The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: January 2011

In the Name of the Father

Tracing the genesis of evangelicals' environmental views

Tracing the genesis of evangelicals’ environmental views

What on EarthThe evangelical Christian is a perennial bugbear of the environmentalist movement. In videos like the above — in which a representative of the US Congress cites the books of Genesis and Matthew as proof that catastrophic anthropogenic global warming cannot happen — we see a stereotype that is particularly familiar from American politics. Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) not only shows casual ignorance of the issue he’s discussing (suggesting that the Earth is in fact a “carbon-starved planet,” and that if anything we could use more of the “plant food” CO2), but gives only religious reasons for his conviction that everything is going to be all right. To those who share his views, disastrous climate change is necessarily an impossibility — or, if it is happening, it represents the end of the world and the long-awaited return of Jesus Christ. Meantime, God gave humans “dominion” over the Earth, so all that is on it is ripe for our taking and using without a second thought. So goes a typical perception of evangelical views.

It’s horrifying to those on the outside that these ideas could be directly shaping government policy — and not just in the States, but here in Canada, too. However, the sensationalism with which these views are reported gives us a slanted picture of what beliefs evangelicals must hold. Thanks to our natural habit of assuming that groups we don’t belong to are uniform, and the eye-catching scariness of the views described above, our collective impression is that climate skeptic propaganda like the recently released twelve-DVD set Resisting the Green Dragon (in which “radical environmentalism” is a “false religion” designed to control the world) represents the views of all evangelicals. Thankfully, that is not so.

In recent years, a growing environmental movement has sprung up among some evangelicals with a very different interpretation of their religion’s relationship with the planet. These advocates of “creation care,” like the Evangelical Climate Initiative, see the “dominion” of Genesis as a duty of stewardship toward the world, not an invitation to do as we please with it. As reported by Wen Stephenson of Slate, “the ECI states that human-caused climate change is real, that the impact will be felt disproportionately by the world’s poor, and that Christians are called to take action.” This statement of values has now been signed by hundreds of evangelical leaders, some as prominent as megachurch pastor Rick Warren and World Vision president Rich Stearns. (more…)

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Posted in What on Earth  •  4 Comments

Beetle Mania

Within the forests of Western Canada, climate change takes the form of a voracious maw

In Western Canada, climate change takes the form of a hungry maw

Pine beetle courtesy of Natural Resources Canada/Canadian Forest Service, forest photograph by Eamon Mac MahonPine beetle courtesy of Natural Resources Canada/Canadian Forest Service, forest photograph by Eamon Mac Mahon

What on EarthIn the April 2007 issue of The Walrus, Patrick White reported on an epidemic of mountain pine beetle wreaking havoc on the forests of British Columbia. The population of the pine-killing pest, a native resident of western North America’s forests, began to explode in 1993, and has laid waste to much of BC’s pine. The infestation is now receding there, moving on to Alberta and the US. Vigilance and luck appear to have kept it from traveling any further east across Canada, but the lesson learned is a hard one: even well-intentioned human interventions in the ecosystems we live in and use can have surprisingly devastating effects.

The size of the beetle epidemic is massive. Between mountain pine beetles and wildfires, BC’s half-million square kilometres of forest actually became a net emitter of carbon in 2002 (PDF download), and are expected to remain so until 2020. What should be a valuable carbon sink instead unleashed the equivalent of 40-60 million tonnes of CO2 in 2007 (although this figure includes the carbon contained in wood harvested during that year). Thankfully, Alberta has learned from BC’s example, mounting a swift response that seems to be holding back the outbreak. The sharp winter drops in temperature that would normally have helped to control the beetles also finally showed themselves over the last few years — although too late to save over 600 million cubic metres of British Columbian trees.

