11 November 2018

Birds of a Feather Don't Necessarily Flock Together ... A Lesson for Us Humans

Am I the only person who's ever gone birdwatching without binoculars? I managed to pull that stunt this past week when I joined a small group of bird lovers from my community as we went on a field trip to a nearby area famous for its huge flocks of birds at migration time.

We met up with an equal number of host field naturalists and set out on foot to our first birding stop of the day. There, on the ocean in a bay not far from the shore, were hundreds of ducks and gulls paddling about. From a distance, they were all just ducks and gulls to me. But when I got the opportunity to look through someone's scope, I could see that there were several different species!

The best identifier among us spotted huge flocks of American wigeon, northern pintail and some northern shoveler and mallard. The gulls included glaucous-winged, Icelandic (aka Thayer’s), mew and a California. In the distance were many bufflehead, greater scaup, a dozen or more western grebes and horned grebes, along with the usual cormorants, common loon, and great blue herons.

All. swimming. together. 

Are you seeing where I'm going with this? 

As social discourse grows more and more brutish south of the border, I find myself panicking at the thought of how we're all going to "be" with each other as the climate change $#@! hits the fan more often and more extremely. (My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones and beloved homes in the northern California fires this week.) 

A 2015 book by Wen Stephenson showed up in our home this week. It's called What We're Fighting for Now is Each Other. What an evocative title! But it's true ... or at least we ought to be fighting for each other's survival now — and certainly the children's.

Barack Obama said recently, "The character of our [i.e., his] country is on the ballot." On the ballot, and in presidential tweets, and on Fox News, and spattered all over the walls of the scene of another mass shooting in the "Greatest Nation on Earth." (My heart is also going out to all those who lost loved ones to the latest the-NRA-doesn't-believe-in-background-checks-for-people-with-mental-illness-and-a-history-of-violence gun incident, this time in a California bar.)

Folks, if we don't learn FAST how to live together in peace (or at least disinterest, like the ducks), how to support others when they're down so they'll support us when we're down, how to live by the Golden Rule when the world is falling apart around us, well, we can kiss resilience goodbye. 

We need to flock together, whatever the colour of our feathers. Hey, if several species of waterfowl can do it, then why can't we?

04 November 2018

Declaring—and Advertising—the Climate Change Emergency Closer to Home

Did that get our attention? Back in 2014, for a Climate Emergency Countdown, I wrote:
... And in every way we can think of, let's urge all government representatives and negotiators at UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Climate Summit 2014: Catalyzing Action to declare the emergency.

Once governments declare that we are "beyond dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), things will start to happen. This declaration would be an automatic trigger for the bureaucrats who work underneath politicians and within governments to start working on climate change solutions. Scientists say that determining whether climate change is an emergency is a value judgement that society must make. So let's make it! We're society. Let's get the CLIMATE EMERGENCY DECLARED!
Have we? No. Every time I (metaphorically) come running from my burning house, stumbling through the smoke and blaze with my beloveds (and my laptop, if I'm lucky), I find a ring of firefighters sitting on the front lawn in lawn chairs, discussing the need for more study of fire safety rules. Although I remember that they did publish another report on more serious fire safety rules just a few weeks ago, so things are looking up (or down?).
And among the lookie-loos on the street are those who say, "Fire? There's no fire at my house, so I don't believe in housefires." The more erudite and learned among the deniers will point to my house and say, "Sure, your livingroom's got some smoke and flames coming out of it, but look at your kitchen windows. Nothing. You're cherrypicking the data and exaggerating the risk." Ah heck, they're probably afraid the burnt-out shell of my house will lower their property values. Or they just can't face the possibility that a house fire can happen to anyone with a house.
Well, there's a sort of solution to the lack of global and national urgency on the climate crisis front. Municipalities are declaring the climate change emergency and doing what they can locally. Let's hear it for:
  • Oakland​, USA
  • Berkeley, USA ​
  • Byron Shire Council, Australia 
  • Darebin, Australia
  • Colorado Democrats
  • Richmond, USA​
  • Montgomery County, USA
We'll see if Tuesday's election in the United States brings more attention and voice to the issue, state-wide and federally. 

