This month’s edition of Focus Magazine, a local publication, includes an article entitled “Rolling the Dice on the Salish Sea” by Judith Lavoie. The article is about the proposal by Kinder Morgan to twin its Trans Mountain Pipeline, increasing the flow of oil to Westridge Marine Terminals in Burnaby, BC, where tankers are loaded with oil before navigating the First and Second Narrows, Vancouver Harbour, English Bay, Georgia Strait the active channels of the Southern Gulf Islands, Haro Strait and, finally, the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The flow of oil will likely grow from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels a day.
The early word [from a US vessel traffic risk assessment study] is that when we look at the increase in vessel traffic, it looks as if the relative risk of an incident leading to a spill is about 189 percent above the 2010 baseline…There’s increased concern about a spill with different types of oil, such as the new, heavier oils being developed in Alberta.
–David Byers, response manager for Washington State’s Department of Ecology
It is difficult to even try to imagine the possible consequences of this traffic for the fragile environment of the southern Gulf Islands. What seems like something out of a dystopian novel is, sadly, all too real.
I’ve read a couple of dystopian novels (or speculative fiction) in the last month, one of them quite by accident. This was Lighthouse Island by Paulette Jiles. I put this book on order at the library because I had read other novels by Paulette Jiles and enjoyed them very much. She wrote Enemy Women, set in Missouri during the War Between the States; The Color of Lightning, about a freed slave living in Texas after that war; and Stormy Weather, set in East Texas in 1937, in a climate of devastating drought and dust storms. So, when I began reading Lighthouse Island, I was very surprised to read about life in a future where cities stretch almost uninterrupted from coast to coast and citizens have no rights except to work hard, eat little and watch state-controlled television programs.
This book was tough going for quite awhile, but it got to be very interesting for me when the two central characters make their break for freedom by heading to Vancouver Island! With Barcley Sound renamed “Barking Sound” and Bamfield renamed “Banefield,” this stretch of coastline retained many of its current qualities. It is relatively unpopulated, there are a lot of trees and the waters are turbulent, cold and dangerous. All is pristine and unspoiled by oil spills, clear-cut logging and over development.
The other novel I read was MaddAdam, the conclusion to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian trilogy. Atwood imagines a world largely stripped of people but full of gene-spliced life forms. This book was surprisingly joyous compared to the first two, and after I had finished it, I found myself reflecting on the origins of the self-sufficiency, cooperation, sense of common purpose and tolerance that emerge during the course of MaddAdam. I had to think of the organization called “God’s Gardeners” featured in the second book of the trilogy: The Year of the Flood. With God’s Gardeners, various of the characters were able to survive uncertain times in the relative safety of cooperative buildings with rooftop gardens. Here, knowledge of gardening, beekeeping and many other things were passed along. Feast days were established throughout the year, with rituals and hymns to accompany them. In spite of the irritations of communal living, rules and chores, time spent with God’s Gardeners was time well spent: You get the feeling this lot will do just fine.
There are no easy solutions for the problems we face. In recent months, we have seen reports of a number of derailments of trains carrying oil. It seems there is no safe way to transport the stuff. On the other hand, power failures caused by ice storms in Eastern Canada, coupled with record low temperatures, underscore the need for reliable heat in cold climates.
In 1977, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, incentives were introduced to encourage Americans to drive smaller cars. The need to cut back on use of fossil fuels was already clear at that time. But now, more than 35 years later, our roads are filled with SUV’s and huge pickup trucks. Most people will not use public transit if they can afford cars. Are we so overwhelmed by the big picture that we have given up on even the smallest measures?
But just for today, the sun is shining and the weather is mild. I think I’ll get down from my soapbox and go out into the garden. In the garden, my spirits will lift and my mood will become more optimistic. I’m planning to make a place for growing vegetables, and raspberries, and a few tall sunflowers. In a couple of months, the camas will be up.