13 April 2014

"In Short, We're Screwed" ... But What's the Long Version?

Faith sees the invisible, believes in the incredible, and receives the impossible.
— Unknown
What a week! On Tuesday night, we went to a book signing where Nikki van Schyndel talked about the year and a half she spent living in the wild in the Broughton Archipelago of British Columbia. I've been reading Becoming Wild during every spare minute ever since. What an inspiration! 

Then on Wednesday, I read We're Finished. Now What? by Will Falk in the San Diego Free Press. This is someone who says, "In short, we're screwed." And he's right. He goes on:
Let the knowledge sink in. Let it weigh on your shoulders. Let it pull you to the ground for a second and rub your face in the dirt of reality. Let it kick you in the gut and double you over with plain truth. Let it boil the acid in your stomach until you’re sick with honest anxiety.
Reminds me of something I realized almost exactly a year ago (see that post here), that if we can't feel the pain that comes with realizing "we're screwed," then we'll never get to the point of taking action. And Falk has realized (personally, viscerally) that the only way past the depression that is setting in with this understanding is action. 

And then on Thursday, while discussing Falk's piece with my husband, he said something that really resonated for me. 

So many huge innovations and transformations have come about even just in our lifetime. But look at how absolutely impossible (indeed, science fictiony) they seemed only years before they were invented! 

Yet when people are asked whether we can win this admittedly humongous climate change challenge, practically everyone (who's awake ... most people around me don't even care yet) says no, this problem is too big to fix. The universal social response seems to be "No can do" ... "No want to do" ... or "Ain't gonna waste my time worryin' about it."

But damn it, my hubby says, this problem is too big NOT to fix. So he's not giving up, and I'm in for the long haul. 
I am reminded of the man who, alone in a vast desert with no hat, no water, and a broken leg, pulled himself up on one bruised and battered elbow and smiled at a bunch of dry grass, saying, "You know, if this keeps up I might get discouraged." — Larry Dean Olsen

That's the long version of "we're screwed." All it's going to take is a miracle. And we've had lots of those lately.

By the way, Falk's essay is worth a read. He ends it by asking us: 
Who among us can sit idly by while our loved ones are doomed to death – while everything is doomed to death – and not act with every ounce of our power? Action is still possible. And once you start, you’ll begin to feel better. I promise.

06 April 2014

We're Getting Close to a Breakthrough in Public Understanding of Climate Change, But World Leaders Are Still Dense

The IPCC AR5 WGII SPM is out. Isn't that exciting? Wait, what?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report Working Group II Summary for Policymakers is out. It's the one that looked at impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, and despite the shenanigans that only people who read the technical (scientific) report before the policymakers' report will see, it's making waves where IPCC reports don't normally make waves ... at my school, for example, and at my favourite sushi restaurant.

My school principal told me the other day that students should be learning how to grow food because the UN said so (or something like that). As the teacher who designed, fundraised for and installed (with my students and their families) the school garden -- I'm someone who has known for years that students should be learning how to grow food. Alas, my colleagues, for the most part, don't see food growing as a curricular pursuit, so it's not as effective a program as I'd hoped.

It was interesting to hear my boss and some folks at the restaurant talk about the latest instalment of the IPCC's fifth report. Suddenly it's serious! Suddenly it's about food security and water sources! And it's about bloody time! 

I can tell that it's finally getting into the general public's awareness by how much the loony tune deniers are out in full force, telling bigger whoppers than ever. A natural health newsletter that purports to have millions of subscribers responded to the Working Group II report with headlines like "Plant use of CO2 utterly ignored by IPCC" and "The UN goal is to enslave humanity under a system of dictatorial control." Seriously! The author of this "editorial" has "a background in science and software technology" so that makes him a total expert on climate change and the workings of the United Nations, right?

Anyway, the more frightened the deniers get about "losing" (which I don't understand, because we're all losing), the more ridiculous their claims become. But that's simply a sign that public awareness about climate change is growing.

In the meantime, President Obama's Administration in the United States is "taking public comment about possibly updating standards for existing landfills." Oh yeah, that's gonna solve America's pesky wee climate change emergency! You go, Barry. 

So once again, we have voices telling us on the one hand that climate change is threatening our food and water ... and on the other hand, we see world leaders doing diddly squat about it.

I'm sorry, folks. This is disheartening work. I'm signing off now.

30 March 2014

No to Climate Change, But No Time for System Change

We attended a lecture (we had to leave early, so missed the "public forum" part) the other night by Professor Richard Smith, Rutgers University lecturer, economic historian, member of the System Change Not Climate Change network in the U.S. and author of articles like "Green Capitalism: The God That Failed" and "Capitalism and the Destruction of Life on Earth: Six Theses on Saving the Humans."

