In collaboration with the publication Astheure, we are publishing the English version of Alain Deneault’s article. You can access the original French version on the Astheure site: click here.
Elliot Tristram, the Frenchman living in Toronto who is retracing Terry Fox’s journey this year to address global warming and the ecosystem crisis, has only recently become familiar with the Canadian icon. He talks about ecological issues at all his stops, but, without any specific training on the subject, he admits to learning first and foremost from the communities he passes through on his route. His project led him to produce a web documentary entitled Ravage during stops along his route, but he had not previously done any video editing. In fact, he has committed to traveling across Canada on two wheels even though he has never seriously practiced cycling either. He insists: he is like everyone else, he is everyone, he stands as a common figure. And as everyone should, he is engaging with the most serious ecological issue to the point of radically changing his practices and lifestyle.
As part of his amazing initiative, Elliot Tristram has nothing to sell, does not raise funds for any particular cause, does not get many petitions signed, does not advocate for any legislation and does not promote an organizational campaign. Perhaps, as he stops, he will end up benefitting some people by sharing in their homes the audiovisual recordings he has made.
There’s something philosophical about this adventure. Elliot Tristram will know why he had to embark on this crazy adventure when he has completed it. The journey itself is an opportunity to give substance to a questioning which, as for many of us, has no exact form. Far from proselytizing, he has made himself into a living mirror to a population that obviously does not want ecosystems to be destroyed to the point of making the Earth uninhabitable, but that still cannot do without cars, meat, cheese and pleasure flights. A population that has collectively lost the art of actively resisting the industrial and financial powers that condition its lifestyle, push it towards consumption and threaten its waters, soils, fauna and flora. A population that is in crisis between what has historically constituted it (household electrical, electronic and computer consumption; the car; meat and dairy products; the social distinction by having it…) and the need to radically change such practices in favour of ways yet to be discovered.
This contemporary person, who seeks himself out and finds himself along the roads that cross our continent, nevertheless has given himself a crude premise. Humanity has become its own worst enemy, we endanger all ecosystems, the things important to us offer only gestures and facades when it comes time to measure ourselves against the challenge. The video by which he marked his great departure is not misleading.
Neither indifferent to nor decided on the next steps in resolving the immense ecological problem, Tristram demonstrates an honesty that marks him where he meets most of his fellow human beings. If he looks back on this presentation of himself, if he slides between the labels of expert, ecologist, activist or cinematographer so that they do not stick to his skin, it will mark how much we all as citizens, are able, and even compellingly called like him, to place ecological reflection at the heart of our lives, to place this now all-important issue at the centre of our choices, our initiatives and our desires. To figure out how to do it.
Thus, his approach becomes communicative. It confronts us with our respective responsibilities rather than presenting us with a ready-made solution. By simply passing through here and there, Elliot Tristram encourages new exchanges within communities. His visit to the Acadian Peninsula on July 8 and 9, after visits to Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, was an opportunity for him not only to present his initiative and to learn about the approaches and convictions of representatives of two local organizations – Imaginons la Péninsule acadienne autrement [Imagine the Acadian Peninsula Differently] and Vert rivage [Green coast] – but also to generate a discussion between the members of these two organizations.
It is not that these opportunities are lacking, but his arrival is a particular moment when we can leave the routine of our everyday activities to ask ourselves broader questions: why this resistance among our contemporaries to a radical ecological shift, how to think about transport in a world where oil will become unaffordable, how to criticize the naïve and insufficient policy of “small gestures” without appearing to diminish these efforts, how to address the question of the decline and revival of old knowledge without appearing mired in the past, what discourse is it still possible to develop in the face of governments and politicians in whom we have lost all confidence?…. We debate more than we answer, and we respond to the sense of responsibility that such debates engage, with very tangible initiatives and actions.
In our part of the country, Imaginons la Péninsule acadienne autrement prepares intellectually and effectively for a major energy and social transition. A visitor passing through who finds issues that we tend to think of strictly in an abstract and global way convinces us to see him as representing the many communities around the world who ask the same questions and launch themselves into similar initiatives.
One could without reflection see in Elliot Tristram one more Don Quixote, screaming loudly in a vast region at the facts of a situation far beyond the compass and powers of any individual. On the one hand, it would be forgetting that it was the hero of La Mancha himself who caused the evil he was confronted with on the paths of his delirium. On the other, it would be to lose sight of the opposite meaning of Elliot Tristram’s approach: he is humble and available to meet, the cause he defends is immediately loaded with meaning, while Don Quixote is a deranged egotist who charges into battles as unreal as they are vain.
That’s because Elliot Tristram doesn’t play hero. Like the Canadian myth that he reinvents in a fresh and modern way, he does not proceed simply following his own inner vision but rather allows the journey to define it for him. In the dynamic action of his journey he finds his real goal. Only in action can we identify our real goals. Without action there is nothing. This is how we all best live. And by his symbolic actions Elliot Tristram reminds us of that. In ourselves we are nothing, only what we do together. And what do we do, collectively, when faced with projections that look like the end of the world? The answer to this question is what defines us in the end. And as long as we do nothing, we are a population composed of irresponsible subjects, paralyzed by the challenges of their time.
Alain Deneault is Program Director at the Collège international de philosophie and a member of Imaginons la Péninsule acadienne autrement. He is a resource person and contributor to the NB Media Co-op.