31 March 2013

What Would Jesus Do About Climate Change?

Hey, Happy Easter. I know it's a Christian holy day, but it's so wrapped up in the rites of spring (here in the northern hemisphere, that is) that it feels like a holiday for everyone.

The day got me thinking about what Jesus would say and do about this climate mess we've got ourselves into. I'm no religious scholar, though when I was little, Jesus was one of my best friends (the whole point of superlatives goes over the heads of children). That has to count for something. I knew he was a cool dude, and I could tell, even as a young child, that his message was a special one. Plus, my husband has read the Bible numerous times and written a(n unpublished) book about it. So that has to count for something, too.

And so, with the spring-like weather buoying my spirits after a long, dark winter, here are some thoughts on Jesus as eco-hero.

First, Jesus wouldn't have allowed climate change to happen in the first place. He valued and loved the natural world and the children of all species too highly. His doctrine, in a word, was compassion.

And then there's the humility thing. Jesus was a humble person. And he encouraged people to trust in the abundance of the Earth, rather than working, working, working to acquire, and then hoard, material wealth. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matthew 6: 28-29). So much of the "development" that has driven us over the brink in terms of greenhouse gas pollution has been for the sake of conspicuous consumption and status-seeking. 

Jesus believed in an economy of sharing and giving. If we had the habit of distributing wealth fairly, instead of lusting after as much "mammon" as we can get and storing it away, we wouldn't need to be stealing from the future. And don't forget, in an economy of sharing and giving, there's a lot of receiving going on, too! But not among takers.

You know, I'm realizing that our economic engine is driven by greed and fear and anxiety, which are in turn driven by our economic engine (through advertising and PR). And they all come from not believing in a compassionate, abundant universe. Isn't that interesting. 

It's as if the people "driving" the economy are blind to the promises of springtime. So, with compassion in our hearts, how can we share the gifts of spring with those who are not used to sharing? 

Let me leave you with the first verse of a poem called Springtime Jesus, by Joy Cowley.


You, Springtime Jesus,
just as I’d settled down for winter,
you broke into my heart
and danced your love right across it
in a mad excess of giving.
Just as I’d got comfortable
with bare branches and unfeeling,
just as my world was neatly black and white,
there you were,
kicking up flowers
all over the place.
— Joy Cowley

24 March 2013

Does Oversimplifying Help or Hinder Efforts to Understand Climate Change?

Over at Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton said recently that "the 'Arab Spring' can be directly attributed to the sharing of literature and written commentary, read by millions of people, via social media." 

The Arab Spring has also been attributed to high unemployment rates among male youths in the Middle East and the sky-rocketing food prices caused that year by the heat waves and wildfires in Russia the summer before that killed 30% of that country's grain crops, shutting down exports.

A couple of days ago at Grist, I read about a 5 year old girl who "found the remains of a previously undiscovered dinosaur" on the Isle of Wight. On a beach there, she found a fossil of a 115 million year old flying reptile, now named Vertidraco daisymorrisae ("dragon from the Isle of Wight" + the young discoverer's name).

Here's the thing. What Daisy Morris found was a small pterosaur, not a dinosaur at all. While lots of media sources got it wrong, both amateur paleontologists and self-confessed "paleo-pedantics" are lamenting this lack of paleo literacy amongst the general public. (I count myself in the dinosaur-illiterate group. Heck, I still have to check with little kids to make sure the long-necked vegetarian one is the brontosaurus.) (Am I right?) Other commenters are pointing out that the pedantry is a buzz kill when we should be celebrating this young girl's find, despite evolutionary illiteracy among the masses. 

I feel the experts' pain – every time I see a spelling mistake in print or hear a grammatical error over the airwaves. But I've learned to accept that these typos and booboos don't spell the end of the world.

Unfortunately, climate change does.

So, are we oversimplifying science and world events to our peril? Should people understand all the causes of the Arab Spring (including foreign manipulation and the role of mercenaries) in order to better understand world events? Do people need a firmer grasp of zoology, paleontology and evolutionary biology in order to understand the rate of biodiversity loss and the sixth mass extinction we're experiencing? 

Oversimplification is defined as simplifying to the point of causing misrepresentation, misconception, or error; or causing distortion or error by extreme simplification of a subject (thank you, The Free Dictionary).

