25 August 2013

Why Canada's Prime Minister Prorogued Parliament This Time*

This week, I received a copy of Franke James's Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship. It's an adult "graphic novel" styled book about Franke's experience as a Canadian artist whose work was going to be shown in a 20-city European solo show with financial support from our federal government. 

The key word there is was, because that government support was withdrawn and the tour was cancelled. But what's worse is that the pressure to cancel this artistic initiative seemed to come directly from the PMO (the Prime Minister's Office) because the message of her art didn't, you know, jibe with the Conservative government's take on the tar sands (which, in a word, sucks). Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for the PM and his O, Franke is not a quitter. Besides being an artist and a writer, she's also an environmental activist who deeply understands the climate crisis.

Now here is Not-Very-Prime Minister Harper proroguing parliament for the third time. According to the Globe and Mail:
"While Mr. Harper's uses of prorogation when he governed with a minority were controversial, majority governments often employ the procedure to signal a new legislative agenda. New sittings begin with a Speech from the Throne."
Here is what Franke doesn't know. I have it on good authority* that Stephen Harper's reason for proroguing the Canadian parliament this time is to figure out what his government is going to do to fight the climate change emergency.

Yes, Stephen Harper (according to my source*) has finally got it through his thick, er, primeministerly skull that continuing to pump 90 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day is not such a good idea after all. 
from Franke's book (used with permission)

He's finally recalling that he did indeed learn about the carbon cycle in school, and has acknowledged that methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is seeping into the atmosphere from thawing permafrost and destabilizing methane hydrates in the Arctic. 

He's at long last recognized the food security nightmare we're staring down as the Arctic's summer sea ice (the air conditioning for our growing season) disappears more and more in extent and/or volume each year.

My source* says that soon after his Throne Speech in mid-October, the Canadian Prime Minister is going to call on world leaders in government, business, religion, civil society and science to declare the climate change emergency and start the race to the zero-carbon economy. 

Reticence (aka, ahem, a flat-out refusal) to make that declaration is the only thing keeping us from launching (under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and through a UN Security Council motion) an all-out emergency response to the climate crisis and its impacts on billions of people — not to mention most other forms of life. 

So there it is! Another month or two and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will become a world-renowned global hero on climate change. All those Fossil of the Year awards that Canada has been winning? He will personally be returning them to the 2013 climate talks in Warsaw in November. 

I've got to say, I'm looking forward to once again being able to hold my head up high as a Canadian.

* Sadly, my source is my imagination.

18 August 2013

Cutting Down and Burning Up Our Future

A fairly new neighbour (one I've never met) had a truckload of giant logs delivered this past week. They weren't that long (maybe 20 feet, max) but they were huge in diameter. When I went past on my bike, a small crane was lifting them off the truck into his side yard. I thought, "Oh, cool, he's going to bring in a portable sawmill and build himself a little place."

Fast forward a day or two. As I ride past again, I glance over and see ... a pile of firewood. He's taken enormous logs, which obviously came from enormous trees, and turned them into firewood. He's taken immense logs that would have made stunning lumber, and turned them into firewood. Besides being amazed at how quickly he was rendering the massive logs into small chunks, I was not impressed.

I know, I know, it's none of my business on a day-to-day, neighbourhood level. But it's representative of what we're doing in the world, to the world. We've reached a time when the only fossil fuels we should be burning are those that are creating the energy to usher us into the Age of Zero-Carbon Perpetual (non-burning renewable) Energy (the Burning Age is over). Instead we're hunting for ever-increasing sources of fossil energy (tar sands, shale gas ... fracking? possibly the stupidest thing any human being has ever thought up) and still increasing our burning of fossil fuels every year. 

So our culture is like my neighbour who has taken fabulous logs (have I mentioned how big they were?) and, instead of "sinking" their stored carbon by building a structure out of them, is going to burn them for a bit of warmth, releasing their carbon into the atmosphere just when we need less carbon in the atmosphere. I just don't get it.

Here's another example. A friend who's had a tragic death in her family circle wrote to say that she's doing okay (just okay), but that she woke up the morning after the funeral to city workers cutting down a "100% healthy, beautiful, spectacular black walnut" on her street. (I've been there, and the trees in her neighbourhood are truly magnificent.) Then they cut the tree next to it. She did all she could think of to stop them, but to no avail. "Life is hard," she said, "when so few respect life outside of human life." 

