Like a lot of people, Matt Hern is kind of confounded by global warming, so he set off for Alberta’s Tar Sands for a closer look at an area some consider to be pretty much “ground zero” for the world’s ecological woes.
With cohort Am Johal, he ventured northeast from Vancouver for a series of road trips to the region, to arrive at a better understanding of one of the world’s largest industrial sites.
The result of those adventures is a book co-authored by the pair, called Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: A Tar Sands Tale, published by MIT Press and subject of a special event in Surrey this month.
A book launch at SFU Campus’s room 2740 on Thursday, March 29 (6 p.m. start) will feature Johal and Hern as guest speakers, along with Joe Sacco, a cartoonist and journalist who contributed a chapter to the book, and also Melissa Herman, who “provides raw insight and a valuable understanding of the dynamics of rural communities in Northern Alberta,” according to a biography posted on the SFU library’s website.
Hern, an East Vancouver resident who teaches at multiple universities and lectures widely, spoke to the Now-Leader about his latest book, which combines travelogue, political analysis and ecological theory about climate change.
“You know, you read in the newspaper about all these dire warnings about all kinds of catastrophes to come, and any kind of reality-based arguments suggests unbelievable perils in front of us, and not much changes on the political level,” he said, when asked about the 232-page tome.
“Certainly some things change, absolutely,” he added, “but nothing on the scale required, and so, something like somebody yelling at you that your house is on fire – yeah, OK, I’ll turn down the heat, but hey, ‘Your house is on fire!’… The scale of political response seems to be completely incommensurate with the level and the scope of the threat.”
On their Tar Sands trips, Hern and Johal spoke to both local residents and leading scholars, and in their book propose “a new understanding of ecology that links the domination of the other-than-human world to the domination of humans by humans,” according to a description on the MIT Press website.
“They argue that any definition of ecology has to start with decolonization and that confronting global warming requires a politics that speaks to a different way of being in the world — a reconstituted understanding of the sweetness of life.”
In Surrey, Hern has helped create Solid State Industries, which on its website is described “as building a creative production enterprise and youth community space with refugee and recently-immigrated youth” in the city.
“With the support of mentors, advisers and community partners we are building a solidarity economy hub and worker-owned co-operative businesses. Through the development, launch and establishing of this project, youth will gain multi-layered training and educational opportunities towards long-term economic self-reliance, as well as social, cultural and creative opportunities and exposure.”
Hern said the project, launched last September, is being done in partnership with the Surrey School District.
“The cost of housing in Vancouver has forced all kinds of people out to Surrey,” Hern said. “I got interested in the populations arriving in Surrey from all kinds of directions. I’m really interested in working with newcomer youth, teens in particular, and in all that energy and vibrancy and creativity, that so often gets lost among young people. We’re building workers co-ops with young teenagers, and we’re just about to launch our first one, and should see second one by summer, and we’ll build from there.”
Said Hern: “So much of the discourse in the conversation about global warming is super gloomy and pedantic and righteous, and we’re hoping this book is a constructive thing, positive, and can offer a forward-thinking way through global warming, in a way that presents itself in a whole different light, rather than just telling people to stop doing this, stop doing that because we’re bad people. The event, like the book, won’t be an exercise in righteousness.”