28 April 2013


I learned a new expression yesterday. Ho'oponopono. It means "It is also my fault. Please forgive me."

Ho'oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness (Wikipedia). Other South Pacific cultures have similar forgiveness practices. 

I was taken aback when I read that. It's just that it's a concept we don't know or practise here in North America. We're more a "It's all your fault" society. I hope it won't be seen as co-opting a tradition from another culture (that's the furthest thing from my mind), but I'd like Ho'oponopono to become part of my worldview. 

It got me thinking a couple of things. First, I wonder if being able to say "Climate change is also my fault. Please forgive me" would be healing and helpful for the generation of older, mainly Caucasian, folks who, frankly, created the problem. I often think that the older generation stays in denial because it's too hard for them to admit that their luck and timing, their blessed lifestyles, their accumulation of wealth f*cked up the atmosphere.

Next, I started wondering how many other "solutions" to the climate crisis might exist in cultures and languages we know nothing about and have no exposure to. Here's an example. 

"Bahala na" ("I don't care what happens in the future, as long as I survive now") is a Filippino expression that describes an attitude common far beyond that country's borders.

Of course, it doesn't help that our culture affords no legal or economic rights to future generations. Who cares about them (indeed, what have they ever done for me?) as long as my life is comfortable today.

I think that learning that expression helped me become more conscious of my responsibilities to the future, to my legacy (which I don't want to create by default).

So, if you know of an expression or a concept in another language or culture that might give us English speakers some guidance in the movement to safeguard the future from the climate emergency, please share it. We never know what might catch on and be quite helpful in this fight.

21 April 2013

Earth Day Musings 2013

Earth Day Canada poster, 2013
Earth Day 2013 is tomorrow. I used to be a huge fan of Earth Day, organizing events wherever in the world I found myself at the time. But then, I used to be a huge fan of Christmas, too. The sheen has worn off a bit. 

So, as my Earth Day gift to you, here's a selection of random ramblings.


The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. — Joseph Campbell

Ha! How many of us even think in terms of Nature anymore? Years ago, when I was in an ineffective relationship (did I express that delicately?), I read every self-help book about love that I could get my hands on. One author suggested that women should try to match their breathing to the rhythm of their husband's breathing. I tried that (I was desperate!). I nearly suffocated. It was a horrible feeling. The strategy made no sense! But I love the thought of this ... matching my heartbeat to the heartbeat of the universe. The First Nations drumbeat here in Canada is said to be the heartbeat of the world. This Earth Day, let's listen for the heartbeat of the rest of Nature, of this Earth, of our Universe.

Dave Roberts at Grist wrote an article the other day called "None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use." In it, he said, "The notion of 'externalities' has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs."

Roberts goes on to summarize a report by "environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program." The results are shocking, but not a shock.

"Of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated. Ponder that for a moment. None of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable if they were paying their full freight. None!"

People who don't get that we need a radical, transformative, complete revolutionary overhaul of our economic system just don't get it. Paul Hawken (quoted in this article) puts it this way: "We are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP." And we think we're soooooo smart.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA), representing 10,000 ecological scientists, made a recent statement that's quite pertinent. They believe that as the world attempts to recover from the latest financial crisis, there's an opportunity to "rebuild the economy for long-term sustainability. The key, these scientists say, is to take natural capital—ecosystem services such as clean water provisioning—into account.  Because they lack a formal market, many of these natural assets are missing from society's balance sheet and their contributions are often overlooked in public and private decision-making."

The ESA has laid out four strategies for moving towards sustainable economic activity:
  • Create mechanisms to maintain ecosystem services
  • Require full accounting for environmental damage
  • Manage for resilient ecosystems
  • Enhance our capacity to predict the environmental costs of investments
You can read more about their statement here.

A friend who's an investigative reporter made me want to throw up with her latest article. Guess what? You know those tar sands pipelines I've been protesting against? They're a red herring. The "rich people" have been buying up rail capacity and that bitumen is shipping by rail. Needless to say, I'm more than a little miffed that I allowed "them" to "keep the greenies busy in the bushes," as another activist friend used to say. 

Here's a quote from Cory Morningstar's latest piece, in Counterpunch:
Barack Obama is a charismatic smokescreen for the oil industry. Utilizing his charisma, he safeguards his toxic neighbor to the north, Canada, protecting it from US public scrutiny. For its part, Canada has quietly played a vital role in tar sands expansion via rail utilizing the corporation Canadian Natural Resources Ltd board of directors, which includes Gordon D. Griffin, former US Ambassador to Canada (1997-2001), director of CIBC, Transalta Corp., Canadian National Railway, and registered US lobbyist for Nexen Energy Inc., part of Syncrude.
For a moment, try to imagine the progressive greens if this same scenario was unveiling itself under the (Republican) Bush administration. Organizations such as 350.org would be having a field day. Yet, with a Democratic administration and a Black American president in the White House, the dominant left organizations have never found it so easy to protect capitalism and white privilege via strategic discourse. The native peoples who live on much of the poisoned land and endure much suffering, are used for beautiful "Stop KXL!" photo-ops all while oil mining, refineries and fracking continue to flourish and expand at an unprecedented rate. 
An important question that must be asked is this: Why do people continue to believe that NGOs such as 350.org/1Sky that are initiated and funded by Rockefeller Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Ford, Gates, etc. would exist to serve the people rather than the entities that create and fund them? Since when do these powerful entities invest in ventures that will negatively impact their ability to maintain power, privilege and wealth? Indeed, the oligarchs play the "environmental movement" and its mostly well-meaning citizens like a game of cards.


