As I finished reading the February 24 edition of the NG Times, I realized that if I unfolded it from the centre, the front and back pages would face each other, clearly displaying the environmental predicament we all confront. On the right, the story and hopes of a courageous young woman, Isabelle Rodé, who believes that there is a way to farm while working creatively with the environment; on the left, a devastating article by Crispin Colvin of the OFA, who outlines in detail the addictive dependency on oil we have all developed, and argues in favour of ways to continue being hooked. It reminded me of an artwork created forty years ago, in which the artists, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, presented two mural-sized photographs taken in Sri Lanka: in one, a farmer working his field with a water buffalo; in the other, a dilapidated tractor. The accompanying text described how each expended energy to produce a crop.
Much as the farmer with his buffalo, Isabelle Rodé intends to use horse power – literally – to work the soil and make it fructify. The important thing, besides the valuable experience derived from the mutual support and affection involved in domestication and care of animals, is that the use of the horses participates in the cycle of energy exchange in our local environment: the horses gain their energy from locally grown plant life, they expend their energy on a landscape scale appropriate to their species, and they return partially digested matter to the soil where it becomes a source of fertility and renewed energy. In contrast, the tractor depends on a costly and widespread network of utilities to produce, refine, and deliver oil into the local environment from elsewhere; barring the dangers of spills and misuse, it normally produces energy through burning, a process that has disastrous consequences on the environment. Moreover, as well as the tractor, the omnipresent devices powered by oil require, as an inevitable by-product, a destructive reordering of the landscape which is euphemistically called “development.” Witness to that are the demand for bulldozed flat fields which defy the natural processes of water conservation, and straight-line roads that blast their way – as recently happened on Townline road – through significant landscape forms.
It seems to me, at 82 years old, that the dilemma is pretty clear: either we struggle like Isabelle Rodé to shake off our addiction to oil with all the pain of withdrawal that entails, or fall back on the addiction as proposed by the OFA for fear of having nothing to eat. Food security is a critical worldwide issue, but can we not address it in other ways? Since the 1980’s and even earlier, some of us recognized the danger of climate change and have attempted in various ways to find solutions, all the time fighting a steep up-hill battle with incomprehension in the community and downright obstruction from climate deniers led on by the oil industry and politicians of Stephen Harper’s ilk. He, at least, should have known better. But even as we worked, we were aware of being seriously hooked on oil, and that getting over the addiction will certainly cause many moments of extreme difficulty.
Isabelle has chosen a very tough row to hoe and, as we applaud her effort, we should say from our experience that she will need our encouragement and support to continue. The struggle is not for nothing. Should we decide to share Isabelle’s courage, hope, and intelligence, I am sure as we go along we will find new, vibrant ideas about how to work creatively with our environment, and in doing so, shake our addiction to oil and then experience the immense joy of breathing deeply in greener pastures under a truly blue sky.
There are lots of ideas and projects like Isabelle’s out there. Now that Covid-19 has given us a chance to realize we can’t return to “normal,” it would perhaps be good for the New Times to start an open column for contributors entitled something in the order of “Practical Ideas for Change.”