31 October 2009

36 Days - Creating that Compelling Vision of a Renewable Energy Future

If you're following this blog, you'll know that I struggle with the 350 campaign. They're running a damn fine campaign, they know how to use the new media, and I'm sure their hearts are in the right place. Part of me has thought all along that we should be trying to get back to below 300 ppm, not just to 350. But I've finally figured out exactly why I struggle with it.
One of Canada's best known and best loved environmentalists, Guy Dauncey, talks of offering people a compelling vision of the future, a sustainable future, a future that will be safe and equitable for our children and grandchildren. I read something yesterday that helped me "see" the importance of creating this compelling "vision."
As an educator, I know that about 80% of us (at least in North America) are visual learners. We take things in and make sense of the world mainly through our sense of sight. For example, when I hear something spoken, I have to take it in, visualize it in my head, and only then can I respond to it.

I was looking through a week-old paper that described the October 24 - International Day of Climate Action events that were to take place in a nearby community. "Do Whatever It Takes to Get Us Below 350 ppm!" was the headline.

Raise your hand (yes, I'm speaking figuratively, unless you need the exercise) if you can picture what 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere looks like? Can you see in your memory that day in October 1989 when we surpassed 350 ppm? What did the sky look like before it became dangerously high in CO2?

Now try this. Raise your hand if you can picture a zero-carbon world. A world where we no longer burn fuel to create energy. A world of wind turbines and solar panels, tidal energy and geothermal installations to heat or cool our homes, to run our appliances, to move the public through transit infrastructure.

I did this at our local October 24 event, and I could see people's eyes going up, doing that NLP (neurolinguistic programming) thing that happens when we're trying to construct a picture of something in our mind's eye. Participants started nodding and smiling. Yes, they could picture a carbon-free world!

Once we can picture that zero-carbon world, it's easy to discuss and picture how to get there: a zero-carbon economy that subsidizes renewable energy and taxes carbon and other forms of pollution; moving towards self-sufficiency in our food and energy production; giving up meat as a gift to our grandchildren; staying closer to home and taking 100-mile vacations; doing all this out of compassion for the people already horribly impacted by climate disruption in Africa, the Arctic, the small island nations, and, increasingly, all those depending on water sources that are drying up, even if just seasonally.

Even if we're able to picture 350 ppm (other than on a graph), then what? The concept doesn't hold within it the compelling picture of how to get there.

So, the most important number in the world is still that zero at the end of 350.

30 October 2009

37 Days - More Support for Going Veg as Climate Change Mitigation

Sir — well, now Lord — Nicholas Stern, of the-economics-of-climate-change fame, has said that people may have to go vegetarian to save the planet. Reports say that Stern is advocating a vegetarian diet because it is lower in carbon emissions.
“Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better. I think it’s important that people think about what they are doing and that includes what they are eating.”
— Lord Stern
Farmed ruminant animals, including cattle and sheep, are thought to be responsible for up to a quarter of “man-made” methane emissions worldwide, the article says. [Me: Once you add in the emissions for trucking, processing, and all the lost carbon sinks when forests are cut down to grow feed for livestock, that number rises.] Stern explains that a successful deal at the Copenhagen climate talks in December would massively increase the cost of producing meat.

Stern says that eating meat could become as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving because of the impact it has on global warming. People’s concerns about climate change would lead to meat eating becoming unacceptable, he predicted.

The British really are leading the way in the fight to safeguard the future.

Here is a short, excellent overview of the climate change emergency and why going veg is a vital and urgent first step in mitigating the still-increasing global greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. (Note how many of the speakers are British.)

If you're in or near Washington, DC on Sunday, November 8, please attend this free climate change conference and vegan dinner: Humanity's Leap to the Golden Era. You must register ahead of time and can do so online at http://www.wadcconference.com/register.aspx.

29 October 2009

38 Days - When 1000 is Greater than 300,000

American president Barack Obama has declared that the H1N1 flu is a national emergency. Because more than 1000 people have died.

So — and help me here — swine flu is an emergency when 1000 die, but global climate disruption is not an emergency when 300,000 are dying each year? I don't get it.

