24 February 2013

Before You Sink It, You Have to Drink It

George Kerr swimming in Burlington Bay, 1975
Today's post might seem a bit more convoluted than usual, but stick with me and let's see if I can make it make sense to you.

I've experienced several "convergences" lately: readings and meetings and thoughts and memories all intersecting, and I'm trying to focus in on that point of intersection ... is there a message waiting there for me?

First, I started reading Joseph Romm's Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga. It's a fascinating look at rhetoric, "the art of influencing both the hearts and the minds of listeners" and "the art of being pithy and profound." And besides being quite a readable book, it's also explaining the mysteries of American politics to me, a Canadian.

I've discovered that without knowing it, I often use rhetorical "figures of speech" in my writing. (Irony is one of them, and isn't it ironic that I use figures of speech in my writing?) 

But rhetoric, which was first honed by the ancient Greeks, and then studied intensively by the likes of Shakespeare and the King James translators of the Bible, was meant for listening audiences; widespread literacy is a fairly recent phenomenon. Indeed, there's this line on the title page of the 1611 edition of the King James Bible: "Appointed to be read in churches."

I sense that it's going to be rather fun and intriguing to use rhetoric more consciously and deliberately, and hence more effectively. (And that is another figure: foreshadowing.)

Second, we had a lovely visit with our youngest son yesterday. He's a thinker, that one! He reminded us that the only way enviros are going to win the day is to join in the economic fray. In other words, we haven't beat 'em, so we need to join 'em. 

Money makes the world go around, he reiterated. Young people with mortgages to pay and kids to feed will only pay attention if we can say, "Here's a secure job with good pay in the renewable energy field — and it happens to be much better for the environment." And older people whose investments are propping up the fossil fuel industries will only make the switch when we can say, "Here's a secure investment with good payback in the renewable energy field — and it happens to be much better for the environment." 

Yup, our son says, it's our job to make that transition to clean jobs and investments happen — and then to effectively communicate the opportunity.

Third, I've been horrified by the gigantuan (a mixture of gigantic and gargantuan ... doesn't get any bigger than that) backwards step we're taking with our move into fracking to satisfy our addiction to cheap energy. Punish them, Father, for they know what they do. 

I don't know who these people are (I guess I just don't hang out with frackers), though they're certainly being supported by governments at all levels who are salivatingly rubbing their hands together at the thought of LNG (liquefied natural gas) royalties bringing all sorts of wealth to their jurisdictions. ("Environmental assessment? We don't need no environmental assessment. Besides, didn't we lay those assessor guys off?") 

But I do know this: it is the height of stupidity, brainlessness (fossil fuel emissions are neurotoxins, after all) and immorality to allow fracking when we know its devastating consequences — to human and ecosystem health, to the climate, to the future. 

And finally, my horror at what fracking is doing to fresh water reserves* reminded me of something that happened in my hometown when I was growing up. We lived in Burlington, Ontario, next to the Pittsburgh of Canada: Hamilton, aka Steeltown. 

Burlington Bay was becoming terribly polluted and our provincial environment minister at the time, George Kerr, pledged in 1970 that the bay would be clean enough to swim in within five years. Well, Mr. Kerr took the plunge in 1975, bless him! He later admitted that the water wasn't clean enough to swim in, but he wanted to keep his promise (in a fishy sort of way). 

And so ... I've come up with a way to ensure that frackers don't get away with slow murder. If they want to make money from fracking, if they want to use the fresh water that belongs to all living things, and if they want to steal from the commons for their own profit, they should have to purify their fracking waste water — AND THEN DRINK IT

"Take a cup and drink it up" says an old nursery rhyme. Yup, if these folks want to put our health, our agricultural food security, and our future right to fresh water at risk, then they ought to take on some of the risk themselves. No? 

(One commenter on a blog post about the health risks of fracking goes one step further: "It would serve the fracking bastards right to have to live immersed in the crap they expect us to swallow while they reap the profits.")

So here's my dilemma. You've heard the Republican refrain Drill, Baby, Drill. How do we create a slogan just as short and pithy that will help the public "get" the dangers of fracking? I've been working on this for hours, and here's all I've come up with. 

Fracking water
What's that stink?
Fill your cup
And take a drink!

But it should be even shorter and pithier than that. 

Before you sink it,
You have to drink it.

No, that's not specific enough. Help!!! All you wordcrafters and rhetoricians, please sharpen your pencils and give me a hand. This ought to be one no-brainer fight we can win.