Near my home in Canada, we're working to have two local cities declare the climate change emergency. The Climate Mobilization offers a city-by-city campaign toolkit. We all live somewhere with some sort of local governing body, so this is something we can all do!

Here in BC, one of the province's best-known and loved environmentalists, Guy Dauncey, has launched The November Offensive in which he asks British Columbians to write to the province's governing (NDP and Green Party) MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) to ask that 12 policy requests (inspired by the urgency of the IPCC's special 1.5ºC report) be included in BC's upcoming new climate action plan.
"The second goal is that people will step forward to seek a meeting with their MLA, to impress the same urgency and solutions in person. The concise, specific, actionable request is that the MLA you meet with will convey your concerns, hopes and recommended 12 Actions in person to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and to the Premier of BC."
"Actionable." If people want action on the climate change emergency, they have to TAKE ACTION. Which leads me to ....
Finally, I'm just reading The Climate Truth, an essay by Climate Reality presenter and psychologist, Dr. Joe Silverman. In it, he almost agrees with my take on cognitive dissonance:
"In some ways, action on climate change seems caught in a Catch-22. Politicians don't act because the voting public does not demand it. And much of the public is not fully engaged on the issue because their individual actions are a drop in the bucket that will do little to solve the problem."
(To me, the problem is that politicians are waiting for the public to demand climate action, but the public is waiting for politicians to take the lead and tell them it's urgent.) 
Dr. Silverman suggests that what's been missing in climate change problem-solving is "the need for engaging and motivating the public on this issue using a multi-dimensional [and, I would add, multi-media] publicity campaign." 
He's calling for a Climate Truth Campaign. "Despite all the efforts to communicate the urgency of global warming, this approach [a publicity campaign on the climate crisis] has never been tried" [his emphasis].
 "Advertising routinely sells the public on a number of unhealthy products (e.g., drinking soda, eating junk food), so perhaps it's not unreasonable to think that an advertising model could 'sell' a message about a healthy environment and sustainable future."
Give his essay a read. His idea is something that we can all contribute to and get going on, whether on/in local media or further from home.

We can't wait any longer for our elected officials to declare the climate change emergency. Many of them have only one aim, and that's to get re-elected. 

So let's declare the climate change emergency ourselves, in every possible media available to us. Let's do a GoFundMe®, a Kickstarter, an Indiegogo campaign, or just pass the hat at local events to raise funds.
And then, let's advertise it! 
Let's tell the world in, as Joe Silverman recommends, short, vivid, eye-catching, visual ways (even on radio!) that we're in a climate change emergency, and we all have to wake up, get out of the burning house, and start hosing it down together!

28 October 2018

Another Compassion Tune-Up: OneRepublic's Truth to Power

Heartsick, by Banksy
I just don't have it in me today to write a blog post. I am so saddened and horrified by the utter lack of empathy, compassion and simple human decency I'm witnessing more and more in social media comments. It's like a tidal wave of ignorance and scientific illiteracy is crashing over a shore of totally not giving a shit about anywhere or anyone else. I am heartsick and despondent.

So instead, I'll leave you with OneRepublic's Truth to Power, which powered the 2017 sequel to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, in which "he pursues the inspirational idea that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion." Like I try to explain to people, this is the most exciting time ever to be alive.

Folks, if you want to do something besides feel bad, do this:
Help create the political will to stop direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industries (bam! investment will move over to renewable energy technologies — and isn't it time for fossil fuel energy to stand on its own to feet ... or remain in the ground?) Write, phone, email, fax or visit your elected officials.
Tell your government to get your country's carbon emission targets in line with the IPCC's special report on limiting warming to 1.5ºC before the next big climate conference (COP24 in Poland), which might *possibly* help us avoid cataclysmic climate chaos (a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030; that will get us on our way to zero carbon by mid-century, but we have to start NOW!)
Lyrics below.