According to the article I read, Obama's officials said the declaration "was a pre-emptive move designed to make decisions easier when they need to be made." Sheesh, sounds a lot like what the Kyoto Protocol was supposed to be all about — and what the Copenhagen climate talks (that Obama will probably not attend, even though he's going to be in Scandinavia to pick up his Nobel peace prize) are supposed to lead to.

Apparently "many millions" of Americans have had swine flu so far, with 20,000 hospitalizations, according to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control. All but about 1000 of these people have recovered, no problem. But millions of people are losing their lives and their livelihoods, their food security and their water sources, their homes and their entire homelands due to global climate disruption. But that's not an emergency?

The world needs to get a grip (rather than la grippe — flu, in French) and declare that global climate disruption is a planetary emergency. Without that declaration, nations will not work together as a world-wide human family to safeguard the future.

Mr. Obama has just proven how vital an emergency declaration is for implementing an action plan.

28 October 2009

39 Days - ecoSanity.org's Race 2 Survival

I want to share this public service announcement about the climate change emergency with you. It was created by Glenn MacIntosh of ecoSanity.org, and I think he did an excellent job of expressing the urgency — and the implications of doing nothing. Please share it with your networks and visit ecoSanity.org for more.

27 October 2009

40 Days - First Blood in Canada: Has the War Begun?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am so sorry to announce that the war has begun. Here in Canada, yesterday, in our capital city of Ottawa, in our house of parliament.

Around 200 young protesters started shouting in the gallery, "Pass Bill C-311" (in reference to the continual procrastination of the committee studying this bill, which would see Canada set some rigorous greenhouse gas reduction targets).

I always pictured that the war would be between rich and poor, the haves and have-nots. I never imagined that the war would erupt between generations, between young and old. But the old farts we call our elected officials apparently laughed when these young protesters were dragged out of the gallery. One of the young men then found himself in apartheid-era South Africa, having his face smashed into the floor of a stairwell by security guards.
Only a handful were "detained," which means that "they" wanted to create a chill effect amongst all the others. But I suspect this is the beginning of our new reality. Young people fighting — in any way they can — to be heard, to have their fears about the future listened to. And their elders scoffing at them, kicking sand in their faces, laughing at their concerns.

What has become of our peaceful nation — in the name of tar sands oil?

And what has become of my generation? What heartlessness. What hypocrisy. What shameful disregard for our young citizens who simply want what we had in spades — a future.

I cried and cried and felt sick after reading about this. No good end will come of it. The young people have nothing to lose. We've already taken it away from them. We had our chance to safeguard their future, and instead we've told our children and grandchildren to go take a hike, we're too busy watching our stocks and counting our money.

This is fascism at its very worst, because of what is at stake. Imagine putting profits before all life on the planet. We are insane.

My thanks and compassion go out to the young protesters. Whether it was courage or desperation, I'm glad they showed the rest of the country what kind of people we have running the country — a bunch of rude, inhumane bullies. I feel quite ashamed to be Canadian right now.

26 October 2009

41 Days - Happy World GO VEGAN Week!

Who knew? It's World Go Vegan Week (October 25 to 31), and it will end with World Vegan Day on November 1st.

Thailand does it. A vegetarian festival every autumn, where the whole country goes veg for a week. Now it's our turn.

In Defense of Animals (IDA) has a wonderful website (http://www.worldgoveganweek.com) filled with ideas and resources for organizing events and celebrating the concept. According to the website:
"This week is a celebration of compassion and a time to take action for animals, the environment and everyone’s well-being. We encourage people to use this week to educate their community about the vegan lifestyle as a compassionate, sustainable, and healthy way of eating and living."
Supporter and spokesperson Woody Harrelson says he chose to be vegan initially as an energetic pursuit, as meat and dairy slowed him down, but has since become convinced that it is "not only the most healthy way to live, but also the most compassionate and ecologically responsible way."

The timing is excellent for me, considering my recent efforts to try to convince my animal rights activist friends to apply their com/passion and energy to the climate change emergency issue. It's a natural fit, since a veg diet is the easiest way to reduce personal and societal greenhouse gas emissions quickly, especially methane. Indeed the IDA urges people "to recognize the effects their actions have on the world, and our ability to actually avert some impending disasters such as global warming."

