30 December 2012

A New Year, a New Purpose?

I've already started wishing people "the kind of new year that is a gift to the world" and so I bid you and yours the same. Happy brand new year, full of potential!

Of course, that's got me wondering what sort of gift I would like to create for the world this year. As a teacher, I have two "new" years each year, one in September and one in January. My autumn new year is usually focused on new teaching strategies and learning experiences to share with my students.

But January 1st! Ah, what is it that sends so many of us off into the rite of rapturous resolution-making? I mean, every day is a new day, right? We could decide to start new projects, eat better, lose weight, stop a bad habit any day, couldn't we? But there's something about the very beginning of a new year that holds excitement and allure for us.

So here for all the world to see, I would like to pronounce my 2013 New Year's Resolution. I am going to become an Earth Mama!

I mentioned that to a friend yesterday and she laughed, asking "You want to have a baby?" "No, no!" I quickly replied. "That's not what I mean." Nor do I mean any of the other definitions I just found in the online Urban Dictionary. I'm not referring to the wonderful Joyce Johnson Rouse (aka Earth Mama) either, but check out her wonderful music.

Yikes, I'd better define this if I'm going to realize my dream. To me, an Earth Mama (or Earth Mother?) is a woman who is connected to the earth (and the Earth), who knows how to grow food, who cans and preserves the food she and others in her community grow, who fixes things around the house without having to call in expensive experts, who is confident in her own abilities to survive.

Me, in our school garden
Right now, I'm more of a coordinator ... someone who knows how to get things done without really knowing how to do those things herself. A good example is our school garden. It wouldn't exist if I hadn't pushed to have it created, however, I'm not a food growing expert (parents and other staff lead on that). But I'd like to become one. 

What's all this got to do with compassionate action on climate change? Well, the food crisis looms. Drought has become persistent in some of the world's greatest grain growing regions (American midwest, southwest China) and the whole world will soon see food shortages. We're going to have to start looking after our own food needs on a local basis. 

When I see lawns, I see food gardens. When I see golf courses and school yards, I see food gardens. When I see leaves and grass clippings on the roadside, I see soil. When I see yard "waste" being burned, I see soil going up in smoke. And when I see children stuck in classrooms, I see future food growers not being taught the skills they are desperately going to need to survive.

So this is my year to, as the Gandhi-esque quote suggests, become the change I want to see in the world. I keep proclaiming that 21st century education needs to revolve around teaching kids how to build their own soil, grow their own food, collect their own rainwater, and generate their own energy. So that's my mission this year: to learn how to do all of those things.

If something is doable, then it's learnable. And if it's learnable — and I set my mind (and heart) to it — then I can learn it. Right? We're not talking rocket science here, just food growing and preserving, and composting, and setting up rain barrels, and learning about renewable energy technologies along with my students. I can do this.

Good luck with your resolutions this year. May your learning and your doing in 2013 be a gift to the world!

23 December 2012

A Holiday Wish for Peace with the Earth

Well, folks, since the physical world didn't end yesterday, perhaps it's true that we're entering into a new spiritual world. Perhaps we're going to experience a transformation that will see our species take hold of its senses and start living regeneratively. 

For this holiday season, I'd like to gift you with the quote below. Wishing us all peace in our hearts, peace in our families and communities, and peace with the Earth. (Enjoy the festivities! We can get back to work on climate change in a week or two.) 

"The privilege to be here, on this life-giving planet at this astonishing time in human history, is sufficient to inspire awe in the most uncaring of individuals. At this late juncture in the age of industry, at the dawn of our day on Earth, we still have love: love for each other, love for our children and grandchildren, love for [the rest of] nature. One could argue it is all we have left.... Will we, as individuals, know peace? That's up to us. I suggest most of us will know peace only when we find ourselves lying helpless in the broken arms of our doomed Earth."— Guy McPherson

16 December 2012

What If All of Us Squares Changed Our Focus?

Have I ever told you about a workshop I attended during which I discovered I'm a complete and utter square? It was a presentation on the latest brain research and learning styles. The brain's synapses fire at a typical speed, but each of us has a quadrant that is much more efficient. Turns out I'm a "left-basal" (that's the quadrant in which my synapses fire at 400 miles per hour) so, in essence, a square. 

We squares are the kind of people who start making Five Year Plans when we're still teenagers. Who fit into the school system because we "get" the systems of reading and writing. We're punctual and we do our homework. We become writers and editors and teachers. (Oh man, I was so predictable!) We're the planners, the organizers. In short, we're the ones who keep the world humming along, more or less on time.

