29 September 2013

Climate Change Heroes Come in All Sizes

I enjoyed doing something nifty yesterday. I offered a keynote address to a small conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan ... via the internet. Once we got the technology to settle down and behave, it went well and was virtually well-received. 

I went to bed the the night before this presentation still not quite knowing how to structure my talk. The audience was filled with teachers participating in a program called Little Green Thumbs (LGT), an indoor school gardening program available in a handful of Canadian provinces (though I know they'd like to expand within North America; contact LGT here to find out more about becoming a host organization). 

I knew that I wanted to talk to these teachers about climate change, and about the important role they're playing in preparing children for the future we're bequeathing them. But I couldn't quite put my finger on a unifying theme for my talk.

Just as I was drifting off, it came to me: Little Green Thumbs, Big Green Heroes. My subconscious then got me up at 4 am to make sure I was ready for my 12 noon presentation, and I had some fun creating that little green-caped superhero as my motif (with thanks to clipart and the LGT green thumb). 

I began my talk asking why we all chose to become teachers. Perhaps it's because we love children, or we love our subject area. Maybe we loved school when we were kids, or we simply love to teach, period. No matter what the reason, we probably didn't become teachers because we wanted to be heroes.

And yet, any educator who is teaching food growing skills to today's children has become a hero, even if inadvertently. Teachers now shoulder much of the responsibility for preparing children for their climate-changed and carbon-constrained future. It's a responsibility we're not facing, however. Our teaching, from now on, has to be imbued with both compassion and courage ... compassion for our students and their future, and the courage to acknowledge the climate change emergency and that it demands changes in what and how we teach.

Needless to say, the children in Little Green Thumb programs are going to be the food security leaders and heroes of their generation. As I've noted here before, we can't grow food overnight; nor can we learn to grow food overnight. Grown-up Green Thumbs will be the ones ready to take on the food-growing challenges presented by chaotic weather events and changing climatic patterns. 

So here's a salute to the educators — the big green heroes — who recognize the value of teaching "agriculture in the classroom" and who are passing on the vital skills of soil building and food growing.

22 September 2013

Truth and Reconciliation — Past, Present, Future

I've just spent the last few days attending my first meeting of the British Columbia Teachers Federation Committee for Action on Social Justice (it's so cool that my union values social justice), as an environmental justice representative. 

Our meeting coincided with the Truth and Reconciliation events being held here in Vancouver, and so we spent a day there, taking in the Education Day events.

Stories of the abuses that happened in Canada's "Indian" residential schools are harrowing. It's frightening to learn what Canada and its religious institutions did to 150,000 First Nations children who were stolen from their parents. We all need to serve as witnesses and acknowledge this horrifying legacy — and the intergenerational pain and dysfunction it has caused in many families and communities. Part of the pain, and the perpetuation of this pain, has been the denial that these things ever happened.

But the student events that I attended were filled with hope and healing. I started wondering about the right age for children to learn the history of residential schools ... and global climate change. Here's what I realized.

We can and must tell children about the residential school legacy (even though a new First Nations friend was called a liar when he presented this truth during a workshop a few months ago). It's something that happened in the past. And through acknowledgement, witnessing, listening and hearing, we can contribute to reconciliation. 

But how do we tell children about something abusive and harrowing that's happening to their planet right now, something that's killing their future? Something they just can't fix. What do we tell them? There's no hug, no comfort, no witnessing, no reconciliation in the world big enough to make this right for the children as long as we adults remain in denial and disaction.

That's the truth.

15 September 2013

Making Sense of the Senseless

I have been struggling this week, first with the whole "We have to invade another Middle Eastern country and bomb the hell out of its people in order to save them" schtick from the US. And then with the whole question of Al Qaeda and why they always seem to "pop up" whenever the US needs something, uh, done.

I don't know about you, but I don't really believe anything I read these days. I always "triangulate" and dig deep to get information from lots of different sources, including mainstream media as well as alternative/independent media. I then use my critical thinking skills, my memory, more research, and my healthy leaning toward conspiracy theory and suspicion to try to figure out what's really happening.

