12:26:30 pm on
Thursday 29 Oct 2020

Far Away Places
David Simmonds

The wicked wind from the west hammered Wellington, the other day. The residents, of this quaint Ontario hamlet, lived to tell the tale. What was lost was not replaceable; it was those big, beautiful old trees.


Lucky such weather is not life threatening.

The truth is that we are probably lucky, in Wellington, that our most adverse events are not usually life threatening. We definitely wouldn’t want to be living in eastern Australia or northern California right now. The climate is inflicting its revenge on all of us. 

Is there a positive spin to put on that? What I come up with, immediately, isn’t particularly compelling. We could say wind, in Wellington, offers free blow dries and walking in place experiences. We could offer insight into how to manage without Netflix for twelve hours or how to befriend, quickly, a neighbour with a generator, but there’s nothing earth shaking.

After some reflection, I can come up with one positive spin, which I have to get to in a roundabout way. At the same time as our weather is doing us in comes the news that more than eleven thousand scientists, not counting Mickey Mouse, whose name briefly appeared on the list, have endorsed a letter, published in the journal Bioscience, by Dr William J Ripple and Christopher Wolf of the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University. The letter reiterates, “Clearly and unequivocally,” that planet earth is facing a climate emergency. If we don’t step up the pace of our efforts to conserve our biosphere, there will be “untold suffering.” The climate crisis relates to “excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.”

The Globe and Mail, last weekend, and perhaps not coincidentally, published a lengthy piece on environmentally responsible travel. It suggested travel to many resorts in the Caribbean and South Pacific. Some of these destinations are now carbon neutral; others are doing interesting things with air conditioning. 

The elephant in that room is air travel. Climate activist, Jane Fonda, recently moved from California to Washington, DC, where most of his activism centres, in order to reduce the carbon cost of air travel. What’s the good in burning up airplane fuel to take you halfway round the world to save dishwater when you get there?


Stick close to home.

Better to go for bigger environmental savings and stick closer to home. Mr Ripple and his eleven thousand followers clearly have the need to reduce air travel in their sights when they speak of the “excessive consumption … wealthy lifestyle.” The Guardian newspaper reported that reducing air travel is the number one step individuals that fly frequently can take to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Ripple letter includes a chart showing that the number of passenger flights per year has increased from less than one billion in 1980 to over four billion in 2020. According to a table in the Globe and Mail, a plane produces 285 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger per kilometre, whereas an average car emits fifty-five. Go by train and you reduce the output to fourteen grams.

It’s true you can purchase offsets, a cross-country return trip by air would maybe add forty dollars to your bill; still, your trip is emitting carbon dioxide, which it wouldn’t if you didn’t take it. It’s no accident that teenage activist Greta Thunberg made a point of sailing from Europe when visiting the United Nations.

What I’m getting to is that County, in which Wellington is located, could pitch itself to would be visitors in the dragnet of urban centres of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal as the environmentally responsible vacation destination because it is not a faraway place. Just how many tonnes of carbon dioxide result when you park your car at a bed and breakfast and tooling around on a rented bike for a few days? Hardly any, of course, compared to the alternative. Wellington can offer many strange sounding names, such as Demorestville and Waupoos, to make people feel that tinge of excitement  

Besides, we can point to a factor that already adds to our exotic appeal, the number of Francophone tourists that visit the County. My own non-scientific survey of licence plates in the parking lots at Sandbanks suggests that almost half of our visitors are from the province of Quebec. This is the better way to convince Anglophone visitors that it is unnecessary to visit the Seychelles to bond with a Francophone making non-carbon footprints in the same stretch of sand.  

Of course, to promote the environmentally sustainable lifestyle with any conviction, County residents would have to be beyond reproach in our own practices. No more plane jaunts down to Arizona for the winter. No more orange peels in the garbage instead of the compost. No more sneaking into fast food restaurants to order illicit burgers to supplement today’s spinach dinner.


Prepare to up our game.

Many communities, including our own, have declared climate emergencies. Few of these communities offer the possibility of identifying as a local substitute for a faraway place with a strange sounding name, a gift handed to us by climate change. If we are going to tout our environmental advantages, we had better be prepared to up our game and walk the environmental talk that so easily springs from a columnist’s computer. Mickey Mouse would demand no less.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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