SIDE BAR: I don't want anyone to feel left out, so here are the other personality types/learning styles:

  • left-frontal (the triangle): the controllers, the CEOs, the bossy pants, the people who make sure that other people get things done
  • right-basal (the circle): the harmonizers, the supporters, the people who nurture others and keep the peace
  • right-frontal (the squiggle): the visualizers, the artists, the creative ones, the dyslexics (or "eugraphics" - the term I coined to positively describe people who think in images and for whom the arbitrariness of alphabets doesn't make natural sense)

END SIDE BAR

Okay, so where am I going with this? Let me tell you. I stumbled upon a blog post this morning about the very common spelling mistake "alot" (as in, I stumble upon alot of things on the internet). The correct spelling is two words: a lot. A left-basal square is going to notice booboos like that. We correct grammatical errors on TV (out loud, to our family's chagrin), and point out typos on restaurant menus. We can't help ourselves. It's a curse (people call us Grammar Fascists and Spelling Nazis), except when it's not. (You know, like when someone needs something edited and they can't spell to save their lives.)

Well, here's the thing. Despite the fact that the biosphere is going to hell in a handbasket and the American drought has continued into December (including in Alaska and Hawaii!), the blogosphere is acting as though nothing's wrong, nothing's different, nothing's changed. On the one hand, I write these blog posts and do my activism and watch my husband do all his climate change work, and still there are only 23 people in the world who care. (Okay, it might be up to 27 by now.) 

On the other hand, that blog post on the misspelled "alot" got — wait for it — 784 comments!! Isn't that astounding? That 784 people would care enough about the spelling of "a lot" that they took the time to write and post a comment?

It's obvious to me that all these people (except one, who complained) are squares. (Nobody else gives a damn about spelling.) So what if we could recruit even a fraction of the squares in the world to help counter the climate change deniers and skeptics in the blogosphere? 

They, like I have, could learn the science of global warming and climate change. At least enough to respond to the trolls. Or perhaps these squares could serve as the scribes of old, helping all the triangles and squiggles get legible and readable letters written to their elected officials.

I'll admit it. It's depressing. I don't exactly begrudge that blogger her 784 commenters (imagine how many actual readers that means), I just wish they could all find the time to comment on important stuff, too, like the global climate change emergency, which is threatening the viability of there/they're/their children's future, and is already impacting hour/our generation's food security, two/to/too.


The Street Scribe, by Carlo Naya

09 December 2012

"I Don't Want to Live in a World Without Olives"

My husband's tongue was only somewhat in his cheek the other day when he said, "I don't want to live in a world without olives." We were having a discussion with friends about a project (in the dreaming stage) to help people see the connection between the Arctic meltdown and our food.

We'd all just shared an epiphany as we realized that people don't understand (or care about) climate change because they don't understand food and agriculture. As long as people don't recognize the relationship between food growing and the climate, they're just not going to "get" that climate change is a planetary emergency. 

I then shared an epiphany I'd had about a year back, when a friend/colleague/food grower said to me, "Julie, I think we can survive here [in our small island community] on kale (vitamins), fava beans (carbohydrates) and eggs (protein)" (he's been doing his own independent research). It was at that moment that I finally saw how our food system is going to change in response to a heated planet and drought and crop failures. There's going to be less food, and less choice of food. 

I asked, "When we can't get cinnamon anymore, what could we grow around here that will take its place?" One of our friends (someone who understands all this and wants to work on the project with us) said, "Well, you just turned me off." And my husband chimed in, "Yeah, me too. I don't want to live in a world without olives." 

So even people who understand the mess we're getting ourselves into don't want to look squarely at the food crisis. People can picture a future of more of the same -- or better -- but they can't seem to picture a future with less. Less choice. Less diversity. Fewer options. 

Now, I should mention what my husband explained to me later. I agree with him that it's intuitive to see diversity as our saving grace -- and that we should be trying to grow as many different food items as possible. But I believe the reality will be much more constrained. We're still not teaching kids to grow food, and we can't grow food overnight. So when the climate change sh!t hits the fan, eggs, kale and beans might be all we can get around to growing while we're trying to deal with horrid weather events and sky-rocketing food prices. 

I'm just trying to get us all thinkin' in the direction of survival rather than luxury. After all, there must be dozens of ways to cook up beans, kale and eggs!

02 December 2012

The Life Jackets are Going On


It's been a strange week, hasn't it? A whole lot of underwhelm from Doha, Qatar, where climate change negotiators at the international climate change talks, as usual, seem to be bigger deniers of the planetary emergency than the deniers are. It creates, for me at least, a surreal sense that nothing is as my eyes are telling me. But then I'm snapped back to reality, and the true nature of the climate crisis, by some obscure bit of news (see below).

