26 June 2011

Shame, Sin, Sacrifice and Sanction

All these Ss have been rolling around in my head this week. Shame. Sin. Sacrifice. Sanction. (The most insistent S-word these days is "surreal," which is how the whole climate change scene of increasing urgency and zero action feels, but that's for another day.)

Many cultures around the world have crawled out from under the thumb of organized religion, but we've perhaps thrown the baby out with the holy water. Religion served some important purposes (putting judgement aside for the moment). Religion was keeper of the taboos, for example.

But taboos have all but disappeared in the western world of "get anything and do anything you want, whenever you want." Shame is rarely a successful tool anymore in helping people learn the difference between right and wrong. Sin has become a virtue. Sacrifice? Ha! And sanctions? Well, check out the unemployment rate of black South Africans ... apartheid never really disappeared, despite the campaign of economic sanctions.

So, would it be worthwhile, for the sake of the future of all children, to bring back shame, sin, sacrifice and sanction? Could we have some impact merely by bringing these concepts up in private and public conversations about climate change and its mitigation? You know, reintroducing them as valid ways to point our societies in the direction of zero carbon and doing what's right by our children.

As someone who pays attention when the natural world is trying to tell me something, I have to share that two pileated woodpeckers just flew by and started pecking at the trees outside my window. Message there? Keep hammering away at it! Any way we can.

Winston Churchill once said, "You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life."

He also said, "When you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time - a tremendous whack."
Yeah, "nice" doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere. Maybe it's time to start rubbing people's faces in their shameful displays of profligate and uncaring greenhouse gas emitting. Like ... "Hey, lady, you must be pretty ashamed of yourself, idling your car like that when there's absolutely no reason to. You're killing your grandchildren, you know!" Or ... "Dear Mr. Prime Minister, shame on you for being unwilling to sacrifice any fossil fuel profits at all to ensure your children and mine a viable future."

Shame, sin, sacrifice, sanction. Remember the woodpeckers. Let's start driving these ideas home!

19 June 2011

What Are We Entitled To?

Entitlement. The fact of having a right to something, or the amount to which a person has a right.

It's about rights. But at the same time that many people in our culture have decided they are entitled to anything they set their eyes on, by sheer force of wanting it, others are losing their right to the very basics of life. A couple of cases in point....

1. "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts." I love that line. I found it in the comments section of a climate change blog, in response to a denialist. People have the right to form their own opinions, and perhaps they have the right — in their own private worlds — to believe in their own facts (in my fantasies, my height suits my weight a lot better!), but they do not have the right to confound an issue as already complex and knotty as the climate change emergency by applying their own made-up facts to it.

2. Several years ago, a friend of ours bought a piece of rural-ish land (although zoned residential because people put up houses there) that had been scraped bare of all its topsoil. Literally. The previous owner had scraped off and sold all the topsoil and gravel underneath, so this property was about four feet lower than the neighbouring properties. Over the years, he has built the soil back up by truckloads of grass clippings, leaves and manure from local landscapers and farmers. He has created a wonderful market garden (and indeed started a local farmers market) and now grows all sorts of food on land that was once a moonscape.

But our friend has been threatened with legal action because "agriculture" is a use of the property that is against the zoning bylaw. (A neighbour complained about the piles of stuff.) Apparently homeowners in that particular municipality have the right to sell off the life of a property, but not to add life to a property. Gives new meaning to the notion of private property rights, eh?

So, are we entitled to grow food — or aren't we? Is food growing a right, or merely a privilege, depending on the whims of your town council? I see food growing as a human right (at least for the last 10,000 years or so), and certainly a growing need as the climate change emergency threatens our food security more and more.

Here in Canada, we don't use the term "entitlements" for government payments to citizens. So I'm not talking about that kind of entitlement (and folks, walk a mile in the shoes of those who receive so-called handouts before judging them).

What I'm talking about is ... Are we entitled to a safe climate? Are our children entitled to a viable future? Are future generations entitled to economic and legal rights? And are the other species we share the planet with entitled to, well, their share of the planet?

12 June 2011

Ecological Literacy versus Environmental Intelligence

I keep getting updates from the Alliance for Earth Observations, about their 14 June 2011 Forum on Earth Observations (TM). They're meeting, with lots of big names, in Washington, DC to discuss "Creating a National Strategy for Environmental Intelligence." I'll admit, I would have more faith in their conference if their links worked better, but I'll put that aside for the moment....

