“Don’t worry, be happy” is the refuge of the deceived and the oblivious, the
attitude that people assume when they fail to recognize the reality of their
“Trust us,” says our federal government. “We are planning the future of all Canadians so we care about the environment.” Meanwhile, it subverts international agreements on greenhouse gas emissions, assiduously avoids discussion of any environmental issues, silences scientists in its employ, eliminates hundreds of them in a budget cutting program, and inflicts a 43 percent funding cut to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, one of the rare federal bodies that stands between responsible development and ecological havoc.
“Trust us,” says our BC government. “We will protect the environment and subject all projects to rigorous environmental examination. Since we are the custodians of the land, water and air, we will ensure that no damage occurs to the ecologies that sustain us all.” Meanwhile, BC’s Auditor General, John Doyle, issues a scathing report about the abject failure of the BC Environmental Assessment Office to monitor and enforce the few regulations it is assertive enough to require.
“Trust us,” say the corporations, “we will look after you with jobs and prosperity. We will protect your environment and your future.” Indeed. The salmon farming industry respects BC’s pristine West Coast so much that they use our waters as a dump for the sewage from their open net-pens, and they honour the natural ecology so much that they scare away marine mammals and expose wild salmon to the plague of farm-source sea lice and diseases. Enbridge is so protective of BC’s wilderness that it is willing to build a 1,172 km oil pipeline that will inevitably release oil into our pure rivers and lure the offshore tankers that will inevitably spill oil into our coastal treasure.
“Don’t worry, be happy” is the implicit message from our governments and corporations, working together to bring us a prosperous future. “We are in control, we know what we are doing,” they contend. “Together we will lead you to a Promised Land of endless prospects and great profits. The tomorrows will always be better than the todays if you will follow our course of progress, believe in the rewards of perpetual growth and suppress the urge to be doubtful and critical. Remember that environmental concerns are impediments to the glorious destiny that awaits us all.”
Maybe modern Germans have an insight we should pause to reflect upon. In an time of unparalleled national prosperity, they are in a funk. Notes Stephan Grunewald, a Cologne-based psychologist, “The Germans have at the moment a mood, a feeling that things can go to pieces, a feeling of being in a situation in which one is completely incapable of action” (Globe & Mail, June 25/11). This feeling of helplessness and powerlessness, this angst in a time of plenty, is a curious paradox rooted deeply in an undifferentiated anxiety. “People no longer believe in this culture of accumulation, they no longer believe in growth…. Nuclear power, speculation, Greece, these all strengthen their feeling that things cannot go on like this. There is a kind of vacuum of meaning” (Ibid.).
Nuclear power is not a British Columbian or a Canadian issue – although the Canadian government has recently divested itself of the Atomic Energy Canada Limited. Neither is the financial situation in Greece. But European and American monetary issues do trouble Canadians because the entire world is financially interconnected. And we have our own disquieting issues – nationally, provincially and locally – that we are not confronting honestly, openly and sensibly. A summer of record heat and rain, of storms and flooding don’t seem to have budged the delusion that all is normal with our planet’s weather – in just one province, Manitoba, fires have caused $700 million in damages and floods have inflicted $2.5 billion in crop losses. “Don’t worry, be happy” is an obliviousness that must eventually awaken to reality, just as local communities must awaken to the reality of stuffed landfills, polluting mines, old-growth logging, threatened wild salmon and badly supervised fish farms.
The German epiphany, an awakening we need here before we lead our communities, province and country into China’s ecological mess, is that the freeway of perpetual growth leads to a chasm without a bridge. Everything is getting bigger, faster, more complicated – and worse. “Don’t worry, be happy” is the illusion of well
being propagated by our governments and businesses, the engineered psychology of avoidance which doesn’t want anyone to notice that key elements of Earth’s ecology are rapidly degrading, unraveling or collapsing. The signs have already entered our consciousness if only we were attentive enough to heed them. A few glib lines in a Maclean’s article about colonizing space with bacteria to ensure the continued existence of life in the universe is a clue. “The world is doomed. Even if we avoid annihilation by climate change or nuclear holocaust, the inevitable expansion of the sun will surely do us in” (Maclean’s, July 25/11).
The sun’s threat is not likely to materialize for about 500 million years. But a nuclear holocaust could be as immediate as tomorrow. And a world doomed by climate change is within a few decades of near inevitability. Would massive species extinction or acetic and dead oceans garner any more attention? Shouldn’t the mere hint of any such threats elicit a panic alert and a reflexive cold sweat of fear in anyone conscious enough to register the meaning? Wouldn’t the normal and sane response be spontaneous riots in the streets and frantic marches to the seats of government to counter such a course of madness?
Unless, of course, “Don’t worry, be happy” has created its charm of indifference and cast the spell of numbness that treats impending environmental catastrophes as casually as any two-for-one sale or discontinued fashion line. The result is a tragic reversal that has inflated the trivial and trivialized the momentous.