Reminds me of something that happened 14 years ago. That's when we moved to this small island community. During our first week here, we had to head back to the mainland for provisions. But as soon as we got out of the dock, the ferry started heaving and shifting. We hadn't realized how bad the winds were, and it felt like we were sailing into trouble. We literally (and I mean literally literally, not figuratively literally) had to hang on to our seats. The ferry kept going and my hubby and I kept looking at each other as though these might be our last few moments together. (Naive island newbies!)

And then a crewman walked by. In his uniform. Only his uniform. As in, no life jacket. That's when I turned to Peter and said, "When the crew start putting on life jackets, that's when we'll know it's time to panic. Until then, let's just enjoy the roller coaster ride." (I've always been one for rides at the carnival, so I was up for a cheap thrill. Peter wasn't quite as convinced.)

Well, folks, guess what's happening in the world right now? The "crew" are putting on their flippin' life jackets! Here's the quiet news: Rich people are buying up agricultural land all over the world! (Well, in parts of the world where agriculture isn't doomed. So exclude the bread baskets of the world, because they are condemned now due to disappearing Arctic summer sea ice.) And it ain't because they suddenly want to become farmers and sink their hands into the soil.

Wealthy people are waking up to the food crisis we're staring at. While so many of the rest of us are turning our heads away from the prospect (naaah, couldn't really be happening here in North America; scientists told us we might benefit from global warming), the affluent know exactly where to invest in order to (a) make as much money off the crop losses and famines as possible, and (b) ensure that they survive longest. (This really is a game for the one percent. A game to the death.)

So there it is. My analogy for the week. Negotiators at Doha, wake up! If rich people are being advised to buy up agricultural land, then you've got to admit the urgency of the emergency. 

25 November 2012

Drawing on Our Inner Mother Bear - A Guest Post (and a Reminder to Women Everywhere)

Joanne Green's mother bear
is a mother bird!
A wonderful friend sent this heartfelt missive to several of us recently. It struck a chord, so I asked if I could print it here and she said yes.

Also, since the 2012 climate change negotiations begin tomorrow in Doha (no one has held out any hope for these talks since the COP held in HopelessnessHagen back in 2009), please visit / forward this link if you're a woman who cares about safeguarding the future for our children: A Request to All Women Attending the Copenhagen Climate Talks. The same beseeching can hold true at any time. 

GUEST POST

Over the past few months I've been in a place of deep feeling  triggered by world events, government and environmental issues, elections, proposed pipelines, etc....  Times feel urgent. Consequently, I've been riled up like never before. 

Going to the Defend Our Coast rally sparked something in me. While in the sea of people, the sense of connection I felt to each of them and to the planet, well... at that point I felt called to live my life in true accordance to my deep feelings and to do "something." To take a stand! 

However, the more I learn about issues that I care about, the more anger and fear I experience. I can sink into moments of hopelessness, and despair. Then I can be quickly picked up again by the gratitude and beauty in my life. It's been a roller coaster ride lately.

I would be shy to mention all this, but in talking with many of my friends, this seems to be very common lately. And so we ask, "How do we stay grounded and open in all of the intensity around us?" Maybe we cope by reaching out, connecting with community, and by being inspired! I see so many of you taking a stand in your lives  for your passions, for your creativity, for the environment, for each other. For Love. Thank you, thank you, for this inspiration.

And thank you for making me believe that I, too, can be strong enough to take a stand for these things in my life and taking them to a deeper level. And to do this from a heart-centred place. My friend calls these folk Peaceful Warriors. Whatever you call it, I feel change and momentum in the air.  

— Joanne Green, of Elysium Studio and Crying Bird (scroll down) fame

See also Compassion and Courage: Mother Bears are Strong, Protective, and Not Self-Conscious, and read Joanne's comment attached.

18 November 2012

A New Ultimate Sacrifice?

Last Sunday, I didn't remember (ahem) until after I'd blogged that it was Remembrance Day here in Canada: the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. So it wasn't until later that morning, after watching a ceremony on a friend's honkin' huge wide-screen TV, that something struck me. Well, a few things, actually. 

First, what is it that made it so "easy" to go off to war? (Young men were signing up all over the place back in the days of WWI and WWII, it seems.) How did governments and armies make it so enticing to leave home and loved ones to go and fight? Why are we not willing to make similaresque sacrifices today? And why is fighting for freedom so alluring, but fighting for survival a big nothing? 

Next, what would "the ultimate sacrifice" look like today? Is it the loss of peace of mind of parents everywhere, who must now worry that their children don't have a viable future? Is it all the losses already incurred by people in small island states, or the grain belts of America and Russia? Is it the deaths of people in the Caribbean and the eastern US seaboard due to Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy? Is it the loss of 400,000 people every year due to climate chaos?