Here are the highlights of the day's program:
  • The Need for Improved Environmental Intelligence
  • Environmental Intelligence Roundtable: Three Perspectives on U.S. Needs
  • The Role of Observations in Food Security
  • Linking Environmental and Business Intelligence
  • U.S. Earth Observations, Contributing Beyond Our Borders
  • Measuring to Manage
  • Innovative Solutions for Environmental Intelligence
So, I'm reading along, and it finally twigs. Hold on, wait just a minute! They're not talking about environmental intelligence as a synonym for ecological literacy (as I thought they were). So I click on What is Environmental Intelligence? (a link that works), and this is what I find out.
"Simply put, environmental intelligence is the most accurate and timely information available about our planet that enables governments, communities, companies and individuals to make sound decisions – decisions that save lives; protect and grow the economy; strengthen national security; and improve quality of life. Environmental intelligence is a result of a critical supply chain that begins with science and observations – ground sensors, ocean buoys, stream gauges, satellites, etc. – and ends with actionable information that allows decision-makers to better respond and adapt to a changing planet."
Darn, I thought I'd finally found a group of big shots (after all, this event is sponsored by the likes of NASA and, oops, Lockheed Martin) who understood the importance of people learning about how the Earth works. Ah, no.

Let's play a game, these folks said many decades ago. Let's screw up the planet with our growth-at-all-costs economic system and our imperialistic military view of the world. Then, once the world is screwed up, let's pretend we're interested in solutions by sugarcoating our growth-at-all-costs economics and our imperialistic militarism and we'll call it, let's see ... hey, how about environmental intelligence?

So, instead of environmental intelligence meaning information + knowledge + understanding + wisdom (with some important skills and attitudes thrown in), it has been turned into a military term meaning we're gonna use the scientists to collect data and then we're gonna use the data to stay alive as long as we can in our country while we keep making more and more money off the rest of the world.

I'd like to suggest to the organizers (in case their intelligence leads them to this lowly blog post), that they infuse their notion of environmental intelligence with a little compassion for the most climate change vulnerable in the world, especially the children, of all species. Give me heart over brain any day ... look where intelligence — of both sorts — has gotten us.

06 June 2011

When Old People Ignore Young Heroes (or Worse)

Sorry to any readers in other parts of the world. This week's post is decidedly Canadian.

We need to get very clear about something. When a young person takes a risk to tell us oldsters something important, we need to listen — not criticize!

I was away at an educational convention this past weekend, and came home to news that Canada has a new hero! Brigette Marcelle DePape was a page in the Canadian Senate who simply couldn't listen anymore without "saying" something. Why is it that Brigette's generation has all this courage while we elders keep denying that there's anything awry?

So, Brigette does this brave thing (check out the video) and what's the response of the "elders"?
• She disrupted the reading of the Throne Speech. Ah, no. She stood and held up a sign. Nothing disruptive there! The fact that the Senators were disrupted says more about how distractible they are or how boring the Throne Speech was.

• It was a breach of security. That's such a funny one! We live in such a dangerous society (not!) that a piece of cardboard is now a security threat. (Mike Duffy, you're such a ....)

• She showed a lack of respect for democratic institutions. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!! Oh my, if this one's true, we can certainly point to the man who taught her everything she knows. No, wait, his name was on the cardboard! Yeah, you know, the prime minister who was found in contempt of parliament!
Besides something to do with hockey, it must have been a slow news week to turn this young woman's plea for sanity within our political system into a media circus. But do let's remember that our prime minister — not elected by a majority of Canadians — has sinister motivations that entail liquidating the future for Brigette's generation in the name of profits for his cronies today.

Come on, CBC et al. Harper has already made a farce of our parliament. Quit pretending he hasn't.

Meantime, Brigette Marcelle DePape just joined my list of climate change heroes.

By the way, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore has this to say about Brigette's small act of civil disobedience:
"For a young person to do that and to do it peacefully, and quietly and with grace, I thought it was a very powerful moment. Every now and then there is an iconic moment where an individual takes action, and it inspires others to think .... I think that Canada and Canadians probably need to put aside the full respect thing and bring out their inner hockey stick and get to work on preventing their government from turning into a version of ours."