The cartoon is reproduced here, but you can check out the original cartoon at: http://www.straight.com/article-819871/vancouver/ethical-spills-coming-coast-near-you
This week’s Simon & Finn is brought to you courtesy of The Georgia Strait. The accompanying article focuses on a rogue geoengineering experiment on Canada’s west coast, as reported by the UK Guardian this week.
The original article and cartoon can be accessed here.
In recent Canadian environmental news, one can’t help but notice a slight thread of subversive strategy and a smattering of the authoritarianism so brilliantly parodied in Orwell’s dystopian book 1984.
Below are three brief parallels for your consideration:
1. Doppelgänger Ministries
1984: In the book 1984, the totalitarian ministries which govern the fictional land of Oceania could be considered doppelgängers, as they are are paradoxically named and represent the dark double of their namesakes. For example, the Ministry of Love is largely responsible for the practice and infliction of misery, fear, and torture. The Ministry of Truth, similarly, is the ministry responsible for propaganda and rewriting history to this effect.
Canada: In January, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver publicly equated Canadian environmental organizations to extreme radical groups, using further descriptive words as in “hijack”, “exploit”, “kill”, “undermine” in his open letter. The letter’s main message is that processes that delay rapid resource development and exploitation (that is, the environmental assessment processes that would normally accompany oil pipeline development) are now an urgent matter of Canada’s national interest.
“National interest”…now there’s some fightin’ words.
Last I remember, Natural Resources Canada’s mandate included the words “enhance the responsible” development and use of Canada’s natural resources, but I must have been trumped up the verbs. “Enforce the rapid” is more fitting.
2. The creative use of language to subvert public discourse
1984: In the book 1984, an individual’s use of doublethink is encouraged. Doublethink enables one to believe that two contradictory ideas are both correct, i.e. to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient and yet to recall it again when required, etc.
Canada: The platform Ethical Oil, brainchild of Ezra Levant, basically posits that Canadian tar sands oil – because it comes from a country that “respects the rights of women, workers, indigenous peoples and other minorities including gays and lesbians” – is more ethical than oil produced in conflict areas such as Nigeria, Iran, etc. and therefore should be considered a preferred energy source. This bizarre platform has diverted debate about the environmental impacts of Canada’s oil sands extraction and transportation into a completely different arena, with “ethical oil” on one side and so-called “conflict oil” on the other.
But basically, as detractors say, this is a red herring as there is no such thing as ethical oil. Like most fossil-based energy sources, all oil has its problems, and tar sands oil in particular. By promulgating tar sands oil as ethical by nature of Canada’s human rights record, Ethical Oil is doing its very best to ensure we sidestep the real issue at hand, which is the significant environmental degradation associated with extracting and transporting tar sands oil.
Interestingly, it seems that Ethical Oil – while ostensibly a grassroots organization – has some convoluted ties that involve not only Sun Media but also the PMO, and moreover happily embarrasses itself on national television to avoid directly answering who funds its activities.
3. Down with dissent
1984: In this book, society is presided over by Big Brother who keeps a gimlet eye on all the doings and sayings of Orwellian society. In such a land, talk is muted and dissent intolerated, to the point where ‘suspicious persons’ simply disappear into the bowels of the Ministry of Love, ne’er to be seen again.
Canada: Recently Canadian charities have come under increased scrutiny by the federal government to assess whether they are spending over 10% of their budget on advocacy based political activity. Under Canadian law, organizations that exceed this allocation stand to lose their charitable status.
The possible result? That charities run scared and pull back funding for research and other initiatives that might indicate dissenting viewpoint to government positions… for example, initiatives that would otherwise be exploring alternatives to the the rapid development of oil pipelines.
As charities are often major contributors to environmental organizations and initiatives, there are some that say this increased scrutiny is actually a strategic effort to muzzle the depth of environmental debate in Canada.
So there you have it. A few ideas, for starters. Agree? Disagree? Other ideas?
So there’s this jellyfish. It’s tiny. It’s global. And it’s immortal.
You scoff but it’s true! There’s this miniscule jellyfish that has supped from the fountain of youth and mocks us with its knowledge with its beady little.. um.. tentacles. This jellyfish – or Turritopsis nutricula in elite circles – essentially grows to adulthood, decides it’s time for a change, and then converts all its cells to become a little jellyfish baby again – or a “blob-like cyst”. Discovering it doesn’t like being a blob, it grows back to an adult again, and, evidently not liking the responsibilities of that, shrinks back to a polyp, and so on and so forth (I’m sure the whole time humming along to this sweet tune).
For this species, the process of converting cells, or transdifferentiation, means that the cells can be converted from specialized muscle cells (for example) back to nerve cells or even to inaugural sperm and eggs. Essentially the jellyfish can convert its mature cells back into a younger state and vice-versa. In theory this cycle can loop forever, which means that biological immortality does in fact exist here on Earth… as well as perpetual biological indecision.
And I thought I had trouble growing up.
P.S. On a tangential note, recently scientists have inserted jellyfish genes into cats as part of research into Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (and ultimately, HIV). As these genes make fluorescent proteins, this has the effect of actually making the cats glow in the dark and the result is visible with the naked eye.