The IDA website has a list of things you can do to celebrate World Go Vegan Week (host a vegan potluck, ask local restaurants to feature their vegan offerings, write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, for example). Check them out.

For an excellent explanation of all the benefits of a vegan diet, watch the 11-minute movie Vegan. For the People. For the Planet. For the Animals.

And here's a link for some great vegan recipes, in case you don't know how to get started. And if your friends or relatives freak out about what they're going to serve you when you visit, tell them it's simple: spaghetti and tomato sauce, hold the cheese. And then ask them to watch the movie with you.

Going veg is a gift to the future. Let's do it, folks. Let's give the future this chance at, well, a future! Make the transition all at once or gradually, calling it by another name, eating fake meat (oh yes, delicious and available in Asian health food stores, etc.) or any way that makes it possible to do it. I remember tricking my family a few times (serving "chicken stew" with tofu instead of chicken, for example), and they were shocked at how yummy the meal was. Make sure your breakfasts are veg, and then your lunches, and then your dinners. Or start with one day per week and work up to seven.

And if it's true that we are what we eat, then how can we be compassionate if we're contributing to the deaths of 56 billion animals around the world every year ... three million every hour in the USA alone?

Have a great week, all.

25 October 2009

42 Days - Climate Refugees ... Already Starting to Happen

At our International Day of Climate Action event yesterday in my small community (15 people showed up! I was shocked ... only expected 3 or 4, and we had a learn-in and lament and a rich discussion of the future we can create), we talked about the fact that climate change is already happening, so how can people deny its existence?

Economist Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institute, wrote in The Grist recently about the rising tide of environmental refugees: "Our early twenty-first century civilization is being squeezed between advancing deserts and rising seas."

Though many of us lucky ones still haven't been impacted by the changing climate — at least not in any way that we can see or complain about — Brown relates the stories of would-be refugees found dead in their small boats, or in the deserts. In some cases, poverty drove these people to seek a new home. In some cases, the poverty was caused by desertification of their croplands. Let us be frightened by the numbers and shed a tear for these people. They could soon be our own children or grandchildren.

Here are snippets of his article to, I hope, evoke empathy and compassion for these refugees. There but for the grace of God....
Measured by the biologically productive land area that can support human habitation, the earth is shrinking.

Desert expansion in sub-Saharan Africa, principally in the Sahelian countries, is displacing millions of people.

We do not know whether they [these refugees] were political, economic, or environmental refugees. Failed states like Somalia produce all three. We do know that Somalia is an ecological disaster, with overpopulation, overgrazing, and the resulting desertification destroying its pastoral economy.

Today, bodies washing ashore in Italy, Spain, and Turkey are a daily occurrence, the result of desperate acts by desperate people.

Many of those who try to cross the Arizona desert [from Mexico] perish in its punishing heat. Since 2001, some 200 bodies have been found along the Arizona border each year.

With the vast majority of the 2.4 billion people to be added to the world by 2050 coming in countries where water tables are already falling, water refugees are likely to become commonplace.

Whereas the U.S. Dust Bowl displaced 3 million people, the advancing desert in China's Dust Bowl provinces could displace tens of millions.

While desert expansion and water shortages are now displacing millions of people, rising seas promise to displace far greater numbers in the future, given the concentration of the world's population in low-lying coastal cities and rice-growing river deltas. The numbers could eventually reach the hundreds of millions, offering yet another powerful reason for stabilizing both climate and population.
According to Brown, "During this century we must deal with the effects of trends—rapid population growth, advancing deserts, and rising seas—that we set in motion during the last century." He suggests that our choice is a simple one: "reverse these trends or risk being overwhelmed by them."

With thanks to Hermann Josef Hack for the artwork.

24 October 2009

43 Days - The mOst impOrtant number is zerO

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Three-fifty is a red herring. The most important number is ZERO. We have to get our carbon emissions to virtually zero. We have to stop burning fuels and make the transition to energy that isn't created by burning.

So, as we all go about "celebrating" (??) International Day of Climate Action — on the day after world leaders decided that the Copenhagen climate talks are going to be a big huge flop — let's remember that the most important number in 350 is that zero at the end.