*from The Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch: "In the fracking process, millions of gallons of water, with some sand and a secret mix of chemicals mixed in, are blasted into shale formations deep underground to break up the rock and release the oil and gas trapped in it. About 15 to 25 percent of that tainted water comes back up. After oil and gas production begins, another liquid is produced. It is briny and often laced with metals, including radium, that occur naturally deep underground."

17 February 2013

Forget Climate Chaos ... Our Governments Are Out to Get Us First

British Columbia premier:
"Um, liquefied natural gas ...
you can drink that stuff, right?"
Have you noticed that those thin lines between paranoia, conspiracy theory and reality are becoming thinner all the time? 

I used to think of conspiracy theory as a fun but purely recreational "critical thinking" activity, one that perhaps sometimes leaned too far over into "creative thinking." 

But you know, that innocence died when George W. Bush watched as millions and millions of people, the world over, begged him to leave Iraq alone, and then he illegally invaded that beleaguered (and 9/11-innocent) country anyway. That was the moment I realized that the world had become nothing more than a stage for the obscenely rich and the mean-spirited multinational corporations (don't tell me they're amoral) to play out their brutish games.

A week ago I noticed that my province's ministry of education removed ecological literacy from its list of competencies that we want our students to graduate with. They completely "disappeared" anything about the environment, Nature, being a good eco-citizen. (Digital literacy, on the other hand, now figures prominently.) I was confused. Was I missing a page or what? 

Then, a few days ago, it all became very clear when we got the throne speech from our unelected premier. It was all about how LNG (liquid natural gas) exports will "disappear" our provincial debt. Hey, we don't want our schoolchildren understanding why putting profits before life might "disappear" their future, now do we? How sickeningly blatant. Completely stinks.

Yesterday, we heard from a professor friend whose research is being confiscated by his national government ... research that shows how perilously close we are to a climate change tipping point. The only other people who had access to his data have died recently. (Doodoo doodoo. That ran chills down my back.)

Today, I saw this:

Yes, in Canada, if you stand peacefully at a pipeline protest, you are "attacking" our prime minister's oil and gas cronies as they "innocently" go about their business of destroying our land, our air, our waters — and our future. If you do the same in Washington, they'll haul you away in handcuffs.

The ruthless corporate-owned sociopaths (isn't that the definition of fascists?) are winning and I, for one, am sorely afraid. But I'm also angry, and I hope that my anger will provide me the courage I'm going to need (indeed, that I already need) to keep defending the rights of today's children and of future generations to a planet that is viable.

You know what oil and gas and coal companies and governments at all levels who don't give a shit about life? Damn you. DAMN YOU! My gawd, I am so sick of pussyfooting around, giving you bastards the benefit of the doubt. You're all freaking stupid (you cannot eat oil, gas and coal) and evil (when progenycide becomes a crime, you'll be first in line to be tried). My. Gloves. Are. Coming. Off.

10 February 2013

Talk, Talk, Talk ... Scream!

When I lived in the city or the suburbs, I often found myself standing in a line up, waiting. Waiting. Waiting for a clerk or a cashier or somebody. I used to stand there in line, with my groceries or whatever, getting more and more fed up, until finally I'd picture myself taking a running leap, jumping up on the counter, and singing at the top of my lungs: "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT. NO, WE AIN'T GONNA TAKE IT. WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!" (Sing it with me.)

Well, once again I find myself waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for the folks in power to quit kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry. Waiting for our solutions to start coming close to the enormity and gravity of the problem. Waiting for others in my community to even "get" that climate change is worth talking about, let alone the fact that we're in a climate change emergency situation.  

I attended a community event yesterday on social innovation. Now, right away that sounds all warm and fuzzy and fun. And the day was good. Three guest speakers gave many examples of social innovation and enterprise, in Toronto and Italy, Spain and Peru, Winnipeg and Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and nearby. In each case, the innovation, creativity and commitment to problem solving grew out of a crisis or a challenge (the SARS epidemic in Toronto, the shut down of the mining industry in Cape Breton, etc.), but in my neck of the woods, we're not feeling any crises or challenges. We're doing just fine, thanks. Climate change? What climate change?

Once again, I came home sad. Ready to scream, really. Ready to clunk heads together, in fact. We talked and talked and talked, about collaborating and innovating and creating social enterprises — but with no sense of actual commitment and definitely not even a hint of urgency. 

I don't think that it was sour grapes (or hurt feelings) for me that my suggestion to grow hemp and create value-added hemp products just plopped on the table. There seemed to be no interest in food growing and food production as social enterprises — even though growing more food here would make us (slightly) less vulnerable to the (initial) ravages of a chaotic climate.  