See what I mean? In this age of wacky weather that's delivering record heat waves and droughts, why would a city decide to cut down trees that provide shade, lowering the temperature and making city life more livable? When we should be planting trees like crazy, my friend's street is now more vulnerable to extreme heat. 

Alas. Are these simply signs that as a culture, we're still ecologically illiterate (with no understanding of the short- and long-term carbon cycles, and no memory of transpiration from our study of trees and the water cycle in school)? Or perhaps we're just unable to see how we're shooting ourselves in the foot because we've been convinced that our ignorance is not a gun in our hands.

11 August 2013

Making the Invisible Backdrop of Neoliberalism Visible

Neoliberalism's trickle down effect
When synchronicity happens in my life, my ears perk up! It's the Universe's way of telling me to pay attention. And it happened again this past week.

A little history first. As you may know, I have a consulting "entity" (it's not profitable so it's not really a business; it's only me so it's not really an organization) called GreenHeart Education whose byline — "Greening the heart of teaching... one teacher at a time" — I sometimes rue. Although it feels like the educational monolith can't be moved and we can only chip away at it (one teacher at a time), it's also pretty evident that only a massive transformation will create the change that's necessary.

A very caring and knowledgeable houseguest sat at our breakfast table last week and said matter-of-factly: "If we don't stop creating our money from debt, nothing else can change." That our banking system is allowed to make money from debt is something my hubby and I have known about for years, but I'd never heard it put so succinctly.

Then an equally caring and knowledgeable friend wrote to say that she's been looking into the ideology of neoliberalism and its impacts on our education systems — and she has been pretty shocked by what she's uncovered. Indeed, echoing our houseguest, she said that within a neoliberal economy, "we MUST keep shopping to finance a debt economy, and we MUST keep the economy growing for the same reason." (Bingo, synchronicity. Ears perked up!)

Neoliberalism (unlike neoconservatism, which is so in-your-face with military force as its main expression) has been  
surreptitiously installed (in most if not quite all EuroAmerican countries, and increasingly globalized) as our social, political but especially economic backdrop, certainly without fanfare, without informed vote, in short, without us noticing. Indeed, Bronwyn Davies and Peter Bansel have written an article called Neoliberalism and education, in which they ask: "How does the calculated invisibility of neoliberalism work against our capacity to make a critique of it?"

As my friend pointed out, "Neoliberalism is not something teachers are taught about. It is specifically relevant to the language, policy, goals, methods, and assumptions of public education." And that's when I realized the source of my angst around trying to teach teachers about transformative education for sustainability. We're working against an enemy that has made itself invisible against the backdrop of its own making. Beige against a beige backdrop is pretty hard to see, let alone acknowledge, define, understand and mitigate — and throw out on its ass if we want to survive the climate change emergency.

The juggernaut that I've spoken about in the past — this is it. It's neoliberalism. Heck, I even managed to write about it without noticing it (a testament to its invisibility, or impenetrability perhaps)! The neoliberal worldview is so entrenched and seemingly intractable that Margaret Thatcher used to say "There is no alternative" (acronymized to TINA). And it's entrenched because it helps the rich get richer, ensures that those with power grow more powerful, and keeps the financial elites on their thrones — so it ain't goin' anywhere any time soon.

Neoliberal. Such a nice word, eh? Neo, new. New can't be bad, can it? Liberal ... liberal sounds nice (unless, ahem, you're a conservative, but then you're probably in on the deceit). Progressive, open-minded, free, enlightened. Yeah, sure. Like the military, the backers of neoliberalism choose nice, reassuring words to cover up the evil of their deeds.

Alas, it's summer so I'm not going to write a treatise on neoliberalism (though my friend's email was almost poetic). But I would like to render it visible ... hence all the images (with thanks to their creators) with this week's post. And I don't think you have to speak Spanish to see that South American citizens are at the forefront of those fighting the neoliberal enemy: the wealthy, the governments, Big Money and corporations who are all laughing behind our backs. 

04 August 2013

Get Your Brave On

This song came my way last week, at a time when I needed to be courageous interpersonally. But it's also a reminder for us to speak up for the sake of the Earth, the future, and the children of all species.

Enjoy. And get your brave on!