The main reasons for this outbreak’s severity are generally put down to two innocuous-sounding factors: slowly rising average temperatures brought on by global warming, and decades of fire prevention by forest management authorities. The warming has made it ever less likely that winter temperatures will dip low enough to kill the beetles; fire suppression has created forests unnaturally dense with old trees — ripe ground for both severe fires and hungry beetles. It is thanks to the complexity of ecosystems that a few degrees of warmth and an effectively carried out fire-fighting policy could have these counter-intuitively disastrous results. (more…)

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Posted in The Haulout  •  3 Comments

Apocalypse Any Day Now

Novelist Nicolas Dickner on writing, culture, and the cheapening of doom prophecies

Novelist Nicolas Dickner on writing, culture, and doom prophecies

Nicolas Dickner© Antoine Tanguay

Last year’s Canada Reads had a fairly impressive slate of finalists, including Douglas Coupland (Generation X), Ann-Marie MacDonald (Fall on Your Knees), Wayson Choy (The Jade Peony), and Marina Endicott (Good to a Fault). But it was a dark horse out of Quebec that took the prize: Nicolas Dickner’s Nikolski, a whimsical, picaresque tale of three young people navigating identity and destiny in Montreal, originally published in 2007.

Dickner’s latest novel, Apocalypse for Beginners, was released in Quebec last year and has recently been translated to English by Governor General’s Award–winning translator Lazer Lenderhendler. It is a cheeky, loving ode to the culture of fear that permeated the late ’80s and early ’90s. The book, which opens in the summer of 1989, tells the story of Hope Randall, a brittle, rational teen whose family has fallen under a mysterious curse — each Randall has the date of the apocalypse mystically revealed to them, and inevitably goes insane when the day comes and goes with little consequence. Hope and her friend Mickey scoff at the curse, passing their time in the basement of Mickey’s bungalow. But soon Hope finds herself haunted by a date of her own — July 17, 2001 — a revelation that sends her spiralling across continents and oceans.

In the wake of Apocalypse’s English release, Dickner stopped to chat about the new novel, Canada Reads, and the end of the world.

Emily Landau Before we discuss your new novel, I hope you can tell me about the experience of winning Canada Reads. How did it change things for you?

Nicolas Dickner We weren’t expecting it to be so big. We hear about Canada Reads in Quebec, but we do not know how much it reaches the audience in Canada, so we were pretty surprised to see how many readers were looking at the book. Usually we think of the basic life of a book being about three months, and after three months it doesn’t have the same exposure in the bookstores anymore. Nikolski had some attention, but not that much. It hadn’t worked out as we’d hoped. The book was basically invisible before Canada Reads — it really went from nothing to being noticed. (more…)

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Posted in Chapter and Verse  •  3 Comments

What’s a Nickel Worth?

From Toronto to Torino, divergent takes on the common problem of the plastic bag

From Toronto to Torino, divergent takes on the common problem of the plastic bag

Plastic Bag (2010) by Ramin Bahrani; narrated by Werner Herzog

What on EarthPlastic bags — normally one of the most ubiquitous and least noticeable members of the urban ecosystem — are enjoying an unusual bit of attention right now. As of the new year, the government of Italy has banned stores from buying nonbiodegradable plastic bags; meanwhile, Toronto mayor Rob Ford announced at the end of December that he wants to retire the city’s five-cent fee on plastic bags, less than two years after its introduction.

Some of the controversy surrounding Toronto’s fee is over the fact that it’s not quite a tax: it only legislates that stores charge a minimum of five cents for bags, with encouragement that the revenue be put to charitable uses. But despite that strange feature of the bylaw, it has already had its intended effect: according to Allen Langdom, vice-president for environmental issues at the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, the fee has already caused a 71-percent reduction in use of plastic bags among Toronto stores that belong to his group.

Toronto and Italy have joined a mounting number of other cities and countries that have taxed or banned plastic bags in recent years. Many have shown similarly speedy and dramatic effects: Ireland introduced a 15-euro cent tax in 2002 (since bumped to 22 euro cents) that reduced its use of plastic bags by 94 percent (and raised milions of euros in revenue); Washington DC instated a five-cent tax in 2009 which immediately cut its monthly bag usage from 22.5 million to three million; China outlawed giving plastic bags away for free in 2008, and despite widespread evasion of the law, consumption of them dropped by 50 percent, saving what is now estimated to total about 100 billion bags. (more…)

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Posted in What on Earth  •  6 Comments
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