Let's ensure that this crisis of imagination ends. Let's make sure that we push (whether gently or kicking and screaming) our civilization into a new era — the era of safe, clean, healthy, equitable and peaceful renewable/perpetual energy.

Let's help people see the possibilities that making this switch will bring ... a giant boost to the economy, tons of new jobs, lots of opportunities for retraining, massive public spending on things that are good for the health of citizens.

Raise your hand if you don't want this kind of future for your children. Keep your hand up if you prefer your grand/children to go through their life with food shortages, dangerous weather events, scarcity of drinking water, conflict over natural resources. Raise both hands if you don't give a flying $#&! about the hundreds of thousands of people killed each year by global climate disruption (coming soon to a theatre near you), or the millions already impacted by droughts and floods and disastrous climate-change-related weather events.

Glad to see both your hands are in your lap. Thank you for caring.

Remember zero. Talk it up. Zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible, by making the world a way better place.

23 October 2009

44 Days to Copenhagen - FIRE!

It used to be, when there was a fire, someone shouted "Fire!" (And people listened. And took action. Immediately. Grab your kid and run kind of immediately.)

Nowadays, there's fire but instead of shouting to save people's lives, everyone seems to think they have to figure out what to say and how to say it. Greenpeace held a slogan contest recently — save the world in six words max. A Canadian environmental group just commissioned a study to find out the best "frame" to use to shout "Fire!" Someone on a listserve is wondering about the "science" in a new denier movie.

A friend told me by email today, "Teach, don't shout." The irony is, I WASN'T EVEN SHOUTING! And besides, once the fire is blazing is not the time to do fire safety education. (She also calls me a Cassandra — of Trojan Horse fame. Cassandra did not come to a good end, even though she was right all along, which I find kind of disturbing.)

It broke my spirit. I'm played out and it's not even October 24 yet (International Day of Climate Action). I am so glad that I decided on a lament and a learn-in tomorrow, rather than a celebration. What are people celebrating? That we haven't completely ruined the future yet?

I guess ignorance truly is bliss. There are days that I curse this knowing. Though in the case of global climate change, Goethe is right:

"There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action."

22 October 2009

45 Days - Become an Emmerdeur!

I was watching a video lecture by Gunter Pauli, Belgian designer and eco-entrepreneur, and he suggested that we should become "emmerdeurs." I spent a year studying in Belgium when I was 17, so I sat up when I heard him use this term.

I'd like to be able to say that it translates into "shit disturber" but it's more like "pain in the ass." (I remember that "tu m'emmerdes" was stronger than "you're bugging me.") Nevertheless, his encouragement got me thinking of ways that I could start being a pain in people's ....

I've gotta say, upfront, that this is difficult for me. I was always the good kid in class, teacher's pet, never got in trouble. So setting out to upset people, piss people off, become an emmerdeuse, bug people, question and guilt trip them, educate them in ways they don't want to be educated, well, this does not come naturally for me. I'm doing it for the children in Africa.

Remember we've been talking about going veg as a way to lower methane emissions as quickly as possible and buy us some time to get the other necessary solutions implemented? Well, here's tonight's idea.

I'm going to get some cards made that explain this situation, and I'm going to start handing them out in restaurants to people who order meat. Tonight we had delicious (vegetarian) pizza at our favourite place and we heard the waitress explain to the couple next to us what the two specials were: garden vegetable pot pie and a creamy Alfredo pasta. Both vegetarian! (We hadn't even bothered to ask cuz Wednesday is pizza night in our family.) But when I heard the woman order chicken strips with fries, I was ready to emmerde her! Sheesh.

Here's another example. I live in a community with a full, highly organized, very expensive Emergency Preparedness Plan. Many communities in Canada have similar plans. It's nice to know this plan is in place in case we ever have a tsunami or a big fire. I also discovered recently that our local school district has a Pandemic Plan, for the H1N1 virus.

Now, I can't just leave that alone. I wrote to the school district superintendant to wonder why we have an Emergency Preparedness Plan for an emergency that might never happen, and a Pandemic Plan for a pandemic that might not materialize — but we don't have a Climate Change Emergency Plan for the climate change emergency we're already in!!! (How's that for denial, eh?) I thought that was a good example of being a pain in the ....

