Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 19, 2008
The spiritual decline of the New West
The nine- and 10-year-old girls were playing soccer in the rain. A good proportion of their parents sat in their cars, motors running for more than an hour, tooting their horns when their daughters' team scored a goal.
No doubt the parents saw nothing incongruous in this scene. The nine-year-olds were tough enough to get wet; the parents were far too soft.
We complain about rising gasoline prices, but they're not high enough to keep many from letting their vehicles idle endlessly to provide them with a little added comfort. When there's a trade-off between comfort and social responsibility, social responsibility doesn't enter the equation.
So when 500 ducks die in the toxic sludge ponds of the Athabasca tar sands, letter writers charge into gear to argue that this is no great tragedy and that, after all, ducks die in other ways too. Even the premier enters the fray to defend, defend, defend.
Defend what? Our comfortable way of life? The oil industry? Alberta's "right" to have full-bore economic development without concern for ducks?
The dead ducks are a public relations defeat for a government planning to shell out $25 million to let the world know that tar sands development is a wonderful thing for us all. But some things are more important than public relations, even more important than ducks.
There is, for example, the high rate of unusual forms of cancer among Aboriginal people downstream from the tar sands - a phenomenon the government refuses to even study. There is the unsustainable demand for water by tar sands developments. There is the high demand for electrical power for the tar sands, a demand that is leading some to push for nuclear power plants to be built in the province. There is the rapid escalation of greenhouse gas production from the tar sands.
That list goes on. It is a list of concerns that seems to trouble the Alberta government and Premier Stelmach not a whit. Yet, we, our children and our grandchildren desperately need Stelmach to be concerned. He is almost certain to be Alberta's political leader for the next decade, a decade that may well be the most important in the history of the province's social development.
We need signs of leadership from somewhere that says developing the economy at a breakneck pace has negative fallout. We need action that says that a people are defined by how they treat the least of their brothers and sisters. We need public acknowledgement that being fat and comfortable is a spiritually deficient goal for a society.
No one ought to wish for the government to drive the economy into a recession so that we are not so comfortable. But surely one can yearn for societal leadership that makes social solidarity its primary goal.
In Washington last month, Pope Benedict spoke of "a coarsening of social relations" as one sign of "a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society." Soccer parents running their engines in the rain and the reaction to the 500 dead ducks are among the lesser signs of that coarsening. But they both point, in their own ways, to a concern for Numero Uno at the expense of just about everything else.
What is going to happen with those massive toxic sludge ponds at the tar sands? Are they just going to be allowed to become larger and larger and more toxic? Are more ducks going to die? Are people going to die?
Does anyone care?
These are political, economic and environmental questions. More deeply, they are spiritual questions. They reflect our spirituality whether we face up to them or not.
What will that spirituality be? Will we put comfort and prosperity above the future of the planet? Or, will we respect the dignity of others by turning off our engines?
- Glen Argan
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