And so, once again, I picture myself taking a running leap, jumping up on a table at an event like this, and screaming "I'M NOT GONNA TAKE IT. NO, I AIN'T GONNA TAKE IT. I'M NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!"

Twisted Sister, We're Not Gonna Take It

03 February 2013

New (and Random) Thoughts on the Fate of the World

Ever had this happen to you? You have a chunk of time to do whatever you want with, but you have so many choices that you're immobilized and can't decide what to do? Or you're presented with a blank canvass (or empty page or screen) but the number of things you could paint (or write) about is so overwhelmingly large that you get painter's/writer's block? The same can happen with a simple To Do list if the list is too long.

Sometimes that's what climate change action (and writing about it) feels like. The range of options is too broad — how does one choose?

So today, I'm not choosing. Here's a potpourri of all the ideas that have been running through my head this past week.

1. How might climate change affect seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? I'm desperately seeking relief from our long, wet, dreary winters, but I'm not sure I like the alternative (longer, wetter, drearier winters?). Chugging back the vitamin D (at least 2000 IUs per day) usually does the trick for me (I figure it's not the sun I'm craving so much as the healthfulness of its rays), but heaven forbid I should miss a day or two. Talk about immobilized. (And weeping ... it's embarrassing!)

2. Thich Nhat Hanh once said, "Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future." It's both a reminder to stop and smell the roses (climate change activism needn't be a hair-shirted existence), and a prod to reflection ... Oh my gosh, what will happen to all the Brits (my husband included) if we ever lose our access to tea? They'll all become immobilized (with TAD - tea affective disorder)! 

According to the Ethical Tea Partnership, "climate change as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity is one of the biggest threats to sustainable agriculture. Because tea is primarily a rain-fed crop, tea production will be particularly affected unless early efforts are made to help farmers adapt." They go on to say that a change in climate will lead to the following adverse effects:

  • Unpredictable rainfall patterns
  • Delayed rain and drought
  • Destructive rain including flooding and soil erosion (especially on steep contoured sites)
  • Warmer temperatures and scorching effects on crops
  • Increased instances of pests and disease
  • Strong destructive winds and gales

Is it even possible to adapt to changes like these? Let's not give up on rapid and urgent mitigation, folks. 

3. The Grist's Dave Roberts (drgrist) said this week: "The assumption that humans will be okay — basically get through anything — is extremely deep-rooted, beyond the reach of reason." I've written before that it seems human beings can't picture a world without our species in it, so it's nigh on impossible for us to consider the annihilation we're guaranteeing with the 90 millions tons of greenhouse gas pollution we're pumping out each day. Nor do we take the time to bother with the notion that we're taking down millions of other species with us! 

Aaaargh, sometimes it seems we're just a selfish, self-centred species society. Damn you, Adam Smith and your economic self-interest. Why didn't you get famous for your views on ethics, charity, and The Theory of Moral Sentiments instead? The world would be a different place! Smith wrote:
"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it."
Nowadays, we could substitute "survival" for "fortune" ... but it wouldn't ring true. In our EuroAmerican culture, we just don't seem to be able to draw happiness from the survival of others enough to want to ensure their survival — and thereby our own.

4. I was reminded of drgrist when I read a comment from someone on the economic development committee that people are working on in my and neighbouring communities. He said (and it's possible I'm taking this out of context), "Given that this is not an armageddon senario, rather a gradual decline in services and therefore expectations ..." and then he went on to suggest that we examine "just how vulnerable our lifestyles are ... in terms of emergencies, or better still, crises." 

He runs through a whole list of possible emergencies and crises (including "significant weather disruption"), but doesn't mention climate chaos. He acknowledges our food insecurity (although the oft-quoted 3-5 days' worth of food is likely closer to 3-5 hours of food because it flies off the shelves in an emergency, when Adam Smith and hoarding kick in), but doesn't speak to the impacts climate change will have is having on agriculture. 

Is it just me, or does it seem that people are afraid to ring the alarm? This isn't going to come as "gradual decline" — it's going to happen like the pond scum allegory. One year we'll be talking with folks at the grocery store about the rising price of food, and the next year we'll be facing food shortages. 

5. Maybe it's all an issue of time scales.

6. My husband sent me the following trailer. It's the first time I've ever been intrigued by a video game. I wonder if people might be willing and able to ponder the imponderable through gaming. Have a look. What do you think?