So, let's just point out these stupid choices that people are making. In any way we can. Let's not be silent any longer! Let's become emmerdeurs extraordinaires.

21 October 2009

46 Days - How Can We Afford the Conversion to a Veg World?

Someone wrote yesterday to say that aiming for everyone to go vegetarian or vegan would be too extreme and probably impossible. Yes, and ....

Extreme is good, because it's only extreme measures right now that will give us a chance at safeguarding the future. There are a lot of people out there who either don't realize this, don't want to realize this, or realize this and don't have it in their hearts to go ahead and take extreme measures.

If people truly understood that "extreme" measures could save the future for their children and grandchildren, would they not take them? Would they not make the "sacrifice" of giving up meat to give their progeny a chance at a safe climate? Maybe they wouldn't. But let's tell them the truth about the urgency of the climate change emergency so they can at least choose whether to fry their children or not.

The other point this commentator made was that making the switch away from livestock farming would be quite costly for farmers, and therefore politicians would balk.

Here are some ideas. Did you know that the livestock industry is only responsible for less about 3% of global GDP? So there aren't that many people to worry about (relatively). It's true that the conversion could be costly, however:
1. It's cheap compared to killing the future.

2. The industry is already highly subsidized in many developed nations. Quit subsidizing and farmers might switch to more sustainable farming practices on their own.

3. The environmental and health impacts of the livestock industry are huge! If those in the business had to internalize the costs (of water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, for example, and the health care costs of obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease), then meat would become so expensive that most people wouldn't buy it (at least not often) and farmers would turn to growing something more lucrative.

4. A carbon tax applied to the livestock industry (it's responsible for a HUGE proportion of the greenhouse gases that are dooming the future) would also make meat too expensive for every day consumption, again helping farmers decide to move into another type of farming.

5. And finally, you remember those huge bank bailouts? Bailouts for the automotive industry? Why not for the meat industry? But on the condition that they make the switch. (Just like bailouts for the car companies should have been dependent on them retooling to make wind turbines and solar panels.)

6. You know how much countries like the US and Canada are spending on their useless invasions of foreign countries? Take some of that money and redirect it to the livestock producers instead, getting them to switch to sustainable organic agricultural practices (or retire early). If we're going to go into debt for stupid reasons, why not go into debt for a reason that will give our children a chance at a future — I bet that's a debt they'd be happy to pay off, just like today's Brits have just recently paid off their debt from the Second World War.
I'm no economist, but I can recognize a fighting chance when I see one. Getting off the meat habit (Gandhi called it a superstition of the British) could drop anthropogenic methane emissions 37%! That's huge! Methane is so scary as a greenhouse gas that lowering it at all will be great, but almost 40%, wow, that would be a true gift to all future generations, of all species.

Industries come and go. Lots of jobs that existed a hundred years ago no longer exist. The livestock industry's time is up, and those workers will surely be assimilated into new, more sustainable employment (or, ahem, put out to pasture). It's a win-win all round.

20 October 2009

47 Days - The Future is in Your Hands, and on Your Plate

The climate work we've been doing lately has a decidely "can-do" upbeat aspect to it.

We have to get to zero carbon as rapidly as possible. Methane from industrial food production and the livestock industry accounts for about 40 percent of human methane emissions. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so if we reduce our methane fast, that might give us a fighting chance of getting some other global warming solutions in place before it's too late.

We can eliminate the emissions of a huge amount of the most warming intense greenhouse gases by a revolution in our food production and by adopting the healthiest diet possible — for us and for the planet.

Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chair of United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has said that greenhouse gases are emitted during virtually every step of the meat producing process.

Zero carbon = zero meat. I know a lot of people who balk at this idea, but imagine if practically everyone in the world gave up meat? (I'm not going to ask the Inuit to give up meat, although the way things are going, they might soon find it easier to grow grain than to find animals.)

We could retrain those farmers and ranchers and fishers in more benign forms of agriculture or renewable energy (ooh, now there's a win-win). And we'd be giving today's children a chance at a future.

