30 June 2013

"A Torrent of Hope"

This has to be a short post as I'm in the midst of an environmental education and communication conference. My days are filled with speeches, workshops, meals and networking, and I'm knackered (aka, very tired).

The keynote speaker at tonight's banquet is well known as an academic sort who specializes in hope. At the end of her talk, she told us that what she wants to create is a "torrent of hope" and she asked us to think about and then share what gives us hope. A couple of people responded, and then she posed the question again (she wasn't getting that "torrent" she was hoping for because we were all busy digesting our dinners). 

Just as she finished asking again ("What is it that gives you hope?"), a small child in the audience called out for his father: "Daddy?!"

It was the perfect (accidental) response — but I'm not sure the keynote speaker got it. It's the mommies and the daddies doing the good climate change work that will provide hope for the children. 

Is hope not just another EuroAmerican luxury? Isn't it something we have to earn? Do we have the right to hope (the noun) if we haven't earned it — by doing everything we can do to move us to zero carbon? (Someone else this weekend said we shouldn't use negative terminology — so shall I say "100% perpetual energy" instead?) 

If we haven't even been impacted by climate chaos yet, what right do we have to usurp "hope"? Isn't that another form of denial and inaction? Shouldn't we just roll up our sleeves (to disagree for the first time ever with David Orr) and let our action on climate change lead to hope? Especially for those already impacted?

And maybe this is simply a semantic argument, but hoping (the verb) doesn't even get us as far as praying does!

Blah blah hope blah blah blah hope blah blah blah hope. I'm going to put on my own conference — and I'm not going to allow anyone to talk about hope. ;-) 

In fact, maybe we won't talk at all. No hopin', no talkin'. Just action. It is, literally, our only hope.

(Please, if you can convince me that hope really, truly does have the power to "save the world," I'd love to hear your reasoning. Because so far, it's not working. By the way, I do see a role for hope (I've heard there's a part of the brain that shuts down if it cannot conceive of a positive future), but then we're moving past hope to envisioning and creating. So again, it's the work that leads to hope, not the other way around.)

23 June 2013

Getting Tired of the Rhetoric

Last night, I was already in bed when I heard Barack Obama's voice. It was a nice voice. Calm and soothing. It sounded confident. Very Americanly. Lovely music was playing in the background. Obviously my husband was watching an ad or a Youtube movie about the U.S. president. 

I wasn't really listening — until I heard this: 
"... and lead global efforts to fight it. This is a serious challenge. But it's one uniquely suited to America's strengths."

Aaaarrrrgh. You know, we could possibly maybe perhaps conceivably get this solved if Americans stopped thinking (or being told) that climate change is a challenge that Americans can solve. That sort of rhetoric feeds straight into the small-minded, insular view of the world that has held up action on climate change in the United States for decades. 

This is NOT an American problem. Every human being, indeed every living thing on this planet (except perhaps those creatures who live around hot vents at the bottom of very deep oceans) is going to be severely impacted. 

The American problem is that Americans think it's their God-given right to be the ones who decide when, where and how our catastrophic plight will be addressed. 

Sure, Obama's focus groups have been talking with my wonderful stepson — our cannibalistic, er, capitalist economic system is so ingrained that it seems climate change solutions have to be presented through economic eyes and seen as good for jobs and the economy (and each family's financial well-being) to be accepted by the American public.

But it wasn't "money in every pot" that got Americans interested in the space race way back when. It was finding out that they were losing the space race to the Russians!

If Obama really wanted to safeguard the future for his children (and ours), he'd be saying:
My fellow Americans, the rest of the world* has left us behind! They are fighting the good fight against climate change without us. They are leaving us in our own (drought-stricken) dust(bowls). Ladies and gentlemen, we are losing the race to save the world! Let me repeat. We are losing. We have become global losers, ladies and gentlemen. Sweden is beating us, for heaven's sake! Who even knows where Sweden is??? Come on, people, let's hustle and get to zero carbon before they do!
Sorry, I got carried away there. But you get my drift? Americans are not leaders in the global climate change fight. Saying they are going to lead global efforts does not make it so. Beating every other country to a zero-carbon economy ... now that would be global leadership!


The video in question is currently on the homepage of the White House website, but I'm sure it won't stay there long. (Republicans and other deniers have already been shouting down Obama's plan — even before the announcement.) Unfortunately, I can't embed the Youtube version here because some sickos have been posting dreadful comments there. 

