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Looking at the big picture

June 29, 2011

Do you make your decisions, or form your opinions, by looking at the bigger picture and coming up with an idea of what you think is best, or right? Or do you simply look at how the issue will affect you?

There’s this land-sharing cooperative that I’m a member of, up the coast. A few times, an email has circulated around the group because a recent clearcut* is visible from our lots. That bothers some property owners.

Whereas for me, that one clearcut does not bother me any more than the many other recent clearcuts in Clayoquot Sound (UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve – and please note, there is no “P” on reserve). To me, cutting ancient forest down is not an issue of aesthetics; it is an issue about processes. Whether or not I ever lay eyes on any one specific clearcut, I understand what each clearcut means:

  • in terms of lost habitat for wildlife,
  • in terms of affects on the ocean via anadromous species (those that live in both fresh and salt water such as salmon) and debris runoff,
  • in terms of effects upon our atmosphere and global ecosystem.

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot this week, because of Canada’s decision to block the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous material on Annex III of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention. Since the listing of hazardous substances can only be changed by consensus, it only takes one country to stop it.

And why would Canada do that? Because our government has some new, cutting-edge unpublished study that demonstrates that chrysotile asbestos does not actually cause cancer? Or because our Conservative government has already approved expansion of an asbestos mine in southern Québec, in a riding that they hope to wrestle away from the Bloc Québecois?


But it’s not only on the federal level that this kind of decision-making is taking place. It seems to be the only way of thinking in the resource extraction industry: people employed in [fishing/logging/mining] don’t want to see their industry shut down because of what it would mean for their own personal jobs. (Intersting that they somehow avoid considering what kind of world their own personal children will grow up into).

But I see it here among the supposed environmentalists too. There has been a strong local movement on the west coast of Vancouver Island to block the proposed Catface open pit copper mine which, if it goes ahead, would be developed in the heart of Clayoquot Sound. I find it hard to rationalize the actions of people who use metals in their every-day life to block the development of a mine. Are we against mining? Or are we just against a mine in our own back yard?

I think these are important things to think about: every time we make a decision; every time we choose to take action, or not to take action.

And it’s not just about big industrial projects like logging and mining. There are decisions and actions that we make every day.

For example, plastic grocery bags: How could anyone who considers the issue, and not just their personal challenge of remembering to bring a bag (we remember our wallet and keys, how hard can it be?), not support the banning of unnecessary single-use items that harm the environment? (And don’t give me the “but I recycle” argument: Recycling is evil).

Personally, I don’t hold much hope for the future of humanity on this planet. And sadly, we’re going to take down a lot of other species with us (we already are).

But if we are to have any hope at all, we need to look at the big picture. We need to examine our each and every action, and make our decisions based on examination of the whole and looking out for the long-term – not on just how something will affect us, personally, right here and right now.

Where do you stand? Do you have any stories to share about your “big picture”?

*I understand the word “clearcut” has been redefined because supposedly BC no longer undertakes clearcut logging. As I understand it, these patches where the forest has been cut and cleared are now supposed to be labelled “openings”, so in this post I use the word “clearcut” informally.

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