Most people either don't have or don't bother to take the time to do this kind of searching. But as I've admitted to you before (somewhere on this years-old blog), I sat idly by, ignoring what we did to Libya, and cried for weeks afterwards with the guilt and sadness. I can't sit idly by as Obama and whatever lackeys he can muster up (can you say John Kerry?) keep fabricating a need to invade a country THAT HAS DONE NOTHING TO THE UNITED STATES. Except sit on its own oil. (Reminds me of a bumper sticker: "How did our oil get under their sand?")

So, question 1:

Is it possible that Bush Jr's horrible ratings in August 2001 had anything to do with, well, you-know-what in September of that same year? You know, Al Qaeda to the rescue? (Bit of a jump in ratings, eh, in late September of 2011?)

Question 2: 

When the UN's Sergio Vieira de Mello was about to make a speech in Baghdad denouncing American imperialism in Iraq, BLAM! the UN compound was blown up and "Sergio" was killed. Al Qaeda took credit for the bomb blast. Any connection or just sheer coincidence?

Question 3: 

The US wants Syria taken down. (After all, it's in the RAND Corporation's Middle Eastern domino plan.) But people are kind of leery after Iraq and Libya. So suddenly the Assad "regime" is allegedly using chemical weapons against its own people. Except that lots of witnesses are saying that the chemical weapons were delivered by Al Qaeda to the American bought-and-paid-for rebels. Jihadists-on-the-spot, or what?

Anyway, I'm just trying to make sense of it all. If we can't get past these horrific pissing contests, dangerous war games and expensive military invasions, there's no hope of ever coming to a global solution to the global problem of climate disruption.

STOP PRESSES! I just read this quote in a friend's blog and it explains everything!
"If you break it, you own it." — Colin Powell, retired four-star general in the US Army
See? The US goes around breaking things, so it can own them! I totally get it now.

08 September 2013

The Compassion Games Start Soon!

Those of you who enjoy TED Talks will know that the TED Prize is the granting of a wish. A big wish! In 2008, Karen Armstrong, a religious scholar, won the TED Prize and her wish was to create a Charter for Compassion. 

She asked TED and its audiences to help her with "the creation, launch, and propagation of a Charter for Compassion — crafted by a group of inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule." Here is Karen Armstrong's rationale:
[I]t is an arresting fact that right across the board, in every single one of the major world faiths, compassion — the ability to feel with the other ... — is not only the test of any true religiosity, it is also what will bring us into the presence of what Jews, Christians and Muslims call "God" or the "Divine." 
It is compassion, says the Buddha, which brings you to Nirvana. Why? Because in compassion, when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. And once we get rid of ego, then we're ready to see the Divine. And, in particular, every single one of the major traditions has highlighted — has said, has put at the core of their tradition — what's become known as the Golden Rule. 
First propounded by Confucius five centuries before Christ, "Do not do unto others what you would not like them to do to you." That, he said, was the central thread that ran through all his teaching and that his disciples should put into practice all day and every day. And it was the Golden Rule would bring them to the transcendent value that he called rén, human-heartedness, which was a transcendent experience in itself.

You can affirm the Charter yourself on the website, taking "the first step in a global movement that can change the world. By listening, understanding and treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves, we can reset compassion as the cornerstone of a just economy and a peaceful world."

This blog has looked at compassionate climate action from many different perspectives and through many lenses. It has even worked hard (at times) to be compassionate towards those who seem hell-bent on destroying the biosphere, because, as Dr. Stan Goldberg explains in The Fear of Change, "most [of their rantings] are expressions of loss that are as significant to social conservatives as the losses are to the disabled or those coming to terms with the end of their life."
And what is being challenged is not just an isolated behavior or value, it's usually something integral to their identity; something that has given meaning to a lifetime of actions and beliefs. Social conservatives are not just being asked to "do the right thing" because it's moral. They are being asked to abandon belief systems that have served as the foundation for their personality....

So, today, as a compassion tune-up for myself and for any readers who want to have some compassionate fun, I'd like to tell you about the Compassion Games, a global "coopetition" where community members "compete with and not against each other to bring out their very best while striving to make their community more compassionate ... where genuine altruism becomes the norm." Their motto is "Survival of the Kindest" (which, in a sense, is ecologically correct).

