Crack, climate change and Canada’s accountability problem

If there’s anything to be gleaned from this week’s news cycle it may very well be that we have an accountability problem in Canada. But you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. That being said, the events unfolding on Canada’s political stage are illustrative of an attitude that transcends politics and affects us all.

Mayor Ford’s unwillingness to respond to allegations regarding whether he smokes crack cocaine is illustrative of this aversion to accountability. And for good reason. Mayor Ford’s life would dramatically change should he admit to having smoked crack. Besides having to resign from office, he would likely face a criminal investigation and a jail sentence. It is absolutely crucial for Ford to not come to account lest his “reality” be shattered.

A parallel can be drawn with recent remarks made by Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver. While shoring up support for the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, DC, Minister Oliver took aim at esteemed scientist and vocal climate change activist James Hansen, claiming that Hansen’s decrying of tar sands development amounts to “nonsense”. This kind of smugness, of course, should come as no surprise. Minister Oliver cannot balance an appreciation of the environmental danger associated with increased tar sands development and champion pipeline development at the same time. That’s a little like balancing the mayorship of a major North American city and a crack habit. It just doesn’t work. Unable to make these conflicting “realities” work alongside each other, one has to be denied, ignored, or downplayed.

Accountability, as far as values go, is a huge liability, especially if it means upsetting your plans (or landing you in jail). So we ditch accountability. But this pattern (moral shortcut?) doesn’t quite stop with these two characters – we’re all a little guilty of it.

Last night TransitionKW hosted a screening of HOME. This film is difficult to watch because it does such a great job of laying out how we have arrived at the world’s current state of unsustainability. Watching it is like coming face to face with conflicting realities. We, as Canadians, live relatively comfortably, though this standard of living comes at the cost of the environment, not to mention the dignity and health of millions of people around the world that bear the costs of our energy-intensive lifestyles. Just like Mayor Ford and Minister Oliver, it’s easier (and more amenable to business as usual) to deny it, ignore it or downplay it than it is to come to terms with reality.

After the film, the group noted that the values that underpin our culture -as opposed to one particular technology- are at the root of the current state of affairs. From here, we discussed what values might guide a more sustainable culture, and collectively agreed to foster these values in our own lives and relationships. This is the list we came up with:

  • Value people and nature
  • Value sharing
  • Be brave enough to break from consumer culture
  • Value health and well-being over growth
  • Appreciate the world’s interconnectedness
  • Be frugal – consume as little as possible, and when you do buy, choose durable, low waste options

I think we did pretty good! I might add accountability to this list. After all, what is sustainability if not living in a way that is accountable to future generations?


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  • Hi Nick,
    Thank you for facilitating the movie and discussion that followed.
    I would just like to clarify and expand upon one bullet point.
    I had talked about the left hemisphere of the brain as being the side of the brain which analyses viewing things in discrete parts, compared to the right hemisphere, which tends to view everything in a more creative and interconnected way.
    The dominant culture appears to be biased towards left brain, which may well be a major reason for the alarming state of things with regard to the condition of our Home. By way of example, our health care, is more accurately disease care, diagnosing problems and treating symptoms, often invasively, as compared to a holistic approach, which looks at the whole person aiming to restore internal harmony, thus supporting the natural intelligence and ability of the organism to heal ( make whole) itself. We could also look at the left and right brain dominance in terms of Masculine and Feminine. Again we have a patriarchal system emphasizing separation over inclusion and interconnection
    This way of looking at things is not supported by a system which, by its underpinnings is driven by profit.
    So when it comes to nurturing, certainly the left brain needs to be nurtured and loved! in order to realise its connection to and with everything else.
    To quote Tich Nhat Hanh ( – ” We inter are”. and the sooner we realise ( make real) this the better …..for us all.
    Balance, (left brain – right brain, male – female, left wing – right wing politics, activity, rest………………..) is the key.
    Robin Grant

  • nickbelanger

    Thanks for the clarification, Robin! I’ll replace the bullet with “Appreciate the world’s interconnectedness” Does that capture your point?

    It was a pleasure having you at the movie night – thanks for enriching the discussion. Please stay in touch!

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