31 July 2009

128 Days Left - Language is Everything

Why is it that the environmental movement still hasn't managed to come up with the compelling language about the climate change emergency that will stick, will teach, will upset, will move, will transform, will melt the ice in the hearts of human beings?

Why do we let "the other side" use all the evocative terms while we talk about temperature increases and emissions levels, which are, frankly, boring if not completely incomprehensible to most people.

Anyway, this rhetorical question came about after a conversation with a like-hearted spirit today and this observation:

People will always listen to what they want to hear. The trick is getting them to hear what they don't want to listen to.

Does that make sense?

Here are my suggestions for helping people want to listen ... and hear.

  1. Use picture language. Most people in this culture are visual learners, and anything that creates an image in the mind's eye is more powerful than mere concept language. Metaphors and analogies work well.
  2. Use story. Human beings have evolved as storytellers and story lovers — probably based on our thousands of years of sitting around campfires. Stories stick in our memory. Because we have an innate sense of story, we're able to retell them (even if we don't get the details right, which happens quite often).
  3. Make it personal. People need to hear themselves in the story. Climate change isn't just an emergency for Africans and Pacific Islanders. Our agricultural systems in the developed world are starting to fail — and most of us wouldn't last a month without someone else's food stocking the shelves in our local grocery store. (Personal enough?)
  4. Make it emotional. A lot of people think there's no place for emotions in the field of climate science. But emotions are what move people, or touch them. A little bit of passion helps open minds and hearts. Do not be afraid to show genuine emotion (this isn't about manipulation). Be real. Share your fear, for example, or your despair or longing. How can we talk about the possibility of ending life on Earth in a matter-of-fact, unemotional way?
  5. Be honest! In some ways, that's the same as showing emotion, but it's more than that. Scientists, for whatever seemingly misguided reasons, decided early on not to tell us the whole truth about climate change. But if people don't hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, how will they come to understand what we're up against? Our capacity for hearing bad news knows no bounds (else newspapers would not sell) — we must trust that people will know what to do once they have the opportunity to grasp the truth.

Do you have any other ideas for how we can better communicate the urgency of the climate change emergency to people? Please let me know.

30 July 2009

129 Days to Go - Where Has All the Music Gone?

I don't think I'm alone in believing that music played an important role in the era that gave us the civil rights movement, women's liberation, and the environmental movement (in North America, at least).

So is it just because I'm older now? Am I missing out on a whole generation of music about saving the world, stopping climate change, and fighting climate inequity and injustice?

Or is the music lacking ... and that's one of the reasons we're just not getting into people's heads — and hearts?

Well, better late than never, I just discovered Take Our Planet Back, by Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. (He's the fellow who did Yes, We Can for Obama.) He debuted it at Al Gore's January 2009 Green Ball.

So, here it is, with lyrics below. Please pass it on. Let's create a soundtrack that we can listen to when we're old and crotchety and proudly say, "Yup, we did it. We beat that global warming and saved the world. We stood up and took our planet back!"

p.s. Does this song resonate for you? It's pretty, but my sense is that we need one that we can all sing along to.

Calling all the leaders to lead us out the hole

Asking all deceivers the things I want to know

If we're so technological

Why're we still burning oil?

'Cause I got a car you plug into the wall that's faster than a GTO

We shot for the stars, put rovers on Mars, make planes like UFOs

So why are we borrowin' money from China to buy oil from the Gulf and destroyin' the world?

Now that's got to change

(Chorus x3)

We'll stand up

We'll stand up and take our planet back

You and me

Talkin' 'bout we

Talkin' 'bout we

Talkin' 'bout

Calling all the citizens

Citizens of the land

Ask your politicians

All these questions

If we fight another war on terror

Why aren't we fighting for the environment?

We spend a billion dollars on wars in foreign lands

But nothin' on education

Nikola Tesla turned the Niagara Falls into energy way back when

And we're still burning coal

When you can make electricity with solar and wind

Now who's getting played?

You and me

And who's getting paid?