It's easier for me. I'm already vegetarian. Have been for ... counting ... yikes, almost 30 years (am I that old?). So I can assure you that there's life after meat — in more ways than one.

The future, folks, is quite literally in our hands, in our shopping baskets, on our stoves and on our plates. We don't have to wait for any government decrees or taxes (though taxing the carbon in meat would ensure it's expensive enough to make tofu look good).

Enjoy the bounty of the Earth without killing (and without killing the future). C'est tout. It's that simple. Let's just choose to stop eating our grandchildren.

(Photo from Liaison College Lakeshore Campus)

19 October 2009

48 Days - A Day of Rest

No post today. Played out. Need a break. So, I'll recommend that you revisit Will Copenhagen End Up a Commitment to Catastrophe? (Day 52) and read the comments there from b9f8, who offers a welcome and eclectic mix of fascinating things to say.

18 October 2009

49 Days - A Little Self-Compassion?

Not only am I hurting all over physically (broken ankle almost better, blood clots doing okay, new painful complication in the same foot, more tired than I've been in years), but I seem to be getting more and more depressed all the time.

I'm pretty sensitive. I'm the type of person who can't watch violence on the screen (TV or movies). So it's really starting to get to me, all this climate catastrophe stuff. I'm worn out. But I'm not going to give up. Not yet.

Every time I start feeling sorry for myself, I simply picture the kids in Africa who go to bed hungry, who have lost their parents, whose future is a thing of the past. We are so coddled in our Western countries that we think we're starving when we miss a meal. We have no concept of what's waiting for us and/or our children and grandchildren if we don't get ourselves weaned off carbon.

I've read through a few past posts today ... I was definitely more chipper and more optimistic when I started this blog in May of this year. Since then, I seem to have lost my resilience. But then, imagine what it must be like for the family whose crops fail year after year. Imagine all the places in the world where water is already in short supply. That's us when the Arctic summer sea ice disappears.

I just don't get how people who know what's happening climate-wise (my country's prime minister, for example) can continue to think their children will survive eating money and drinking bitumen when they grow up.

Alas, if I don't post tomorrow, you'll know why. I think I need a day in bed, with the covers over my head — appreciating that I have a bed and covers and a roof and a kitchen full of food when I get hungry.

17 October 2009

50 Days - A GUEST BLOG "Hope…or Action?"

A friend I've made online, Janet McNeill, recently posted something on hope in the face of the climate crisis that really resonated for me. She's given me permission to repost it here. Thanks, Janet. And have a great International Day of Climate Action on Saturday!


I’ve been doing environmental work for 20 years now. Hoping, always hoping, that if I just worked hard enough, informed enough people, wrote enough environment columns, carried out enough projects, I’d help “save” the human race.

I’ve been in awfully fine company, I must say! I’ve had more good times than a barrelful of monkeys (several barrels-full, actually) and have made a small (no, large!) army of awesome friends. And taken part in oodles of great projects and activities I’m pretty proud of. No regrets!

Gradually, over time, hope has been harder and harder to summon up. To be honest, it’s pretty much left the building.

It’s been hard to let go of. It’s felt almost … un-Canadian, or un-sportsmanlike?? Un-mother-like? — to abandon hope.

I am thinking today, though, that as it turns out, it really isn’t hope we need. It’s determination, energy, guts, courage, hard work, passion, inspiration — and love. For this beautiful, beautiful planet — and for all the creatures on it (ourselves included).

I’ve realized recently — mostly in reference to the personal side of my life — that it really is action that counts. Thoughts and beliefs and faith and what we (often sanctimoniously) profess to believe (or feel) — or claim we will do — are not what really counts. It’s action. It’s what we do that matters. Not what we say.

Alice Walker has said, “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.”

I wonder: Are enough of us really paying our rent?


P.S. There is a very brilliant Derrick Jensen essay called “Beyond Hope” that can be found at http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/170/ Take a few moments and read it! It’s pretty bloody eloquent…and very inspiring.

