19 February 2017

Getting Down to Brass Tacks and Solar Panels

I took the international students in my first year (university) sustainability course on a field trip the other day. We boarded a tiny bus and went to Sooke, British Columbia (south tip of Vancouver Island in Canada) to visit the T'sou-ke First Nation's solar energy initiatives.

My students were all very impressed, each for a different reason. Our tour began with a traditional ceremony with a warm and wonderful elder and spiritual healer, Shirley. It included music, prayer, smudging, a water blessing, and a welcome. Many of the young people were moved by the reverence of this ceremony, and the many ways that it incorporated (included and embodied) elements of the natural world.

Our tour of the three solar installations (students were impressed by the bank of batteries, getting up close to some photovoltaic panels, and the fact that the T'sou-ke First Nation is making money by selling energy back to the grid) was punctuated with other experiences. On the bank of the river, we noted the white shell midden (an ancient garbage dump of sorts), which also contains archaeological treasures such as arrowheads, utensils made from antlers, rock tools, and beads from the early days of trading with Europeans. We also learned that during the salmon run each fall, the sand bars are filled with bears taking their share of the fish!

Next, we got to see a 54 foot long dugout canoe, made in the 1990s from one very large tree trunk. We were regaled with stories of tribal journeys — great ocean trips from one community to the next all along the coast, with days full of paddling followed by dancing, drumming and feasting to all hours of the morning. Only three rules for these great celebrations: no alcohol, no drugs, no cell phones! (My students didn't think they'd survive. ;-)

Finally, we saw a Nissan Leaf electric car and charging station up close and personal. People can (and do) drive from all across North America to charge up for free at the charging station at the T'sou-ke First Nation! We also saw and learned about solar thermal installations that pre-heat water for hot water tanks.

Perhaps the niftiest story we heard (the day after discussing the Just Transition to Green Jobs in class) was that when the T'sou-ke Nation put out tenders for the solar installations, they said they wanted the winning contractor to not only train some T'sou-ke members but also then hire them to help with the installation. That way, there's more of a sense of ownership of the project, several members have new job skills, and repair and maintenance is done in-house.

Once inside again, the students were invited to take back their power by lowering their own energy consumption as much as possible. This, it turns out, ought to be the first step before determining what solar energy capacity you need to put on your roof. (I rememember Amory Lovins calling this "nega-watts" — the energy not needed due to conservation efforts.) Each wrote their conservation commitments on a paper leaf and taped it to a Tree of Life poster on the wall. 

Our host, Andrew, wrapped up the session with an explanation of the S-curve, sharing that the price of solar panels has dropped so much that we're on the verge of an explosion. "If you were thinking of investing in solar," he said, "now's the time."

Shirley, the elder, said a farewell prayer on our behalf, and then it was time to say goodbye. All the way back to the university, the students shared with me their favourite moments. I could tell it was a worthwhile field trip for them, as it helped them see in action several of the principles of sustainable development that we've been learning about in class.

Believe it or not, that story was just a preamble for what I really want to talk to you about today. I found the field trip quite inspiring myself, and especially so when I came home to an email about a certificate program in community energy management. My interest was immediately piqued. Six courses make up the certificate:
  • Intro to Community Energy & Emissions Planning 
  • Community-Based Renewable Energy 
  • Green Energy & Local Economic Development 
  • Financing & Governance for Green Energy Systems 
  • Reducing Energy Use in New & Existing Buildings 
  • Low Carbon Transportation
For a few minutes, I was really quite excited by the prospect of taking these courses and really helping my community make its way to localized renewable energy. But then I remembered something. I don't "get" energy. As I've admitted here before, I was hit by lightning as a child and I've been afraid of electricity ever since. So I've never learned about it, experimented with it, or done anything more than carefully plugged in an appliance. 

When I realized that the learning curve for me would be like pushing a boulder up a steep hill, I immediately forwarded the email to people in my community who are already involved with and steeped in the world of renewable energy. 

I don't have to take these courses. I am a teacher, but also a connector of people to learning opportunities. That is one of the gifts I can give to the climate change movement. 

Here's the information, in case you're interested in the Community Energy Management Certificate. The courses are online, so you could take them from anywhere in the world.


And to learn more about the T'sou-ke Nation's solar project, visit http://www.tsoukenation.com/first-nation-takes-lead-on-solar-power/. Be sure to watch the movie over in the righthand column. It's quite inspiring!

12 February 2017

Why We're Still Not Teaching, Talking about or Tackling the Climate Change Crisis

Yesterday, I co-led a workshop on climate justice to a wonderful group of teachers who are social justice advocates within their union locals. One of the exercises — an activity that I haven't done in a while — got me wondering aloud once again why it is that here in Canada, we still don't hear people talking in coffee shops about the climate change emergency. What gives? How is it that we just keep on pretending that things aren't changing all around us?

Some colleagues and I came up with the following list of barriers that keep people in our society from facing and dealing with the climate crisis. I thought you might find some food for thought here. I'd love to hear what you think!

