29 January 2012

A Return to Compassion

Oftentimes, hanging around on the internet is like watching the synapses of the brain fire off in lots of different directions, making strange but wondrous connections. I was just checking out a movie about the militarization of boys made by an 8-year-old homeschooler, and the next thing I knew, I was being spellbound by the gentle voice of Thich Nhat Hanh (known as "Thay"), extolling the importance of compassion. He was answering that same 8-year-old's question: "When I want to be in the here and the now, how can I not suffer when people are not being good to this world?"

Even though so many of the world's cultures are founded on religious/spiritual traditions that highlight the importance of compassion (literally suffering with, or "sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others), it is not common in our day-to-day dealings — especially since economics trumped social and civic relationships.

We numb and dumb ourselves so much in our EuroAmerican culture that compassion is simply not a common emotion. It is even less common in our society to hold the offender in our hearts with compassion.

But here, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that even climate change transgressors, miscreants, lawbreakers, criminals, villains, felons, malefactors, guilty parties, culprits, sinners, evildoers, trespassers, fossil fuel corporation CEOs and a whole whack of politicians (in short, those who are wilfully choosing to destroy the life-sustaining capacity of our entire biosphere) deserve to be treated with compassion. First, because they cannot help themselves ("If we look deeply, we see that maybe they don't want to kill, to destroy"), and second, because they will not come 'round or be healed or transformed otherwise.

Hmmm, I wonder if Thay would be willing to sit down and have a talk with Exxon's Rex Tillerson!?

22 January 2012

What Juices People? Money! What's Going to Save the World? Money!

Today's post is courtesy of a fascinating conversation I had this past week with a special young person in my life — a carpenter, an artist and a thinker all in one.

This is someone who understands that if you're not outraged by what's going on in the world, you're not awake. But, and I suspect this is due to his equally young wife's influence, instead of bitching about it, he reflects thoughtfully and comes up with solutions, both conceptual and material solutions.

Imagine my surprise and curiosity when he quite assuredly told us that environmental activism isn't going to save the world, money is. Making a lot of money. By creating huge economic opportunities that just happen to also be kind to the Earth. Here's my recollection of what he shared with us.
Saving the world has to make money. What binds people and ideas together? Money. Money is the glue in our society. Nobody's on your side otherwise.

Distributing an idea to save the planet? You have to sell it. And who's going to sell it? Only someone who is going to make a lot of money off it. Otherwise, you're spinning your wheels!

Forget every idea that isn't a revenue-generator. It has to be economically viable. If it can't compete in the marketplace, it's dead before you start. It's like you're knockin' on a big steel door with a dime. It's just not going to open.

Where is the money to fight the oil corporations? You don't have the money to fight them. Dress like them. Go to their meetings. Don't fight them, because you're going to lose. Do it the same way the corporations do it, but with different intentions. Use ethical underhanded conniving!

Get in the race, he entreated us. (But enviros "don't do money," I responded. We're not in the race because we don't see life as a race, but a walk in the forest.) Just as you cringe at the word "money," he told me, corporations cringe at "environment."

Go from fighting corporations — and being ostracized by corporations — to being in synch with them, inside them. Remember that just because you're a corporation doesn't mean you have to be exploitative. There are social enterprises, B-corps, etc.

Fixing these problems is not going to be free, it's going to cost a lot of money, in jobs and research especially. Take, for example, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The question isn't how to clean it up, but how to make money off cleaning it up (for example, recouping the oil in efficient, environmentally friendly ways). That way, the clean up doesn't have to depend on volunteers with lousy equipment.

For example, what's the only thing that's stopping shark finning? Tourism. Shark tourism. So boost that sector of the economy. Help people make more money by showing off sharks to tourists than by killing them for their fins.

Another example. Design a mid-sized gasifier, somewhere between a $20,000 bells-and-whistles Swedish unit and a backyard oil drum unit. Couple it with a compatible generator, sell it to farms. Waste biomass generates energy and then becomes charcoal, a fertilizer. Farms can become energy independent. Get Honda to run with this, but keep your finger in it so you can make money for the next environmentally friendly idea.

This change has to have its own legs and run by itself. People have to want this.
As someone with not one ounce of entrepreneurial spirit in her (note the complete lack of ads on my blog and website), this all came as quite a shock to my (belief) system. But I suppose what my young friend was trying to say was simply, "You have not been successful in beating them. Now join them."

15 January 2012

Taking a Break to Enjoy the Sunshine

I'm taking today off to enjoy the sunshine. It's such a rare occurrence during the winter where I live, so I'm just going to soak it up. See you next week!

Oh yes, I could go on about how Canada's Natural Resources minister uttered something so entirely absurd this week that he's got half the country in a flap, but let's just say I've finally found my inner peace as a radical environmentalist! Especially if by "radical" we mean "of or relating to the root of something."

Yes, I am of or related to the root of life on this precious planet.

08 January 2012

Scientists as the Enemy? Sometimes!

Regular readers know that my husband spends hours and hours every day reading and synthesizing the research on global warming and climate change, so when something new comes along, he's on top of it.

Still, his antagonism towards the majority of climate scientists has always confused me a bit. After all, the research that he's reading and synthesizing day in, day out comes from scientists! But he maintains that these scientists — who could have made the conscious choice to be human beings first and scientists second — have a lot of the weight of inaction on climate change on their shoulders.

Yesterday, I saw this in action, and it disturbed me to the core. We were invited by a friend to have a meeting over coffee (okay, soy chai latte) with a scientist friend of his, someone with a high degree in physics and a government job.

