International Small Islands Studies Association




There is no 'away'

Laurie Brinklow

I was reading a blog post by the leader of Prince Edward Island’s Green Party, Peter Bevan-Baker, when a particular paragraph jumped off the page. Peter was writing about a controversy over a pulp mill in Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada, which is planning to dump its 'treated' effluent into the Northumberland Strait that separates Nova Scotia from our island. This is because Northern Pulp is no longer allowed to dump it where they dump it now - a lagoon next door - because IT is contaminated. As you can imagine, it's a story of contested space with David and Goliath proportions.

This is the paragraph:

'We sometimes talk about throwing our garbage “away”, as if there is some separate and unconnected place where we can mindlessly unload our waste. The truth is that there is no away. The Earth is one mind-blowingly complex and intimately connected singular whole.'

'There is no "away."' Wow. What a concept. It's something we, as islanders, know intimately. Yes, we may talk about 'away' being not here, on our island. We may even try to send away our trash, on a barge, to a waste facility FAR away. Or we may choose to dump our trash in the ocean, and trust that the tide will carry it FAR FAR away. 

But we also know that if we muck up our island, we have to live with the consequences. It's a lesson that many islands have had to learn, often the hard way. And sometimes it's not even the islanders who have mucked things up: it's faceless others FAR FAR FAR away who are responsible.

As islanders, we know that our islands have limits. That's part of what defines us, a sea-bound particularity, a 'complex and intimately connected singular whole' – connected within – and without.

We've all heard the phrase 'island earth.' The analogy is obvious. Unless we send our garbage into space (which I wouldn’t put it past someone to try), 'away' means it is still here, on island earth, an island in a sea of universe. 

So unless everyone starts to think of our planet as an island (or, like historian John Gillis has said, we learn to think with islands) – and know that it's the only island we've got so maybe we shouldn't muck it up – we will continue to muck it up. Because there is no 'away.' 

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