Once in a blue moon: thoughts on death and the hereafter

It’s a clear, warm night, breezy and calm with a languorous quality to the air.  A night for strolling arm in arm along the surging beach; a night for hiking to the top of the mountain to gaze out at the moonlit landscape below.

It’s a blue moon night, the second full moon of the month–a rare occurrence, like a leap year, that feels like a gift of cosmic significance.

Such a night makes me want to take a chance and send out into the world some ideas that I have been holding close, not daring to share for fear of—of what?  Being scoffed at or ignored, I suppose.

But once in a blue moon, it’s important to reach beyond those fears and write from the heart.

So here it is.


On this quiet, moonlit night, I am thinking about death.

Every near-death experience describes a peaceful opening up to the light in the seconds after death—a state of rapture, a sense of leaving the body with all its frailties behind and moving into a new state of consciousness.

If death is just a transition into a different relation to matter and spiritual consciousness, then it is not something to be afraid of.  It is a change, but not a negative one, except to the extent that we remain attached to those we love and our dear, familiar places.

No other being on the planet frets so over death as does humankind.  All others simply pass, unworried, into the next stage of existence, whatever it may be.

If there is no reason to fear or worry about our individual deaths, then maybe there is no reason to fear or worry about the coming planetary cataclysm.

All of us living beings on the planet now will simply transition into whatever comes next, as we have many many times before in our cosmic journey from stardust to our current terrestrial physical forms.

Even the fear that we have of destroying our planet to such an extent that it will become unlivable is not tenable.  I don’t believe we could do such a thorough job of destruction as to make the environment completely and irrevocably toxic.

It may take millennia, but eventually, as it has in the past, the Earth will regenerate and give birth to new life forms.

And we, because we are part and parcel of this ecological sphere, will be part of those too.

Just as now we “remember” our past as sea creatures through the saltiness of our blood and the way we are able to swim underwater in our mother’s wombs, we will in some way retain the traces of our time as humans on the planet.

Hopefully the traits that have proven so destructive and psychotic will not persist: our violence, our fears and insecurities, our short-sightedness, our competitiveness, our greed.

It is possible that we are now living through a blue moon period of a much greater magnitude than just one lunar cycle.

Once in a blue moon, a dominant species—like the dinosaurs—collapses.  It is our fortune, for better or worse, to be living through this rare epoch, the last days of a closing era—and unlike the dinosaurs, to be conscious of what is taking place as it happens.

Of course, once in a blue moon, too, a species is able to pull back from the brink of extinction and keep going a while longer.


On this blue moon evening, I pay loving homage to the white hydrangeas glowing in the dusky interlude between sunset and moonrise.  The perky round sunflowers, the curly purple kale standing stiff and tall in my garden, the pulsing background chorus of crickets—I gather them round in a loving embrace and give thanks for this quiet blue moment, however long it may last.

Mitt Romney Blah Blah Blah

I refuse to listen to Mitt Romney’s speech.

Why bother?

It will only be tissue of lies and deceptions pandering to the fears and vulnerabilities of Americans who have gotten so used to being duped that they expect no more of their politicians.

Here is the truth as I see it:

The Republicans stole the 2000 election by voter suppression tactics and the willingness of the Supreme Court to be used as a political tool.

Thereafter, the Bush-Cheney criminals instigated two wars that bankrupted the country and used the threat of “terrorism” at home to justify the curtailing of civil rights through the Homeland Security Act.

The build-up of the police as a quasi-military force and the FBI as the tool of domestic surveillance proceeded apace throughout the Bush years, accompanied, let us not forget, by the creation of Guantanamo and various other secret off-shore detention sites where torture could be conducted outside of the public eye.

It was on Bush’s watch, too, that the economy crashed and burned, deregulation of the financial sector leading, just as Marx predicted, to “the bourgeoisie digging its own grave.”

Obama inherited this total mess.

All things considered, he’s done a heroic job at trying to make progress while blocked at every turn by hysterical, idiotic, crazy Tea Party Republicans.