And finally, I was quite struck, as the representatives of different "forces" were laying wreaths at the cenotaph, how many hierarchical organizations we have in our culture, apart from the armed forces. Police officers, fire fighters, St. John's Ambulance, even Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. I suppose when you're asking people to put their lives on the line (okay, maybe not the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, but who knows, maybe their original purpose was to prepare boys and girls for war), you have to train them in order to trust them. You have to train them to respect the commands of their superiors so that when fear would normally induce flight, these people stay and fight. 

I'm wondering why we aren't calling on all the people who have no choice (besides insubordination and mutiny), who have to listen to and obey their superiors, to fight climate change? Why aren't their superiors seeing the risks of climate catastrophe? Why aren't we drafting an army to fight this enemy? Ah, Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us." That would explain it. How do we fight ourselves? Perhaps this is where the compassion comes in.

Our Canadian prime minister attended a Remembrance Day ceremony in Hong Kong at the Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery. He said, "By their deaths, they made possible the freedom we enjoy, the democracy by which we govern ourselves, and the justice under which we live." Prime Minister Harper doesn't tend to listen to his own words, but they're a good reminder that everything we now take for granted, everything that our veterans fought for — freedom, democracy, justice — is threatened by the climate change emergency, which is threatening the very survival of our species. 

I guess we could call that the new ultimate sacrifice.

11 November 2012

The Lesson in Aikido? Envelop Your Adversaries


"If your heart is large enough to envelop your adversaries, you can see right through them and avoid their attacks. And once you envelop them, you will be able to guide them along a path indicated to you by heaven and earth." 
— Morihei Ueshiba, O Sensei, Founder of Aikido 
What, oh what, do I do with that lovely thought? Sure, it's useful in everyday situations in my small circle. It's helping me help a girlfriend dealing with a greedy landlord. It's good to keep in mind at work sometimes. It's great for when my hubby and I are feeling pissy with each other (envelop = big hug) (the "guiding" part being more difficult with a spouse, however, especially a Taurus ;-). And I'll even be able to use it when I make community presentations about the climate change emergency.   
But I don't think my heart is large enough to envelop our true climate change adversaries. You know them: the ones who keep pushing inaction, delay, "more research," economic development versus environmental protection, and thinly-veiled greed as rationale for not giving a crap about the future.  
Given how little we humans can literally survive on, it's so obscene, mean-spirited and harsh how much some people live on. That they would commit progenycide by deliberately and knowingly killing off the viability of the future ... grrrrr! That these people (and their corporations) would go to such expensive lengths to maintain their obscene wealth ... grrrrr! I just can't get beyond being really freaking angry at them!  
And my little squeak of anger doesn't seem to effect any change other than upsetting friends who "don't want to hear about it"! Alas. So how do I make my Mother Bear anger roar????   
Holding the anger in a safe container (it's righteous anger, so I don't feel the need to get rid of it, though I must be ever vigilant to ensure that I'm transmuting it into action instead of passive, negative energy), what do I do next? 
I feel that my anger is held in balance with my compassion. And my life energy feels strong (even if I am tired of all the struggle). It's the way, or the path, that has me stumped. My online friend, David Wilson, has asked what that "next" might look like. But besides carrying on with my Climate Reality presentations (my third one coming up soon; forewarned that there are some "unbelievers" in the group), and my writing and talking and sharing, I honestly don't know what my "next" will be, could be, should be.  
Any ideas? How can we simply (ahem) enlarge this kind of goodness and decency to embrace and envelop the more climate change vulnerable around the world (including our farmers and, soon, ourselves), and all future generations, of all species.  


03 November 2012

Persistence





A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.
— Elbert Hubbard




To make our way, we must have firm resolve, persistence, tenacity. We must gear ourselves to work hard all the way. We can never let up.
— Ralph Bunche

Paralyze resistance with persistence.
— Woody Hayes

Be isolated, be ignored, be attacked, be in doubt, be frightened … but do not be silenced.
— Bertrand Russell 


28 October 2012

Quite Civil and Pretty Undisobedient

Well, despite all my trepidation, our non-violent civil disobedience last Monday (October 22, 2012) at the British Columbia Legislative Buildings was, well, just a very nice day of protest against tar sands and pipelines and oil tankers along our coast.

