January 10, 2023: Arno Kopecky, Award winning Canadian journalist & travel writer – Topic: “The Core Predicament of our Time”

 Arno Kopecky

Arno Kopecky is an environmental journalist and author based in Vancouver. His stories examine how culture an politics are influenced by environmental issues, ranging from climate change to the health of wild salmon on BC’s coast. His stories can be found in The Globe and Mail, The Walrus, The Tyee, The National Observer, and other publications. His latest book is The Environmentalist’s Dilemma, a collection of reported essays exploring different ways that individuals and institutions are responding to the ecological crisis.

When he faced a dilemma we may all recognize, how to reconcile two seemingly antagonistic ways of viewing our world where one view sees the earth, and us, as doomed due to out-of-control climate change and the other notes the progress we humans have made, and continue to make, to improve life on all sorts of fronts, he wrote this book to explore the conflicting points of view.
On January 10, he’ll tell us what he found out.



Transcription of Presentation.

Peter Delaney introduced our speaker, Arno Kopecky.

We live in a time of profound cognitive dissonance. For thousands of years, generations have been defined by their fight against tyranny. When the Soviet Union collapsed, that constant resistance fell away. Freedom had seemingly won, and people embraced it with open arms. This freedom came with democracy, human rights, worker’s rights, and techno-logical innovations our ancestors could only dream of. The middle class flourished in the second half of the 20th century. Freed from dictatorships, Latin American and Asian countries relatively recently plagued by war, famine, and genocide are also seeing their middle classes thriving. In so many ways, we are living in the best of times, but in the same moment, the natural world around us is crumbling.

All this freedom and prosperity comes hand-in-hand with the over-exploitation of the natural world. Climate change start-ed as a bipartisan issue. George Bush Senior even ran on the promise to replace the greenhouse effect with the White House effect. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, climate change fell out of the mainstream and settled into a niche issue. It was hard to feel nervous about the cli-mate when so much of the world was finally experiencing prosperity. Freedom came under threat again with the September 11th attacks, and the climate crisis took another step out of the spotlight. But of course, just because climate change wasn’t in the headlines anymore, it didn’t simply go away.

Once a problem for the Arctic and faraway corners of the world, in recent years British Columbians have directly felt the effects of climate change. It’s easy, though, to disregard these heat domes, forest fires, and atmospheric rivers as temporary inconveniences when you look outside on an average day like today and see so many people enjoying their lives. Our collective reaction has been very chaotic. To grapple with this cognitive dissonance, many have turned to denying climate change outright. This delusion that the climate crisis is a hoax or overblown is soothing and, there-fore, incredibly powerful, now taking over the entire Conservative movement as a major policy plank. No one wants to stop living with the conveniences and growth of the last century. No one wants to accept that there are limits to human consumption, and so it’s easier to relegate any effort of environmental regulation as an assault on freedom and prosperity. Under its own force, this denial has spread beyond the environment to other areas, ironically reversing some of the social progress that makes this such a great time to be alive. The cultural pandemonium of this moment in history is rooted in ecological collapse.

So beyond believing that climate change is real, we have to do something about it. Today’s urgent challenges and anxieties, like inflation, housing prices, healthcare, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine may feel unrelated but are entwined with the environmental crisis. For example, much of the inflation in North America is directly caused by the increased cost of oil from the Ukraine-Russia war. If Europe had more clean energy sources, Russia wouldn’t have this power over the world right now. Countries don’t go to war over wind or sun, so clean, sustainable energy can help keep the peace and reduce costs of living.

Of course, there are trade-offs to some of these solutions. For a BC-based example, in order to protect the minimal amount of old growth forest left in the province, the government could ban their logging. However, doing so would violate their commitment to honour First Nations sovereignty. Where is the right balance between taking climate action, supporting workers, and committing to reconciliation? It’s so important that we acknowledge the importance of the social gains we’ve made and understand the trade-offs that might need to be made to find viable and sustainable long-term solutions. Many people have dedicated their lives to these conversations. Alas, we can’t all be climate activists, knowledge keepers, policymakers, or climate scientists. So, what can we do as individual actors to address the climate emergency? We need to stay informed and continue to engage in climate conversations, resisting denial even if it’s the easier path sometimes. We can also elect politicians with informed climate policies and spend our money on more sustainable options. Our words, votes, dollars, and everyday decisions can make a difference.

Carl Bartone thanked Arno and presented him with the customary honorarium.

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