civilizations tenuous thread

They tell us there are no vacations any more. There’s only changes of locations. I’ve got ample evidence of that in my new office.

They tell us there are no vacations any more. There’s only changes of locations.

I’ve got ample evidence of that in my new office. I’m wired-in and mainlining electricity.

Office? I’m sitting in my SUV writing this column in my driveway while a snowstorm whirls around me.

The SUV, which fortunately burns less gas than most, is humming along and I’m toasty warm while my nifty new lighter-plug gadget charges up my laptop as I type away.

I even have a glass of wine to mellow me out, and the radio playing CBC to distract me when I get stumped.

Out my window our dim, dark house huddles under a thump of snow. Down here in lotus land we got buried by Shangri-La’s version of a snow and ice storm.

No power for three days, temperatures dipping to a shuddering five below, a temperature that most Canadians wouldn’t notice but gives local palm tree fanatics a nervous breakdown.

Naturally, our near-tropical forests crashed onto our power lines faster than the local kids in their muscle cars can turn a stop sign into a hood ornament as they learn how to stop on ice.

Here, at Trauma Farm, we’re usually organized, yet this one surprised us.

While I tried to thaw the freezing pump with propane and Coleman lanterns, Sharon began gathering snow and melting it for drinking water.

By the third day without power and water, we were exhausted and frustrated.

We like to pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency, and have barely noticed week-long blackouts before, but not when the weather goes rogue.

Like the rest of our community, we suddenly, invisibly, joined the helpless and the near-helpless.

Self-sufficiency. What was once normal for our species is now a dangerous, life-threatening hardship.

Take the boil-water warning crisis that hit Vancouver. Even though uncontaminated, the suddenly turbid water caused by some big rains sent the health inspectors into fright mode, and everyone else to the bottled water and panic and strife.

The desperation grew so intense that fistfights broke out at Costco over a case of bottled water.

The good people of Vancouver could have easily boiled their own, but a little bit of muddiness was enough to drive these gourmet water drinkers to distraction.

Water has now become such a status symbol that a snazzy new brand, Bling H2O, sells a 750 ml bottle studded with Swarovski crystals for $50.

Drawn from Dendridge, Tennessee, (though I don’t see what difference that makes since it goes through a nine-step purification process including micro-filtration) Bling is pitched as “a couture water that makes an announcement like a Rolls Royce Phantom.”


It must be good. Paris Hilton gives it to her little doggie.

Then a naughty blogger announced that Bling is filled with crushed diamonds, so you can twinkle when you tinkle, but crushed diamond fines used to be an ancient poisoning technique, irritating the stomach to death.

I’m sure the hipster promoters of Bling are too smart for that.

So what happened with water? How did our generation get lured into the bottled water trap?

The same way we got trapped with satellite TVs, cellphones, SUVs, and iPods.

Almost 40 per cent of bottled water comes out of municipal water systems, where the companies are charged, generally, about 1/100th of a penny per bottle. Some people are paying for it twice, first with their taxes and then when they buy it at the store.

Considering the current outrageous price of bottled water, there’s some room for profit.

What is even more interesting is that tap water is generally safer and more heavily regulated, yet all that regulation ends if you are going to haul it away and bottle it.

When an organization called the National Resources Defence Council tested 103 brands of water, it found that while most brands were excellent, others contained illegal amounts of bacteria as well as arsenic and nitrates and known carcinogens used in the manufacture of the plastic bottles.

But we like this stuff enough to toss 2,500,000 bottles an hour into the garbage.

And every one of those bottles can last up to 1,000 years in a landfill. Now that’s a gift for the grandchildren.

And the bottles that are recycled? Most go by slow freighter to China where they’re melted down in factories with few environmental safeguards for the workers, the atmosphere, the landfills and the local waters.

That’s what we call recycling.

But let’s not just consider our water troubles.

Take “diabetes in a can” — soda pop with its 10 teaspoons of sugar per can.

In the US, enough aluminum cans are tossed away to rebuild the entire commercial air fleet every year.

Canadians use more energy per person than any other nation in the world, and we’re increasingly being blended into a complex, exponentially expanding technological grid made out of wires and electrical waves.

Yet how frail we are, as the monsoons and snows of the past month have demonstrated to the residents of the West Coast.

Consider the possibility, sooner or later, of a major environmental calamity like an earthquake.

Avian flu, terrorists throwing radioactive substances into drinking reservoirs or demolishing power plants, rogue weather, etc., — we’ve built a civilization that’s walking on a tightrope.

Where did all these time-consuming toys and food fetishes come from? Unhealthy foods blowing our bodies up into caricatures stuffed with salt, fat, and sugar. What happened?

Microwaves, iPods, hot tubs, Blackberries, home-entertainment systems, all held together by a spider web that can be broken by the wind, as New Orleans discovered when Hurricane Katrina arrived.

You’d think we would have learned a few lessons. Nope, we’re just lounging around, partying until the catastrophe comes.

And that’s why I’m sitting like a fool in my four-wheeled office, doing my part to keep this monstrous machine we call Western Civilization functioning. Forget the water. Pass the wine.

Brian Brett, poet, journalist, novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. His new book of poetry and prose is Uproar’s Your Only Music.