Professor Smith's visit was sponsored by the Social Environmental Alliance and the Vancouver Eco-Socialist Group, organizations that see capitalism as a root cause of the climate change crisis and who are calling for "system change" as the crisis deepens.
"Ecosocialists see this ecological crisis as a symptom of the underlying economic and social system called capitalism, whose basic operating features include: (1) the imperative of profit and competition-driven expansion without limit, (2) the treatment of human labour and the natural world as commodities for sale rather than having value for human well-being and ecological stability; (3) benefits to a small and privileged social class wielding inordinate political power, (4) deformed social priorities amongst humans, including in our relationship to the rest of nature."
The title of Smith's talk was No to Climate Change - Yes to System Change. It was interesting and in many ways, spot on. He sure understands the climate change emergency. He is calling for a revolution away from capitalism -- or at least the worst forms of our Western, industrial, globalized, capitalist economy (the pillaging sort of capitalism that doesn't give a damn about the consequences of habitat destruction, resource loss, pollution or climate change). 

The problem is, we don't have time for an economic revolution. We need to get going on what we can be doing now. And that's simple. Economists keep telling us that the market can solve our ills. The time has come for them to prove it. Let's see what that "invisible hand" does with the market once we've set the following in place. My guess is that investments will swing briskly toward renewables!

1. Stop all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels.**

2. Tax carbon. Really tax carbon.

3. Charge for pollution. Let companies pay for the social (health) and environmental costs of their businesses, damn it. Seriously, why should taxpayers have to cough up when corporations should be paying these costs before calculating their profits and paying dividends to shareholders?

4. And what of the banks? Don't they have just a teeny weeny bit too much power ("credit capitalism")? With none of the responsibilities?

** Some people worry that removing all fossil fuel subsidies will be unjust for poorer people. In the short term, this could well be true. But long term, fossil fuels are going to kill all of us, whether we're rich or poor. However -- and I welcome your thoughts on this, as mine aren't fully formed yet -- I think that winning an international race to zero carbon will actually be easier for the least developed nations, as they have come late to the fossil fuel party. Climate justice is for future generations as much as for today's less fortunate.

23 March 2014

"Can't You Read the Signs?"

It's been another week of convergences, but this time with a much different flavour. This time, I received several emails and links that added up to a sense of promise that I haven't felt in a long, long time. It's as though the world (our EuroAmerican world, our globalized EuroAmerican economy) is finally understanding that things have to change, and fast.

Let me share some of these with you.

First, I'm reading more and more commenters who "get" the urgency, who have grasped the danger in the ocean heat lag and carbon feedbacks, who are calling for zero carbon and negative carbon (sucking it out of the atmosphere and sequestering it). Just that alone, while not comforting, is a sign that people are waking up.


Next, I'm seeing more and more mention of a "carbon bubble" in the investing world. And anything with the word "bubble" in it scares the wits out of investors these days. They're saying that the world's financial markets could be creating a "carbon bubble" by over valuing the fossil fuel assets of large companies, when those assets are actually useless because they're going to have to stay in the ground. 

This is coming from the Environmental Audit Committee of the UK Parliament. Not a bunch of slouches, I'm guessing. Committee chair Joan Walley MP, has said, "Financial stability could be threatened if shares in fossil fuel companies turn out to be overvalued because the bulk of their oil, coal and gas reserves cannot be burnt without further destabilising the climate." (See what I mean about people waking up?) 

Update: Check out this week's Climate Denial Crock of the Week, Huge: Exxon Will Advise Investors on Carbon Bubble Exposure.


Sustainability advisor Paul Gilding recently posted Carbon Crash Solar Dawn. He wrote: 
"I think it’s time to call it. Renewables and associated storage, transport and digital technologies are so rapidly disrupting whole industries’ business models they are pushing the fossil fuel industry towards inevitable collapse…. 
One thing I’ve learnt from decades inside boardrooms, is that, by and large, oil, coal and gas companies live in an analytical bubble, deluded about their immortality and firm in their beliefs that 'renewables are decades away from competing' and 'we are so cheap and dominant the economy depends on us' and 'change will come, but not on my watch'. Dream on boys." 
Well worth a read, if only because it plants the seed of what is possible -- and inevitable. Can we get the timing right? That's the big, terrifying question.


And then some Donella Meadows quotes came my way, as if to somehow reassure me. It's said that she had "the enviable ability to maintain her inner serenity and her faith in the better angels of human nature, even in the face of the terrifying trends and scenarios she was all too familiar with." But still, that capacity to hold a middle space must have allowed her to keep working. When asked, "What is your greatest source of hope that society can shift to more responsible patterns of production and consumption and achieve a sustainable future?" she answered:
"The fact that we have to. If we don't choose to, the planet will make us. And the fact that our lives will be better if we do. It isn't sacrifice we're selling, it's a more meaningful, time-filled, love-filled, nature-filled existence. So, as Herman Daly says, we are about to be hit by the hammer of necessity, but we are cradled on the anvil of desirability. We have no choice but to conform." 
"I've grown impatient with the kind of debate we used to have about whether the optimists or the pessimists are right. Neither are right. There is too much bad news to justify complacency. There is too much good news to justify despair." 
"We are not helpless and there is nothing wrong with us except the strange belief that we are helpless and there's something wrong with us. All we need to do, for the bear and ourselves, is to stop letting that belief paralyze our minds, hearts, and souls."