It’s true that he hasn’t been able to do more than keep his finger in the dyke.

That he was able to pass a very positive and beneficial health care reform act is miraculous.

Given the constraints he has been forced to live with, how could we expect him to be our hero on the climate change front?  To lead the charge to renewable energy?

Isn’t it enough that he has pushed through significant new fuel economy standards for U.S. vehicles?

I’m sorry, folks, but I think we have to cut the President some slack.

None of us could do better given the stresses he lives with.

One President Obama is worth twenty Mitt Romneys, no matter what your unit of value might be.

Blah, blah, blah, says Mitt tonight.  Why bother listening?  We can’t trust one word he says.

No, we’re not crying wolf

I gain a shred of hope for the future when I read about the heroic efforts of Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, to draw attention to the criminal exploitation of the Arctic by fossil fuel prospectors.

Last week Naidoo braved hosing with cold water in the frigid temperatures of the North to take a stand on a huge Russian oil platform.

It was a publicity stunt, yes.  But how else are we going to attract the attention of the multitudes who need to know what is being done under the radar in the new Arctic Oil Rush?

As the pack ice melts at a historic pace, the fossil fuel industry is moving in.  Never mind the fact that oil spills in these waters will be almost impossible to stop.  Never mind the fact that this is the last refuge for so many endangered species, from polar bears and seals to whales and seabirds. Never mind that the more oil we pump out of the bowels of the earth, the faster we’ll wreck our fragile climate.

I am doing a lot of pondering lately about tactics.

The Occupy movement here in the States seems to have largely fizzled.  Oh yes, a couple of busloads of protestors did go down from NYC to Tampa to protest at the RNC—and it’s true that the hurricane warnings put a damper on people’s enthusiasm to venture forth.

But if Kumi Naidoo and his team can brave the Arctic to climb the side of an oil rig, it seems to me that we ought to be able to mount a better protest at our Stateside behemoth, the Republican National Convention.

But no.  The mainstream media is reporting on the Convention in level terms, as though it weren’t a circus aimed at gutting what is left of the social contract that, at least since FDR’s time, Americans have come to consider a birthright. It reminds me of how reporters went along with the “WMD mushroom cloud” nonsense in the build-up to the invasion of Baghdad, or how they all but waved American flags in our faces when publishing the photos of the American soldiers killed in Iraq.

Hardly anyone has bothered to remark on the fact that we just passed our two-thousandth dead American soldier in Afghanistan this summer.

These deaths just creep upon us, the same way that oil rigs spring up like weeds in previously pristine waters, along with aquaculture farms, chemical runoff, GMO seeds and fracking wells.

It all happens so quietly and so deftly, while we are busy trying to pay our bills, or getting in a little vacation, or saying farewell to another loved one who has succumbed to cancer.

The Kumi Naidoos and the Tim DeChristophers and the Rachel Corries of the world jerk us back to reality and remind us that while we weren’t paying attention, the thieves got in and began “minding the store.”  In their own fashion.

Their tactics are always the same.  Catch people unawares; get them to sign documents ceding their rights; then systematically go about the business of resource extraction as quickly as possible, with as high a profit margin as possible.  Get it done before the sleeping populace awakes, before the regulators notice anything amiss, before people and animals begin to sicken and the lawsuits begin.  After all, the legal process can be held up in appeals for generations, and meanwhile how many fortunes can be made?

What should our countering tactics be?

Visibility is important: hence the merit of the Greenpeace approach.

Building a movement is important—not just among those willing to camp out in city parks, but among senior citizens and the middle class, unemployed white collar workers and soccer moms, as well as the marching band kids.

People need to realize that this is deadly serious.  No one is crying wolf here.

If we don’t act now to break our fossil fuel addiction, our time on this planet is almost over.

Maybe if we’re lucky, we can come back as bacteria or cockroaches.  But humans?  We’re just about done.


Swept Away

There are times when I wish I had the skills to be a political cartoonist, and this is one of those times.

