more conversations with real and unmet friends, things made real because put into words, a perilousness, thoughts on what you love and on what delights you, memorable sandwiches, memorable ice cream cones, roomy notes from the perilous enchanted world, more chanting, more small things said intensely, more wild and loose and drunken transactions with beauty.” Shawna Lemay, on her blogsite Transactions with Beauty.
“There is only one moment in time
When it is essential to awaken
That moment is now.”
Bastani, Aaron. Fully Automated Luxury Communism. London, England: Verso, 2019. Though the title is wacky and capitalism doesn’t get a fair shake for the billions of people it’s lifted from poverty, Bastani makes a case for giving everyone basic services and allowing artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced computing to eliminate the need for human labour.
Citizens for Public Justice. “Poverty Trends 2018.” October 15, 2018.
Corcoran, Terence. “No sign of climate apocalypse,” Financial Post. December 13, 2019.
Corcoran, Terence. “A booming middle class.” Financial Post. December 20, 2019.
D’Agnese, Joseph. “What You’ll Need to Know In 2020 That You Don’t Know Now.” Discover Magazine, September 30, 2000. The uncannily correct future-gazing of this article is reason enough subscribe to this magazine.
Ford, Catherine. “Eco-Protesters seem oblivious to coal exports.” Vancouver Sun. November 27, 2019. Catherine was writing about what counts 21 years ago when we lived in Calgary.
Friend, Tad. “Can a Burger Help Solve Climate Change?” The New Yorker, September 30, 2019. Beyond Meat—a hot topic this year and few tell it so well as essayists in The New Yorker.
Gerson, Jan. “Why so many Albertans are giving up on their country.” Maclean’s magazine. November 7, 2019. One of the best analyses of this topic that we’ve read.
Glavin, Terry. “Ottawa goes meek and gentle with Beijing.” Maclean’s magazine. November 25, 2019.
Hoeberechts, Maia. “Northern communities lead the way in understanding climate impacts.” Vancouver Sun. December 13, 2019.
Iyer, Pico. A Beginner’s Guide to Japan. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. Don’t leave home for Japan without it.
Karram, Kerry. Death Wins in the Arctic: The Lost Winter Patrol of 1910. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2013. The snow photo comes from this book.
Ketcham, Christopher. This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West. Get ready for a wild ride reading this book. Christopher gives it his all and gets 8/8.
Kinchin-Smith, Sam, Editor. Foodists. London, England: London Review of Books, 2019. A slim volume of excellent essays about many aspects of food.
Lemay, Shawna. “On Diaries, Notebooks, and The Book of Delights.” Transactions with Beauty, August 16, 2019. Posting from Edmonton, Shawna brightens my Mondays and Fridays with her essays, photography and personal wisdom.
Lonely Planet. “Best in Travel 2020.”
Milstead, David. “Are increasingly stock-rich CEO compensation packages worth it for shareholders?” The Globe and Mail. October 25, 2019.
Murray, Seb. “Is ‘AQ’ more important than Intelligence?” BBC. November 6, 2019. Why “IQ is the minimum you need to get a job, but AQ is how you will be successful over time.”
Renzetti, Elizabeth. “Never mind the GDP. How are the people doing?” The Globe and Mail. December 14, 2019.
Schjeldahl, Peter. “77 Sunset Me.” The New Yorker. December 23, 2019.
Sharma, Ruchir. “Our Irrational Anxiety About ‘Slow’ Growth.” The New York Times. August 17, 2019.
Silcoff, Sean and O’Kane, Josh. B.C. nuclear fusion firm backed by Bezos raises $65 million. The Globe and Mail. December 17, 2019.
Smith, Patti. The Year of the Monkey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2019. Patti’s introspections never fail to strike a chord.
Wells, Paul. “Kent Monkman and the making of a masterpiece. Maclean’s. December 19, 2019.
Williams, Terry Tempest. Erosion. New York: Sarah Crichton Books. 2019. See above for Patti Smith. Terry expands the term erosion to encompass the despoiling of the natural world that’s wearing down our body, mind and spirit.