Let me leave you with this. Friends of the Earth Canada had some musical fun recently. I received this the day after starting to work on my own change-the-lyrics project. I hadn't pictured anything this polished … maybe Linda Ronstadt will make a music video of my new version of It's So Easy! Visit FOE Canada for more information on their campaign. 

16 March 2014

Local Versus Global Sustainable Development ... Local is More Fun

A friend of mine called the other day just after I'd finished listening to a webinar on the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. I was feeling somewhere in between sad and seething, and my friend asked if it was because the webinar was all doom and gloom.

"Hell no," I responded. "There wasn't *any* doom and gloom! That's what got me so upset!"

Here's what happened. The webinar was put on by a world-renowned expert in the field of sustainable development (and if you're not familiar with my stand on sustainable development as the most transformative new paradigm to come our way in ... well, since forever, check out this post) through a network of sustainability professionals: people who care enough to be doing this stuff for a living.

I have to admit that I'd lost track of the UN's "update" of their Millennium Development Goals (which, although some of them have been deemed "met," didn't slow the climate crisis one iota, therefore any successes will soon be moot), so it was great that this fellow brought us up to speed. But when "Climate" wasn't listed as a top focus area, I started to get worried. Sure enough, turns out it's #15. Out of 19. I was completely flummoxed! 

But then I got really worried when, after noting that Focus Area #2 is Food Security and Nutrition (that's good), I had to read waaaaay down before I found this subgoal: "strengthening resilience of farming systems and food supplies to climate change."

In a letter from the co-chairs of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (dated 21 February 2014), they noted:

Throughout our discussions, the group emphasized that eradication of poverty, inequitable development within and among states as well as protection of the environment are amongst the most pressing sustainable development challenges facing humankind in this century.   

Okay, so far, so good sort of. The co-chairs also explained that:

The sessions were guided by the consensus that the SDGs should be action-oriented, concise and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries, while taking into account the different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities. The goals should address and incorporate in a balanced way the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development and their interlinkages. 
Note the misconception in the last sentence, that the 3Es of sustainable development - environment, social equity and economy - should be "balanced," when the original principle and intent was that they be "integrated." There's a difference ... one that economists fail to recognize all the time. (The economy would not exist without society, and society cannot exist without the environment. So it wouldn't be very prudent to "balance" economy with environment, would it?)

But also note that the SDGs should be "action-oriented" - not survival-oriented. There's still no sense of the urgency. (Especially when you find out that the deadline for meeting these goals is 2030. I guess the goal setters are getting sick of setting goals and want a break for a while. But the world could be in complete turmoil by 2030, especially if our food systems have broken down by then due to climate chaos.)

Now have a look at the climate change focus area:
Focus area 15. Climate
Climate change poses a grave threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication. Some areas to be considered include: reaffirming and reinforcing international commitments, such as limiting the increase in global average temperature through equitable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; providing effective means of implementation; building resilience and adaptive capacity in developing countries; with a view to reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases, introducing inter alia economic incentives for investments in low-carbon solutions in infrastructure and industry; developing low-carbon, climate-resilient development strategies and plans. Regard must be paid to the principles of the UNFCCC, including that of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and to supporting and urging greater ambition in the ongoing negotiations towards a strong and effective agreement in 2015. Interlinkages to other focus areas include: food security, water, education, health, energy, sustainable consumption and production, sustainable cities, oceans and seas, ecosystems and biodiversity.  
See any, uh, problems there? A "grave threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication"? Are they kidding me? It's a grave threat to the survival of most life on the planet! An area "to consider" is "limiting the increase in global average temperature through equitable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions"? How about every single gawddamn nation in the world achieving the goal of zero carbon emissions by yesterday?

Perhaps the SDGs should be called "intentions" rather than goals. Because unless we make big leaps in survivable development, these goals are just nice aspirations floating on the breeze. See why I got so upset? That's where we're at on a global level.

Then later that evening (do you ever do this?), I got watching a whole pile of videos online. I couldn't stop. They were so inspiring and exciting! I think I'm going to watch some more today, in fact. They're permaculture videos by Geoff Lawton, a wonderful permaculture teacher who works all over the world. These videos have really helped me solidify the principles that I learned in the Permaculture Design Course I took two years ago. 

One of the three ethics of permaculture is Earth care ("the Earth provides us with everything we need, so we need to think beyond 'sustainable' to 'regenerative.'") And Geoff Lawton knows and understands the multiple threats we're facing. He's doing everything he can to help people learn how to survive multiple crises (water shortages, food shortages, fossil fuel energy shortages, climate disruption and erratic weather, etc.).

So I'd like to leave you with a link to Geoff's video website. You might have to give them your email address, but that's just so they can let you know when the next video comes out. If you have any interest in survival or water catchment or land restoration or greening the desert or growing an abundance of food in your own backyard, take a bit of time to watch Geoff's videos.

Picturing THIS happening locally is what keeps me going when I get down about the rest of the world insanely ignoring what's happening. So please enjoy!