I am imagining a huge hurricane bearing down on the huddles of Republicans and Democrats, each hunched in conspiratorial circles around their own little campfires, plotting away about TV ads and televised speeches, while the lightening sears the electrical grid, huge ships get washed up on the streets of coastal cities, and homes are blasted and flattened. Those crazy strategists don’t even look up until the pouring rain puts out their fire, and by then the storm is on them and it’s too late to run and there’s nowhere to hide.

Reading the latest political blog from The New York Times “Caucus” column makes me feel sick.

Here comes a storm that may cost lives and billions in property damage, and all the brightest minds in Washington DC can think about is how best to play it politically?

If that is the way all threats to our wellbeing are treated by our politicians, it is no wonder that we’re in such trouble today.

I expect better from the Democrats, but as so many of my readers have insisted vociferously lately, maybe I need to take off my rose-colored glasses and see my party for what it is.

Just another political party whose main goal and raison d’etre is simply Power.  Politicians who try to play by more humanitarian rules don’t seem to get too far in Washington.  Once they get into the clutches of the political strategists, their lives and minds are not their own.

There must be another way.

I can take off my rose-colored glasses as regards what we have now, the players currently on the ground.  But I refuse to let go of my hope that the system can be better.

True, the Marxist experiment has not worked, and nothing has come along to offer another vision of a more ideal socio-political-economic system.

But there are some interesting ideas brewing on the margins now.  The Living Economies movement, the Green Party agenda, the whole ethos of sustainability as opposed to limitless growth.

Maybe the real end to that cartoon strip I’m imagining is what happens the day after the storm.

The Republicans and Democrats are standing on soapboxes making speeches about how much they care about the damage, but no one is listening to them. People are going about the business of clean-up with determination and good cheer, and it’s quite clear that they have no use at all for the out-of-touch pols.

Yes, those elected officials do control the purse strings of “disaster relief.”   But that’s our money they’re parsing out!  Our tax dollars, far too much of which goes to blowing things up in the military, rather than in constructing a solid, sustainable economy.

The question I am mulling over this morning is, what will it take to achieve fundamental political changes in our country?   Can we do it by reform, or is it going to take all out revolution?

Or will Mother Earth do it for us, sweeping it all away to make way for a new epoch?

Gale Force: A Republican Tragedy

It seems entirely appropriate to me that the Republican National Convention should coincide with a hurricane.

Those crazy libertarians are a gale force until themselves, threatening to blow the center right out of our democratic republic.

Let’s all spin out to an each-man-for-himself anarchy, they cackle with glee!

Who needs Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment compensation, tax breaks for the middle class?

Just as long as the billions for the military keep pouring in unhindered, the right to bear arms remains unobstructed, women are kept pregnant and barefoot and gay marriage is outlawed, all will be well.

And let’s build a few more prisons while we’re at it, shall we?  Ryan might add dourly, echoing his more famous counterpart Scrooge.  Are there no workhouses?

While the hurricane rages outside the convention center, the GOP celebrants within will be feasting like vultures on the carrion remains of our once-noble country.

FDR will be rolling over in his grave as the New Deal goes up in smoke.

But the message of the wind and flooding outside is unmistakeable, and has been declaimed in tragic tones for many a century now:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, 

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day 

To the last syllable of recorded time, 

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools 

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player 

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage 

And then is heard no more: it is a tale 

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, 

Signifying nothing.

How many heads will roll in the 21st century tragedy of our America?

Who will be left, Horatio-like, to tell the tale of woe?

Blow winds, blow!

I foresee that as in Shakespeare—or the Bible—it will take a storm of catastrophic magnitude to shake our rotten political timbers to their foundations, and pave the way for a new dawn.

Predicted path of Tropical Storm Isaac as of Aug. 25, 2012

The Foxification of Our Public Sphere

These days when I send one of my columns to Common Dreams, I do so with an inward cringe.  I know that CD has become infested with slavering rightwing drones, who lie in wait just waiting to do their best Bill O’Reilly imitation from the comment balcony.

