03 September 2017

We Are Witnessing the Great Unravelling

In 2004, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman authored a book called The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century, which chronicled "how the boom economy unraveled." As an economist, Krugman writes about economics. 

Today, we are witnessing an even greater unravelling. This time it's all about that other "eco" word: ecology. Even as the climate change deniers, skeptics, ignorers and delayers are still out in full whacko force (just check the comments under any movie about the climate crisis), the Sixth Mass Extinction is playing out all around us. 

Timeframes (for things such as predator / prey relationships) that we've come to depend on and take for granted are getting all screwed up. For example, our local pods of resident orca whales have hardly been seen around here this summer because their food source — chinook salmon — has all but disappeared.

Seasonal weather and temperatures that we've relied on for our agriculture are no longer dependable: unprecedented heat waves, major wildfires, severe droughts, biblical floods, crop-damaging rainfalls ....

Homes and homelands that we thought were safe are collapsing, flooding or being swallowed up by the sea.*

What we have known is coming undone and becoming unknowable. We are bearing witness to (and many people and many other living beings are already experiencing) catastrophic climate disruption and deadly climate chaos. 

It is time for deniers — and anyone else who isn't willing to help hold the fraying edges of this delicate biosphere together — to be called out as the pariahs that they are.

* My heart goes out to the 41 million people affected by devastating monsoon rains and flooding in South Asia, and to those in Texas and Louisiana impacted by Hurricane Harvey. There but for the grace of ....




27 August 2017

It's that Harvest Time of Year Again

Young People's Agriculture entries at my local fall fair
Fall Fair time again! And what a delightful day yesterday was for my small community's annual harvest celebration. 

As I've been doing for eight years now, I once again convened the Young People's Agriculture section. I'm always in a big open-sided tent with all the other children's sections, so I get to witness their imagination and creativity in all sorts of arts and crafts categories along with their food-growing skills and commitment in my section. 

I get big smiles and hugs from little ones, handshakes from teenaged trophy winners, and lots of oohs and ahs from the visitors impressed by gorgeous, healthy fruits and veggies — not to mention giant zucchinis! 

(The whole point of fall fair judging 100 years ago was to teach what healthy produce should look like, which is why uniformity was sought. Nowadays, that uniformity often comes with the cost of GMOs and food waste, so we're starting to appreciate imperfect and blemished foods. But the initial intent came from a good place.)

Again I was reminded of the importance of teaching our young people how to grow food. I'm so convinced of the significance of this shift in our culture, our societies and our education systems that I'm presenting on it at the upcoming World Environmental Education Congress (WEEC 2017), being hosted in Vancouver, Canada in September. 


The title of my presentation is The Most Important Curriculum: Learning to Grow Food in a Changing Climate. Here's the abstract I submitted:
The climate change crisis, largely ignored by education systems in North America, is changing everything, but especially our food security (an issue largely ignored by North Americans). Climate disruption is leading to droughts, floods, heat waves, extreme weather events, negative impacts on yields in all major food-producing regions, crop failures, food shortages, volatile food prices, food riots, famines, conflicts, revolts, and starvation. For the last 10,000 years, human beings have evolved into a species dependent on agriculture, and agriculture depends on a stable climate — which is now disappearing. Developing resilience by learning how to grow food, build soil, collect rainwater and generate energy seems to be quickly becoming more important than learning to read, write and do math.
A few years ago, I was part of an environmental education workshop where someone derisively said, "Sure, we can teach kids to grow a cup of beans, but ...." What he added next was all theory and no dirt on hands (or hands in dirt).

Beans and beets
I realized then that this person must not understand global warming, carbon feedbacks and climate disruption. The greatest threat isn't melting Arctic summer sea ice, rising sea levels or even extreme weather events — it's what is going to happen to agriculture and our food security as these impacts worsen. 

We can't grow food overnight, and nor can we learn to grow food overnight. That "cup of beans" — if it is grown in a place that has been ravaged by climate chaos by someone who learned young how to "grow food in a changing climate" might someday mean the difference between life and death ... literally.

As the climate change emergency deepens, today's children need to learn the skills that will help them create their best possible future. Offering food-growing opportunities is one of the most valuable gifts we will ever give to young people. 

Let's provide them with as much access and exposure to — and experience in — home and school gardening and community farming as possible, throughout the school year and into the summer. Encouraging their entries at your local Fall Fair is one way to do that.

Learning to grow food in ways that respect the rest of Nature

 

20 August 2017

Toothache as Metaphor for the Climate Change Blame Game

From LifeHacks Mama
I, quite blessedly, reached the autumn of my life without ever losing a tooth or suffering from toothache. Well, all that has changed. And whose fault is it, anyway?