Truth to Power
by Ryan B Tedder / T Bone Burnett

I could tell you I was fragile
I could tell you I was weak
I could write you out a letter
To tell you anything you need
I've seen minutes turn to hours
Hours turn to years
And I've seen truth turn to power
If you could see me the way I see you
If you could feel me the way I feel you
You'd be a believer
You'd be a believer
Minutes turn to hours
Hours turn to years
And I've seen truth turn to power

I could tell you I was ageless
But I know you see the light
I could tell you I'm immune to everything
But that's a lie
Dust don't turn to flowers
Skies don't disappear
But I've seen truth turn to power
Oh, if you could see me the way I see you
If you could feel me the way I feel you
You'd be a believer (believer)
You'd be a believer (believer)
You'd be a believer (believer)
You'd be a believer (believer)
Hard to keep goin' on (hard to keep goin' on)
I said it's hard to keep goin' on (hard to keep goin' on)
It's hard to keep goin' on (hard to keep goin' on)

If you could see me the way I see you
If you could feel me the way I feel you
You'd be a believer
You'd be a believer
You'd be a believer
Be a believer
Be a believer (believer)
You'd be (be a believer)

Minutes turn to hours
Hours turn to years
And I've seen truth turn to power

21 October 2018

A Compassion Tune-Up: Pat Benetar's Invincible

It's been a long time since I shared a song that's really impacted me. When my hubby played this blast from the past (well, the 80s) the other night, it really struck me that we've condemned younger generations to a future of fighting. "We can't afford to be innocent. Stand up and face the enemy. It's a do or die situation. We will be invincible." That's the verse that really got me. Cuz it is a do or die situation. And they won't be invincible unless we're doing a lot more today to ensure it.

Then this: "We've got the right to be angry. What are we running for? When there's no where we can run to anymore." Too true. And tragic.

Have a listen. The lyrics are below.

by Holly Knight and Simon Climie

This bloody road remains a mystery
This sudden darkness fills the air
What are we waiting for?
Won't anybody help us?
What are we waiting for?

We can't afford to be innocent
Stand up and face the enemy
It's a do or die situation
We will be invincible

This shattered dream you cannot justify
We're gonna scream until we're satisfied
What are we running for?
We've got the right to be angry
What are we running for?
When there's no where we can run to anymore

We can't afford to be innocent
Stand up and face the enemy
It's a do or die situation
We will be invincible
And with the power of conviction
There is no sacrifice
It's a do or die situation
We will be invincible

Won't anybody help us?
What are we running for?
When there's no where, no where we can run to anymore

We can't afford to be innocent
Stand up and face the enemy
It's a do or die situation
We will be invincible

And with the power of conviction
There is no sacrifice
It's a do or die situation
We will be invincible

Yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah

We can't afford to be innocent (yeah)
Stand up and face the enemy (yeah)
It's a do or die situation 
We will be invincible

We can't afford to be innocent
Stand up and face the enemy ....

14 October 2018

All Sorts of Reactions to the IPCC 1.5ºC Report — Except the Right One

If I don't talk this week about last Sunday's release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Global Warming of 1.5ºC Report, I could possibly be the only armchair pundit who doesn't. So I will, but only to let you know my thoughts and feelings about the reaction to the report.

Although I live in the bubble of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and enviro activists, it was impossible not to hear President T**** admit that he hadn't looked at it. "It was given to me. And I want to look at who drew it. You know, which group drew it. I can give you reports that are fabulous and I can give you reports that aren't so good," he said. I wonder where he gets his "fabulous" reports from. 

(This report was prepared by over 90 scientists from 40 countries who synthesized over 6,000 scientific references. It was then approved by all the governments in the world, although I heard from someone who was there that the US and Saudi Arabia and a handful of other countries threw up lots of roadblocks to that approval.)