In recent months, CD has tried to address the issue of attack-dog commenters, instituting a comment policy that is now posted at the bottom of every published article.

It doesn’t seem to have had much effect, and I am beginning to wonder:

a) Is it worth my time and effort to open myself up to this kind of harsh, superficial debate?  When I write, I write from the heart, and while I certainly welcome spirited discussion of my ideas, including intelligent disagreement, the vicious savaging of my ideas, usually taken out of the context of the column’s overall message, feels unproductive at best.

b) If I bow out of CD, am I allowing myself to be “silenced”?  Shouldn’t I stand up for freedom of speech and stand my ground, even if it means opening myself up to the snipers?  Public speakers have to have a thick skin, after all, right?

c) Are there other fora I might join where the level of commentary is more elevated, more thoughtful?  Am I being an elitist snob for even wishing for such a space?

d) If I can’t beat’em, should I join’em?  In other words, should I be jumping in and giving as good as I get?  Or would that be stooping to their level and just encouraging their attack-dog mentality all the more?

As I ready myself to teach my media studies class this fall, these certainly seem like important questions to be pondering.

For years now I have been celebrating and advocating “citizen journalism” in my classes, encouraging students to start their own blogs and get their voices into the public sphere.

But if even Common Dreams has been overrun by the Bill O’Reilly wannabes of the world, then our public sphere has become a skewed and dangerous place.

However, if people like me and my students opt out of it, that only leaves a greater vacuum for the rightwing ideologues to fill.

Anyone have any advice on how to grow a thicker skin?

American insanity

I admit to a feeling of dejection at being back in the USA again.

Same old callous attitude towards women vomiting out of the Republican Party (“legitimate rape,” my ass!).  Same old desperate pleas for money from the Democrats, who are forced to beg for funds from small fry like me to try to compete with the billionaire Republican funders.  Same old blithe disconnect between the reality of climate change (drought, anyone?) and the steady roar of the fracking drills in Pennsylvania and the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  Shrimp and fish turning up grotesquely deformed by tumors, eyeless and burned, for hundreds of miles around the BP spill.  Whatever.

Not that things were paradise in Canada.  The crash of the fish populations there is alarming, and they too are involved in the dirtiest of business in the Alberta boreal forest (which I refuse to call by the euphemism “tar sands,” implying as it does that there’s nothing there worth saving).  They clearcut forests and pollute rivers and all the rest of it.

But from just a few weeks of tuning into the media there, I can tell that there is much more clarity and focus there on environmental issues.  Every single issue of the Halifax Chronicle Herald has at least one article, and usually several, about energy or agricultural or fishery policy in relation to climate change.  They are actually working towards meeting the goal they set for themselves of generating 15% of the nation’s energy needs by renewable means by 2020, and many are calling for a more ambitious target.

Coming across the land bridge into Nova Scotia one is now greeted by a newly erected forest of huge wind turbines, and there are water turbines churning in the nearby waters of the Bay of Fundy, too.  Many more are in the works.

Although there is political strife in Canada, such as has boiled up in Quebec in recent months, there is none of the viperous, self-destructive attack politics that goes by the bland name of “the election year cycle” here in the States.  Politicians campaign on the issues rather than on smearing and sniping at each other. Voter turnout is about 60%, as compared to the dismal 40% in the U.S.

Why do so many people feel disengaged, disillusioned, and disgusted with politics here in the U.S.?  Why do we feel like no matter how we vote, our values will not be reflected in Washington?

Because it’s true.

I happen to believe that Barack Obama shares my values.  I believe he is a genuinely caring, ethical man who sincerely wants to create a country in which politicians collaborate rather than backstab each other; in which government and corporations serve the public good; in which the goal of economic activity is raising all boats, rather than creating a few luxury liners for the richest 1% of Americans.  I believe he’s a good man.

