If you are a resident of northern or western Canada you will be well-aware of the current deep-freeze we’re experiencing. Air temperatures have been close to the minus 40C mark, with wind-chill temperatures approaching minus 60C. The implications of this will be obvious to any Canadian; minor frost-bite walking into the wind on the way to work, heating fuel being converted to CO2 as fast as I can earn money to buy the stuff, weight gain and a general malaise as a result of being confined indoors in front of the TV, and other minor annoyances.
Fortunately, we live in a warm, well-built house. Should the boiler or electric power fail, we have a wood-stove as back-up, a gas-lamp and candles for light and a Coleman stove for cooking. However, the boiler keeps chugging away, carrying my wages up the chimney and, because each community in Nunavut has a small, simple and self-contained generating system without any long-distance power-lines or complicated grids, the electricity is more reliable here than in the south, despite the extreme environmental conditions.
Still, one does get a sense, amid the arctic deep-freeze, of our vulnerability to a major calamity. It’s probably something that few people give any thought to, but perhaps we should.
To put it simply, if the supply of fossil fuel were disrupted by a major war or a world-wide economic or environmental disaster, the Canadian arctic would be pushed back into the stone-age in but a few short months. Essentially, it would become un-inhabitable, even (perhaps especially) for the Inuit, who are now no better-equipped than the “Europeans” to survive being deprived of the basic elements of life. Like it or not, oil is the lynch-pin without which the whole house-of-cards comes crashing down around our ears in very short order. At the very least, ninety-nine percent of the people presently living here would have to abandon the arctic in favour of warmer climes, and the few survivalists left behind, if any, would be living a short life under the same severe conditions as their ancestors, without the required skills and moral fortitude.
Though I would be the first to applaud the advances that have been made in science and industry that have given us the easy, safe and long lives we currently enjoy, as I get older I’m becoming more and more of a skeptic.
Is global warming a reality? Only if you believe that scientists know what the future holds, and scientists are no better at predicting the future than any three-year old. Do we have enough oil? Who knows – oil is as much about politics as it is about money. Admitting to a shortage will panic the public, admitting to an over-abundance will drive the price down. Will there be another world-war, or another Great Depression? Will an asteroid hit the earth, wiping out the dinosaurs (us!)?
At any rate, it does no good to dwell on these issues, we must simply get on with our lives, seemingly unaware, while the future comes hurtling toward us. That’s life, I guess.
Still, one wonders if the real calamity on the road to man’s future might well be not the burning of fossil fuel but the running out thereof. There is nothing in the pipe to replace oil. Nuclear power is still non grata to a large segment of the public, large-scale hydo-power creates its own environmental devastation, wind is too unreliable and solar is too expensive. Airplanes and ships can’t run on anything but fossil fuel and therefore global commerce and travel would grind to a halt without oil.
We have both wind and solar power at our cabin, but you cannot create heat with such small-scale generation. We still need oil and propane to warm our bodies and cook our food.
Prior to the Second World War, the few white traders, trappers and Hudson's Bay people in the arctic heated their homes with coal. I imagine they would not have tolerated or survived living the stone-age existence of the Inuit. From that basic fossil fuel we have “progressed” to oil furnaces, diesel trucks to deliver our water, diesel generators to provide our power, jet fuel for our aircraft, gasoline for our snowmobiles, boats and ATV’s. We simply can’t live without the stuff! It is oil that forms the basis of many of the medicines we take. Without oil there is no plastic and without plastic almost all of our consumer goods disappear. Without oil there is no way to make the Doritos or the aluminum cans for our Coca-Cola – and no Coca-Cola either.
It is not in the nature of human beings to voluntarily go backward. We have never done that in the tens of thousands of years of our evolution. We will not easily give up what we have gained. All the global-warming rhetoric aside, we will continue to burn fossil fuel at a faster and faster rate, we will not give more than a passing thought to the environmental damage being caused as a result, and we will not conserve. Instead, we will charge ahead into the future without much thought to our own self-destructive tendencies, until a point is reached where we have no choice but to go backward.
It isn’t going to happen next Tuesday, but it will happen one day.
So … who’s gonna win the Super Bowl?