Joseph Leivdal: The battle to save the planet will not be comfortable

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      On Friday (May 30), I went to the Chevron refinery in Burnaby to show my support for the three activists that had secured their necks to a gate with D-locks. The police were getting ready to cut the locks and had moved us back from the gate by 20 paces. While the sparks were flying and people chanted I asked one of the police officers, “How does it feel to be on the wrong side of history? To be complicit in 500 years of colonialism?” I asked not because I was naïve enough to think that I could convince him it was so, but because I wanted to know his reasoning. His response was immediate, “You can say whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.” A simple statement from a simple mind, no doubt, but the attitude behind the statement is absolutely indicative of this current moment in history.

      It doesn’t matter because it’s better now, they say. It doesn’t matter because we are happier and healthier than ever; life span is increasing and so is the average quality of life. History happened, and now we must move on in the name of a better future, they say. It doesn’t matter if better is defined in material terms, and that these better material circumstances are absurd distractions bought with violence and the destruction of the Earth. It doesn’t matter because this is the law. These are simply the facts of life and we must trudge on toward the Great Future. They say we are economic animals.

      But at what point do we acknowledge that material progress does not make up for the atrocities of the past and present? When do we recognize that many of the things that we call progress are in fact frivolous distractions that have been rendered meaningless by the realities of residential schools and poisoned water? We are enamored by our comfort and dominated by our fear of losing what basic comforts we have. But we forget that only humanity, not the economy, makes our lives meaningful, and that we sacrifice our humanity in the name of the economy.

      What is the Great Future toward which we head? The goal of this future is certainly not freedom or happiness; the gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase as police are becoming more and more militarized to repress the inevitable revolts, and even the rich are miserable. No, the goal of progress is simply more progress, more production, more efficiency, more profits. There is no end to this cycle in sight. Even the threat of environmental collapse is not enough to stop it. It will continue to go on because we are so enamored by the meager comforts granted to us, because we are unable to see that the so-called luxuries of this society are mere slop in a trough, and we lap it up greedily.

      The battle to save the planet and end colonialism will not be a comfortable one. We need to begin asking ourselves the difficult question: of what value are these comforts? Most of us are willing to point out the absurd ways we spend free time, the hollowing out of culture, the constant stress that comes with always almost being on the brink of poverty. Yet most of us will militantly defend this miserable existence when confronted. No one wants to admit to themselves that at the end of the day they will, if they are lucky, spend 10 years in impoverished retirement, and only after their body is worn down and their lust for life depleted. No one wants to consider that these sacrifices do not even come with the promise of a better future for our children!

      The chances of future generations having oxygen to breathe and water to drink are diminishing rapidly. Every single one of us is in crisis, faced with the real potential of not only living our lives in a state of constant stress, that what we stress over is ultimately a meaningless life, and that we face the prospect of death on a global-civilizational scale. Our children are going to ask us why we stood idly by, why we chose Game of Thrones over a clean future and shitty leased cars over human decency—if they even know what that means.

      We are at a critical moment in history, a moment in which our very humanity is in question. What is a little risk for the sake of humanity? Many people have lived their lives choosing comfort instead of facing the challenges of their times. The only question now is who will be able to look back on their life knowing that they met those challenges.

      Joseph Leivdal is a local activist and student of communication and humanities at Simon Fraser University.


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      What a joke

      Jun 2, 2014 at 5:04pm

      Waaaah! "500 years of colonialism?!?" What a pathetic excuse for failure. Pining for a glorified pre-colonial past is not only fantasy but counter productive: the time to fight was centuries ago. Ever wonder why protesters and activists rarely achieve marked success? Their language breeds failure, their grasp on reality is tenuous and their minds are incapable of reasoned thought. The pipelines will be built, oil will be refined into gas and your lack of job skills will continue to consign you to minimum wage work or handouts from the gullible.


