29 May 2016

When Climate Change Denial is Almost Laughable -- Were It Not So Lamentable

I'm a huge fan of permaculture. (It's an integrated design system for permanent (agri)culture that's modelled on nature's patterns. Its founder, Bill Mollison, says: "Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.") 

I love permaculture and its principles and strategies so much that when the climate change emergency has me down in the dumps, it's the thought of permaculturing the world that puts a smile on my fence and gets me out of bed in the morning. 

So you can imagine my consternation bordering on distress when a very well known and highly respected permaculture author, teacher and practitioner wrote a blog post called Is Food the Last Thing to Worry About? and didn't once mention the climate crisis. 

"Our food system is woefully dependent on petroleum," he starts with, pointing to writers such as Richard Heinberg and Michael Pollan. Yes, and since we have to get to zero carbon emissions as rapidly as possible in order to have any chance of stabilizing global temperature increase and ocean acidification, we therefore need a huge fossil-fuel-free revolution in the way we grow food. 

"Soaring food costs have brought on riots in some countries, and in unstable nations, famine continues to be a regular visitor." Yes, and many of those problems are being caused in large part or at least exacerbated by global warming and the newly unpredictable climate. Remember Russia's summer of 2010

That country lost 30% of its grain crops due to heat waves and wildfires. The Arab Spring began in 2011. Think there was no connection? Well, Russia had to stop its grain exports that year. Imagine what that did to food prices in the Middle East! (And that's not even mentioning or mourning the 56,000 people who lost their lives due to the smog and heat.)

This author goes on to talk about "post-Peak Oil" (rather than climate disruption), and how people are worrying needlessly about food. "In the developed world, especially the breadbasket nations such as the US, Canada, and other food-exporting countries, the food network may be one of the last systems to fail during energy descent." 

Hey buddy, can you say "disappearing Arctic summer sea ice"? (That sea ice is the air conditioner for our Northern Hemisphere growing season.) Do you even know that central continental regions (those "breadbaskets" -- already in decline) warm faster than the global average? And what's going to happen if our breadbaskets become responsible for feeding the whole world (for as long as they can) because we haven't mitigated the climate crisis?
"I think there are many reasons not to be focusing primarily on food as the system most likely to fail. This isn’t to say that industrial, oil-based agriculture is invulnerable, let alone sustainable. And we may see temporary shortages of specific foods. But there are many reasons why our fears of a food collapse [...] may be distracting us from focusing on more immediate and likely risks."
Risk equals probability times magnitude. That's the equation for risk. So even if "food collapse" were unlikely (it's not ... it's already happening to varying degrees all over the world -- look at California and its drought, for Earth's sake!), when it happens, its magnitude is going to be life-or-death. That immediately makes it a risk that we need to pay attention to. 

"Distracting?" Here's something distracting: "I suspect we focus on food in part because providing it appears much more possible than, say, keeping the financial, health care, or automotive industries running." Cuz sure, keeping those automotive industries running is just so much more important than ensuring food security around the world. Not! See what happens when we don't think in systems? When we don't look at all the variables? We get ridiculous. 

And no, providing food is not going to be "much more possible" once we factor in droughts, floods, other extreme weather events, destructive wildfires, and heat waves that kill off crops and make it impossible for labourers to work on farms. 

Why would someone who is a permaculture hero -- and an otherwise highly intelligent person -- be so short-sighted on climate change? Denial comes in all shapes and sizes, it would appear.

22 May 2016

You Don't Have to Be a Denier to Be in Denial

We're taking our time watching a difficult and eye-opening movie called Labyrinth of Lies. Based on the life of Fritz Bauer, Frankfurt's attorney general, and three prosecutors who were instrumental in bringing Auschwitz Nazis to trial in 1963, this film is a story that exposes the conspiracy of prominent German institutions and government branches to cover up the crimes of Nazis during World War II. 