(Chorus x3)

I'm askin' all the citizens to take action

Take action and take back the government

Tell the government to start taxin' pollution

Makin' laws 'cause that's the solution

It should be against the law to make pollution

So if they make products that do what the other products do

But they didn't pollute, what are you gonna choose?

29 July 2009

130 Days to Copenhagen, and the news just keeps getting worse and worse

Here is an excerpt from


by Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service

25 July 2009

  • Thousands of people pour out of Manhattan onto the waiting armada of ships. The "October Surprise" has hit with a vengeance -- a massive hurricane has flooded and paralyzed New York City.

  • Dozens of world leaders watch the disaster unfold beneath them as they are airlifted from the United Nations General Assembly that had just convened on the banks of the now overflowing Hudson River.

  • "I guess the problem was that we counted on this not happening, at least not yet. Most scientists assumed the worst effects of climate change would occur later in the century," the president of the United States writes in his diary. "The culmination of disasters, needed cleanups, permafrost melting, lower agricultural yields, growing health problems and the like is taking a terrible toll, much greater than we anticipated 20 years ago."

  • This presidential diary entry is, of course, fiction. But its inclusion in the 120-page November 2008 report by the National Intelligence Council, a Washington security think-tank, illustrates a grim and troubling reality that is causing worry in such diverse places as the Pentagon and British Defence Ministry, major aid agencies, the United Nations and, of course, among environmentalists.

  • Real life 21st century threats due to climate change — massive flooding, droughts, population explosions, massive migrations of uprooted and desperate people facing life-threatening food and water shortages — have made "climate security" a buzzword that now extends far beyond the war rooms of western capitals.

  • The trepidation is very real that this will be the driver for war on a scale we have yet to see on this planet, bringing tension to stable parts of the world, making the tense places worse.

  • Don't dismiss this as military-driven paranoia: the alarm is being sounded by non-military actors — United Nations agencies, leading philanthropists, the World Bank, as well as major international aid agencies that have always strived to maintain a healthy distance from the world's military establishment.

Remember, folks. The opposite of fear is complacency. There is nothing wrong with fearmongering when there is something to fear. Monger away! The sky is falling, or at least, filling up with carbon. And of every five little carbon dioxide molecules you release, one of them will still be up there in 1000 years, continuing to heat the planet beyond the capability of life to survive. 

Unless, of course, we take action to demand action, as Greenpeace is suggesting in their new You-Turn-the-Earth campaign. If you haven't written to the leader of your country lately, please take 7 minutes and do it now. 

For the Earth, the Future, and the Children of All Species.

p.s. See the rest of the article here.

28 July 2009

131 Days Until Copenhagen - If... Then... (The Saga of Melting Arctic Ice and Drought in Texas)

Remember that old expression, If the dog hadn't stopped to pee, he would have caught the rabbit?

Well, I'm starting to wonder....

If the Bush Administration hadn't chosen to keep spy satellite photos of melting Arctic ice top secret, maybe Texas wouldn't be going through the horrifying drought it's experiencing. Maybe, just maybe, those photos would have ignited concern about climate change across the United States and around the world. And then maybe, just maybe, we'd all be doing something about it.

My heart goes out to the Texans. For a generation and a nation that has never gone without water, this must be a very frightening time for them.

And once again, there but for the grace of the Universe (and a few years), go I (and you, too). Arctic ice is the air conditioner of the northern hemisphere during our growing season. No Arctic ice = no growing season due to drought and scorched earth. (By the way, have you heard? Those with money know this and have started buying up agricultural land in the southern hemisphere.)

Let's hold in our hearts that many people and places in Africa are already far worse off than Texas, where they can no longer water their lawns but still have water to drink. The devastation to the crops in Texas this summer might, however, give them some compassion for the plight of Africans already impacted by global climate catastrophe.

p.s. Why were they spying on the Inuit in the Arctic anyway?

