Through the looking glass: Sign me up

Sometime last year, I opened my email and was met with a story that would paint the ‘Evolution of Man’ as an impressive oxymoron. The fact that this conclusion eluded me for more than forty years is either a testament (or failure, depending on how it’s viewed) to my parents, or a solid indicator of my naivety.

The story spoke of a ritual that takes place in the Feroe Islands in Denmark every year. The story goes that each year the Long-finned Pilot Whales (also known as Calderon Dolphins, not the least bit confusing) congregate off shore around such areas as the Feroe Islands. Obviously these whales congregate in other areas but it seems only the ones that gather by the Feroe Islands are lucky enough to be herded towards the shore and contained while the ‘men’ (we use the term loosely) proceed to slaughter them with large whaling hooks. Apparently it has happened since the dawn of time, which is tricky because I’m not sure we had whale hooks back then.

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The email used pictures and highlighted phrases like ‘senseless slaughter’ and ‘barbaric rituals’ to dramatize the story, all of which was unnecessary. One picture with a web site link to Wikepedia would have been plenty. Given that I couldn’t afford to fly to Denmark and spear the ‘maturing’ males of the Islands of Feroe, assuming I didn’t get hung up in customs with my spear, signing a petition was the extent of my contribution.

Case closed. Next email.

Fast forward a few months. Settled on the couch for an evening of mindless TV watching, despite a thousand channels to choose from, my husband decided a documentary was the best option. After spending a few moments pondering other things to do, (wash my hair, paint my nails, water the fish), I realized that the documentary he chose to endure actually revolved around the Feroe Islands. Now I was intrigued. After a few more minutes I was enthralled. By fifteen minutes, I felt stupid. A local doctor was interviewed. She explained the traditions with sound reasoning and facts. She made a pretty solid case for it all. She spoke of their respect for the dolphins and how they never took more than the village would consume. She spoke of how many of their people would go hungry without this meat. It was an integral part of their people’s survival. Huh. Who knew? Is there another petition I can sign?

Several months later I received another email regarding Nutella. The email cited Nutella as the culprit in the destruction of the rainforest and impending extinction of the Orangutans. Several graphic photos and statistics were offered as corroborating evidence to the extent of the damage inflicted by Nutella and their harvesting of palm oil. Horrified, I dutifully added my name to the petition to stop the senseless slaughter.

Case closed. Next email.

A few days later I was grocery shopping with my husband. As he casually grabbed a bottle of Nutella to place in our cart, I shared my recent discovery to educate him in the folly of his ways. After completing my heartfelt lecture, he smiled and kissed me on the forehead.

“So, it’s the palm oil that’s the problem?”

“Yes! It’s destroying the tropical forests which is the natural habitat for Orangutans!” Now it is important to note that I’m not the one in my house who actually eats Nutella, so realistically this really isn’t a great hardship for me. My husband knows this.

Casually he inquired, “So, what about shampoo? Ice cream? Butter, your chapstick….”

My gaping mouth and furrowed eyebrows silenced him. I glared at him incredulously. “Are you serious?”

He nodded.

Damn. I sent a silent apology to the Orangutans as I tossed my shampoo in the cart.

Yet another soapbox down the drain, I trudged through the remainder of my grocery shopping in silence. Defeated. Nothing to contribute to society. I am an ineffective human being.

Maybe I should look a little closer to home. Perhaps the tar sands is a good cause to get behind. After half an hour of research I was completely overwhelmed. Several sites blamed the tar sands as being the most destructive project on earth. Some called it a toxic moonscape responsible for the destruction of everything from forests, lakes and wildlife to general health of animals and humans alike. With measurements going from pH 5.3 to 4.1, a normal rainfall has a pH of 5.6, it’s tough to ignore. One particular site shares a wealth of information on the hazards of the tar sands. It speaks of corruption, economy, animals, labour and migration, and even speaks to the effect on sex trade workers. I read with the naivety of a child, or perhaps the ignorance of an Alberta resident who just hasn’t taken an interest in the issues around her.

I don’t think the problem is finding a platform, I think it’s more a matter of having enough money, power or presence to effect change. When the tar sands provide billions of dollars to the economy, that’s quite a mogul to tackle. Ghandi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In theory, I’m all over that. In reality it’s a little more complex than that, at least for me.

I can make sure that the tuna I buy has the dolphin friendly symbol on it. I can refuse to buy Nutella, ice cream, shampoo or chapstick and I can drive a smart car instead of a fuel guzzling SUV. But is it enough? And if not, what else can I do? What more can your average citizen do to effect some substantial change in our world? I can write about it and attempt to raise awareness, but without some solid direction, is that effective enough? As much as we may feel ineffective, I think it’s imperative to do as much as we can. Every little bit helps. Right?

Maybe there’s a petition I can sign.

Jen Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune.

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