And yet, he has been unable to make a dent in politics as usual in Washington.  The Republicans have shown repeatedly that they are the party of the wealthy boardrooms of Big Business and Big Finance, and since they own so much of the news media, and so many think tanks, and so many political seats, including Supreme Court seats, well, they can do as they wish and everyone else be damned.

I have noticed a certain grim set to Obama’s jaw in the last year, as the reality of his fly-in-the-web position has sunk in.  He knows that even if he wins re-election, he will be foiled at every turn.  And it doesn’t help that it’s getting harder and harder for him to inspire his base—people like me who are beyond frustrated with the status quo, and no longer believe he and his team can make a change.

When I get those daily emails from Democratic headquarters pressing me to donate to the campaign (just $12!), and then I hear about how the Koch brothers are donating millions to the Romney campaign, the little sprout of hope that springs eternal in me just starts to wither.

Yes, if 100 million Americans donated $12 to Obama it would make a big difference.  But frankly I would rather see some savvy crowdsourcing through social media, with the goal less raising money to burn up on TV than getting more people out to the polls on election day, and empowering ordinary Americans to rise up and insist on real representation in Washington.

I am not interested in betting on the horse race.  I can’t sanction the wasteful spending of huge sums on campaigning, while our planet burns and billions of people are locked in poverty.

Romney will be bad—very, very bad—for the health of the environment and all living things, including humans.

He, and all the slimy bastards who prop him up, must be defeated.

But this battle is about much more than just one country’s Presidential race.  It’s about our future on this planet.  A vote for Romney is a vote for business as usual, and then some—drill, baby, drill.

Why is it that so many Americans are so suicidal?

Maybe we need some collective social therapy more than anything else.

It really does seem that as a nation, we are insane.

Looking backward, looking forward, being here

When I started Transition Times a year ago, I was in a state of emotional turmoil.  I had just become fully awake to the scary reality of climate change, and was allowing myself for the first time to recognize the extent of the terrible environmental degradation of our planet that had taken place in my lifetime, on my watch as it were.

I was also smarting from some direct hits on the economic front, having just lost my second teaching post to state budget cuts.  I was looking at a yearlong evaluation process for a longterm contract at my primary institution (our equivalent of tenure), and the outcome was far from secure.

Added to that, I was just emerging from a yearlong divorce battle—nowhere near as vicious as some I’ve witnessed, but still painful and emotionally debilitating.

So all in all, I was in a pretty distressed and tender state of mind a year ago, when Transition Times grew from the flicker of a thought to a fully formed weblog.

Thinking back over the year, I see that I have grown a lot, and my blog has grown with me.

Many of my posts have charted the ups and downs of my outlook on the future: our planetary future in a time of precipitous loss of biodiversity, rapid, out-of-control global heating, and growing food insecurity for all inhabitants of the planet, humans included; our future as Americans, citizens of a nation that controls the largest military, police and prison forces in the world and seems to revel in showing off its ruthless muscle, even against its own children; and my own future as a newly single mom parenting two teenage boys, working more than fulltime, and trying to keep an even keel through turbulent economic waters.

As I embark on the second year of Transition Times, and close in on my 50th birthday, I am glad to find myself in a fairly calm, even mildly positive state of mind.

Although the past year has given us little to celebrate in terms of the environment, the global economy or the political scene, at least on the home front things are—well—okay.

A year into my life as a divorcee I am finding a comfort level with being on my own that I remember from years ago, before I married.  It’s been 25 years since I was single, which is a long, long time.  But I am beginning to get a remembered twinge of anticipation, the awareness that as a single woman doors may open for me that would have remained closed were I still married.

Stepping through any doors—meeting new people, visiting new places, making new choices—necessarily involves risk.  Twenty-five years ago, I took the risk of marrying—and it paid off in my two handsome, talented, charming (for the most part) sons, as well as many good times with my husband before and during our marriage.

A year ago I was so emotionally battered from the divorce that I could not have imagined opening myself up to that kind of attachment again.