I figured this was going to be a friendly meeting of minds and hearts. Wrong! This fellow was a denialist wolf pretending to be nice in sheep's clothing. As he kept "playing" devil's advocate, disagreeing with research he had neither heard of nor read, I felt more and more slimed. I had gone there with my defences down, not realizing it was a trap.

At first, I thought it was slightly strange but friendly repartee. But the number of times he used the terms "devil's advocate" and "don't believe the numbers" convinced me that his motives were not friendly.

His big "lesson" for us was to not forget the negative feedbacks (which in this case are the good ones). Hey, mister, if you can get your negative feedbacks to overwhelm the overwhelming positive (bad) feedbacks in the climate system, go for it. But so far, your negative feedbacks are losing because we keep pumping 30 billion tons of extra (human-made) carbon into the atmosphere each year ... and rising! (So not only is that figure not falling to zero carbon emissions, but the rate of acceleration of our emissions is still rising.)

The lesson I hope I left this man with is this: Physics, schmysics. What about the humans in the equation? What about the kids? What about their future? Why would we not employ the precautionary principle if there is any risk whatsoever?

The science is valuable, but not if we're ignoring what's happening in the world because it doesn't fit with our "scientific models," and not if scientists are going to put science before life itself.

01 January 2012

Why Feeling Bad Could Save the Future

Today, we're giving compassion a holiday.

As I am insulted in my local community paper (for asking people to think about our children's right to a climate-safe future), and as the few friends that we have left admit that they feel uncomfortable when my husband and I (mainly I) talk with emotion about what we're doing to the future, I'm realizing that feeling bad could be what saves the future.

People know (don't they?) that the climate change denial machine was literally born out of and modelled on the tobacco industry's conspiracy to deny the dangers of smoking their cigarettes, including using some of the same bought-and-paid-for scientists.

But I sense that it's the internet that has allowed a real nastiness to creep into public affairs and public comment on them. When I feel bad, I want it to be for the children, not because of personal attacks against me. (When I am outraged by those who don't care about the kids, I don't use their names in my writings ... though I'm starting to wonder if that's more from cowardice on my part.)

I find myself longing for the anonymity of a large city where I could do my activist work with like-minded and like-hearted people and not be the target of ad hominen attacks. (They really know how to hurt a gal: "Julie Johnson" — see that? They didn't put the "t" in my name when they were slagging me! Grrr. But truly, what does it say about their credibility when they can't even spell my name correctly?)

In that particular letter to the editor, the writer said that my concern is "shrill hysteria" and that my departure will be welcomed by many. The letter didn't make much sense to me (he was responding to a terribly edited version of a carefully constructed letter of mine, so who knows what he actually read), but the writer raised two valid points:

1. It's not about me, and my departure (whatever he meant) doesn't matter. I don't give a damn about my life or my future anymore ... what I am working for, calling for, is acknowledgement from governments and others in power that we are threatening the lives and futures of all the world's children.

It seems that comfortable people in my society can't imagine the world without themselves in it, so they're not willing to picture the carbon-constrained and climate-changed future of food shortages and famines, floods and droughts, heat waves and other extreme weather events. I wish they could take themselves out of that picture and focus on the kids. Or even just look around the world to see what's happening elsewhere already.

2. I AM hysterical! I am feeling absolutely, completely 100% hysterical (without the exaggerated aspect), and I am becoming shriller and shriller because nobody is bloody well listening! It's become quite obvious that I cannot get people out of a burning movie theatre if they're too comfortable to leave, but I won't stop yelling "Fire!" and I sure as hell am going to keep trying to pull the children out.

Well meaning friends keep giving me advice: don't get so emotional (we're talking about the future of all the children, of all species ... the potential end of life on Earth, and you don't want me to get emotional?), don't be so negative (you can check out my opinion of positive thinking in the face of global climate calamity here), be sure to offer solutions (let's get the kids out of the burning theatre before we sit down to discuss fire safety rules, shall we?).

It's not like, as one friend used to say, I'm a Cassandra (who, in Greek mythology, was gifted with the ability to hear the future but cursed so that no one would ever believe her predictions; "her combination of deep understanding and powerlessness exemplify the ironic condition of mankind," according to Wikipedia). I'm not so much predicting the future as seeing what's already happening and understanding the nature of climate feedbacks and knowing that we're heading towards a point of no return.

What really hit home recently (I've written about this before, but only just really "got it" yesterday) is why no one wants to hear and heed the warnings. Post World War II generations (my mother's, mine, my niece's) in EuroAmerican countries are soooooo comfortable that they live in a cocoon of entitlement, ease and luxury (compared with past generations of human beings). Added to that is the New Age "surround yourself with positive people" mantra. What we've ended up with is a big chunk of the globe who (literally, physically) recoil at hearing the sad and scary news about the climate change mess we've cooked up.

Now here's what makes it even worse. These people (and it's most of us) choose to avoid FEELING BAD today rather than choosing to avoid a climate hell for their children or grandchildren in the (nearer than we think) future. Am I articulating that well? People are refusing to FEEL BAD. They would rather condemn their children to future food shortages and famines than have to FEEL BAD today hearing and thinking about it.

To me, that is inexcusable. So, for 2012, here's to a year where people allow their hearts to feel the pain and their eyes to cry the tears and their minds to think about what we're doing to the children ... and then may they have the courage to speak up and do something about it. Even if it's just writing a letter to their elected representatives, because that's how we change political will.

Happy new year, folks. May we all feel this year, even if it's bad. Cuz feeling bad is better than not feeling.