Friday, July 12, 2013

David Suzuki: A privileged head in the sand.

David Suzuki's latest (and maybe most pig-headed) claim: Canada is "full," and to continue allowing more people in is "crazy."

A quick look at population densities around the world shows that they go as high as 20,000 people per square kilometer, with an average world population density of 53 people per square kilometer. Canada is the 228th densest country on the list with a population density of four people per square kilometer. That's a funny definition of "full."

Suzuki's concerns about eliminating usable space and using up arable land for housing, which would render us dependent on trade with the world are a combination of problems we shouldn't spend our time worrying about and perceived problems based on outdated assumptions about how we use land and on the assumption that how we use land will never change. Even though it already has.

We are doing the things that we do in far less space than we used to do them. The globalised food supply and modern farming techniques mean we use less land to grow more food (our problems with sourcing, trading and distributing it freely notwithstanding), and we could fit the population of the whole world in Texas with density levels that have been achieved in Manhattan. The developed world's forest cover is increasing, not decreasing, which is why forests are making a comeback.

It's been obvious for a long time that Suzuki lacks not only imagination and faith in human ingenuity, but the willingness to acknowledge what we've already achieved. These concerns aren't new, and we're already addressing them with technology and trade.

But important as tree cover and wetlands and food are, more important - and what makes Suzuki's comments inexcusable - is the human misery that would be caused by the developed world declaring itself full and self-sufficient and closing its borders. More children would be born doomed to go blind without access to nutritious food, or to a life of oppression because they are (for instance) a woman born in the wrong place, or to a life of poverty and the terrible uncertainty that comes with it because there are no opportunities to interact with and move about the world. There would be no hope of escape. No hope of a life like the one Suzuki lives.

That's the main problem with what Suzuki said. It's factually wrong, certainly, but more importantly it ignores problems he's only able to ignore because of the successes the system he purports to hate have granted him. He should be ashamed for closing his eyes, plugging his ears, stomping his feet and insisting that we block those opportunities for others.

Adapted from and inspired by Facebook comments here

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rejoice, thy soul is free.

This excellent, moving post from A Veil and a Dark Place on what freedom means to Muslim women who come to America reminds me of one of my favourite parts of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The similarity of the cognisance of our most basic freedoms by freed slaves more than two hundred years ago and freed women today is unsettling to me, beautiful as both may be.
  It was a superb day. The blue waves of Lake Erie danced, rippling and sparkling, in the sun-light. A fresh breeze blew from the shore, and the lordly boat ploughed her way right gallantly onward.
  O, what an untold world there is in one human heart! Who thought, as George walked calmly up and down the deck of the steamer, with his shy companion at his side, of all that was burning in his bosom? The mighty good that seemed approaching seemed too good, too fair, even to be a reality; and he felt a jealous dread, every moment of the day, that something would rise to snatch it from him.
  But the boat swept on. Hours fleeted, and, at last, clear and full rose the blessed English shores; shores charmed by a mighty spell,—with one touch to dissolve every incantation of slavery, no matter in what language pronounced, or by what national power confirmed.
  George and his wife stood arm in arm, as the boat neared the small town of Amherstberg, in Canada. His breath grew thick and short; a mist gathered before his eyes; he silently pressed the little hand that lay trembling on his arm. The bell rang; the boat stopped. Scarcely seeing what he did, he looked out his baggage, and gathered his little party. The little company were landed on the shore. They stood still till the boat had cleared; and then, with tears and embracings, the husband and wife, with their wondering child in their arms, knelt down and lifted up their hearts to God!
'Twas something like the burst from death to life;
From the grave's cerements to the robes of heaven;
From sin's dominion, and from passion's strife,
To the pure freedom of a soul forgiven;
Where all the bonds of death and hell are riven,
And mortal puts on immortality,
When Mercy's hand hath turned the golden key,
And Mercy's voice hath said, Rejoice, thy soul is free ."
  The little party were soon guided, by Mrs. Smyth, to the hospitable abode of a good missionary, whom Christian charity has placed here as a shepherd to the out-cast and wandering, who are constantly finding an asylum on this shore.
  Who can speak the blessedness of that first day of freedom? Is not the sense of liberty a higher and a finer one than any of the five? To move, speak and breathe,—go out and come in unwatched, and free from danger! Who can speak the blessings of that rest which comes down on the free man's pillow, under laws which insure to him the rights that God has given to man? How fair and precious to that mother was that sleeping child's face, endeared by the memory of a thousand dangers! How impossible was it to sleep, in the exuberant possession of such blessedness! And yet, these two had not one acre of ground,—not a roof that they could call their own,—they had spent their all, to the last dollar. They had nothing more than the birds of the air, or the flowers of the field,—yet they could not sleep for joy. "O, ye who take freedom from man, with what words shall ye answer it to God?"
 Harriet Beecher Stowe, from Uncle Tom's Cabin, Chapter 37: Liberty

(Bolded emphasis in the quote is mine.)