When we last spoke, I had just decided to get off my duff and go to the direct action training. On the way, I saw not one but two hawks, the first on a light post, and the second right at eye level sitting on a fence looking at me, beautiful yellow breast feathers in full view.
Hawk medicine is a totem that is filled with responsibility, because Hawk people see the overall view.... Hawk may be teaching you to grab an opportunity that is coming your way.... Hawk has a keen eye and a bold heart... and encourages you to follow the dictates of the heart. 
— Jamie Sams and David CarsonMedicine Cards
Well, there was no turning back now! Hawk had spoken, had approved my journey into the Elder phase of my life, that point where I have nothing to lose by taking my place "on the line" and risking arrest. (As Bill McKibben pointed out in a presentation the other night, it doesn't make sense for young people to be the "cannon fodder" in civil disobedience as they have their lives ahead of them. But as a middle ager, my financial security and career path are pretty much safe. Ahem.)

The almost nine hours of training went by quickly, with not a single boring moment! Apparently Hawk had spoken to a lot of people as there were several hundred of us ... many with hair whiter than mine.

The rally on Monday saw 4,000 to 5,000 people come out, with wonderful signs and lots of energy, to listen to a multitude of speakers. Our act of civil disobedience was to stake our banner (the length of a super oil tanker) into the grounds of the legislature, something that is illegal. And although the black banner was very visually arresting, the police decided it wasn't worth the effort to arrest anyone. It turned out to be a lovefest for our coastline, despite the controversy over the word "our" (in terms of ownership), and despite the chilly, rainy weather.

Anyway, although it was a pretty wussy day disobedience-wise, it accomplished the goal of recruiting a bunch of us who will now step up to it (and step it up) the next time.

That's me, to the left of my friend, Chad, who's in the bright "Protect Our Coast" t-shirt 

21 October 2012

Drained and Scared

Not much to say today. I'm feeling drained. And scared. Big rally tomorrow (against the tar sands pipelines and coastal oil tankers) and I've pledged to participate in the direct action. That means nine hours of civil disobedience training today, and several hours of "sitting in" in the cold and rain tomorrow. 

I've been questioning the usefulness of going. Ever since the peace marches, peace rallies and peace vigils begging for peace before the US's illegal invasion of Iraq did nothing to stop that invasion, I've recognized that our strategy of standing together has become useless. (Keystone pipeline, anyone?) And I'm not the kind of person who could throw a brick through a window (yet). 

So, how much is the symbolism worth? It seems that we need fabulously creative new strategies if we want to make any changes. But since we're in the midst of a crisis of creativity and imagination, that's probably not going to happen anytime soon. 

But I do feel myself drawn to go because I made a pledge to go, thereby proving one of the principles of social marketing. 

All right then, let's go. Let's do this just to do it. With no expectation of outcome. 

Wish me luck.

14 October 2012

It's So Freaking Lonely!

I felt so alone yesterday, so lonely, so isolated and solitary. I attended a (very well attended) panel discussion put on by my island community's conservation association. The event's title included "climate change" and "apocalypse" in the same breath: Upland and Near-Shore Apocalypse: How Climate Change, Plunging Fish Stocks and Declining Orcas Will Affect All Our Futures. So you can imagine that I went with some expectations.

It was fairly interesting, I can't deny it. But by the time I reached my car (my car! sheesh) to come home, I was sobbing in lament that we never once talked about how bad things are getting, that we spent a whole morning together, so many of us, and talked about restoration of eelgrass beds and how to protect beachfront homes from storm surges post sea level rise, but never talked about the 400,000 people being killed every year due to climate chaos. Apart from some IPCC temperature and sea level graphs and an Arctic map of disappearing sea ice (with no "therefore" presented), we didn't even dance around the topic of what's really happening. 

What really stuck with me was a government ecologist's mention of "assisted migration" – meaning that plants and sessile (or immobile) animals (like barnacles) that can't move on their own to adapt to our changing climate might have to be helped. That broke my heart, not just to think of all the species we're threatening, but that we didn't once talk about assisting the migration of millions of people whose lives are being so impacted by the changing climate. 

And the other thing that struck me is that the panelists never talked about food. I'm a vegan and don't think of fish as food, but as our agriculture goes down the toilet due to droughts and heat waves and wildfires, more and more people will start relying on "hunting," gathering and foraging for food. 

That might have been a way to make an emotional connection for the audience between their foreshores and their futures. But no one bothered. 

Surely it's not because no one else cares. Is it because no one else knows? Is it only a few of us on the fringe – those who put it all together rather than studying climate change in fragmented bits – who see what's coming? Either way, it's very lonely holding that knowledge, that knowing. Life would be much nicer (and the burden, the secret would be shared) if others were willing to know it, too. 

Alas. 

07 October 2012

Look for the Gift, and the Better Feeling Thought

First of all, I owe two newish friends an apology. Last December, when I thought they were all "Oh, we only think positive thoughts," it turns out they were simply taking a break from years of very focused climate change activism. 

