whimpering about a fuel tax while the world burns

We had another quarrel last night. I wanted to pick up a cellular modem for my computer so I could receive high-speed internet in the technological…

We had another quarrel last night.

I wanted to pick up a cellular modem for my computer so I could receive high-speed internet in the technological wasteland of South Salt Spring Island.

Sharon got mad.

“Why do you want to spend $10 on gas when I’m going into town the day after tomorrow? I can get it on my lunch hour.”

Naturally, I lost.

I’m starting to resent this life of confinement that began when the gas prices went up. I haven’t left home for two weeks.

I want a mocha, some good sushi at the deli, maybe a stroll through the art gallery or the hardware store. You know you’re getting old when that’s your version of excitement.

Then the gasoline price went up again, and our heating bill hit $400. Suddenly, we find ourselves lecturing each other about turning lights off.

It brings me, for a startling moment, back to my childhood, and my parents, who came of age in the Depression, saving string, straightening used nails, turning the lights out.

This is a good thing. Though you’d never know it from the bleating of over-stuffed North Americans as they waddle into their mega-sized pickups and SUVs and RVs.

For almost two decades the climate-change debate was muddied by the same publicity professionals who extolled the virtues of tobacco.

The pseudo-science of pet scientists confused the general public. Hell, it wasn’t a matter of being right or wrong — confusion was the goal.

Thankfully, only a few climate-change deniers remain. These are thinkers on a par with flat-earth advocates, Christian fundamentalist followers of the legendary Archbishop Ussher (who calculated that the Earth was invented after nightfall on October 22nd in 4004 BC), and cultists waiting for the spaceship to take them home.

The rest of us learned from the drowned of New Orleans, the advance of the pine beetles (turning our beautiful forests into fire hazards), and the recent loss of more than a million hectares of crops alongside the flooded Mississippi.

Goodbye, polar bears of Churchill.

Goodbye, to the great glaciers of the Rockies.

Goodbye, coral reefs.

Goodbye, cheap rice and grain.

Only a tiny eddy in the great river of our climate led to world-altering events.

Suddenly climate change became the major fear in our collective mind.

Something had to be done!

Then the ‘end of oil’ speculation created the current price bubble — gas and home heating fuels soared 20 per cent. Basic produce — it’s going the same way.

So what happens?

In BC, our conservative Liberal government puts a paltry revenue-neutral tax on carbon burning fuels and the public goes ballistic.

The NDP show their true green colours by demanding an invisible tax. Shame on them.

Federally, the Liberals promise a ‘Green Shift’ as part of their new federal election campaign, Stephane Dion carefully noting he won’t add to any gas taxes (but why not?). And he’s still denounced from North to West to East.

Climate change concerns tumbled in the polls, replaced by economic fears. Why? Well, we all want to save the world. It’s just that somebody else should go first. My hot tub and my big screen TV are expensive enough as it is. I can’t afford any more.

What greedy, self-centered, ugly creatures we have become.

There’s no doubt these taxes will cost working people in rural locations. But I’d guess they’re doing better than the thousands of Indian farmers committing suicide by drinking pesticides because they can’t afford to buy grain, or the Chinese teenagers working like slaves for months, earning a couple dollars a day and hoping their boss might add a few more vegetables to their bowl of rice.

While our country has cruelly treated our homeless and our aboriginal nations, most of us are so privileged we should be too embarrassed to complain.

And besides, rural living offers other income-saving (though dangerous) alternatives like wood stoves. My only regret is that the coming green taxes aren’t real taxes.

We should invest the extra income in providing renewable power to isolated communities and homes for the homeless.

The rest of us will eventually have to alter our lifestyles.

I live in a rural region. I run a farm.

I need a pickup.

Already, our island, like many fly-in communities, is paying the highest gas prices in Canada — approaching $1.70 a litre.

My wife is a nurse, and MUST make it to work through whatever ice and snow is thrown at her.

But she has the cheapest gas-burning SUV she could buy.

I have the smallest pickup.

We’re thinking of selling the pickup and using the SUV and a trailer for our farm needs, and maybe buying a hybrid she can use in good weather.

These sacrifices are so tiny, so easily accomplished, it’s embarrassing. They’re not enough.

Increase the carbon tax!

Make us pay more.

Make us change more.

I’d rather give my grandchildren a meal in their old age than run a snowmachine around a mountain for cheap fun.

Tools will have to become tools again, not toys.

Yet the entitled are howling, “Screw the climate. I need my privileges.”

Some refuse to recycle since the local pulp mill is dumping thousands more kilos of gunk into the air.

But would you argue that because a man gets away with murder, you should be able to get away with murder too?

Sick, eh?

Well that’s the morality of those (like Bush and Harper) who claim the climate change we initiated isn’t our problem until the starving nations of the world clean up their act.

Instead of providing an example of civic virtue we want the rest of the world to do our job so we can enjoy the privileged life of the Western world.

Carbon tax? Naw, that’s not for us. We’re going to keep driving our SUVs until we drive them into the fire.

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