How much dumbing down and rounding off and leaving out of climate change science can happen before the public just isn't getting the intricacy and urgency of the problem? The hearts of many people are won by bumper sticker slogans. (Okay, that's probably an oversimplification.) 

But is it okay to have a climate illiterate public as long as we win the battle of the bumper stickers? As long as people generally lean or believe in the direction of actions that will safeguard the future? In simpler words, is oversimplification our friend or our foe?

17 March 2013

How to Conjure Up Joy in Sad Times

Joy, by Jacqueline Joy Lawson *
(used with permission)
Some weeks, I know so clearly what I want to blog about that I write my post on Saturday night. (I know, I know, I lead a pretty boring life if that's what excites me on a Saturday night!) 

Other weeks, I wake up Sunday morning without a clue. The week has been hectic and/or stressful and blogging about compassionate action on climate change is the furthest thing from my mind. 

This was one of those weeks. We're heading into spring break and I'm a teacher, so I had to finish report cards (I call them Celebrations of Learning). I was busily involved in organizing a fundraiser for our Art & Nature program for kids (thanks to everyone who contributed). Work was super hectic (I was given the opportunity to present my Climate Reality slide show, Whacky Weather, Food Fragility and Compassionate Climate Action, to my local board of school trustees). And family health issues are weighing heavily again.

So a burden was lifted this morning when I discovered two quotes waiting for me in my inbox, both of which are well worth sharing with you today:
Every human has four endowments: self awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom ... the power to choose, to respond, to change. — Stephen Covey 
Where we are most joyful is often the place from which we can best heal what is hurting in the world.
— Howard Friend

I view problem solving through a "What and How" lens. Covey's quote gives us a clear What. We must – and can, given the four endowments he lists – choose to respond to change. Okay, I've removed a bit of punctuation and maybe changed the meaning of his quote a little. (I take support wherever I can find it.) But even if we leave the commas in, Covey is still saying we have a power that a lot of people don't believe they possess. And I'm saying that we can use that power to create change in the world.

Friend's quote offers us a wonderful How. Each us of can name a time, or a place, or an activity that makes us most joyful. That's where we can focus our power. That's when we feel (and actually are) our most powerful. That's what we can focus on doing to help respond to what's happening to our children's future.

Let me give you an example. I'm not much of a fundraiser, I don't like paperwork, I don't have an inventor's bone in my body, and I still don't understand electricity. So I'm not going to effect change very effectively by trying to raise funds, nor by working in an NGO's office, nor by inventing a new form of energy storage to make renewable energy technologies more efficient. But I LOVE teaching, giving presentations, offering workshops, and facilitating multi-stakeholder roundtable sessions. That's where and when I am "most joyful" and therefore that's how I, personally, can "best heal what is hurting in the world."

So what juices you? Not everyone's joyful place will directly help to refreeze the Arctic, but if doing what you love can contribute, even in some small way, to making the world a better place, then I entreat you to seize, to wield, your power "to choose, to respond, to change."

* If you've forgotten what joy is all about (see my post When Lack of Hope Meets Self-Doubt), please visit Joyful on Purpose. Jacqueline Joy Lawson is helping people find joy "in every little thing." And that's no small thing!

10 March 2013

A Compassion Tune-Up: Tell Me There's a Heaven

I've long believed that heaven was invented by grieving parents who had lost a child. It makes total sense to me that if you lost a loved one, you'd want to picture them "living" somewhere beautiful. I would never criticize or belittle anyone who came to a belief in heaven for that reason. 

But in reality, Earth is our heaven. Our paradise. Our Elysian Fields. Our hereafter. (*Here*after. There is no giant compost pile in the sky. It is here on Earth that we decompose and return to the earth.) We would need no other heaven if we treated this Earth as our future home — as our only home.

The sad irony of ironies for me is that, while most people see "heaven" as a future thing and hang their hat on the hope that it's real, they could be putting their hope to work creating heaven on Earth.

We want to believe in heaven but, for some reason, we're not willing to fight for it. We would rather hope that it exists than work to ensure its existence.