We just shared a vegan (Canadian) Thanksgiving feast with them at the home of another wonderful friend and activist, and after predicting that we wouldn't be even mentioning let alone discussing climate change with our "only positive thoughts" guests, it turns out we spent much of the evening talking about the Arctic meltdown and especially the urgency of getting ourselves growing food in order to be resilient in the face of agricultural meltdown. It was one of the most positive – and hopeful – conversations I've had in, well, possibly years! 

I share all that to introduce two things I've learned this week that are helping me enormously. Tonight, one friend kept saying, "Let's bring it back to the better feeling thought" (a concept that might be from The Course in Miracles, but I'm not sure). It was a reminder not to wallow in the bad news but to accept it and focus on solutions … and we found ourselves coming up with all sorts of doable (fun and feasible) solutions for developing food security for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. 

The other cool lesson I learned this week (again, from one of my Thanksgiving dinner companions) comes, I believe, from a workshop on cultivating peace offered by James O'Dea (someone I met years ago through my involvement with the Seva Foundation): Look for the gift in every conflict. 

Look for the gift in every conflict! I told you a couple of weeks ago [It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times] about receiving an email completely dissing Al Gore and, by inference, me – from someone we thought was like-minded. (Luckily, I received it after my first Climate Reality presentation, and not before.) Well, when my hubby and I started asking ourselves what the gift in that weird little conflict was, we came up with wonderful ways to improve my presentation. So now I'm going to explain what a hero Al Gore is and why, right at the beginning of the talk. And then I'm going to present solutions. Right near the beginning. 

That way, people will be thinking the better feeling thought as they look for the gift (communities coming together, a return to simpler times, a focus on alternative ways to grow and share food) in the climate change impacts they'll be witnessing during my slide show.

What do you think? What's your better feeling thought about all this?

30 September 2012

Compassion Tune-Up - A Devastating Sight

When I hear my husband sobbing in his office, I know he's stumbled upon something searingly sad. Yesterday, it was a photo of something we could never have imagined. 

Turns out it was one in a series of July 2011 photos by Jenny E. Ross, taken in Ostrova Oranskie in northern Novaya Zemlya, in the Russian High Arctic. 

An online friend of Peter's, Veli Albert Kallio, shared on Facebook the following:
POLAR BEAR APOCALYPSE HAS STARTED
Desperate and hungry polar bears are seen attempting to climb mountains to reach for food as their natural habitat has been destroyed. Bears have an excellenct nose and they sense the bird eggs but as they are not adapted to mountaineering on the steep slopes, they fall off the mountains easily to their deaths. Their claws are not strong enough to grab them firmly onto mountainsides as the nails brake under the weight of bears on the rocks. Arctic foxes and other animals then eat unfortunate polar bear carcasses. The numbers of bears are considerably down already for next cruising season and it may take some nerves to see the polar bears suffering like this.
Polar bears in our Arctic must now climb rocky mountains to attempt to feed on the eggs of seabirds (Brünnich's Guillemots)? According to the photographer, "This bear was marooned on land, unable to feed on seals  his normal prey  because the sea ice had melted throughout the region and receded far to the north as the result of climate change." 

What hell on Earth have we wrought? 

Note the subadult male polar bear near the top 
Not built for climbing
An unsuccessful attempt to eat

23 September 2012

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Well, I gave my first Climate Reality Project presentation last night. I called it (as you can see) "Whacky Weather, Food Fragility and Compassionate Climate Action." (Someone commented that it was an evening of alliterative activism. ;-) 

I didn't quite feel ready, but I was well enough prepared. I wasn't quite myself, however. I'm not used to reading from a script (of sorts), plus my neck pain radiated down my back in an excruciating way, making me rather low-spirited. Quite ironically, my husband complimented me later on my "subdued manner," which he thought was quite appropriate for the subject matter (climate tragedy after climate tragedy around the world). I'm usually a pretty upbeat person, so maybe the backache was a stroke of luck!

About 20 people attended. Not bad for a tiny community on a Saturday night. Since I knew almost everyone who attended, I received lots of hugs and positive feedback afterwards — a friendly audience, in other words.



Our way home was lit by an orange fruit-jelly half harvest moon, something I've never seen before.

Then I got home to a rude message from someone I thought was a like-minded and like-hearted soul, inferring, because I gave an Al Gore presentation, that I'm a cultist and a minion (or some hare-brained thing like that). Her message was filled with links to idiotic denier websites. It was the worst of times. (I responded with a Reply All by addressing her unkindness.)