P.P.S. I don’t mean to discourage people who are still “hopeful.” More power to you! I’m not saying it’s an either/or proposition. I’m just saying that, for those of us who have lost hope, and/or who believe that “hope” is not really the point, we still have something left with which to occupy ourselves. Action. And that’s a good thing – in my little world, anyway….
By the way, Janet, I've decided that "stamina" needs to go on your list of the things we need in order to keep on keeping on in the fight to safeguard the planet and the future. I might have to take up a caffeine habit if we don't get a few more people helping out.

16 October 2009

51 Days - Denier-Free Days Declared!

As I was "googling" for something recently, I came across an old blog headline: "Sun Going Down on the Climate Skeptics." And my first reaction was an insolent "Why do we have to fight climate change AND climate change deniers? The job is big enough without people denying that the fight is even necessary."

I would like to run with that headline and declare the rest of 2009 Denier-Free Days! Let's just ignore them and maybe they'll go away (though that never worked when my mom suggested it as a way to get rid of my pesky brothers). Let's not allow any of their stupid-ass comments on our blogs anymore. (What's a little denier/skeptic censorship compared with safeguarding the biosphere?) They have had their day — and stolen the future.

Let's quit being nice to them. One should not be nice to bullies — one should be pleasant yet assertive. But wait ... why should we even be pleasant? These people (especially the mad, egotistical scientists among them) are responsible for the greatest crime against humanity ever: PROGENYCIDE! Because of them and their deadly obfuscating and procrastinating, we are now knowingly killing off future generations, of all species (except maybe jellyfish and bacteria).

Why are the people who are defending the rights of children to a future worth living for NOT willing to adopt the tactics of "the other side"? Why ARE we so polite, even in the face of climate catastrophe? Let's look at it from the perspective of Pascal's wager: if they're right and we're wrong, no one has been hurt (though a few wealthy dudes have had to share a bit of their money with the people they exploited in the making of it) and the world becomes a safer, cleaner, healthier, more equitable and more peaceful place; if they're wrong and we're right, life on Earth is doomed without our full and immediate attention to reaching zero carbon.

I know where I'm putting my money! So, with this declaration of Denier-Free Days (October 16 to December 31, 2009, and then, hmmm, yes, January 1 to the end of time), I am giving deniers and skeptics no more of my time, no more of my space, no more of my attention, and no more never-mind (whatever that expression means).

Poof! They're gone. They no longer exist. I'm fighting climate chaos for the sake of the children, and I am heretofore assuming every other human being wants to do the same.

15 October 2009

52 Days - Will Copenhagen End Up a Commitment to Catastrophe?

I've written before that Copenhagen is becoming more famous for the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks it will host this December than for its Tivoli Gardens, the Little Mermaid statue, and Carlsberg beer. This will be the most important meeting in the history of humanity (and I'm not the only one to say that), but things aren't looking good.

Will Copenhagen — the climate meeting — soon become synonymous with disappointment? With betrayal, greed and selfishness? With looming catastrophe?

If so, it will be a real shame. Because Denmark is doing so many things right. Indeed, if I were Copenhagen, I would call off these talks, because they are likely going to lead to nothing but heartache and a worse-than-nothing agreement, if we stay on the same path. For example, how can Obama only pledge to return US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 when the European Union has its sights on 20% below 1990 levels or more? And when the future needs us to get to zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible? Sheesh.

In the Globe and Mail's "Denmark Makes You Green with Envy" by Gary Mason, we learn that ... well, I think I'll just leave you with some excerpts, and the suggestion that you do all you can to encourage your national leaders and negotiators to please, please put the children — and not the economy — at the centre of their talks and decisions.
While much of the world talks about the problem, the Danes are finding solutions..

...You don't need to spend much time in the Danish capital to realize how seriously the people here take climate change. It is probably no coincidence that the next big important conference on the issue will be held in Copenhagen in December.

While much of the world talks about the problem, the Danes are finding solutions.

How about this stat: The Danes use about the same amount of energy today as they did in 1980. But over that same period of time, the country's economy has grown by 70 per cent. A tighter focus shows that from 1990 to 2007, economic activity in Denmark grew by 45 per cent while carbon-dioxide emissions were reduced by more than 13 per cent.

