How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Alaska Highway Mile Zero - The Truth About Truth

12- 14th July 2016

I have arrived at mile zero of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. This morning marks what I hope will be a journey of wonderful wild places and endless, unspoiled landscapes, punctuated only by herds of wild beasts. I was hoping to get a bit of wilderness therapy to help me recover from the experience of Fort McMurray, but alas, all I have seen is yet another 500 miles or so of canola, interspersed with a patch of secondary growth forest here and there, and a wetland or two. I have seen two prairie dogs (very cute), a couple of dead skunks, three deer, some American coots, a lot of mallards and a plethora of red-winged blackbirds. The canola fields and forest fragments doesn't seem to be providing good habitat for much of anything except canola and cows.

There have been some highlights. I stopped by the Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park Boreal Center for Bird Conservation. The Center is a lovely sliver of boreal forest surrounding Lesser Slave Lake, which serves as a wildlife corridor for migrating birds. I met some of the researchers working there and talked to them while they were tagging some individual birds they had caught that morning in nets. Some of the birds they were tagging, American redstart, ovenbird, black and white warbler, magnolia warbler and others, are actually winter stop-over visitors and winter residents in the Turks and Caicos. I am awed by these little birds that, weighing less than a pencil, fly all the way from Canada to the Turks and Caicos and beyond every single year. My journey in a Toyota Highlander has been taxing, and I have not traveled as far. I also have the benefit of stopping at grocery stores every few days for supplies. The tiny warblers have no such luxury. Instead, the grocery stores they depend on during their journeys, wetlands, forests, prairies, etc., are being systematically wiped out. The global population of migratory birds is dropping precipitously. I cannot help but admire the tenacity and perseverance of the survivors. The persist largely due to the ever-shrinking small patchwork of protected habitats that remain, such as the Boreal Center for Bird Conservation.

The natural landscape has failed to capture my attention, but the human landscape along this leg of my journey has been interesting. Suncor offices (the purveyors of tar sands) at Fort McMurray are powered by solar panels. The entire building and parking lot are covered in them. At the grocery store at Fort McMurray, I must buy or use a reusable bag. Plastic bags have been eliminated. Billboards on the side of the road advise, "water is precious, please use it wisely" (tar sand extraction requires three barrels of water for every barrel of oil extracted). The elephant in that room is enormous. Leaving Fort McMurray, I pass a car on the road that has two bumper stickers. One says, "the only truth is Jesus." The other says, "only the truth will set you free." At Kinusayo Museum on Slave Lake, I have an in-depth discussion with a beautiful young Cree woman, who talks to me about missionary residential schools (some were better than others), lost culture and a lack of good-paying jobs. A taxidermist in the same town (not a native), while surrounded by carcasses of wolves, bears, wolverines, and other slaughtered noble beasts, tells me that "the tar sands aren't bad like everybody makes out," that "solar panels bankrupt every place they are installed," and "that Muslim President in the U.S. is to blame..." (for something. I had tuned out at that point).

I have been plagued by feelings of unreality since I left Fort McMurray. Perhaps I am detoxifying as the brimstone and hell fire are being metabolized within my tissues. However, I think it is because I have come to realize everybody is living in their own state of unreality, which for the most part, they assume to be truth.  The unabashed truth of Fort McMurray has knocked me from my contented delusions. Truth is an elusive elixir, the objective nature of which we can not ever entirely know. Religions depend on people accepting their dogmas as truth, with minimal supporting evidence. Economic and political theories work in much the same way. For example, universal suffrage has now brought us Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Free market capitalism has given us the world we have today, environmentally bankrupt and excessively unequal. Gospels from "gods of love" promote genocide. When any of the above logical contradictions are pointed out, we are told that we simply don't understand the higher workings of gods, economies, etc.

Science is perhaps the only belief system that at least acknowledges that it doesn't actually know the truth. Instead, science observes phenomena, quantifies it and then applies levels of probability to hypotheses about the phenomena. The more times a phenomenon is observed behaving in a predictable fashion, the more reliably we can regard it as "truth," although we can never be entirely sure. For example, it appears that the sun revolves around the Earth. We now know that this is probably not the case. When Galileo delivered reliable evidence to this effect, he was charged as a heretic and forced to live out his golden years as a prisoner. His more statistically reliable truth did not square with the doctrines of those in power.

We currently have a lot of scientifically probably realities that compete with the doctrines of the powerful. Human activities have led to the loss of 50% of Earth's wildlife in the past 40 years. The combustion and extraction of fossil fuels is increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane concentrations, causing global climate change. The great cultural and physical genocides of the past cannot be undone by forcing Western economic doctrines on the victims. Hunting wild animals for trophies (rather than for need) in a world where wildlife is disappearing is morally repugnant. Hillary Clinton makes contradictory statements and appears to like military action. Donald Trump is a terrible business man, a racist and a misogynist and would make a terrible President. This is the world we live in, and more of the same will bring us more of the same. Jesus has failed to materialize, and the ship is going down.

I don't want to live in a world dominated by humans, cows, chickens, pigs, canola, rats and cockroaches (not that I have anything against any of those species, although I will be happy if I never see a canola field again), but this is the trajectory we are on. The only way to escape the trajectory is to challenge the dogmas that people and institutions hold as truth, and remember always: the truth about truth is that what you think is the truth is not the truth. Now to hopefully spend some time among the moose. I have had enough of human civilization.

Sorry. Slow internet. No pictures today. Future days will bring beautiful photos. I hope.

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