I am not one to carry the big bills, even though my bills are often quite big. Especially rent. As my partner pays the rent and I have to pay her my share, I spent the last banking day of the year shuttling between my credit union and her bank, transferring hard Canadian currency; the big brown bills. But you know what? The currency is not as hard as it used to be, though it’s worth the same. The new $100 bill is made of plastic. It is plastic-money, but it is real. Made from plastic for a plastic civilization.
You want to buy plastic — or whether you want to or not, you tend to most of the time? You pay for it with plastic. Plastic bags, plastic water bottles, plastic toys — from China, most likely — plastic smiles at the counter, a plastic bill to compete with the plastic cards we’ve been swiping and now inserting for years. All by-products of Canada, the energy superpower’s fossil fuel industry. Our currency is strong. It is simply indestructible. Try tearing it, and it gives the illusion it cannot be destroyed. Crumple it up and it returns to form in no time. Immortal money for the immortal gods we are, with access to the industrial booty of the entire planet, much of it plastic, made by children, slaves, people whose entire existence revolves around manufacturing plastic for us consumers. Never mind the environment. If the toxic plastic soup floating in the Pacific — twice the size of continental USA by some estimates — is any indication, we are fast becoming a plastic planet.
That money cannot be destroyed is not the only symbolic flare worked into the bill. There is a clear strip along the bill’s left side through which one can see. Transparency: the rhetorical hallmark of the Conservatives (when opposition) or an indication we are all starting to see through the money as country after country is awash in debt? That we are all seeing the entire financial and banking system as a carefully crafted and fixed racket designed to pay out wads of plastic cash to those occupying the top positions in the few corporations buying up the whole planet. As for that transparency the Conservatives promised: well let’s just say they can’t even keep track of what’s happening to the water in Alberta, downstream from the most inefficient and wasteful industry in the history of humanity: the Alberta tar sands. When a Commons committee studied the regulation and monitoring of water quality in Alberta, they decided to not even write a formal report. Maybe they were worried — the many dangerous chemicals making their way into the Athabasca River being discovered and publicly revealed could slow down investment in Canada’s tar sands or, at least, make them seem less palatable to countries with organized citizens committed to ecology.
They need to keep those bills flowing in; the deep-pocketed multinationals need to keep flashing their plastic to get to play in the world’s biggest industrial shopping mall, free-for-all. They need those 100s to line the lint-collecting pockets of those standing in between big transnational money and the vast bituminous field lying beneath what is quickly becoming Alberta’s former boreal forest. But we who so seldom handle the grand $100 bill — except, in my case, to pass it from one bank to another — let alone get a say on Bills passed by a seemingly unstoppable Conservative majority, we are starting to see through this system.
We are seeing through the whole plastic financial complex that is running this planet . . . straight into the ground. But are we grounded enough in the memory of what it is to live on this good earth to say “no” to all this plastic, to stand our ground and refuse to be bought, to refuse the seduction of the big bill? Sometimes even a tar sands duck coated in oil needs to stick its bill into matters bigger than its own immediate habitat, for its swimming pool is now a toxic tailings pond and the time is ticking on this plastic civilization. Hey, even the Bronze Age came to an end . . . let’s put the Plastic Age to bed before it puts us all to rest.
Alon Weinberg hopes to see the end of the Plastic Age.