27 July 2009

132 Days Left - The Art of Revelling in the Gifts of Summer

Today, my compassionate act is (with apologies to those of you living in the southern hemisphere) to revel in the wonderful gifts that a warmer-than-usual summer is bringing to my part of the world. 

One of the definitions of "revel" in my dictionary is "to take intense satisfaction" and that's what I'm doing these days! 

The irony is that the word comes from the Latin rebellare meaning to rebel. In a sense, revelling in Nature's gifts these days is an act of rebellion —against the twin tyrannies of technology and narcissism.

I am revelling in Okanagan Valley cherries, the plumpest and sweetest I have ever tasted! Each one is two juicy bites' worth.

I am revelling in the early sweet corn, eaten on the back deck in the shade, with butter and salt. (Corn is the only thing I put butter and salt on, so this is a delicious indulgence.)

I am revelling in my late peas! The first I planted were eaten by rodents. The second peas I planted were roughed over by marauding deer. I finally ate my first peas today.

I am revelling in shade. As the planet heats up, I am appreciating the coolness provided by the trees around our home. I'm sure we'll be trading shady comfort for sunny growing space before too long.

I am revelling in the little tomatoes that are ripening in my one sunny spot. Any day now, I'll be popping my first tomato of the season, and it will be heaven on Earth.

I revelled last night in a giant thunderstorm that watered the garden and had me grinning with joy at my memories of jumping in puddles as a child.

I am revelling in warm summer nights. I grew up with sultry evenings in central Canada, but here on the west coast of Canada, we usually have to put a sweater on as soon as the sun even thinks about going down. This is quite new for us, and I recognize that it's probably not a good thing. (The reason the heat wave of 2003 killed so many people in Europe is that the temperature didn't go down at night to give people respite from the heat.)

So I am revelling because I don't want to be so caught up in the climate change fight that I forget to appreciate what it is I'm fighting for.

Thank you, Summer, for all your gifts.

26 July 2009

133 Days to Copenhagen - Three Upcoming Climate Change "Opportunities" for Youth

I'd like to share these three upcoming initiatives that youth who want to have their voices heard can participate in.

1. UNEP Tunza International Children and Youth Conference on the Environment

UNEP is sponsoring the biggest ever children and youth gathering on climate change in South Korea in August, to call for real action at the climate change summit in Copenhagen. 

Although the "real" participants have already been selected, there seems to be an opportunity for virtual participation at a Global Town Hall on 20 August 2009 that will use state-of-the-art technology to link the gathering to hundreds of other young environmental leaders around the globe to agree on a message to deliver to world leaders.

The Seal the Deal! Global Town Hall will be facilitated by the Washington-based nonprofit Global Voices, which has pioneered the use of technology to convene large-scale deliberations to impact policy making.

For more information, see the UNEP Tunza International Children and Youth Conference on the Environment website.

2. Climate Neutrality with Honours - Climate Neutral Network

Universities are joining the Climate Neutral Network (CN Net), an initiative led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote global action to de-carbonize our economies and societies.

The first universities on board are the pioneers among hundreds of universities, colleges and other academic institutions worldwide that are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote "greening" of their campuses and invest in low-carbon research and development.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner [quickly becoming a climate hero in my eyes!] said: "The Climate Neutral Network was inspired by a simple idea that a transformation to a low, even zero emission future is a learning process. It is therefore fitting that universities from all over the world should join this global networking platform and help make the best knowledge on climate neutrality available to all."

For information, visit the Climate Neutral Network.

3. YouthXchange E-Bulletin Seeking Contributions

The next e-bulletin of YouthXchange will focus on Youth and Sustainability. Everyone is asked to send their comments, stories and ideas to the YXC team at youthxchange@unep.org. Check out the YouthXchange website, which they call "a training kit on responsible consumption." It's posing some serious questions and challenges to get people thinking about their consumption patterns.

25 July 2009

134 Days to Go - Al Gore on why youth (and honesty) are so important to this movement

"I can't understand why there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers, and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants."