Unlike their president, Republican politicians in the United States did have opinions — fatuous though they were. As reported by the Huffington Post, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said, "They might as well be calling on me to sprout wings and fly to Canada for the summer," and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said of the actions urged by the report: "It's totally unrealistic. They must have parachuted in from another planet. There's not enough money in the world to pay for that. That's the problem with the UN that they come up with these policy ideas that are just 'La La Land.'" 

And yet President T**** is bragging these days (at the La La Land UN) that he just upped the US military budget to over $700 billion, an increase of 10%. So there's money enough for threatening, invading, killing, maiming, and destroying, but not for safeguarding life. Funny that.

Oh, and let's not forget the $5.3 trillion (TRILLION!) in direct and indirect subsidies that we taxpayers give to fossil fuel corporations every year. So there's money enough for coal, oil, gas, pollution, but not for the renewable energy technologies that could safeguard life. Funny that.

But I found the hardest part of this week were the responses of ordinary people like you and me who understand the climate crisis, who care about the climate crisis, who would perhaps call themselves climate change activists, but who are taking this report as a signal to stand down. I can't believe how many are giving up. Guy McPherson is in vogue again with his abrupt climate change "It's too late" message, so "live, love, and aim for excellence" (as one online commenter suggested to me). (By the way, there's nothing "abrupt" about this. We've known about it since at least the 1800s.)

Well, NO, damn it! I'm not giving up or giving in. I don't want to live excellently; I want my niece and all the beloved kids in my life to live, period. If we're going down, I want to go down swinging. I am going to carry on believing in the possibility of miracles through imagination and creative problem solving. I'm going to keep believing in the power of love and compassion to show our leaders that their own offspring will be impacted. I'm going to keep trying to teach ecological literacy and connecting with the rest of Nature. I'm going to keep seeing the potential for a return to simpler ways and a huge global race to zero carbon. Until my last breath. 

I believe that's the right reaction to the IPCC's 1.5ºC Report. For the sake of all the children, of all species, for all time.

p.s. I liked this article: Do we need an IPCC special report for humans?

07 October 2018

"Navigare Necesse Est, Vivere Non Necesse"

We have to sail, we do not have to live,
Sailing is more important than living
— Ancient Latin Motto

To sail is necessary; to live is not. When I saw that saying yesterday, it resonated with me right away, before I even understood it. 

Plutarch attributed it to Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus) who in 56 B.C., when he was ready to set out on his voyage home to Rome from Africa, faced a huge storm on the sea. The story goes: "The captains of the ships were reluctant to set sail. But he [Pompey] led the way himself and ordered them to weigh anchor, shouting out to them: 'We have to sail, we do not have to live.' So, with good fortune assisting his own daring and energy, he filled the sea with ships and the markets with grain. In fact, he provided so much of it that there was a surplus left over for the use of people outside Italy, the supply overflowing, as it were from a welling fountain, in all directions."

Are you seeing the parallels with the climate change emergency? 

We must set out into the huge storm of climate chaos if we want to find the solutions that will safeguard the future, but many of us aren't willing to feel bad about it let alone die trying to save the day.

Here's my version of Pompey's rallying cry:
To find solutions is necessary; 
To feel good is not.
Here's my poor attempt at a Latin translation:
Inuentionibus fiunt solutiones quaestionum
necesse est.
Sentire bonum non necesse.
In any case, let it sink in. If you've had your children, then biologically you're pretty much done — just one job left, and that's to help them survive so that they can reproduce. Avoiding helping to ensure their survival because thinking about the climate crisis makes your today feel a little less nice is the height of cowardice, no?

As this is the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Canada, may I wish you a year of gratitude for whatever blessings have helped you avoid losing your own life or that of your loved ones, your livelihood, your food security or water sources, your home or entire homeland. 

And may we all spend some time feeling bad for our friends — of all species — in Indonesia and elsewhere who are struggling through so many crises, some of them climate change related or exacerbated, some not.

May our continued good fortune assist our own daring and energy as we push through the bad feelings to get to anger and then action and solutions!

