I RECENTLY ATTENDED Bullfrog Power’s fifth anniversary bash. At it, Rick Smith, Environmental Defence’s impressive executive director, stated, “You can’t call yourself an environmentalist and object to wind turbines.” His position drew scattered applause from the packed meeting room; my jaw dropped.
Rick’s determined tone and unequivocal words caught me by surprise. Many of our environmental leaders have been around for a while, and their exuberant innocence and youthful ideals have rounded into carefully crafted arguments. The enthusiasm that brought us Greenpeace and Pollution Probe and Environmental Defence has mellowed as the realities of negotiating with government and industry have settled in, be it about energy or water that they may be discussing.
Following Rick’s lead, I am no longer hedging my position. When discussing wind energy, for instance, I state it: “I support wind energy.” The caveats I once used are gone. Surprisingly, my newfound directness leads to a less fettered discussion on the topic. People respond by telling me their position. A discussion ensues. Gone is the need to convince the other to change their mind. It’s a discussion, not a contest.
It was with great interest then that I read Bob Gibson’s column, called “Bullshit,” which appears on the back page of this issue. Referring to environmental debate, he writes, “The underlying model is decision making in an essentially adversarial forum where each player takes a stand and argues for it. Compromises may be made, alliances negotiated and agreements reached. It is even possible that some mutual learning and appreciation will emerge. But the focus is on winning, not understanding.”
Our language reflects this tendency to want to convince others of our point of view. For instance, Bob Sandford and Merrell-Ann Phare argue that it is going to be hard to “sell” Canada on adopting a new water ethic. Taarini Chopra, a member of Alternatives’ editorial board (who reviewed E.O. Wilson’s novel, Anthill, in this issue), has been known to admonish us for publishing articles that try to convince our readers rather than inform them.
Maybe it’s our tendency to slide into what the CBC’s Terry O’Reilly calls The Age of Persuasion (advertising) that makes Jamie Linton’s essay on water fountains and public beaches so refreshing. By drawing a picture of our relationship with water, Linton does what writers are instructed to do: don’t tell a story, reveal it. In other words, don’t tell people that water is important, reveal its importance, as Linton does so well through the lens of George Lilley’s camera.
Kent Peacock returns to our pages in this issue. In reviewing Peter Ward’s new book, The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?, Kent presents his theory regarding a battle between two separate Gaias. He is so enthusiastic about his topic that you are unlikely to notice whether or not he’s trying to convince you.
Finally, we introduce our newest columnist, Simon Fraser University’s Mark Jaccard. A sustainability economist, Mark will be explaining his thought-provoking- ideas on a range of environmental topics in “Sustainability Suspects.” He kicks things off by dissing the idea of carbon offsets, leaving you to decide if you agree.
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