While the aims of the related research are incredibly promising, there’s something really strange about making green cats, don’t you think?
For more Higgs boson musings, visit: “The mostly harmless Higgs boson (aka So long, and thanks for all the fonts!“
It’s been an electrifying week for particle physics, what with the seeming discovery of the Higgs boson, otherwise known as the “God particle”. The existence of this unassuming little sub-atomic particle was first conceived of in the 1970s, but only very recently have physicists found tangible evidence that it exists through the use of the gigantic CERN Large Hadron Collider.
Now, there’s lots of information out there clarifying what the Higgs boson is all about, and why it matters, but suffice it to say (for this light-hearted post) that H-B and its mechanisms is believed responsible for conferring mass to all matter, which equates to all the mass in the universe. At 1052 to 1053 kg, that’s heavy stuff for a little boson!
Also trending though, is the fact that the physicists announced the discovery of the God particle using Comic Sans font in their Powerpoint presentation, to the chagrin and ridicule of aesthetes the world over and causing a cosmic firestorm on Twitter (i.e. “few people know that the original set of tablets were smashed not because of the golden calf, but because they were in Comic Sans” @spiritofMoses).
It’s a pretty quarky – yet funny – world when one of the biggest scientific discoveries in the last fifty years is vying with font type for attention. Sigh… if only Douglas Adams were still around, he would have had a field day with this one!
P.S. Why is Higgs boson called the God particle you ask? This title was apparently popularized by a book on particle physics: The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?. The author indicated he chose the name because “the publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing”.
The problem with traveling is sometimes you fall in love, and that love is usually intense and ephemeral, because someone – eventually – will depart. This time, I fell in love unexpectedly… with a mouse deer.
It all started when I was out in the ancient ruined city of Polonnurawa, Sri Lanka. It was about 7am, sweltering hot, and the BBC documentary film crew was in action trying to incite a confrontation between two toque macaque monkey troops. I was milling about uncertainly at the periphery, feeling a little useless, when I noticed the project lead and a field assistant looking intently at something on the ground. I wandered up, and saw that they were looking at this incredible little creature that was nestled underneath a shrub: a baby mouse deer.
I immediately thought it the cutest animal I had ever seen, and judging by the smiling faces all around, I wasn’t the only one. When it was suggested that I keep an eye on it for a few hours I happily agreed. I was ready to do my part and guard this little guy from danger! As well as see if the mother would return, or if he was well and truly alone in this big world.
I spent the morning sitting on the grass near the mouse deer, gently corralling him when he strayed too far. He was a pretty plucky little guy, not even a half hour had passed when he ventured unsteadily on his tiny legs to see what I was all about before nestling back into the security of his shrub. At one point, a bunch of toque monkeys came close, curious to see what I was looking at. I instantly picked him up and shielded him – he didn’t struggle or protest and seemed quite content to sit with me afterward. I knew right then that this encounter was something special.
As the mother was still nowhere in sight and the mouse deer was very weak, we decided to bring it to the research camp and see if we could help it live. And that was the beginning of a wonderful relationship. It took to infant formula after some coaxing, and after a day or two it was starting to nibble on figs, and banana, and even leaves. What was really amazing was how instantly he connected with people. Curious, I read up on the mouse deer, discovering it was part of the family chevrotain – well and truly a deer as opposed to mouse, and one of the most ancient mammal species. Finding a baby is also a rare occurrence, the project lead here hadn’t ever had a mouse deer baby in camp in over 40 years of field work. In fact, scour the Internet and you’ll find precious little on raising a baby mouse deer.
Despite his rarity, day by day he got stronger and our hopes grew that he would become a wonderful addition to the camp – maybe even a film star for the next BBC shoot! He would take to following me, bouncing around at my feet and coming when called, running across the camp floor and sliding all over the place on his tiny hooves. As the days passed, I would spend hours watching him, petting him, feeding him, walking with him… It was a source of – I fully admit – continual joy to open the box every morning and see these bright eyes looking up at me, followed by a tiny u-shaped stretch as I’d bend down to take him out of the box.
Unfortunately, the time we had was cut short. I had to leave camp for a few days, planning to be back on my birthday. While I was gone I thought of the mouse deer daily, worrying and hoping that he would be ok during my absence. Things got complicated when I was gone, and I was asked to delay my return by a day. I wish so much now that I hadn’t, as my return one day later was to the news that the little mouse deer had died that morning. He had lived until my birthday like I had hoped for… but like the story of the monkey’s paw, the wish had a flip side, as the day after he tried to jump out of his box and I guess the fall was too much for his delicate body.
When I returned to camp I went to his box sadly and said goodbye, stroking his broken little body. His spirit was already gone, and there was no trace of the life that had animated such a wonderful creature. I moved his small hooves in the air a bit, and brushed his tail, but under my hands there was only stillness.
Looking back, I had been given the indisputable gift of spending time with an unusual and brave little animal. Although I’m profoundly grateful for the time I had with him, I wish those bright eyes would have shined on just a little longer.