Now I think—well, maybe someday.  There’s no rush.  I am pretty content as I am, just me and my family, as it was for the first 25 years of my life.

In the meantime, I will be doing a lot of thinking aloud on Transition Times about how best to channel my passions, concerns and talents in the coming years.

I am just one small woman with many limitations but I want to give the best of myself to the beautiful world I love so much—the birds and insects, the ocean creatures, the furry mammals and the cool reptiles, and the green forests, waving grasslands and flowering marshes that nourish us all.

Call the bouncer: Let’s show Romney/Ryan the door

As many pundits have been remarking, the choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate appears to be a gift to the Democratic Party.  Ryan is such a rabidly conservative Tea Party type that he makes Romney look fangless by comparison; as a team they are guaranteed to demonstrate just how out of touch the Republicans are with the mood of most Americans.

How could we elect a President whose VP wants to slash every social service, from food stamps for children to Pell grants for college students to health care for the poor? Ryan is a throwback to the Gilded Age, starving the poor while throwing ever bigger bones to the rich, in the form of tax cuts, loose regulation and subsidies for big business.

Funny how history repeats itself, with a Dust Bowl rearing its emaciated head this summer in the Midwest, prompting panicked farmers to appeal frantically to their Congressmen for a robust farm bill, including generous crop failure insurance to keep hope alive for the next growing season.

In the House of Representatives, Ryan and his cronies won’t hear of enacting a farm bill unless it also includes substantial cuts to the nation’s food stamp program.

That’s right—the Republicans are holding the nutrition of America’s most vulnerable citizens—many of them children and the elderly—hostage to political machinations, while also failing to protect farmers and ranchers.


But the truth is that all the farm subsidies and food stamp programs in the world are just bandaids that don’t begin to address the serious underlying issues that must be dealt with as we move on into the perilous 21st century.

Even The New York Times, surely no tree-hugging type of newspaper, published an op-ed column recently pointing to the fact that if the U.S. government simply stopped pouring so much American corn into ethanol, the anticipated drought-related food shortages and price increases would simply fail to materialize.

“Federal renewable-fuel standards require the blending of 13.2 billion gallons of corn ethanol with gasoline this year. This will require 4.7 billion bushels of corn, 40 percent of this year’s crop,” say the authors, Colin A. Carter, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis, and Henry I. Miller, a physician and a fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy at the Hoover Institution.

“Any defense of the ethanol policy rests on fallacies, primarily these: that ethanol produced from corn makes the United States less dependent on fossil fuels; that ethanol lowers the price of gasoline; that an increase in the percentage of ethanol blended into gasoline increases the overall supply of gasoline; and that ethanol is environmentally friendly and lowers global carbon dioxide emissions.

“The ethanol lobby promotes these claims, and many politicians seem intoxicated by them. Corn is indeed a renewable resource, but it has a far lower yield relative to the energy used to produce it than either biodiesel (such as soybean oil) or ethanol from other plants. Ethanol yields about 30 percent less energy per gallon than gasoline, so mileage drops off significantly. Finally, adding ethanol actually raises the price of blended fuel because it is more expensive to transport and handle than gasoline.”


Looking at this bigger picture allows us to see that the Midwest drought, while serious, does not have to result in a crisis of food insecurity in the U.S. or in the many other countries that depend on U.S. agriculture.

Not if we had a strong, smart government that could wield the power of policy and regulation intelligently.

We need a farm bill that will encourage farmers to diversify their crops rather than plant millions of acres of corn to turn to fuel.

We need an energy policy that sharply increases incentives for conservation at every level, from personal household energy use to industrial use, and starts aggressively switching our national transportation system to public mass transit, at the same time promoting the development of renewable energy sources nationwide.

We need a social welfare bill that looks deeply into the reasons why more and more Americans are forced to rely on food stamp and food pantries to stave off hunger, and figures out lasting, community-oriented solutions to the vicious cycles of poverty that plague too many American families.

