Port Development: We Contain Multitudes

As read on CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton and published at whatsgoinon.ca

I’m skeptical about the potential environmental impact of dredging the harbour, to say nothing of a container terminal itself. I’m apprehensive about the potential economic spin-off of the container terminal, namely the crime associated with this sort of infrastructure. I’m cynical about the political motivations and maneuverings surrounding the funding announcement.

That said, I acknowledge the work that has gone into raising the funds and building the consensus needed to bring this vision closer to fruition. It is a hallmark of environmental movements of the past to be only against something, while not bringing forward an alternative – or at least no alternative that the community is willing to get behind. Whether or not the current consensus around port development has been arrived at wholesale simply for lack of alternatives is irrelevant. Building consensus takes time and effort, and while work has and is being done with respect to economic and environmental alternatives, it has not gained popular support. (Yet?)

We’ve heard a lot about how a container terminal will be game changing. A real game changer would be a multi-year, multi-million dollar investment in a creative economy, a knowledge economy, and a green energy economy. It would spur innovation, make Cape Breton an even more attractive place to live, and – in these times of instability and uncertainty – make the island more resilient and adaptive to change: both of the climate and global economic varieties. (See my talk on resilient and adaptive communities.)

But such investment would require the bigger game to change first – thinking outside the current socio-economic box to provide well-paying, meaningful, fulfilling, and sustainable livelihoods for people.

I’m not against the terminal. I am for something else. But alongside my ambivalence is the belief – the knowledge – that Cape Breton and Cape Bretoners themselves contain multitudes. And so despite my cynicism, I’m hopeful about the possibility – and the possibilities – of community ownership of the project. Despite my apprehensiveness, I’m excited about the surprises that lay ahead. And despite my skepticism, I’m optimistic about the potential for creative, knowledge and “green-collar” economies to sprout up, if not instead of, then alongside the things to come.