1. Climate change is scary stuff. It makes people feel bad just thinking about it. And people don’t like to feel bad ... so they try not to think about it.   
2. Climate change is a result of greenhouse gas pollution, but it’s not being addressed in terms of air / atmospheric pollution. 
3. People have been so numbed and dumbed down by screen time that the constant repetition of deniers’ “memesin the social media echo chamber makes their claims sound true. Because people are too busy to check out the veracity of the deniers’ claims, they are susceptible to being misled and deceived.  
4. Selfishness is no longer frowned upon and sacrifice is for chumps. In our society, people just dont think like ancestors anymore. (Everybody wants change but nobody wants to change”—a YouTube commenter). 
5. Climate change is a global issue that makes personal and local solutions seem unimportant, trite, and useless, so people get discouraged.  
6. In a weird sort of NIMBYism, people say climate change is happening elsewhere (Not In My Back Yard), so they dont have to think about it. What has happened to our compassion?  
7. The concerted denial and confusion campaign has been extremely well funded and organized by vested interests (seven of the eight biggest corporations in the world are fossil fuel companies). This denial campaign has been very successful in seeding doubt about the science in the publics mind and very successful in promoting delay in our global response to greenhouse gas pollution.    
8. Climate scientists who arent trained to communicate with the public cant compete with the self-proclaimed pundits in the denial camp.
9. Cognitive dissonance creates a vicious circle. People dont see governments taking urgent action, so they think its not urgent. And since citizens arent demanding urgent action, governments dont want to take urgent action, afraid it might impact the economy. (Actually, climate change mitigation would be a large economic benefit everywhere.)  
10. Theres so much to know and learn and understand! Thats why people must listen to scientists, not deniers. But lack of media literacy means the public has fallen for things like the bias of false balancein the news.  
11. Scientific, ecological, and climate illiteracy is widespread. The public lacks understanding of concepts such as ecological limits, peer review, weight of evidence, feedback loops, exponential growth, shifting baselines, carbon cycles, and even natural versus industrial / anthropogenic causes of climate change. This is where teachers can make a difference.  
12. This is a crisis of imagination and creativity. Getting to zero carbon ought to be viewed as an exciting goal. Teachers can contribute to reaching this goal! 
13. In our culture, people dont always work well together. Key stakeholders and negotiators often find it difficult to cooperate. Sometimes processes and rulesnot to mention greedget in the way of success.
14. People don’t get that our greatest near-term threats from climate change are food and water shortages and insecurity. Humans have evolved over the last 10,000 years into a species dependent on agriculture, and agriculture has depended on the stable climate of the last 10,000 years. Climate change threats are more imminent than people think.

05 February 2017

Unprecedented Climate Change Emergency

Well, I've spent about a week in bed with this flu, which means I'm not feeling up to much blogging today. So allow me to leave you with a video book review done by my husband, Dr. Peter Carter. In the video below, he reviews two books written by David Ray Griffin, the second co-authored by a lovely new activist friend of ours, Elizabeth Woodworth. Both books are available on Amazon. I hope you and yours manage to stay healthy this season!

29 January 2017

No Alternative Facts Here, Just Bad Health and Bad News

I'm lying in bed with a bad cold/flu combo, so I've got too much time on my hands. Even so, some weeks, I just don't know what to blog about. Much of the news is so bad that anything positive I might write about risks seeming trite in comparison. 

I do want to let you know that I've had the privilege of meeting and working with two classes of wonderful first-year international students this past month. These fine young people are from China (mostly), Singapore, Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, Ukraine and Iran. What a pleasure and an honour it is to talk with them about sustainable development and their future.


This past week — President T****'s first in office — has people around the world not only petrified by the thought what he has up his sleeve but actually impacted by the executive orders he's signed already. WTF? Truly, WTF? How can one loose cannon, in such a short time, undo so much good work of so many good people who have worked for years in a country that has been talking social justice for decades if not centuries? They've not always been successful, but there's always been someone trying.

The first thing I did before starting this post was listen to the song in this Compassion Tune-Up. Loudly. Perhaps I need to start offering Outrage Wake-Ups as well. If the new American president is going to be emboldened, then we ought to become bold, too. One piece of advice I've read more than once this week is to not normalize T****'s actions — to stay outraged by them (99% of them have been outrageous already). But that's going to mean taking care of ourselves by sometimes taking time to not focus on what he's doing. 

So in my sickly stupor, I'm going to watch some re-runs of the Mary Tyler Moore show ... Mary Tyler Moore died this week, and a lot of us are feeling quite nostalgic, I think. I know I am. Her television portrayal of a working single woman in the early 1970s inspired a whole bunch of second generation feminists to see it as quite normal that women would succeed in work just as men do. 

Perhaps we can (re?)create a sense that it's quite normal that elected officials look after more than just the economy of their constituents — especially when it's that predatory economy that's fuelling the foreclosure on our children's future. The new president has children — he must hate them somehow to wish a climate hell on them. Or maybe he just doesn't see it as his job to ensure the viability of their future. (He probably thinks he created his present "success" all by himself, so why should he have to help his children make it? Frankly, because of the climate change crisis, that small attitude leads to progenycide. And people have to ask — read the comments at your peril — what it is that others are protesting. Sheesh.)

I'll leave you with the link to an article by Bill McKibben: The New Battle Plan for the Planet's Climate Crisis, in which he talks about something sort of new: renewable energy denial amongst T****'s roster of cronies. It's an interesting read. 

And hey, Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! It's the Year of the Rooster (my sign) and my Chinese students tell me it means I'm going to have a lucky year. (I promise to share my luck.)