It’s past time to start a new Civilian Conservation Corps that will put ordinary Americans to work at worthy projects that will be far better in every way than grudging handouts.


Recent polls show that a solid majority of Americans now acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic global heating, and they are worried about what the next season’s erratic weather patterns will bring.

It’s a good time to start enacting policy directives that will help us shift, as a nation and as a patchwork of smaller communities, away from our gas-guzzling, coal-burning past into a cleaner, wiser future.

It’s a good time to start building the resilience we’ll need at the local level to withstand the environmental and economic shocks that are coming.

It’s high time we kicked the gridlock-inducing, ham-fisted, hard-hearted Tea Partiers out of Congress, and elected some political representatives who are willing and able to be the visionary leaders this country so badly needs.

Let’s get aquaculture right

When you’re vacationing by the northern Atlantic, you expect cold, salty surf, coastlines bristling with glossy green fir trees, shorebirds galore, and—of course—plenty of freshly caught local seafood.

Here in Nova Scotia, the sea is a magnificent clear blue, the beaches are deserted and littered only by bladderwrack and long waxy strands of kelp, and the dense fir forests are carpeted with a deep cushiony layer of moss, except on the rocky seaward cliffs, where blueberries reign supreme.

It’s a paradisiacal landscape, so much so that’s hard to believe it when the oldtimers shake their heads sadly in response to questions about local fishing.

Time was when you just dropped a line in the bay and in half an hour you could pull out more than enough fish for dinner.

Time was when you could buy your haddock, halibut or cod fresh off the boats pulled up to the dock in Riverport or LaHave.

Not any more.

There is still a lobster industry here, but that’s about all the local seafood that’s doing well these days.

At the fish counter in the supermarket down in Bridgewater, you can find a few pathetically small local haddock filets alongside farmed salmon and stiff-looking tilapia of uncertain provenance.  A handful of dried-out clams and a few defrosted King crab legs completes the sad picture.

I was shocked, turning to the frozen fish case, to find that all the frozen haddock, cod and salmon filets, despite the jocular image of a Nova Scotia fisherman blazoned on their packaging, were stamped “Product of China.”

Were they farmed, processed and shipped all the way from China to Nova Scotia?

Or were they fished and processed on some huge Chinese trawler out on the Grand Banks, and sent over to Canadian shores from there?

Either way, it’s a depressing snapshot into the dismal state of the local fishery.

The Halifax Chronicle Herald ran a big front-page story the other day about the Nova Scotia provincial government’s recent $25 million subsidy of the up and coming aquaculture industry.

The plan is to expand salmon farming along the coast and the Digby side of the Bay of Fundy.

As the article made clear, the prospect is very much a mixed bag.  Yes, aquaculture will bring a few hundred fishing jobs back to these shores, and will make moderately  priced fish available to consumers.

But the environmental costs are potentially huge.  Salmon in small pens generate a tremendous amount of waste, which leads to outbreaks of bacteria, disease and pests like sea lice—all of which must be treated with fungicides, antibiotics or pesticides that easily get out into the open ocean.

The biggest local corporate salmon farmer in these parts, Cooke, admitted having to destroy several hundred thousand immature salmon just last month because of an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia.

The problem with aquaculture so far is that it’s being run on the same model as terrestrial factory farms: pack in the most animals at the lowest cost to maximize profits.  Never mind that the living conditions of the animals are atrocious, and they can only survive to maturity by way of heavy doses of drugs and chemical applications.

It seems to me that if we are able to create trawling nets that are miles long, we ought to be able to create aquaculture cages that are also big enough to provide healthy living conditions for the fish that inhabit them.

Or maybe it’s not that the cages have to be bigger, but that they have to be stocked with a lower volume of fish.

Given the depleted, collapsed state of wild fish stocks, it doesn’t make sense to totally reject the idea of aquaculture.

But let’s build this relatively new industry in a sustainable way, on a biodynamic model rather than an industrial one.

That way it will truly be win-win all around.

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