— Al Gore

(Note to Al: It's because they, and we, have allowed ourselves to be chained to our technologies. The greenies are too busy blogging to block bulldozers — and that's the last time I'll use alliteration like that, I promise.)

The thing to remember when Gore talks about the American civil rights movement in the video below is that global climate change has a deadline. And I mean a dead line.

This video is in honour of all the youth who are doing more than their share to wake up the world to the climate emergency.

24 July 2009

135 Days Left - The Kids, Always the Kids (A Guest Blog)

Today's post is from Lou Grinzo, a new online friend from The Cost of Energy, in response to my suggestion that some compassion towards all the children could go a long way.


I had a chance to present to 10 classes at a local middle school on the topic of electricity generation. I talked about conservation steps they can take, which fuels we use here in the United States, and how much CO2 each emitted.

I was shocked by the determination of these kids. Their teacher had already covered a lot of ground with them on climate chaos, so they had at least a rough idea of how bad CO2 emissions are. And they were NOT going to listen to some old guy like me telling them it was a tough problem. They wanted me and all the other clueless, can't-work-an-iPod-and-don't-know-Facebook-from-a- hole-in-the-ground adults to get the heck out of the way so they could fix it. NOW!

And this all happened even before I apologized to them. I told them that my generation had really screwed up the planet, and that we were leaving them with a gigantic mess to clean up. The look on their faces was amazing. I guess they're not used to adults apologizing to them.

The one thing they couldn't get their heads around was why things had gotten this bad, and why we (meaning the people running the planet) hadn't started doing a lot more about it 20 or 30 or more years ago. I tried my best to explain that a lot of the emissions, starting with the Industrial Revolution, happened before we realized what we were doing. And by the time we figured it out we had built so much of our economy around burning fossil fuels, and there was so much money involved (as in buying politicians), that it became impossible to make large scale changes until things got really bad - like now.

I came out of those days exhausted and invigorated, saddened and hopeful. I think I learned a lot more from them about our future than they learned from me.

Fix this for the kids. And they are all our kids, whether they carry our DNA or not.

Thanks, Lou. I know what you mean.

23 July 2009

With 136 Days to Copenhagen, WE HAVE GREAT NEWS! Greenpeace International is Calling for ZERO CARBON!

This is suddenly winnable! Greenpeace International's new You-Turn the Earth campaign is calling for zero carbon emissions! WOOHOO!

If Greenpeace is finally on board the Zero Carbon wagon, then we might finally see some momentum and movement in the right direction. THIS IS EXCELLENT NEWS!

Ready to take action to demand action? as their website asks.

Here's what they have to say: 

"Our best chance to take action against global warming is coming up in December, when the nations of the world gather for a UN climate summit in Copenhagen. 

We want world leaders to be there personally. We want them to make the right deal for the climate."

And here is their checklist by which our success can be measured:  

  • Make sure global emissions peak in 2015 and decrease as rapidly as possible towards zero after that
  • Developed countries must make cuts of 40 percent on their 1990 carbon emissions by 2020
  • Developing countries must slow the growth of emissions by 15-30 percent by 2020, with support from industrialised nations
  • We must protect tropical forests with a special funding mechanism - forests for climate
  • We must replace dirty fossil fuel energy with renewable energy and energy efficiency

"It's important that political leaders hear from and recognize from their constituents that this is an issue that matters, and that people convey their level of concern and make it clear that failure is not an option here, and that dillydallying and procrastinating is not going to work." - Todd Stern, US Special Envoy for Climate Change 

If you want to be part of a global community ready to take action to demand action, check out Greenpeace International and their You-Turn the Earth campaign. 

I am so excited!! This is the beginning of a win on climate change.

Stay tuned here for links to some wonderful new websites that will explain the urgent need for zero carbon (and negative carbon) in simple language.

22 July 2009

137 Days til Copenhagen - Gratitude to the Children

Yesterday, I talked about feeling compassion for the children who are sensing, knowing and feeling in their hearts that the planet is in peril along with their futures.