But then I got a thank you message, from a mom of two beautiful kids who braved coming to my talk. 
Thank-you for your incredible presentation tonight. I was really nervous about coming. And yet I knew it was important.... I'll be thinking about your talk for a long while... forever actually. I mean, you are never really the same again after absorbing all of that very sobering and heart-breaking information. 
I was so proud of you tonight. I feel so wonderfully blessed that you are in this community, my children's lives, and MY life! You have touched our lives in the most important of ways. 
Ah, it was the best of times. 

16 September 2012

Can We Just Get On With the Transformation? Please?


Okay, I'll admit that my nerves are somewhat frayed from a busy week at work and the radiating pain of a pinched nerve in my neck. I might be feeling a little less compassionate and a lot more cynical this week. (Is it just me or do dastardly events pop up in the Middle East region whenever the American president's ratings dip or there's a presidential election coming up? Grrr.)

So this week, I would like to simply ask this. Can we not just get on with the critical transformation we have to make to the Golden Age of Solar and other perpetual energy technologies? Just in the last couple of days, I've received listserve messages that I'm sure have contributed to the pain in my neck! Let me give you a few examples:

"Activists on all sides of the argument can, and do, try to influence the political process. Problems start to arise when scientists jump from saying 'this is how things stand' to 'therefore you should do this.' As soon as they make that jump, they have entered the political process and are expressing a political opinion NOT a scientific one."

WHAT? Scientists who see and can understand what we're doing to the atmosphere and the biosphere (not many of us can actually grasp the processes at work in global warming and climate change) aren't being scientific when they beg, "STOP PUMPING OUT SO MUCH GREENHOUSE GAS"? So it's scientific to understand life, but not scientific to want to safeguard it?

As it is, there aren't enough scientists with guts and holistic vision speaking out at all. To then accuse scientists of being unscientific if they make the logical leap, well, I think we'd better figure out what our priority is. 

This commenter continued:

"Using a national survey, [So and So] has found that, among low-income and low-education respondents, climate scientists suffered damage to their trustworthiness and credibility when they veered from describing science into calling viewers to ask the government to halt global warming. And not only did trust in the messenger fall – even the viewers' belief in the reality of human-caused warming dropped steeply."

I think we'd also find that a lot of "low-income and low-education respondents" are still smoking and don't like wearing their seat belts. Why can't people see that this doesn't matter? Governments should be going ahead and creating the necessary transformation no matter who's on board, no matter who trusts which scientists, and no matter who believes what. 

Every day that we spew another 90 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the long-suffering atmosphere is another day that we're heading in the wrong direction. We can't take those 90 billion tons back! And 20% of that carbon dioxide will still be in the atmosphere 1,000 years from now. So quibbling and squabbling over whether scientists should have an opinion on what to do, oh my gawd! Can we all grow up now please and get on with the transformation?

This line (same commenter) cracked me up:

"At this year's [Such and Such] meeting, the President's address lamented the falling trust in science. If true, that would indeed be a sad state of affairs that society can ill-afford. However, scientists need to reflect as to how much of their own behavior in conflating science with politics may drive that decreasing trust."

What? Falling trust in science is lamentable? No! Falling ability to survive on this planet is lamentable! A sad state of affairs? Can we get our priorities right, puhleeze? A sad state of affairs is the drought that gripped the bread basket agricultural areas of the world this summer! And blaming scientists? Listen, if science shares the blame, it's only because science combined with technology had a hand in getting us into this mess in the first place. The fact that some scientists are trying to make up for this is a good thing, not something to bemoan.

Another commenter (same listserve, different topic) explained that "psychodynamically rooted perspectives concerning the management of anxiety" are equally compelling when it comes to looking at why people do or don't change their behaviour. I'm thinking that governments switching more than $1,000,000,000 (that's $1 billion plus) per year in direct and indirect subsidies that they give to fossil fuel corporations over to new perpetual energy companies – that would be compelling! Talk about behaviour change. Investors like to back a winning horse – and guess who would then have a chance at winning! 

This person (a professor) continued: "What I find is that students consistently are powerfully moved, motivated and impacted by any writings that bring into the frame emotional dimensions – that includes unconscious management of acute anxieties."

Just wait. They are definitely going to be moved, motivated and impacted by the climate change emergency! Think you're seeing "acute anxieties" now? Just wait till the Arctic summer sea ice – the Northern Hemisphere's air conditioner during our growing season – collapses completely if you want to deal with acute anxieties.

I don't know. Is it just me, or is there a lot of talking about bullshit stuff that just DOES NOT MATTER in the face of the climate change emergency? Why are we still sitting around talking about fire safety regulations while the Earth is burning?