30 September 2018

On Becoming a Political Person

My husband and I are at the Green Party of Canada biannual convention this weekend in Vancouver. Some lovely friends convinced us to come, and our shared hotel room has been like a grownup's slumber party. ;-) 

One of the nicest things about attending this convention has been running into dear old friends from the environmental movement who, like us, have found their political tribe in the Greens. Loved your new music video, The Gasoline Breakup Song, Franke and Billiam James! "Sound Activism" ... fabulous! And Dr. Warren Bell, it was good to reconnect after years of watching your continued online activism and involvement with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. (My hubby, Dr. Peter Carter, was a founding director of CAPE in the mid-1990s.)


I'm going home psyched up to help people understand proportional representation (PR) so that they vote "YES" in my province's upcoming referendum on PR. Our first-past-the-post system puts all the power in the hands of one party, even if they have less than 50% of the votes. See Fair Vote Canada.

Elizabeth May's speech at Saturday night's banquet (the most vegetarian banquet I've ever attended!) was, in turns, quite moving and very rousing. What got the most resounding applause? When talking about the climate crisis, she said:
"The Green Party doesn't want to be a one issue party but if the one issue is survival then there is only one issue."
— Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
Another highlight for me was the Saturday morning keynote address by Caroline Lucas, a British politician who in 2010 was elected the Green Party's first Member of Parliament. She said several things that resonated for me, for example: "You can't just bolt the environment onto business as usual." Exactly! We need a transformation in how we "do business." (You can watch her half-hour speech here, from 3:00 to 31:44 — https://www.facebook.com/GreenPartyofCanada/videos/1825623187581859/.)

It's been interesting for me to observe my reactions at this political party convention. I'm proud to say that I helped Elizabeth May get elected twice now — she's my federal Member of Parliament — but it simply meant putting her bumper sticker on my little car and manning a Saturday table at the shopping centre in my tiny community before the election. I wasn't "involved in politics." It was something Caroline Lucas said that reminded me to be watching the political machinations this weekend:
"Complacency is a more dangerous enemy than denial."
— Caroline Lucas
And what I witnessed was a kinder, gentler political "beast" than I knew possible. Mind you, check out this refreshing UN address by New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, about her government's determination to focus on kindness. Kindness! Imagine that. (I've started her speech near the end, but it's worth listening to the whole thing.)

Don't get me wrong, the Green Party members in attendance at this convention got plenty excited at times and were generous with their standing ovations. They are certainly not a staid bunch. But the feeling here is that if they can't achieve their goals and still be decent people, then their goals aren't worth achieving. Souls are not for sale in the Green Party. People don't have to sell out any part of their beliefs or ideals. (Although my friendly amendment to a proposed policy to make it more ecologically literate in its wording — "people and other animals" instead of "animals and people" — was not accepted via the consensus process (too many red cards), which I'll admit was a bummer for this newbie. Our language choices can have a transformative effect, but some people either don't realize that, or are more comfortable with status quo — i.e., biblical — understandings of our species. But the consensus process worked to keep things rolling along ... and I can always try again another time.) 

Anyway, I just wanted to share my #GreenConv18 experiences with you. I hope that wherever you live and with whatever time you have available, you can contribute to making our political systems kinder, gentler, more ethical, and perhaps a tad more ecologically literate. 

23 September 2018

Children ... Our Vulnerable Little Ones

Twin tornadoes ripped through Canada's capital region on Friday night. In a country blessed with strong infrastructure (due to our winters and our wealth as a nation), nearly 300 properties were damaged or destroyed. Several people were injured but no fatalities have been reported, thank goodness, though hundreds have been displaced and some have lost everything. The stories of complete strangers opening their doors to those left without power or without a home at all have been heartwarming.

However, one harrowing sound bite of a father who nearly lost his daughter left me sobbing ... it is so metaphorical of what is already happening in other parts of the world, but what is only just beginning in this privileged region. Our children — our most beloved and yet our most vulnerable — are being hit first and worst by the ravages of climate disruption.

