Tuesday, 26 July 2011

How much is a polar bear worth?

The Government of Canada wants to put a monetary value on the iconic polar bear. This seemingly idiotic question is actually not a bad idea, if only to initiate serious discussion on how much we actually value environmental and ecological integrity of our planet.

For eg, the question is not just whether we should enact legislation to "protect" wildlife species but also what are we willing to give up to minimize our impact as a species. Canada is one of the huge energy gluttons among nations, and with a government of ideological corporatist hue our environmental and social impact with fossil fuels and petroleum products is guaranteed to remain unabated for the foreseeable future. Going by the pathetically small figures that Canada invests on research and development of alternative renewable energy sources, I'd say that cuts a huge chunk of the polar bears monetary value right there. It is now practically priceless (ie, without value).

I live in Iqaluit where there seems to be an automobile for every bureaucratic in the city and then some. On a clear winter day if you look out the bay you can see an ugly bank of smog hovering over the ice - this is a new and disturbing development in Nunavut. And it happens everyday of the year though we may not see it with our eyes. For such a small community, Iqaluit shouldn't be generating so much pollution. There have been efforts more than once to develop a transit system here, but no self-respecting bureaucrat (the biggest sector of our society) would deign to be seen doing their part for the environment. Is legislation on polar bear harvest rates the best, the only thing we can/are willing to do?

I heard on the radio this morning a man from Nunavut's environment minister's constituency talking about problem bears, about how polar bears do not normally come in to the community in the summer but are now seen regularly in droves. The multi-year sea ice that'd float all year round in chunky agglomerations measuring in kilometers is no longer there, so the polar bears are foraging somewhere else, unnaturally. Since bears are allowed to roam into human habitations without consequences, they've lost their natural fear and avoidance of humans.

The man from Arviat on the radio also said that the Minister, when he comes to his constituents and community, has never, not once, mentioned let alone discuss problem bears with the community. This is truly strange. An elected official, a minister responsible for wildlife and environment legislation, whose policy is to not talk about the concerns of his own constituency, and only talk to other communities regarding the self-same issue.

I think the protection of our invaluable resources like wildlife and environment should go beyond legislative protection; it should include self examination of our personal/national value systems. Clearly, mass transportation of persons to and fro, of goods to and fro is unavoidable and economically necessary, but is our national infrastructure and modes of transportation built intelligently enough to minimize our environmental imprint?

Our railway system, for eg, is old and underused. We don't have the national pride nor the backbone to invest in ourselves, to encourage original R&D on energy, to encourage and cultivate wise use of our finite resources at the national, provincial, municipal and personal levels. Our government tells us that it is pointless to take Canadians' environmental concerns seriously without the USA acting on them first. Clearly, this is not the talk of leadership; then again, when it comes to criticism of any sort, our current government comes back and says that the Liberals did this or that so it's ok for them to act thus.

The "courageous warrior" and "energy super-power" talk are bald acts of compensating for a disturbed, self-loathing mind, one that wouldn't recognise originality and the exceptional without the say-so of someone else. Was the talk of putting monetary value on polar bears just another way of puffing up Canada's collective crotch/bosom?

The polar bears' value is not monetary but spiritual in the sense that we human beings must be able to look ourselves in the face and know we did no unnecessary harm. Wise hunting practices do no unnecessary harm; this and always was a question of modality of being. You've heard of the "warrior mind", this is "hunter mind" which values and appreciates all life and exacts wisdom and spiritual humility upon the self when it takes it.

Canada, don't be stupid; look at yourself and be honest and courageous and use intelligence, not blame, not ignorance,  not indignation (righteous or otherwise) and certainly no scape-goating. What are you willing to do for the polar bear whose value you've now arrogantly objectively quantified?


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