Okay, okay, I'll go take a painkiller and a hot bath and see if I can shake my grumpiness. And maybe I should unsubscribe from that listserve for the sake of my blood pressure. But truly, folks, we need to make the swift transformation to the perpetual energy (renewable minus burning) economy yesterday! What is the hold up?

09 September 2012

You CAN Handle the Truth!

You know what? We're in a no-analogue Catch-22. Psychologists tell us not to tell people the full truth about the climate change emergency because they won't be able to handle it and will shut down and not do anything. But if we don't tell people the full truth, they're not going to do anything anyway! I've recently asked readers and friends for advice on how to handle this conundrum. Below is some of the feedback I've received, and then I'll give you my new take on all of this.

Unknown shared this: "I say go ahead and tell the whole truth, don't sugar coat it. You'll get people more scared, but maybe a little fear is what we need -- along with a heaping dose of reality. People are still WAY too self-absorbed, or worried about which celebrity is divorcing who, or which sports team scored higher than another. They need to realize that none of that matters at all, that their world is crumbling around them and they're too blind (or busy watching television) to see it."

So, truth as wake up call! That resonates with me. Unknown finishes with "So bring it on, sister!"

My online friend, David Wilson, concurs with the age-old adage "The truth will set you free." He also brings up an excellent point, told through this anecdote:
"Back in the days of Simon Charlie's Festival of the Sun, there were always people showing up and taking too much of the wrong thing ... bikers on tequila, kids on shrooms, acid, whatever ... and you know, my learning then, which has not changed much over the years, was and is that people get through their freak-outs if someone will just invest the time and energy to talk to them, calmly, openly, compassionately, in a way that lets them know you are not going to up and leave them stranded there."
So I can't just plop the full truth on the table and walk away. I know there's always someone who asks, "What can I do?" as if they haven't been awake for the past 20 years. "Create political will" is not the first thing I'm going to suggest to people like that. But there will have to be hand-holding and hugs. After all, I've been dealing with this bad news for years now. The general public has not. (More on that here.) 

And patients who have just received a terminal diagnosis don't jump into action -- they have to digest the news and grieve a bit first. Then, however, according to my husband-the-doctor, they are ready to jump into action, to do whatever it takes to change their prognosis or prepare for the end.

My husband-the-doctor and I have had many conversations about the psychology of climate change communication. There is just a small handful of psychologists who have driven the don't-tell-the-truth-about-climate-change agenda here in North America (and in the UK, too, I think). We suspect these psychologists weren't alive before World War II, so they haven't witnessed how the people in our culture can rally together when necessary. Nor have they worked in medicine to witness the courage of people who discover they are terminally ill. 


It's not that people (in our culture/society -- it's frustrating when psychologists talk about "people" as though they mean the whole human species when their research has dealt only with Americans; and even there, check out the Yale study Global Warming’s Six Americas) can't handle the truth. It's that people need someone -- their doctor, a Winston Churchill, their president or prime minister, a Climate Reality Project leader, ahem -- to be there for them once they've absorbed the truth.

Furthermore, the truth does need to be the full truth (for example, the history of the denial machine) so that cognitive dissonance doesn't set in. You know, "the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change." In other words, if people finally come to see the urgency of what really needs to happen in the world but still don't see their leaders taking action, that's going to mess with their minds unless they understand all the forces at work to keep us embroiled (pun intended!) in the fossil fuel economy.

And finally, here's my epiphany for the week (keeping in mind that sometimes my epiphanies are things I figured out long ago and then forgot about ;-). When "common knowledge" says that people can't handle the full truth about the climate change emergency, that they'll shut down and become immobilized, there are quite likely two flaws in that thinking. 

First, it's quite possible that the researchers (including the armchair variety) who tell us this are simply projecting their own fears and attitudes onto the rest of us. 

Second, that view of the human spirit forgets that we've really only been taking people to the door to peer in. 
We haven't yet been taking people right in, inviting them to sit down, and introducing them to the emergency in a way that allows them to calmly get to know it.  
We haven't yet asked them to feel deeply the plight of others in more climate-change-vulnerable regions of the world -- or their own country.  
We haven't yet put a box of tissues on the table next to them and encouraged them to cry their pain or sing a song of lament (the lost art in our society of passionately expressing our grief or sorrow) that will surely bubble up once this new knowledge is deeply understood -- and felt.  
And we haven't yet urged the perfectly natural anger that parents will feel once they realize their children's future is literally at risk because we're not willing to make the switch to cleaner, safer, healthier, more peaceful and more equitable perpetual energy technologies. 

So no, unlike Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, we do not have the right to tell our fellow citizens that they can't handle the truth. We've never given them the chance.