Listen in here as this distraught father describes what he experienced as he struggled to hold on to his daughter during the tornado. 

Folks, we are ALL struggling to hold on to our children now. Tomorrow, it might be the children of the wonderful fellow trying to comfort his friend. But we need to acknowledge that parents all around the world are not able to protect and save their children who are being lost in storms and mudslides and floods, or because of droughts and famines and contaminated drinking water. This one man's raw emotion is, for me, a metaphor for the pain and agony that all parents go through when they lose a child, or even just come close to it.

This morning, I received the latest piece from a wonderful friend and climate change activist, Dr. Reese Halter. Fossil Fuels Poisoning Children explains why we need to get to zero combustion and zero carbon emissions, even without climate change in the picture. The statistics in this article are horrifying. Half of the 4.4 million schoolchildren in New Delhi, India have permanently stunted lung development from breathing fossil fuel pollution. What are we doing to our children?
"Man has poisoned our children and the entire planet with fossil fuels. Now we must all fight for our survival."
One commenter wrote: "In a world that has been created for all, it is a tragic reflection on humanity that our children are being born already poisoned by our own hand. No accident of nature but the hand of man's own greed." 
Reese responds: "We are ALL one. And it's high time that we understand the severity of this crisis...."

Which brings me to the last thing I want to share this week (besides a link to a 2017 post I wrote called What Parents Won't Acknowledge About the Climate Crisis Is Going to Kill Their Children). It's a video in which two scientists talk about the "perfectly normal and natural" reactions that people have when they first truly grasp the urgency of this crisis. 

While watching it, I noticed two things. At about 7:30, one of the scientists shows that she hasn't yet grasped how bad (and not neat) things are going to become. You can hear the denial set in when she talks about her own child. The other thing I noticed is that feeling this range of la-la-I-don't-want-to-hear-this emotions is a developed-world privileged luxury. As I pointed out above, many parents have already experienced devastating loss — they can't deny that this is happening.

16 September 2018

Here's Proof that the Climate Change Crisis is a Crisis of Imagination

I read something at Inside Climate News the other day that made me laugh and nearly cry at the same time. 

Have you heard of the Heartland Institute? Their mission is "to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems." Sounds pretty benign, until you remember that it's free-market capitalism that is killing the biosphere. (The "free" in free-market economics means capitalists are free to make as much money as possible in any way possible with as little government regulation as possible. But who was it who said, perhaps a bit tongue in cheek, that the role of government is to keep corporations from getting away with murder?)
Heartland co-founder Joseph Bast provoked laughter by recounting carmaker GM's response to the Trump administration proposal unveiled last week to freeze fuel economy standards. Quoting the vision statement of GM CEO Mary Barra—that the company is working toward a future of "zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion"—Bast said: "That is impossible, and it's absolutely ludicrous. Zero of each of those things mean zero cars. It means zero respect for people's personal choices of transportation. It would mean a devastating impact on the economy."
Imagine, a car company is envisioning a future of "zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion" — and the Heartland Institute laughs. That would "mean zero cars," they say. 

So because they can't imagine a different future, a better future, a future where "people's personal choices of transportation" aren't killing off the future, they just deny the climate change crisis and focus on free-market "solutions." 

These free-market men in suits take themselves very seriously. But if they don't have the creativity or imagination — both signs of intelligence, gentlemen — to envision, or at least support, creative and imaginative zero-carbon solutions, then how can we take them seriously? 

I never thought I'd lend my support to a car company. But when it shows vision, inspiration, inventiveness, resourcefulness, ingenuity and originality; proposes some nifty ideas for fighting the climate change crisis; and uses government regulations as the parameters within which to innovate, well, I'll go with a company with that kind of imagination to make the changes necessary to safeguard the future. I think the Heartland Institute forgets that there is no economy — let alone a free-market economy — on a planet devoid of human life.