Wandering through the remaining cabins, stores and churches at old Fort Selkirk on the Yukon River just north of the mouth of the Pelly River, you can really sense the echoes of the lives lived by the Yukoners of this once thriving river community only a couple of generations ago.
How did people raise large families in such small spaces? Was life without all our household conveniences just sheer drudgery? In pre-computer days, for that matter pre-television times, how did people amuse themselves?
From the stories I have heard from people who lived at Fort Selkirk, like our former senator Ione Christensen, the life there can’t be described as anything other than rich. Materially poor by today’s standards, Selkirk’s residents cannot be regarded as deprived. Maybe life was good, in part, because the gap between the rich and the poor there wasn’t all that great.
Inequality and powerlessness have a lot more to do with poverty than simply lacking material goods. As John Ruskin, the late Victorian-era painter and social thinker, succinctly put it, “There is no wealth but life.”
Dealing with poverty today doesn’t mean seeking to return to some mythologized simpler time of generations past. It does, however, seem to call for a fundamental paradigm shift away from a global system, certainly being witnessed in our local reality, that creates poverty. This need for change becomes more urgent by the day.
The World Bank pegged the global GDP at $US58.26 trillion in 2009. Divide that figure by a global population of nearly 7 billion people. The result of just over $8,300 would be the global GDP per capita or the slice of global production each and every human being on the planet would have access to if you distributed the planet’s wealth equally.
This certainly is not the case in a very divided world where per capita GDP figures range from Qatar with $88,222 according to 2010 International Monetary Fund figures to the Democratic Republic of the Congo at $329.
We live in a very unequal world.
Arguably the scandalous state of inequality contributes mightily to social unrest, wars, ecological predation and, for many, hopelessness.
Currently in Canada our piece of the pie, looking at those same World Bank 2009 figures, would be around $39,600 or so for every woman, man and child in the country. The statistics in Canada show that our national gap between rich and poor is growing rapidly. This inequality provokes the pathologies of poverty here just as surely as in less materially blest lands.
What are our options?
Can we ‘grow’ our way out of poverty? As the authors of the seminal 1972 report The Limits to Growth bluntly said, “On a limited planet, continuous growth is not possible.” Maybe then sustainable degrowth is the way?
Joan Surroca i Sens, a Catalonian educator and politician, writing for the Latin American Agenda stated that the “spirit of degrowth can be synthesized in a program of the ‘Rs’: Reevaluate (reconsider our values), restructure (adapt production to these values), redistribute (share the wealth), reduce (diminish the impact of our pollution), and reuse and recycle (so as not to squander our natural capital and not exhaust our natural resources with the result of climate change).”
Surroca i Sens argues, “This change can only come from below. And it won’t happen until society has recovered its ethics because, without this change, it is not possible to escape the lifestyle of this new slavery … Without changing the current towards consumerism by those that swim in abundance, it is not possible to resolve the problems of poverty faced by a large part of humanity.”
Poverty and Homelessness Awareness Week’s theme this year is Mind the Gap. Activities begin on Monday with a ‘tiny house’ open house at Blood Ties Four Directions at 307 Strickland from 2:30 to 4 p.m. They will demonstrate the possibilities of building affordable, adequate housing for their clients. Images, plans, budgets and ideas on building a ‘tiny house’ will be on display.
Other events include a presentation by Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, entitled Can Yukon Show Canada How to Close the Income Gap? This talk will be held at the CYO Hall, corner of 4th and Steele, Whitehorse on Thursday October 20 at 7 p.m.
For a full schedule of events check the Yukon Anti-Poverty website at yapc.ca
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.