Interview with Author Timothy Leduc

Q: You write that research on climate change should “accept indigenous knowledge as a … source that complements science.” What do you mean by this?

The individual who most influenced my sense of Inuit understandings was Jaypeetee Arnakak. In one of our early conversations, he asked me why I and other Western climate researchers rarely ask Inuit questions about the role of wisdom in an environmental response. He saw this as part of a general tendency in Western research that tends to focus on Indigenous ecological knowledge while marginalizing cultural and spiritual understandings. Indigenous knowledge becomes an object or resource to be used rather than a complementary set of understandings that can broaden our sense of climate change.

Q: You suggest that politicians’ tendency to ‘economize’ the effects of climate change is problematic. Why is that?

It is not that economizing in itself is wrong, but that it is often defined primarily in relation to sustaining unending economic growth. On top of that, this view holds too much un-balanced power. As soon as any scientific research, cultural understanding or religious worldview conflicts with it, these perspectives become marginalized from the corridors of power. This economizing tendency is a pervasive cultural and religious belief that fuels climate change. It is what underlies the continued denial of climate change research and political statements like this one by Prime Minister Harper on the Alberta tar sands: “Digging the bitumen out of the ground, squeezing out the oil and converting it in into synthetic crude is… an enterprise of epic proportions, akin to the building of the pyramids or China’s Great Wall. Only bigger.”

Q: What do you think are some of the most important stories on climate change not being covered by the media?

I sit down in front of the TV and hear a story about climate change, and then another about the tar sands. Despite being intertwined, they are rarely discussed together. The BP oil spill is another example of this disconnect. While there were questions of ecological degradation, it was rarely discussed in relation to the need to shift from fossil fuels in a context of climate change. Whether it is the BP oil spill or tar sands, the dominant media stories focus on how to continue extracting all the resources we can while limiting the harm to the environment. These story-lines reflect the economizing cultural tendency discussed above, and I do not think the disconnection of climate and oil in the popular consciousness is sustainable.

Q: How would you rate the environmental policies of the current Canadian government?

Our government and Prime Minister Harper are, I believe, caricatures of a culture that is in denial of our situation and refuses to change. They seem rational and secular, but are in fact religious fundamentalists who hold sacred and unquestionable an oil-based approach to economic growth. That said, the Conservatives have won two minority governments and despite their questionable environmental positions are still performing well enough in the national polls to maintain power. Canadians are very much a part of the uncertain future that is being imposed on not only the north, but also our children and grandchildren. Climate change is a cultural problem that the Conservative government symbolizes in extreme form, as did American President G. W. Bush and his Republican administration.

Q: How do you envision Canada moving forward to tackle climate change?

Obviously a change in government would be one step forward, but I do not believe that in itself will solve our problem. The issue goes far beyond political parties, for it is grounded in cultural beliefs like never-ending economic growth and the power of technology to solve any crisis. These issues pervade most aspects of all our lives. It is for this reason that I agree with the late John Livingston’s statement that “there can be no technical answer to a moral problem.” There are no band-aid solutions to the climatic situation we find ourselves in.

To find out more about Leduc's new book Climate, Culture, Change visit: http://www.press.uottawa.ca/book/climate-culture-change

To read the interview in full, visit climateculturechange.wordpress.com

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