Denmark has become synonymous with wind energy. It accounts for 20 per cent of the power generated in the country. Now, the Danes are selling the technology throughout the world and getting rich doing it. The biggest wind-turbine manufacturer in the world, the Danish giant Vestas, can't fill orders from China and India fast enough. Danish exports of energy technology stood at about $13-billion in 2007.

... Fifty-five per cent of people living in Copenhagen (population 550,000) ride their bikes to work every day. City officials have estimated that people cycle 1.2 million kilometres, seven days a week. That's 30 times around the world every day. No wonder you can't find a fat person anywhere.

Denmark is the most energy-efficient country in Europe. By 2020, 30 per cent of its energy supply will come from renewable sources. All household waste is incinerated to generate heat and power. In Canada, incineration still conjures up images of the technology that hasn't existed in decades.

...Of course, the focus on reducing CO2 emissions had to have come at a brutal cost to the economy. At least, that is what's supposed to happen, isn't it? Somehow it didn't here. Denmark has one of the strongest economies in the European Union. Unemployment is 3.7 per cent. You read that right.

Danish politicians are different too. They're not afraid to impose taxes to discourage people from driving their cars. A litre of gas costs twice what it does in Canada. Almost half of the cost is tax, which the government collects and uses, in part, to help fund green innovation research.

...I could go on, but I'm sure you're sick of hearing about the virtuous Danes. In any case, the greenest country on the planet doesn't really care if you're applauding. The people here figure you'll be joining them soon enough. They're just getting a head start.

By the way, happy Blog Action Day 2009. It's devoted to climate change this year, and Compassionate Climate Action has joined with thousands of other blogs and bloggers around the world today to focus attention on this issue.

14 October 2009

53 Days - Climate Change and "Environmental Generational Amnesia"

I find myself often saying, when talking about global climate change, that it is already happening even though ...
• we (in many parts of the world) can't see it yet
• it's not happening in our own backyards
• it hasn't affected us yet.

But I'm starting to think we're just blinding ourselves to the impacts of global climate disruption — and that's
because of shifting baselines, or environmental generational amnesia. Whenever I discuss it with someone older
than 80, they definitely remember a time when there were more butterflies, for example. And
then so do I.
(And I'm not talking about false memory syndrome here. One of my best ever memories was watching thousands
and thousands of monarch butterflies flock together as they headed south on their migration. Wow!)

The term "shifting baselines" was first used to describe the habit of comparing today's fisheries numbers to a time
when they had already been depleted, rather than comparing today's fisheries with the numbers of fish in streams prior to industrial exploitation by humans, for example. It has become widely used to describe the shift over time in the expectation of what a healthy ecosystem looks like. (Visit
Shifting Baselines to learn more, and especially to watch Pristine, a brilliant slideshow that explains shifting baselines poignantly.)

When we tie this in with environmental generational amnesia, the loss of perception of change that occurs when each generation redefines what is "natural" or normal, we can see why the impacts of climate change in developed countries aren't registering for us. The impacts are still mostly gradual for us, and because we don't have an oral tradition of passing on natural history knowledge from one generation to another (thereby reminding each other and remembering together), subsequent generations just don't know what their bioregion used to be like.
"[P]eople construct a conception of what is environmentally normal based on the natural world encountered in childhood. The crux is that with each ensuing generation, the amount of environmental degradation can increase, but each generation tends to take that degraded condition as the non-degraded condition, as the normal experience. That's what I'm calling the problem of environmental generational amnesia.... When people relocate and compare a degraded nature to a more degraded nature from where they came, the baseline shifts. But I think the baseline shifts most when it occurs across generations. For then an entire generation shifts its baseline downward."
Nowadays the notion of generational amnesia and shifting baselines could easily be applied to water courses, glaciers, snowpacks, etc. Each generation will think what they have is normal. Alas....

Intergenerational projects that bring seniors together with young learners should always include the middle-aged (teachers, parents, community members, archivists) as participants and learners, since they need to have their childhood memories jogged so that they can pass on the knowledge when the older generation passes on.

In the meantime, I'm mourning the beautiful cedar trees in my community, which I swear have started dying just in the last few years. And so I'd better start pointing out some remaining healthy ones to my students, so that they'll have a memory of green and healthy cedar trees, rather than the orange and yellow they're turning now.