New year’s edification

It’s new year resolution time, and the tireless Guy Dauncey offers a few departure points for inspiration on his Climate Challenge page – including a Week-by-Week Guide for people wanting to join with others in “climate challenge circles.” I like his link to the Eat Low Carbon Diet Calculator.

Meanwhile I’ve already seen a couple of inspirational movies this year. Not new ones, but worth digging out from your library or video rental store.

Addicted to Plastic is surprisingly upbeat. It is not shy of the issues, but balances them with lots of airtime for people making positive changes to the consumption and waste of plastic. It starts in the North Pacific Gyre and explains there and in the sections about plastic that is in contact with our food and drink about plastic’s gift for attracting toxins and how these toxins travel into our food system. It’s not exactly news that the chemicals end up in our bloodstreams through ingesting seafood, which accumulates toxins up through the food chain in our oceans; or from the plastic bottles many of us have started avoiding already. But there is plastic lining our food tins as well, and the lids of glass jars – and artifical wine corks, come to think of it. The scientists quoted in the movie were certainly avoiding plastic food packaging in their own lives.

So. It will be tough going, but I’m going to double my efforts to avoid buying plastic this year.

Here’s the trailer for the movie:

The grimly amusing Radiant City, filmed in Calgary, finally unlocked some of the cultural attitudes I really dislike about North America, and reminded me of why I had been in no hurry to move back here from England. It shows the damage that has been done to the cityscape, the sense of community and the economic environment by building the monster single family dwellings that now mar the landscape around Calgary and Edmonton, and anywhere in North America where development is running rampant – more and more built on fertile land even here on Vancouver Island. Some trade-off.

The houses are huge, and remote from urban centres, turning occupants into commuters; all single-occupancy, these developments provide dwellings (per square kilometre) for too few people to make public transport viable, so what might be on offer is patchy. Which means every family living there needs at least two vehicles; the children raised in such an environment will expect likewise to own their own car, as they’ll be used to being driven everywhere. One statistic cited was that North American suburbanites typically spend the equivalent of 55 eight-hour weekdays driving each year.

Since the housing development areas are vast, there is nothing within walking distance, and all amenities are offered through malls. That means no common local meeting places, and that food and other consumables will have to be purchased almost entirely from chain stores owned by multinationals.

Each home is fronted by a massive garage, so each home literally looks inward, and discourages contact with neighbours. It reminded me of a house I visited here in Victoria, where the existing bungalow – in that neighbourhood, probably built sometime between 1920 and 1950 – had been torn down and replace by just such a house: I remember feeling riled by the sheer size of the home, and by the fact it had no front, just a massive driveway and garage. Somehow that garage really got to me, it seemed so unfriendly. The occupants told me that their neighbours had been offended by this new home, and I’m not surprised, faced as they would have been by big new walls. This kind of building is mercifully rare – so far – in existing Victoria neighbourhoods, although it’s certainly contaminating new developments.

It’s a struggle to be sociable in any modern urban environment nowadays, but I find it doubly offensive that isolation is being built into the equation, and that the developers have appropriated the term “community” to describe their pods of detachment. What lunacy is this to think we can live independently and separately from those with whom we share this planet and its future?

The vision of suburbia shown in the film – and by any visit to Calgary – is spectacularly unsustainable in just about any way you could think of, but particularly in anticipation of rocketing fuel prices. I suppose – if the developments actually offer back yards – it is possible there will be some room to grow food (though I imagine most of the topsoil will have been scraped away during development).

Here’s the trailer for this one:

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