The Compassion Games run from September 11 to 21 each year (the start date having special meaning in the United States). They're "designed to help heal and inspire, making our community a safer, kinder, more just and better place to live." 

IKT: Compassion Games
International Kindness Team
You can perform a Random Act of Kindness, or become a Secret Agent of Compassion and receive a secret mission for each of the eleven days. You can participate in Service Projects, report on your compassionate acts, and then celebrate with the rest of the online community. I think I'm going to encourage my students to get involved!


With that, I would like to send out a prayer for peace and compassion in and towards the Middle East, especially Syria — with a heartfelt request that people not jump to accept any conclusions coming from those who stand to gain much from destabilizing yet another stable government in that fossil fuel-rich yet beleaguered part of the world.

01 September 2013

"The Death Orientation that Stares at Us from Our Plates"

I'm going to be attending and emceeing a presentation tonight by Dr. Will Tuttle on his bestselling book, The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social HarmonyI think what I'm really looking forward to is a sort of "darshan"— being in the presence of one who is enlightened. Never has a book taken me on such a voyage of discovery and on such a roller coaster ride of emotions! This former Zen Buddhist monk has articulately synthesized ideas I've been wondering about for years.

  • Why is there so much cruelty and violence in our human world?
  • Where does "man's inhumanity to man" — and to nonhuman animals — come from?
  • Why do we think we're so much better than other animals?
  • Why can people (in our society) love their pets so much but then slap a hunk of a lamb, a pig, a chicken or a steer on their plates and eat it without ever making (seeing, feeling) the connection?
  • Beyond the greenhouse gas toll of industrialized meat processing, what (and who) else suffers because of our meat-based diet?

Dr. Tuttle explains all that and more. I'm not going to tell you too much because I wouldn't do it justice and I want you to buy (or borrow) the book and read it. Really take it in. And, every chapter or two, slam the book shut and sob and sob and sob at the unspeakable atrocities committed (at least in our society) so that people can have their hunk of flesh and eat it too.

But let me leave you with a couple of "big ideas" from Will Tuttle. 

The first is that the move to the herding of large mammals about 10,000 years ago was the start of it all, including the beginnings of raging capitalism (which is bringing not just the natural world but human civilization to its knees):
"In fact, our word 'capital' derives from capita, Latin for 'head,' as in head of cattle or sheep. The first capitalists were the herders who fought each other for land and capital and created the first kingdoms, complete with slavery, regular warfare, and power concentrated in the hands of a wealthy cattle-owning elite.... By commodifying and enslaving large, powerful animals, the ancient progenitors of Western culture established a basic mythos and worldview that still lives today at the heart of our culture." (pp. 18-19)
The second point is something that is making people laugh when I share it with them. And sometimes laughter creates a beeline to the heart and soul, so that people can really hear something their mind doesn't want to listen to. 

Hmmm, I just found the passage back on pp. 67-68 and it's rather graphic to quote here for you. Anyway, here's the gist: Lots of people think that we're "meant" to eat the flesh and secretions of other animals, that it's perfectly natural for us to eat meat and "dairy" products. So here's a question: Could you, using no implements, just your body (with your tiny mouth, dull teeth, delicate skin and no claws) hunt down a deer? Kill it with your teeth, rip it apart and eat it? 

Okay, here's another question: If we were meant to drink the milk designed for calves, then shouldn't we be able to walk past the bull, kick that calf out of the way, and then slide underneath the cow to suckle at her teat without getting kicked or stomped on?

For 30 years I was a vegetarian who considered cheese and eggs to be "gifts" from the animals. But gifts are freely given. Choosing a vegan diet three years ago (for environmental reasons, but also because all my talk of compassion was no longer squaring with my diet) has allowed me to truly see what's going on in this world. Otherwise, I would still be stuck in my own herder mentality. 

May the "spiritual health" and "social harmony" of Dr. Will Tuttle's book, The World Peace Diet, come true in time for compassion to save the future for the children ... of all species.

Is anyone else weirded out by the fact
that our culture eats
the children of other animals?