Finishing Second: A Tribute to Almost-Great Moments in Canadian Environmental History

Article excerpt

While the environmental movement hasn't exactly made the mainstream over the last twenty-five years, it has progressed well beyond the "lunatic environmental fringe" stage. I think that's a real shame. What we need is a little more seat-of-the-pants innovation, such as we saw in the early days. Of course, not every effort was successful, but then again many of those failures were the stepping stones to later successes. Herewith my tribute to the movement's also-rans.

February 1971. A group of Simon Fraser University students, disenchanted with the US Government's testing of nuclear warheads on Amchitka, pool their student loans and purchase a 30-foot forest green sailboat that they plan on sailing into the test zone. Fully expecting to be blown to bits (a fate preferable to having to answer to the student loan officer), they christen their new craft "Green Piece: First in a Series of Green Pieces." The mission is aborted after stormy weather washes the crew's supply of granola overboard.

May 15, 1972. Buford L. Pennywhistle, frustrated by the reluctance of the local metal recycler to accept his 17,000 empty tins of catfood, attempts to start the first curbside recycling project. He retreats to his workshop where he fashions a wooden box from scrap plywood. He gives the box a fresh coat of paint, loads it up with cat food tins, and sets it on the curb. Unfortunately, Mr. Pennywhistle has only one color of paint at his disposal, and the "puce box" fails to catch on. Several weeks later, neighbourhood vandals blow the box up with a pipe bomb, and Mr. Pennywhistle is arrested for littering. On a positive note, police determine the bomb was made with a piece of recycled pipe.

August 1974. Mrs. Mathilda Limburger, who is taking much less prescription medication than she used to, begins to fear that she's being bombarded by dangerous cosmic rays from outer space. Her neighbour Bob, a meteorologist who's been taking rather too much non-prescription medication, begins to think that in her own wacky, paranoid sort of way Mrs. Limburger may be on to something - so he obtains a 1.6 million dollar grant from the federal government to study the protective outer layers of the atmosphere via a home-built balloon made of recycled plastic shopping bags. Unable to obtain helium, Bob is forced to inflate his balloon with freon, but owing to the pre-owned nature of the shopping bags, the gas continually escapes before the craft can get off the ground. …