Ah, there's so much pain in the world. This graphic music video (by Kozabashia) hurts, while Chris Rea tries to make sense of all the pain with his heartrending lyrics and powerful voice. But that's just the pain in our world before we add in the ravages of the climate change emergency. With climate chaos impacting millions of people and killing about 350,000 every year, that's a lot of broken-hearted loved ones hoping there's a heaven. One commenter wrote: "There is a heaven ... always has been. It's within each of us ... called compassion."

Enjoy, if that's the right word (perhaps "feel deeply" would be more appropriate) this compassion tune-up. Lyrics are below.

[There seem to be ads everywhere these days.
Please excuse any ads that pop up.]

Tell Me There's a Heaven

The little girl, she said to me
What are these things that I can see
Each night when I come home from school
When mama calls me in for tea

Oh, every night a baby dies
And every night a mama cries
What makes those men do what they do
To make that person black and blue

Grandpa says they're happy now
They sit with God in paradise
With angels' wings and still somehow
It makes me feel like ice

Tell me there's a heaven
Tell me that it's true
Tell me there's a reason
Why I'm seein' what I do

Tell me there's a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they're all happy now
Papa, tell me that it's so

So, do I tell her that it's true
That there's a place for me and you
Where hungry children smile and say
We wouldn't have no other way

That every painful crack of bones
Is a step along the way
Every wrong done is a game plan
To that great and joyful day

And I'm looking

At the father and the son
And I'm looking

At the mother and the daughter

And I'm watching them in tears of pain
And I'm watching them suffer
Don't tell that little girl
Tell me

Tell me there's a heaven
Tell me that it's true
Tell me there's a reason
Why I'm seein' what I do

Tell me there's a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they're all happy now
Papa, tell me that it's so

03 March 2013

Our Economic Engine Has Backfired

The way we talk about the economy in our EuroAmerican culture is one long, extended metaphor. It's the engine that drives us. 

"Fuelling America's Economic Engine" 
"Is America's Economic Engine Stalling?"  
"Growth and Renewal in the US: Retooling America's Economic Engine"  
"China's Shorthanded Economic Engine Sputters" 
"Canada's Economic Engine Runs on Energy We Deliver"  
"Canada's Economic Engine Runs Out of Gas" 
"Economic Engine Should Keep Revving in 2013" 
"The UK's Economic Engine is Running on Empty" 
"Firing Up the Economic Engine" 
"Keeping Japan's Economic Engine Running" 
"Has America's Economic Engine Run Out of Steam?" 
"Local Economic Engine Gains Steam" 
"Priming the Economic Engine" 
"The Economic Engine that Could"
Now, even though I took a Car Care course in grade 10 and can change my own flat tires, I have to admit that I don't know much about the internal combustion engine. What goes on under the hood is a mystery to me, akin to magic. But when flames come out of the exhaust pipe and there's a loud bang, well, I know a backfire when I hear one. And our globalized economic engine has backfired on us. 

According to Wikipedia, the term comes from experiences with early unreliable firearms or ammunition, "in which the explosive force was directed out at the breech instead of the muzzle." (Sounds kind of dangerous, no?) 

The term "backfire" then came to indicate a mistimed explosion in a car's cylinder or exhaust. And now it also refers to "something that produces an unintended, unexpected, and undesired result." (Sound like the economic engine we've been test-driving for the last century?)

I had to laugh (as in gallows humour) when I read (again, at Wikipedia) that a "backfire in an automobile engine typically results from various malfunctions related to the air to fuel ratio." Does that strike you as funny? Get it? Our economic engine is using so much fuel that the atmosphere is malfunctioning? Okay, maybe I'm overextending the metaphor now, but you get the picture.

Do you hear that giant explosive kaPOW? That's the sound of our fossil-fuelled economy blowing up in our faces.

"The first commandment of economics is: Grow. Grow forever. Companies get bigger. National economies need to swell by a certain percent each year. People should want more, make more, earn more, spend more  ever more."      — Donella Meadows, co-author, Limits to Growth 
" ... all of us, including scientists, will have to give serious thought to the notion that economic growth and true sustainable long-term wealth may now be antithetical."— Kurt Cobb, "Should Scientists Embrace Economic Growth?" Scitizen, 16 October 2007
Maybe if we all just slowed down a bit, stopped driving ourselves silly trying to get ahead, when getting ahead with our backfiring, sputtering and dangerous economic engine means driving down the road to oblivion?