A polite man in his mid seventies, grey and not of robust health, he came into the post office from the cold sleet. After initial greetings he earnestly asked me again, “And how are you?”, as if he was a Salvation Army officer inquiring into the spiritual health of a homeless man. His name was Noel and was a respected conservationist and trail-builder on Quadra who had fought many environmental battles. We only spoke but 5 minutes every 3 or 4 months. This time he was determined it was going to be different.
“Could you stop for coffee, I would like to chat longer with you.?”, he asked. “Sure, I said, see you in 5 at the café. But I only have 20 minutes today.”
Noel spent the first 10 minutes talking about his dog. That turned out just to be the ice breaker. It turned out that Noel had been delegated to speak to me on behalf of the Sierra Club. What I heard from him was essentially what I heard from them in the spring. I did not appreciate all the good, hard work they were doing in so many areas. Yes, they knew that I was concerned about population. Some club members were too. But if only I were not so abrasive, and would acknowledge their good works, they might listen to me.
My turn to speak. I told Noel things he did not know. Two words that no one in the Sierra Club has ever heard of. “David Gelbaum”. I said that it is difficult to respect an organization which is a corrupt, money-grubbing corporate lackey. And that population growth is not just a “concern”. Anymore than that iceberg off the starboard bow of the Titanic was just a "concern". Sure there were Sierra crew doing good work below decks. Cleaning rooms. Stoking the fire. Preparing meals. But all of this of no consequence if the ship hits the iceberg. And the iceberg is overpopulation.
Then the truth came out. I am exaggerating. What about global warming? What about over-consumption? Besides the population explosion is in the developing world, what can we do about that?
Noel began the conversation by saying that “surely you and I have more in common with each other than with George Bush.” But his questions revealed that as the quintessential Sierran, he really didn’t have anything more in common with me than George Bush.
I told Noel about the incident last spring at the Gore film fest when as a member of Sierra Quadra I was prevented from distributing leaflets that asked critical questions following Gore’s documentary. Noel felt that the Sierra Quadra was within its rights to act that way.
What were they afraid of, I asked? “Well, you could have been a shill for the oil companies.” The problem Noel, is that the Sierra Club and the NDP have had a monopoly on the politics of the island for so long that the cosy clique who run it have become arrogant in the exercise of their control. What the island needs is competition. We have two auto mechanic shops, two supermarkets… why shouldn’t there be two political parties and two environmental groups. Does it now embarrass you that Sierra Quadra advertises itself as a “respectable” environmental organization when governments and corporations need fierce opposition? No, he replied, we also need organizations that can negotiate nature conservation set-asides like was just done in BC. “The only quarantee for nature is an end to the system of economic growth” That launched a heated exchange. “Noel, fundamentally the Sierra Club believes in growth.”
Noel’s mission was to draw me out and pacify me with soothing words of compromise. When I hit him with examples of Sierra Club sell-outs he was shaken and rattled and the meeting broke up with him somewhat hot-under the collar. Word will now fan out that I am indeed an unreconstructed, unrepentant zealout. And by the way, my business cards made their debut. I left him with one card that said “If you join an organization without knowing its history then a stranger is claiming your trust. Do you know the history of the Sierra Club, what It was and what it has become?.” Followed by a link where he can learn about David Gelbaum. The other card was “There is an Alternative to Economic Growth” with two links.
Make no mistake. Noel is a better man than I who has done a lot more "positive" things for the environmnent than I ever will. Trouble is, in these times I doubt whether those things will amount to a hill of beans. Our ship is already taking on water and I think we're going down. Forgive me if I can't find a diplomatic way of screaming about that.