Well, what can I say? Despite a century of Mother's Days, people still abuse their mothers. And despite decades of Earth Days, people still abuse their Mother Earth. So there's not a lot of good news these days, and my ramblings aren't very upbeat. Nevertheless, I hope you can find some time today or on April 22 to contemplate whatever blessings the Earth still affords you. Happy Earth Day, my friends. Let's try to make the Earth happy, shall we? 

14 April 2013

Why Scientists are NOT Saving the World

We (my husband and I) have spent the week at a huge geophysical science conference — thousands upon thousands of scientists who study the non-living aspects of the Earth converged in one place — and only one showed up for a special session to determine whether we have enough evidence to declare that we're in a state of climate change planetary emergency.

Why is that? In Tuesday's conference newsletter, the conference communications officer said, "The life of a scientist is not an easy one. In addition to pushing the boundaries of our knowledge, scientists have the added pressures of applying for grants, enhancing public understanding, teaching, publishing, data-crunching and generally saving the world as they multi-task to the extreme!"

I'm curious about what part of "generally saving the world" equals ignoring the emergency signs (or being unwilling to talk about them) when a bit of synthesis shows so clearly that they exist.

Is it because scientists believe that only governments, or the people they, ahem, represent, can use terms like "dangerous" and "emergency"? That's what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change keeps insisting, saying that it's a value judgement.

In this case, is it because these are not life scientists? That doesn't automatically make them non-life (or worse, anti-life / life-as-nuisance) scientists, does it?

Is it because scientists aren't confident learning or talking about social issues (and they see the global transformation we have to make as primarily a human/social development issue?), the way non-scientists often aren't comfortable in scientific discussions?

Perhaps it's due to the reductionism that keeps constricting ever tighter the higher up the science education ladder you go. Take a look at your average elementary school science curriculum. It includes processes of science, life science, physical science, and Earth and space science. But once you're doing your PhD in "morphodynamics of particulate geophysical flow" or "Earth's inner magnetosphere coupling," you've left a lot of your biology — the study of life — behind.

Is it that we've placed too much confidence in our scientists — and too much responsibility upon them?

This whole thing helped me see that our salvation does not lie with scientists, who have to research, apply for grants, enhance public understanding, teach, publish, and crunch data before they'll ever get around to saving the world. I am no longer in awe. They are simply busy human beings, like the rest of us. 

Scientists do not have a monopoly on world saving, that's for sure. Not that I want to let them off the hook entirely, either. We're all in this together.

p.s. I want to apologize to anyone who has left a legitimate comment recently. I tried "deregulating" who can make a comment and how, but ended up with dozens of spam messages practically overnight. (Spammers, give just a fraction of that time to the climate change fight!) In trying to get rid of the spam, I got rid of several wonderful comments, too. I'm very, very sorry about that, as I have no way of retrieving them. (Ah, the tyranny of the "enter" key.)

07 April 2013

I Experienced It! Visceral Denial! And the Solution is Simple

My best friend and life partner, my husband, is ill. Not with the flu or a cold but with something much scarier, a repeat of an illness that left him crippled with fatigue 12 years ago.

This was unexpected. He's been feeling much better over the last few months, so we thought he was "a new man" if not quite "his old self." But this thing has hit with a vengeance, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. (He's trying to get ready to present his life's work 
on climate change at two upcoming conferences.)

I'm so busy and stressed out and angry trying to keep it together and take care of him and get him to medical appointments that I haven't allowed myself to cry yet. I don't know which way this will go yet, so I've been keeping my reaction all bottled up inside.

But because my husband is a retired doctor, he does have a good clue about what's going on. The other day, he sat me down and tried to explain it all. And that's when I felt it. That's when I finally understood your everyday, garden-variety climate change deniers! I could sense myself glazing over. I could feel myself shutting down. I could see myself doing an interior "La la la, I'm not listening!" When he was done explaining, it was like I had to snap out of a daze — and apologize, because I hadn't heard (or at least, hadn't taken in) what he'd said. 

I started wondering why I can face the climate change emergency with strength, courage and determination, but I couldn't even listen to what's happening with my loved one's health. And then it struck me. 

It's because I haven't cried that I can't hear it, can't let the bad news in. I haven't been willing (or able yet) to "feel" my fear and sadness, therefore I am not willing to countenance the severity of my husband's illness, nor able to think about it or even conceive of it.

So I've had it wrong all these years. I've been thinking that if we could just get people thinking about climate change, learning about it, then they would feel the sadness and therefore get to work on behalf of their children and all future generations. 

It turns out we probably have to help people feel the pain of the realization that we've condemned our children to a future of climate hell, and only then will they be willing to start learning about it and able to start thinking about it rationally.

The other thing that breaking through that emotional, visceral denial does is make it very clear how much of the life we live day to day isn't important. And who the heck wants to face that truth until we've psyched up and it's spiritual spring cleaning time?

I've written about this issue before (see You CAN Handle the Truth!), but I had the order wrong. My thinking now is that we have to help people open to the sadness, lament and grieve, and then tell them the truth about the climate crisis.

Remember that old show, Laugh In? (Okay, some of you are too young to remember it.) You could almost hear the laughter coming out of people's homes up and down the streets of every neighbourhood in North America when that show was on! 

Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc
Maybe it's time to create a new TV show: Cry In. One that will help people get their tears and sadness out so that they're ready to open up to the sad reality of climate change.