The news from the natural world these days is mostly about water, and understandably so.We hear about the record-setting amounts of water that Hurricane Harvey dumped on Houston and other Gulf cities and towns, mixing with petrochemicals to pollute and poison on an unfathomable scale. We hear too about the epic floods that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Bangladesh to Nigeria (though we don’t hear enough). And we are witnessing, yet again, the fearsome force of water and wind as Hurricane Irma — one of the most powerful storms ever recorded — leaves devastation behind in the Caribbean, with Florida now in its sights.Yet for large parts of North America, Europe, and Africa, this summer has not been about water at all. In fact it has been about its absence; it’s been about land so dry and heat so oppressive that forested mountains exploded into smoke like volcanoes. It’s been about fires fierce enough to jump the Columbia River; fast enough to light up the outskirts of Los Angeles like an invading army; and pervasive enough to threaten natural treasures, like the tallest and most ancient sequoia trees and Glacier National Park.For millions of people from California to Greenland, Oregon to Portugal, British Columbia to Montana, Siberia to South Africa, the summer of 2017 has been the summer of fire. And more than anything else, it’s been the summer of ubiquitous, inescapable smoke.For years, climate scientists have warned us that a warming world is an extreme world, in which humanity is buffeted by both brutalizing excesses and stifling absences of the core elements that have kept fragile life in equilibrium for millennia. At the end of the summer of 2017 — with major cities submerged in water and others licked by flames — we are currently living through Exhibit A of this extreme world, one in which natural extremes come head-to-head with social, racial, and economic ones.
Tag Archives: Canada
In 1905 the Spanish writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez described the horrible conditions of day laborers in the vineyards outside Jerez. Barely paid, almost starving, and sleeping on hay, the day laborers in Blasco Ibáñez’s novel, La Bodega, stumble through life as “cadavers, with twisted spines and dry limbs, deformed and clumsy.” But Blasco Ibáñez—a sort of Dickens of Andalusia—imagines a different fate for his protagonist. Our hero escapes with his fiancée to South America, “that young world” where land ownership is not a prerequisite for a good life. “What an Eden,” the narrator interjects, “so much better for the eager and strong peasant, a slave until then in body and soul to those who do not work.” The lovers “would be new, innocent, and industrious.” The novel ends happily—there is no doubt of that—but on a mixed metaphor, with an Eden where people work hard. Indeed Blasco Ibáñez’s term for “industrious”—laborioso—also translates as “toilsome.” What sort of Eden is this, where women and men till the soil? In Genesis, Adam and Eve simply pick fruit from orchards in perpetual bloom. At the Fall, God invents work as punishment and commands his children, “You shall gain your bread by the sweat of your own brow.” Blasco, however, views a certain form of labor as a reward, and most social critics have shared this perspective. Like most myths, Eden tolerates ambiguity.
Donald Trump is so spectacularly horrible that it’s hard to look away – especially now that he’s discovered bombs. But precisely because everyone’s staring gape-mouthed in his direction, other world leaders are able to get away with almost anything. Don’t believe me? Look one country north, at Justin Trudeau.Look all you want, in fact – he sure is cute, the planet’s only sovereign leader who appears to have recently quit a boy band. And he’s mastered so beautifully the politics of inclusion: compassionate to immigrants, insistent on including women at every level of government. Give him great credit where it’s deserved: in lots of ways he’s the anti-Trump, and it’s no wonder Canadians swooned when he took over.But when it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he’s a brother to the old orange guy in Washington.
The area around Montreal’s rue Jean-Talon Est, long known as Little Italy, has recently been renamed Little Maghreb by local traders. Montreal, a city of two million, is divided between French speakers in the east and north and English speakers in the southeast, but it is also an ethnic patchwork. Little Maghreb is home to many of Quebec’s North African population, especially Algerians (see map Montreal, global city). Many sections of the rue Jean-Talon, on the edge of Plateau-Mont-Royal, a middle class area favoured by French immigrants, show signs of these arrivals, who began to come in the early 1980s (1). One Canadian in five was born abroad, 200,000 in North Africa, and 80% of those live in Quebec, 70% in Montreal itself (2).Butchers’ shops here are halal, travel agents offer cheap flights to North Africa and bakeries sell cakes and kitchen utensils from back home. A few shops indicate a South American presence. When there are celebrations of a North African footballing success, the police divert the traffic to limit congestion. Many cafés share their names with those of Algiers, Tunis and Casablanca. In the 5th July café (the date of Algeria’s independence in 1962), I met several recent arrivals. Mounir D, 35, from Oran in Algeria, is a maintenance man in a department store and received his immigration visa in 2015. He told me his new life has given him autonomy and freedom: ‘I’m good here. I won’t deny there are problems but, brother, I have my wife and my children, we have a home and a car, and in five years at most we’ll be Canadian citizens. You shouldn’t take too much notice of the people who complain. Here we have peace.’