* Except for that laggard north of the border, but Canadians are working to get rid of him and his tar sands.

16 June 2013

If "Boys Will Be Boys," How Will the World Ever Change?

I might be wading into dangerous territory here, but something grievous has happened in my life and I want to share my thoughts and reactions.

Over the last six years (a long time in the life of a child), I have worked with a lovely multi-aged group of children as their resource teacher. (Nothing fancy. Basically, it means the children are homeschooled — or unschooled (life as teacher) — and I provide special learning opportunities for them one to two days per week.)

Almost from our first day together six years ago, I noticed the tendency of children of the male persuasion to turn almost anything into some sort of weapon. The oldest children were only 7 at the time, so it was easy to turn pretend bazookas into whipped cream shooters (I had to think of something fast) and ... well, you get the picture. 

We (the parents and I, but especially I) made a special effort to talk to the kids about the importance of peace and creating a safe space for each other. We decided that our class would be a pacifist one. We came up with a school peace policy one year after witnessing a particularly violent Christmas concert (violence in the name of student creativity at the "Prince of Peace" time of year doesn't work for me). 

We ask any "fighters" to rationalize what they're fighting for (a critical thinking exercise), and whether they're both feeling safe in the role play. Our stylized kendo fighters (best friends who are taking karate lessons together) are asked to take it outdoors or into the gym so that others aren't hurt by their twirling (and occasionally whacking) sticks. 

One mom of two sons (and a daughter) told me recently that our pacifism custom (it's not quite a rule) has spilled over into their family life, making things at home more peaceful for all of them.

These days, however, not only have my original students grown older but the class has grown bigger. We have new students who are coming in at older ages, already inured to toy (and some real) weapons, play fighting and online video game violence. 

The change in the dynamic of my class is shocking and, frankly, breaking my heart. I'm noticing unkindness, rudeness and, yes, violence. (I don't think it's acceptable for older kids to threaten younger kids just because the younger kids are pesky at times.)

Now please don't go off thinking you know what I'm going to say. I'm still trying to wrap words around something I've never heard or thought about before. I'll try to come to it by showing you, with some examples, what I'm not thinking.

1. In one of Canada's national papers, a columnist whose views I tend not to agree with wrote a recent article entitled Boys will be boys – schools need to understand that in which she conflates the hands-on and active (kinesthetic) learning style of many boys (and the lack of respect for that learning style in the education system) with boys' predilection for "mock violence." 

"The punishment of boys for being boys proceeds apace. But what happens to them on the playground is the least of it. What happens in the classroom is worse," she says. I, however, don't see an obvious, necessary or natural connection between "going bang-bang" with a finger and boys' learning needs. Classrooms can be active, exciting places to learn without being (mockly) violent places.

2. The second example comes from the Huffington Post and Soraya Chemaly's The Problem with 'Boys Will Be Boys'. In this article, the author chooses to explore a rape metaphor when what I saw in her story was violence, pure and simple. 

Violence (and meanness) like that does not happen more than once in my learning group. "We're a family," I point out, "and we don't treat each other like that here." And then "the village" steps in to create diversions (aka interesting learning activities). (By the way, why is the violent little boy in that article not building his own castles?)

3. The third example is certainly getting closer to what I'm trying to point out. A young boy named Benny made the following video to point out how young boys like Benny are being manipulated into accepting militarization as the only route for boys. Surely, allowing boys to grow up in peace, without indoctrination into the narrow world (and worldview) of war and violence, is not the same as feminization or emasculation? And are we, as their parents and other caregivers, still comfortable being pimps for the army and other violent gangs?

"Boys will be boys" is a proverb excuse given when boys (or men) behave badly, in a noisy, rude, unpleasant or irresponsible way (I'm collating several online definitions here). But if we keep making that excuse, how will things ever shift?

Here, then, is the point I'm trying to make. Are we all agreed that peace on Earth would be a pretty nifty thing? (I'm not going to include Pentagon generals or Security Council officials in that question.) 

If we consider simply the carbon footprint of the world's militaries, we can come up with an important justification for promoting peace. If we also take the human toll on individuals, families and communities into account, only the most callous and mercenary would trot out the "he hit me back first" justification for war and violence. 

