Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, September 1, 2019

The column I didn’t want to write

“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” So said the inscription at the entry to hell, in Dante’s Inferno.

            Dante was an optimist. He saw hell as some other place, from which he could return safely to his everyday world. 

            I’m afraid that our world — this world, the one we live in, the one our grandchildren will live in — is becoming its own hell. 

            Please don’t assume I’m projecting personal problems onto a larger canvas. Physically, I’m fine. Despite an 83rdbirthday, I still go up stairs two at a time; I run; I cycle,  I cross-country ski in winter. 

            At a personal level, my emotional health is fine too.  I enjoy life. I enjoy friendships and conversations. I laugh; I sing.

            I am optimistic about individual relationships. I have yet to meet anyone who would refuse to help another individual in need. Race, education, and wealth don’t seem to matter IF – and it’s a big “if” -- there’s genuine contact, person to person, soul to soul.  



            At the same time, I am profoundly pessimistic about humanity as a whole. 

            Collectively, we humans persist in seeking short-term solutions. Our corporate mindset is incorrigibly greedy, seeking our own benefit even if it harms others. Yes, even if it will harm us, farther down the line. 

            By “corporate” I mean any large grouping that subsume individual ethics. That includes governments and non-profit corporations, as well as multinational business corporations. 

            Corporate entities are utterly amoral. They care only about their own welfare. Individuals within that organization may have consciences. They may object to some policies or products. But they’re crushed by the corporate road-roller, denounced as whistleblowers, or fired. 

            And the corporate body will deny – to the planet’s dying day – that they did anything wrong. 

            I have yet to see a corporation that chooses NOT to make a profit from a product or service because it might cause harm. 

            Pharmaceutical companies made opioids anyway. The U.S. made atomic bombs anyway. Monsanto made Roundup anyway. Wall Street bankers crashed world money markets anyway. Big Tobacco promoted cigarette smoking anyway. Telecom giants flush us with radiation anyway.

            And Big Oil went on a fracking binge anyway. 


The methane crisis

            “Fracking” is the short form for “hydraulic fracturing.” By injecting high pressure water into shale deposits deep underground, petroleum drillers splinter the rock into fragments that allow trapped oil and natural gas to flow to the surface. 

            Fracking also releases large amounts of methane gas. 

            We’ve all heard, endlessly, that carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been rising dramatically for the last 200 years, trapping heat and contributing to global warming. And that global warming threatens the survival of millions of species, including us humans. 

            You may not have heard that methane is 86 times as potent at trapping heat than CO2. And that methane levels have been rising dramatically since 2000. 

            A team at Cornell University was able to track the source of this increased methane by analyzing its carbon isotopes. They concluded that most of the increase derives directly from fracking. 

            So far, fracking has taken place almost entirely in North America. Shale fracking made the U.S. nearly self-sufficient in oil production, and drove Canadian crude oil prices to bargain basement levels. 


Short-term blindness

            But North America makes up only 16% of the world’s land area. Which leaves 84% of the world that Big Oil has not yet fracked. 

            And dammit, they will.

            Because they can. Because the survival of this planet matters less to the corporate mindset than fulfilling their god-given mandate to extract oil wherever it is.

            Exactly the same mindset applies to the wildfires ravaging the Amazon jungle. 

            We all know that the tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet. They produce more oxygen, and absorb more carbon-dioxide, than any other living thing. 

            Yet Brazil’s mini-Trump president actually encourages  clearing and burning the Amazon jungles. So that the land can be used to raise cattle. Who will also produce methane. So that we can all enjoy barbecued steaks and burgers. 

            The fires have already consumed, according to some current reports, 20% of Amazon forests. That’ s like having one entire lobe of your lungs surgically excised. 

            And similarly damaging fires are destroying the tropical forests of Central Africa and Indonesia.

            Can you see why I’m pessimistic? 

            Unlike the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I don’t think we have 12 years to turn global warming around. I think we’ve already passed the point of no return. Simply because we humans are so blindly, stubbornly, headed down the path of destruction that I don’t think we can, or will, change our nature. 

            We can only carry on, doing the best we can. 


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                       To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Last week, I contrasted the conflicts in Hong Kong and Kashmir. I argued that Kashmir had more potential for world disruption, but was being ignored by the Canadian media. 


Writing from New Hampshire in the U.S., Ruth Shaver commented,  “I read both the New York Timesand the Washington Postonline daily. Kashmir has been ‘front page’ news for the past ten days. National Public Radio and the BBC World Service have also covered it extensively. I agree Kashmir is more dangerous from an international perspective; I fear that Hong Kong will be written off as an internal issue and the city will be subsumed into the PRC with minimal interference or international force behind strong words.”


Jane Wallbrown’s personal experience conflicted with some of my assumptions. A typhoon in the Pacific forced her to stay over in Hong Kong, on her way back to India. “Even in the airport,” Janie wrote, “I had trouble finding a Chinese person who could speak English. All of that 23-hour layover in HK, I was regularly confronted with people in the travel industry who didn't speak English -- even rudimentary English.”

            In India, by contrast, she has found that “They hate the British but still feel subservient to them; all...and I do mean all....try to speak English. It is taught in their schools. White still stands for integrity; honesty; word meaning something; job getting done. I doubt that [most] Kashmiris don't speak English. All parents want their children to speak English because they feel that most good jobs require English speaking of some sort.” 


Bob Rollwagen said he was “very aware of both issues, and I agree that Kashmir could end up being the most volatile. While I am not absolutely certain,  I think Kashmir has two strategic rivers flowing through it, and control of the water for drinking and hydro power may be an issue.

            “Religion is often used as a way to keep power to control resources and China is all about control of resources. Tibet also has resources that China wants to control. China will have control in both issues when it needs to, and it will be at a great cost in some way.”

            China is, of course, also a nuclear power.

            Bob’s comment about rivers sent me to my atlases and to Google. If I’m right, all of the major tributaries of the Indus, the core river of Pakistan, rise in Indian-controlled regions of the Himalayas. Little wonder Pakistan wants to control all of Kashmir.


Tom Watson referred to “the 2017 movie ‘Viceroy's House,’ starring Hugh Bonneville as Lord Louis Mountbatten. As the last Viceroy of India, Mountbatten was in charge of overseeing the dissolution of British rule and the establishment of an independent Indian nation. He has to medicate a disagreement between India's Jawaharial Nehru who wants India to remain intact as one nation, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah who wanted the separate Muslim state of Pakistan. 

            “When riots erupt across India, the British accelerate the independence process. Mountbatten is intent upon a one-state solution but is dismayed to discover that he has been used as a pawn by the folks back in London -- his Chief of Staff Lord Ismay has been working covertly to create a buffer state between the Indian subcontinent and the Soviet Union. 

            “As in many geopolitical matters, duplicity reigns supreme. Major powers reap what they have sown. In the meantime, millions of people are either murdered or displaced.”






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                       You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

                       I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                       And for those of you who like poetry, I posted a new poem a few weeks ago on my webpage https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetryrecently. It’s about driving across the prairies west of Winnipeg. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on YouTube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.



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