Funny how another nation’s sectarian hatred comes seeping over the national frontier of its neighbours. Mexico is now fighting off the US President’s wall mania. Justin Trudeau’s Canada looks squeaky clean compared to America. You can forgive the Prime Minister’s vanity – Trudeau is now posing Tom Cruise style, eyes narrowed in love towards his wife in her cringe-making Women’s Day photo-op with her husband. Not long ago, the same couple blessed the cover of Vanity Fair. But he’s the guy who walks tall on immigration, welcomes Syrian refugees with affection, tells them they’re “home” and generally makes Trump look like a scumbag.
But the contagion has already arrived in Canada. Inspired by the racism of the Trump regime, we now find that a Canadian Conservative Party leadership contender wants to give newly arrived immigrants a “values” test. “Are men and women equal…under the law?” they would be asked. “Is it ever OK to coerce or use violence against an individual … who disagrees with your views?” “Do you realise that to have a good life in Canada, you will need to work hard to provide for yourself and your family, that you can’t expect to have things you want given to you?”
Of all the ideas to pull people out of poverty, one of the more contentious is also the simplest: governments should just hand out monthly checks to the poor, no strings attached.That’s exactly what the Canadian province of Ontario plans to do, and it’s already causing a ruckus. The Liberal Party currently in control of the provincial government aims to roll out a pilot for a “universal basic income” program in three cities in the spring of 2017. While it has yet to identify the three guinea pigs, hints of what the system will look like can be found in a discussion paper authored last August by Hugh Segal, a former member of the Canadian Senate and now head of the University of Toronto’s Massey College.
A MASS SHOOTING at a Quebec City mosque last night left six people dead and eight wounded. The targeted mosque, the Cultural Islamic Center of Quebec, was the same one at which a severed pig’s head was left during Ramadan last June. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the episode a “terrorist attack on Muslims.”
Almost immediately, various news outlets and political figures depicted the shooter as Muslim. Right-wing nationalist tabloids in the U.K. instantly linked it to Islamic violence. Fox News claimed that “witnesses said at least one gunman shouted ‘Allahu akbar!’” and then added this about the shooter’s national origin:
This is how Theresa May should have reacted to Donald Trump’s travel ban – for the sake of British Muslims
It takes months to become a real bad guy, to turn against a whole race of people, to boast about your lack of compassion, to whip even your most craven allies into grovelling silence as you besmirch the good name of your country. But it took only a few seconds for Justin Trudeau to shame Donald Trump at the weekend. All he said was “Welcome to Canada”, and his own freezing, cantankerous, glorious country became the Land of the Free.
It was a lesson, if she had the wit to grasp it, for our own little poodlet – whose frightened complicity when asked, repeatedly, to respond to Trump’s meanness of heart shamed even her own cabinet of buffoons. Is this where Brexit has taken us?
In Kingston, Ontario, last month, beloved Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip played their final concert. Among the audience was none other than Justin Trudeau — resplendent in his Canadian tuxedo (denim jacket, jeans, and a band t-shirt) — with his McGill pal and political advisor Gerry Butts.
Trudeau had earlier tweeted a photo of himself passionately hugging lead singer Gord Downie, who appealed to the prime minister from stage to do more for indigenous people. An icon of Anglo-Canadian left-nationalist culture — up there with Joni Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, and David Cronenberg — Downie seemed convinced that Trudeau would “do the right thing” and “help these people.”
It is early november and in the streets of Toronto, men and women are pinning bright red poppies onto their dark winter coats. They do this in remembrance; they remember the men and women who gave their lives in the two great orgies of violence that defined the twentieth century in order to build a saner and a better world. That world, which the survivors managed to build, came to a sudden end last night. With the election of Donald Trump, the last of the major Western democracies holding out against the tidal onslaught of xenophobia has fallen. Well, not quite the last. There is Canada.