So if we want to create peace on Earth, aren't we going to have to change a few things first? Like the fact that we give boys free reign to indulge in "mock" violence merely because they're boys? (Wait, I'm not done yet. I'm not into suspending little kids because they go "bang-bang" with their finger.)

It is believed that for hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of years, hominid and human males have been the protectors of their family groups. (Believe me, hominid and human mothers have had their hands full looking after the kids!) 

Sometimes violence was a necessary part of that defence. (One does not negotiate with a sabretooth tiger at the entrance to the cave.) But in many parts of the world, the modern era has seen a huge shift in that role. Our sabretooth tigers are gone (though wild animals are still a threat in some places). 

Can our species not find / choose / allow / promote a new role for males, then? Can we not ask boys and men to use that hands-on, kinesthetic energy to come up with ways to safeguard the planet? Does their focus — their "enemy" — always have to be in flesh and blood (heavy on the blood, it seems)? 

Can the focus not be greenhouse gases, corporate malfeasance, ill-conceived inventions, an economy run amok? Can our kids not turn their attention to new inventions that haven't been invented yet, new ways of creating energy, new ways of living that don't use fossil fuels?

Maybe fighting is so engrained in male genes that my idea is nuts. Maybe I just need to turn a blind eye to it. (Not going to happen, not when my heart is hurting.) Maybe I need to see "playfighting" as just that: play. (But to what end? We don't have to fight to feed anymore, so why learn to fight?) 

Maybe I simply need to vigilantly watch that playfighting doesn't turn violent, that all my students feel safe in our group space. But if pretend bazookas can serve as whipped cream shooters (oh, the kids had fun making those imaginary banana splits!), then why can't protecting the future become an active, exciting yet peaceful pursuit?

I dunno. What do you think?

p.s. Here are two past posts that you might find of interest:
Calling on the Feminine
Turning Play Weapons into Garden Tools?

09 June 2013

What's the Future Climate Going to Look Like? Check out Today's Wacky Weather

My husband (you know him; he's one of my favourite eco-heroes) attended probably his last climate change conference last week. Even through his jet-lagged stupor, he noted that while the conference was supposed to be about the impacts of climate change, most of the presentations were about modelling. Modelling, modelling, modelling ... while the Earth burns. Attendees seemed to be more interested in discussing their impact models than actual, potential and committed impacts. My husband was heartsick.

But on the day after the conference, some good news came his way. Climate News Network put out a story about the conference that quoted Peter's paper:
Another said the effects of climate change on food security in the Northern Hemisphere had been seriously underestimated. 
He said the further warming to which the world was already unavoidably committed meant that severe regional problems lay ahead, which would have a worldwide effect. 
He concluded: “The evidence from the science is overwhelming. Under our best ideas of mitigation, the Northern Hemisphere is committed… to large losses of all crops. We are clearly committed to a dire food security emergency situation in the Northern Hemisphere and, therefore, globally.”
The neat part about the quote is not just that it got picked up, not just that it's salient, but that it was book-ended by quotes from Dr. Martin Parry, visiting professor at the Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, and visiting research fellow at Imperial’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change. Parry said that if we want to know how climate change is going to affect us, we really need to see what the weather is doing.

In other words, if I understand him correctly, today's wacked-out weather is a glimpse of what's in store for us, climate-wise. 

This reminded me of one of my 2009 pre-Copenhagen posts in which I implored climate change educators to make the potential effects of climate change more graphic:  
We've done an extremely poor job of educating the public about the impending impacts on their children's future lives — not making the impacts visual / graphic enough for people, for example, or not personalizing / localizing them.... People have to be able to "see," in their mind's eye, what's going to happen to their children if we don't halt the carbon emissions.
Anyway, just wanted to share that again — the idea that it's becoming easier to point to and help people see what's going to become of us without drastic mitigation. 

02 June 2013

Another Crack at Climate Change Humour

Finding humour in the climate change crisis isn't easy, but nor is it impossible. I've tried once before to look at the lighter side of this whole schmozz. Let's give it another try, shall we (even if all we end up with is gallows humour)?

Okay, this one's cute for sure!
Look what happens when we cut down too many trees. Global warming is one thing, but see below and look at what might happen if we continue to clear our forests! We have to stop cutting down trees! This is getting serious! 

Hey, who knew Thoreau was so wry?
"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen." Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) from Walden, 1854

Stephanie McMillan's Code Green rocks at getting an environmental message across with some humour:

Did I mention gallows humour?