      Jun 2, 2014 at 5:13pm

      "Our children are going to ask us why we stood idly by, why we chose Game of Thrones over a clean future and shitty leased cars over human decency"

      The vast majority of us are animals ruled by internal forces beyond our reasoning, and ability to control. Our children will not ask those questions because either there won't be children or they will be the same as us. "Human decency" is a fallacy, since most of us are incapable of acting beyond our own primitive urges.


      Jun 2, 2014 at 8:18pm

      Animals is an animal.


      Jun 2, 2014 at 9:54pm

      I'd like to know exactly how he got there, and if he uses electricity every day.

      There's a big difference between protecting the environment and wishing that we immediately stop all energy uses from fossil fuels. Until alternatives to fossil fuels are widely adopted, we still need energy from traditional sources.

      I'd like to see Joseph offer some actual solutions rather than simply protest.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 2, 2014 at 10:29pm


      It's been my experience that most people choose protest after "actual solutions" have been repeatedly ignored.


      Jun 2, 2014 at 10:50pm

      "Ever wonder why protesters and activists rarely achieve marked success? "

      Hmmm, good talking point but far from accurate. Almost all the freedoms we take for granted were first the seemingly ridiculous ideas of unrealistic dreamers who used protests in one form or another to bring their cause to the public's attention. Even today's Conservative government in Ottawa promotes programs that, as a party, they would have dismissed outright only a few decades ago. Those shifts in policy are largely due to public pressure. I suspect the real reason this trope of 'protest is ineffectual' gets so much play from those who fear progress is that the opposite is true. Protests worked, works, will work in the future.

      Either that or some people don't know what they are talking about. :-)


      Jun 3, 2014 at 9:05am

      I don't think I choose Game of Thrones over a clean future.

      I didn't pick the version of Game of Thrones that was made by the burning of hydrocarbons over the version of Game of Thrones that was powered by temperature-gradient-differential electrogeneration.

      I'm not sure that depriving me of Game of Thrones altogether would free up David Benioff's time so that he could build the skyhook that would launch clean satellites to beam microwave energy down to receivers on earth. As far as I know, he is just a writer and a producer (and novelist).

      This is the level of Joseph Leivdal's insight.

      While I can't disagree with his desire to eat safe food and breathe clean air, these are not unusual or distinctive goals. It is not innovative to have fear nor is it inspiring to lash out disdainfully at you, me, and the poor fuzz who were standing around to prevent an unfortunate incident at the refinery.

      What is useful - and this is only the rambling of an anonymous internet nerd, admittedly - would be taking that passion and that vision of a cleaner, more survivable planet and devising a method of pulling people rather than pushing them.

      What I mean is, Leivdal can write a bit. Can he write something that appeals rather than hectors? That takes himself out of the picture and puts you in?

      Would an environmentalist "Game of Throne"-level entertainment draw hearts and minds to the cause? I think it could. I hope it can.


      Jun 3, 2014 at 10:09am


      That's a lie Mark. Nobody is asking that we immediately stop using fossil fuels, and you know it. The demand is that we stop *INCREASING* our production and use of fossil fuels.

      And in fact, in the developed world we are decreasing fossil fuel use, and car use. Look it up. Why do you think the pipelines all go to ports? They need to built the pipelines because we *are* using less.


      Jun 3, 2014 at 12:31pm

      Will changes cost me more money? If so I am not interested. Damage to this planet where it is not habitable will happen long before I am dead.


      Jun 3, 2014 at 12:51pm


      Agreed that "pulling people" or making alternative existences attractive is important but that's not what this article is about and that's ok. People are pushed and pulled into progress, Leivdal's article is a push - it's a call to wake up and think critically about how you live your life. His message addresses your plea head on - "the battle will not be comfortable" suggests that easy, attractive "pulls" aren't enough - we need to fundamentally re-examine how we live.

      Your reading of his game of thrones line is I think a bit literal. I think that Game of Thrones here is stand-in for a greater trend of preoccupation/obsession with consumer comforts that leads to the political apathy he decries. It's a flourish but I think it's an effective one - I would guess that the number of people to have watched every episode of game of thrones far exceeds the number that have written a letter to their MP!