Today, I'd simply like to say thank you to those kids. Their concern, their fear, their passion, their commitment might be the only things that melt the ice in the hearts of climate change negotiators in Cophenhagen. (How come the ice is melting everywhere else on Earth, but not in the hearts of those running the planet? Eh?)

Have you seen this article? If you've got cockles in your heart, How to Teach Your Children About Climate Change - Without Scaring Them will warm them. Well, the story about the wonderful young man who started Kids vs. Global Warming will. (If you visit his website, be sure to scroll down to watch his brilliant little movie, iMatter: Story of Global Warming.)

I am reminded of the afternoon I was putting up a climate change bulletin board in the hallway of the school where I was working. A grandfather of one of the students came in and started chatting with me as I stapled away. And then, he said it. What so many adults are thinking. (And hoping?) "Ah well, it's not my problem. I'll be dead."

What an obscene way to run a species! What a complete abdication of any responsibility for the future of his grandchildren! He seemed a very nice man, but what a vicious attack on the future — sin by commission for the past several decades, and then sin by omission when we really need everyone's help.

Well, I'm sure grateful to all the young people working their hearts out for the Earth and the future. Thank you. Merci. Gracias. Tak. Danke. Arigato. Siyabonga. Quyanaghhalek. Xie xie. Meitaki ma'ata. Tanikiu. Grazie. Fakafetai. Nandri. Obrigada. Kalangan. And thank you again.

21 July 2009

138 Days to Go - Compassion for the Children

On one single page of New Scientist of 27 June 2009, I came to realize that our compassion really needs to be (first, felt, and then) directed towards our children.

Did you know that 1 in 3 children aged 6 to 11 in an American poll said that they are afraid the Earth will cease to exist before they grow up because of global warming and other problems?

Sad but not surprising that children understand the urgency of the climate change issue — and feel it deeply. And don't argue that the Earth itself won't cease to exist. We are destroying the biosphere for practically all life, which is the equivalent of ceasing the Earth's existence — especially in a child's eyes.

Then, at the end of an opinion piece on the same page ("Methane First, OK?" about tackling methane as a serious greenhouse gas), a professor of global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, writes: "This fruit [stopping methane emissions and leaks] is low-hanging, ripe and heavy with immediate benefits. Helping to pick it also means I can tell my grandchildren that, yes, I did do something to directly protect the planet."

Dear Professor: Your grandchildren don't want to hear that you did "something" to protect the planet. They want to know that you did everything you could to save the planet, and their future. And oh, when you say, "Reducing livestock ... would require changes in consumption" and toss it away as an immediate solution to a large percentage of methane emissions because there are other "fixes" that "do not directly threaten lifestyles," are you saying that lifestyles are more important than life? Are you admitting that you're not willing to give up meat as a gift to your grandchildren?

And beside that on the same page, Bjorn Lomborg (court jester cum bigmouth climate change urgency skeptic) is quoted as saying, "The current debate about global warming is clearly harmful. I believe that it is time we demanded that the media stop scaring us and our kids silly. We deserve a more reasoned, more constructive, and less frightening dialogue."

Oh dear. Poor Bjorn just doesn't get it. It's not the debate on global warming that is harmful! It's the bloody global warming itself that is harmful!

He and the other deniers have wasted the most important 20 years in the history of humanity. He is definitely on my list for crimes against humanity.

When this man calls for a dialogue that is more reasoned, more constructive and less frightening, it must mean he is going to start shutting up. Because he, with the others, has confused much of the developed world with his unreasonable, destructive and very scary denialist crap, instead of helping us get on with solving the crisis.

Please, let's hold the welfare of the children in our hearts at every step in this — yes, terrifying, dammit! —journey to salvation.

20 July 2009

139 Days Left - Part 2 of Notes and Quotes on Compassion

Here are more quotes on that most important of human capacities during our epic struggle to safeguard the future for all life on this precious planet.

Diane Berke said: The major block to compassion is the judgment in our minds. Judgment is the mind's primary tool of separation.