The year I turned 40, I landed in hospital twice — both times for "old people" problems. It was quite a shock to so suddenly "turn old." I'd thought I was healthy and fit. What the heck? (I'm happy to report that I haven't been in the hospital since, although I have sat in the emergency ward several times with a sprained or broken ankle.*)

Twenty years later and shortly after my 60th birthday, I'm suddenly in excruciating pain and facing my first root canal or tooth extraction. The funny part is that I've started playing the blame game!
  • Is it that new dentist's fault? Did he go a millimetre too deep when drilling to replace that lost filling?
  • Is it my old dentist's fault for not repairing the tooth properly in the first place?
  • Is it my fault for not getting to the dentist sooner?
  • Is it my community's fault for not finding a new dentist to replace the old dentist in a more timely way?
  • Is it my fault for not taking care of my teeth properly for the last 55 years?
  • Is it my parents' fault for giving me lousy teeth genes? 
And all of a sudden, I've realized how ridiculous the blame game is. What matters is not whose fault it is. The inventors of the internal combustion engine? The captains of industry who saw big profits in a world of manufacturing using fossil fuel energy? The car makers who, perhaps quite genuinely, pushed their automobiles as a way to clean the streets of smelly, unhealthy horse manure? Rich people in the USA for spewing more than their fair share of greenhouse gases in order to luxuriate in their wealth? Hollywood for promoting that lifestyle? The millions of people in Africa and Asia for burning wood to cook their paltry meals? Each one of us for partaking in what's available to us?

Sure, each and every sector must now be accountable for their role in the climate change emergency. Each must take responsibility for doing their part to save my tooth, er, the biosphere.

What matters is that I need to get my tooth fixed so the pain will go away. And we need to stop spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We need to get our carbon emissions down to practically zero, as rapidly as possible. We need to work together as a global community of nations to achieve this zero-carbon economy — or perhaps race each other to zero. 

I think a global race to zero carbon would be fun! Am I alone in this? The USA loved the race to the moon. Why not a race to ensure our survival? Developing nations have a head start, in a sense, because they haven't gone as deeply down the fossil fuel energy rabbit hole as we have (in the same way that they leapfrogged over landline telephones and went straight to cellular phone technology). 

So, getting my tooth fixed — or losing it completely — is going to be painful, but trying to pin the blame on anyone is not helpful. And I'll feel much better once it's done. Getting our energy mix down to zero carbon is not going to be easy, but we are going to feel so much better once it's done.


* Completely unrelated, here's the best advice I've ever heard for people with weak ankles. Every time you brush your teeth, stand on one foot for half the time, and then the other foot. This balancing act is what will strengthen the ligaments in your ankle. It's working for me. Touch wood, after seven sprains and three fractures, my ankles have been strong and healthy ever since I received this advice. (And tooth brushing has become much more fun ... even if it didn't work for this poor aching tooth!)

13 August 2017

Climate Change — and Baseball — Deniers are Just Afraid of Their Feelings

from Slate.com
Remember I talked last week about being called names for wanting to safeguard the future? Well, the latest epithet thrown at me was "drama queen" because, don't you know, humans are resilient and adaptable to increasing temperatures and heat waves and droughts and floods and storms and pests and crop losses and water shortages? Yeah, sure.

But this little episode of name calling helped me realize something. These so-called deniers must actually be scared witless about the climate change emergency, mustn't they? Otherwise why would they be spending so much of their time reading and responding to articles and social media posts about climate change? If they weren't somehow almost pruriently attracted to slagging climate change activists, they would be doing what normal climate change ignorers do. You know, gardening and jogging and reading novels and parenting and working for a living. 

It's like if I spent all my free time on baseball websites and baseball fan listserves and baseball FB groups calling people who like baseball nasty names and denying that baseball is an actual sport. In order to do that, I'd have to secretly have some attraction to baseball, wouldn't I? Otherwise I wouldn't throw my time at it, would I? I'd be sticking to macramé or gourmet cooking, wouldn't I? 

Baseball deniers probably love the sport but simply don't know how to express their feelings about it. They were perhaps always chosen last to play on a team. Or maybe they're embarrassed that they don't actually understand the rules of the game. It's possible that they dreamed for years of playing in the major leagues but they just weren't good enough. For whatever reason, baseball deniers just can't let baseball go, so they hang out with baseball lovers all the while slagging them and the sport.

So when that climate change denier called me a drama queen for wanting to protect the future for the children of all species, I suspect he was actually asking ... we're resilient and adaptable, right? I don't have to be scared, right? Everything's going to be okay ... right?

Sadly, wrong. We are witnessing the great unravelling of the web of life. If you're not skilled enough, educated enough or courageous enough to face it and to help, that's okay. But please, go play some baseball or do some gardening so that those of us with our fingers in the dike trying to stave off the sixth mass extinction can at least do it in peace.

The Hero of Haarlem