Tarred and Feathered; Orange Is the New Black; Fish Out of Water; Tweet November
Tarred and Feathered
While Taras Grescoe may have offset his flights to Fort McMurray, Alberta, making them carbon neutral (“Big Mac,” November), he still took them. Offsetting is great, but first you need the fuel. Where does he expect to get it, or the materials for his computer for that matter?
Canadians have no problems destroying precious habitats and digging up wetlands for cities and farms: nobody complains that Toronto decimated a forest, or that Vancouver ruined a coastline. Yet the areas mined to support such cities are deemed environmental catastrophes.
Fort McMurray, AB
Obviously, the world needs to continue drawing oil out of the ground. It is not obvious where (Alberta, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela?) or when (2013, 2040, 2200?) we should mine our remaining reserves. Articles such as this inform the debate.
Outsiders villainize Fort McMurray and focus on its dreariness: the mud, the grinding traffic, the drugs. Those drawbacks stand in contrast to the wide-open skies and tall birch trees, the craft fairs and hockey games, the majority of good people just trying to make a better future for themselves and their families.
Nevertheless, I lived in the Mac for a year and a half, and I can say that leaving was the highlight of my experience. An element of superficiality pervades the town—predictable when young and old make so much money that they do not feel obliged to live any other way. (What’s $10,000 for a lift kit or $20,000 for a snowmobile I’ll only use twice a year? With so much space, who could possibly miss the tundra grass and trees I’m pulling up, or notice the polluted waterways far upriver?)
The biggest problem is a lack of social accountability. There is no push for sustainability—besides what looks good for a TV commercial—because no one sets a higher bar. A trickle-down effect breeds complacency and an implicit endorsement of environmental degradation.
Taras Grescoe makes the oil sands money sound so glamorous: parents who never see their kids and who might well die of cancer. If investors—public or private, foreign or domestic—actually funded a change in energy policy, I guarantee you that the people of this town would pick up their families and follow the jobs, more than happy to work toward sustainability.
Fort McMurray, AB
Orange is the new black
Charlotte Gray correctly observes that Thomas Mulcair has nudged the NDP to the centre (“Prime Minister in Waiting,” November), but one could argue that if the party had maintained its traditional left-leaning position it would be irrelevant by 2015. In the next election, Mulcair needs to clarify his commitment to balanced economic growth coupled with environmental sustainability.
This article did nothing to explicate the implications of a Mulcair government. It instead focused on history, style, and strategy—saying much about the state of Canadian politics and where policies are obscured, along with the outcomes of our votes. The Walrus should be insightful enough to look beyond the obvious.
The Green Party is slapped again (cover). Canadians only have the three old-vision parties to choose from? I would have expected better from The Walrus.
White Fox, SK
Fish Out of Water
By lionizing Joe Bower, Zander Sherman (“Standard Issues,” November) takes a step back from his book, The Curiosity of School. Bower is active on social media, and his views are readily available, but Sherman is overly selective in the piece.
Bower’s methods may work where he teaches, but a closer examination would acknowledge that they do not work in the average classroom, because they deny students the ability to learn anything other than what they already know or can discover themselves. The public owns and pays for the education system, but Bower has little appreciation for the public, its needs, and its rationale for having schools in the first place. He seeks to change society, but his philosophy does not serve it.
Teachers like Bower contribute to the number of students graduating with no concept of the real world. His methodology suggests that basic knowledge is not necessary—a flawed position that will put our students at a disadvantage globally. Yes, there are those who learn differently, and options should be available for them, but let’s not kid ourselves about basic education and skills. Otherwise, we accept mediocrity as a norm, and that will end poorly.
I hope I am not the first to point out that Bower’s anecdote about goldfish is from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and a commencement speech he delivered at Kenyon College in 2005.
To stick with the water theme: Sherman and Bower are in over their heads. They have gone overboard in their rudderless attempts to right the education craft. Rather than alter course toward a distinct destination, they mutinied before abandoning ship—along with accountability and a clear sense of purpose. Like the system they abhor, they are wrong.
This appeared in the January/February 2014 issue.