Daniel Goleman said: The act of compassion begins with full attention, just as rapport does. You have to really see the person. If you see the person, then naturally, empathy arises. If you tune into the other person, you feel with them. If empathy arises, and if that person is in dire need, then empathic concern can come. You want to help them, and then that begins a compassionate act. So I'd say that compassion begins with attention.

Joanna Macy said: Compassion literally means to feel with, to suffer with. Everyone is capable of compassion, and yet everyone tends to avoid it because it's uncomfortable. And the avoidance produces psychic numbing - resistance to experiencing our pain for the world and other beings.

Keshavan Nair said: With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: Without a rich heart, wealth is an ugly beggar.

Bertrand Russell wrote:

Three passions have governed my life:

The longings for love, the search for knowledge,

And unbearable pity for the suffering of [humankind].

Love brings ecstasy and relieves loneliness.

In the union of love I have seen

In a mystic miniature the prefiguring vision

Of the heavens that saints and poets have imagined.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge.

I have wished to understand the hearts of [people].

I have wished to know why the stars shine.

Love and knowledge led upwards to the heavens,

But always pity brought me back to earth;

Cries of pain reverberated in my heart

Of children in famine, of victims tortured

And of old people left helpless.

I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot,

And I too suffer.

This has been my life; I found it worth living.


And finally...

Sam Keen said: Inscribe this single word on your heart: Compassion. Whenever you are confused, keep heading in the direction that leads towards deepening your love and care for all living beings, including yourself, and you will never stray far from the path to fulfillment.

19 July 2009

140 Days to Copenhagen - Notes and Quotes on Compassion

Compassion is a habit of mind and heart. I am writing this blog to remind myself that compassion must be at the centre of our discussions and planning and decision making on climate change.

The word compassion is from the Latin com together with + pati to suffer. It means to suffer together with. (And I think that's why it's so hard for us. Most people turn away from the suffering of others ... they don't want to feel deeply another's pain.)

Today, I'm renewing my passion for compassion by reviewing what some great minds and hearts have had to say about it.

Albert Einstein said: A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Arnold Schopenhauer said: Compassion is the basis of morality.

Albert Schweitzer said: What does Reverence for Life say abut the relations between [humanity] and the animal world? Whenever I injure any kind of life I must be quite certain that it is necessary. I must never go beyond the unavoidable, not even in apparently insignificant things. The farmer who has mowed down a thousand flowers in his meadow in order to feed his cows must be careful on his way home not to strike the head off a single flower by the side of the road in idle amusement, for he thereby infringes on the law of life without being under the pressure of necessity.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton said: A good heart is better than all the heads in the world.

Barack Obama said: You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the steelworker who's been laid off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this - when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers - it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.

George Washington Carver said: How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.

18 July 2009

141 Days Left - Lessons from a Bat

Our bat friend has gone. This little fellow (for some reason I always imagine him a male bat, but it could be a mother bat, according to some research I've been doing) is here every summer for six or eight weeks, and then one night he's just not here anymore.

Every evening, he heralds dusk and the setting of the sun. I enjoy listening for him and then checking the clock ... a bit later each night until the summer solstice, and then a bit earlier each night until his departure.

He makes the strangest screechy call, and an occasional otherworldly sound. (That first year, I thought it was a sick deer in the hills behind our house.) We still haven't figured out what kind of bat he is.

Just as Bat disappeared for us, he showed up in my sister's life at 4 in the morning, winging about her bedroom. That was quite the experience for her!

When I have an intimate encounter with an animal friend, I like to check out the Medicine Cards of Jamie Sams and David Carson. Bat, it turns out, often symbolizes rebirth in the Native American tradition.

This is timely symbolism for me as my stepmother, Jan, recently returned to the earth (death being the beginning of rebirth), and because we all need a reminder that it's time to let go of old habits and become reborn into a new form of civilization — one that is based on ethical economics, renewable energy technologies, and people everywhere caring about the future of the children of all species.

Here's to my stepmom, to bats, to our bat (until next summer), and to all who hold the vision of a reborn new future.