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Sustainable City says “so long and thanks for all the fish stories.”


Chris Benjamin, out of cartoon form.
  • Chris Benjamin, out of cartoon form.

This isn't a column I chose to write. That's unusual. The only interference The Coast has ever run with my topic selection has been on Earth Day ("ya gotta cover Earth Day, even if you hate the concept") and Halloween ("we want the whole issue scary!").

Those instances led to some of my favourite columns: "Earth Day Attack" (April 16, 2009) and "Don't Fear the Coyote" (October 28, 2010). So, will this interference end well for your humble scribe? Regardless, I didn't bring Sustainable City into this world and I'm not taking it out. Nearly five years after inheriting it from the current news editor, it's being pried from my hands.

Bitter? Well, confused. Change is hard when the innovation isn't your own. Like a climate change denier in love with his SUV, I can't yet let go of my list of potential future Sustainable City topics. But perhaps with some good reason.

You see, The Coast is no fool. They know talent when they hire it. The redesign that drowned Sustainable City is to spring a roving environmental reporter—roving as well as one can while nose deep in HRM-generated "bio" sludge anyway.

I'd describe the suite of benefits The Coast used to woo me and convert me into this new, slightly less opinionated role, but it would only make you jealous. Suffice it to say, you'll be seeing this reporter's name—or initials anyway—in eight-point font a little more often around these parts. And what with the increased annual liquid Christmas bonus, don't expect much in the way of sober thought in any of my words from December 26-28 inclusive, annually, from now on.

So, yeah, mixed feelings about this. I lament to my friends and they offer the fierce loyal protective rage of a house cat. "Hiss! One less reason to read The Coast."

"But I'll still be in it."

As they point out, what's gone is the analysis, the big-picture perspective on humanity's plight in Halifax that Sustainable City was created to offer.

I nod appreciatively and quote the afore-mentioned news editor. "I want to make sure that the environment isn't ghettoized into one column," he said when he hired me.

And I think he's stayed true to that awkward mantra. Thumbing through any given issue you'll find tales of human injustice—trusts being broken and betrayed, corruption at high levels, unions v. bosses, boondoggle highway construction and pie-eyed development schemes as likely to bankrupt us as drown us in the rising tides.

But Sustainable City always strove to connect the dots among these stories, to show that our abuse of the non-human world and our abuse of other humans is the same tendency. Our folly is not our ambition so much as it is our allocation of power to the "worthy" few, our delusion that this "worthiness" is fluid, and that this fluidity justifies the denial of power (and other resources) to the many because they have a lottery-win's chance of penetrating the inner circle. When I wrote, as I so often did, of "our culture," it was this extreme concentration of power among very few humans, and the resulting extreme competition among all of us, that I referred to.

Competition comes instinctively, I believe. But that instinct becomes perverse obsession blinded by rage and sorrow for what others have and we can't. But hey, we can keep up with the Joneses—or keep up appearances anyway—and we're a helluva lot better off than those poor countries down south, right?

Anyway, that's my schtick. Every writer should be so lucky as to be given five years of bi-weekly public space to whine and wax philosophize—er, pause and offer sober reflection—on the woes of the world and the march of humanity toward violent anarchy and brute survival wars.

And for that—the space, not the Dystopia—I thank the higher powers, and to them I begrudgingly admit there may be wisdom in de-ghettoizing the environment as theme in the pages of The Coast. After all, the environment is everything. So shouldn't every news story be an environmental story?

This marks the end of the Sustainable City column.
Chris Benjamin will continue with The Coast, writing news stories.

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