I had no idea that many, many Germans in the post-war era didn't acknowledge, accept or even know about the atrocities committed in Nazi concentration camps during the war. (I knew about Ernst Zündel and his Holocaust denial but didn't realize he'd immigrated to Canada in 1958 from a zeitgeist of denial in Germany.) After the camps were liberated by the Allies (April 1945), "German civilians [were] forced by American troops to bear witness to Nazi atrocities at Buchenwald concentration camp, mere miles from their own homes." (See Forgotten Alfred Hitchcock Holocaust Documentary Gets New Life.)
When Auschwitz and several other camps, like Bergen-Belsen, were liberated, the British army sent along a film unit. Under the aegis of Sidney Bernstein, and with the help of supervising director Alfred Hitchcock, the grisly and shocking footage was meant for a documentary called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. However, as the war came to a close, the governments that had once supported exposing German crimes had a new interest in reconciliation. So plans for the film were scrapped, and most of the footage was archived at Britain’s Imperial War Museum until the 1980s.
That footage is now included in a new documentary, Night Will Fall, which "tells the story of how the footage came to be, and what happened to it."
Margaret Bourke-White, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
In an Independent article (Germany finally pays tribute to first Nazi hunter Fritz Bauer), I learned that "only six of the [22] accused ["Nazi SS henchmen"] were given life sentences. Twelve others were given terms of up to 14 years. The trials nevertheless obliged a reluctant German public to face up to the horrors of the Holocaust and accept that the perpetrators lived in their midst." The article says that "surviving film footage reveals how controversial the trial was. Inside the court the police saluted the accused as former 'comrades.'"

I'll bet you can see where I'm going to go with this. I probably don't even have to say it. The terrifying metaphor revealed itself as we watched Labyrinth of Lies. Many German people weren't deniers -- but they were certainly in denial. Their ignorance. Their apathy. Their disbelief. (Some of the Germans who did see the footage believed it was propaganda staged by the Americans.) Their hubris. The fact that many were still benefiting from their Nazi connections. Their society-wide unwillingness to look at what had happened, to see that "many Third Reich values were still admired," to feel shame and deep remorse, to take some responsibility. (There's a scene in the movie where the stenographer taking down witnesses' testimony runs from the room and breaks down in sobs. No longer in denial, her character is becoming someone who helps in the fight to bring justice.)

I don't know what I would have done if I had -- by luck and timing of birth -- been there. I'm not saying I'm better than any one of those German civilians. But I'm alive today, and I'm not going to let the climate chaos holocaust carry on without vociferously protesting it. And why wouldn't I protest it? There is no SS threatening to track me down and lock me up because I oppose the globalized Western economy's biosphere-devastating, life-murdering business-as-usual fossil fuel status quo. 

I can go about my daily life and speak up about the climate change crisis online or in person, with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and strangers. I can keep my job and send faxes and emails about emergency climate change mitigation to my elected representatives and leaders. I can live free of fear in my country and attend protests, make presentations and give workshops about climate justice. (Confession: I can't do all these things and keep my house tidy. So I've chosen life over tidiness.)

Fritz Bauer received death threats nearly every day once he began his campaign to see justice done (he was responsible for the capture of Adolf Eichmann). What's keeping you from speaking up on behalf of those most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change impacts ... on behalf of all those who are already losing their lives and their livelihoods, their food security and water sources, their homes and entire homelands? 

Our very own "Global Reich" -- fossil fuel companies, the big money that bankrolls them and the governments sitting comfortably in their pockets -- is killing about 5 million people per year, and that number is rising as 2016 continues to knock out temperature records and see record CO2 levels. We see increasing evidence everywhere we look. So where is our outrage? 

15 May 2016

Summoning the Courage to Speak Our Minds (and Hearts) on Climate Change

Hannah and Rachel from Birmingham
getting their brave on!
As part of my introduction at our Break Free from Fossil Fuels presentation in Victoria (British Columbia's capital city, not the state in Australia) this past week, I talked about how often I find myself lowering my voice when I'm talking about climate change in a public place such as a restaurant. As I do this self-censoring, I chastise myself for being a coward at the same time that I'm rationalizing that I don't want to upset others.

Well, as so often happens in this world, synchronicity kicked in and the very next morning, an article on self-silencing around climate change came across my desk. In it, Chris Mooney for the Washington Post outlines research done by Nathaniel Geiger and Janet Swim of Penn State University. It turns out that I'm not alone. A lot of people self-silence when they think others aren't as concerned about climate change as they are. The researchers found that:

"[P]eople are often afraid to talk about climate change with their peers [let alone near strangers in a restaurant!] because they wrongly think those peers are more doubtful about climate change than they actually are. This incorrect perception -- which the authors dub 'pluralistic ignorance' -- then makes people fear that others will think they're less competent [or unkind, in my case], and thus, view them with less respect, if they bring up the subject or talk about it."
Reading that reminded me of the year we discovered on Christmas Eve that we hadn't been invited to a traditional Christmas get-together the next day. I was able to laugh it off (made for a very relaxing holiday!), but my hubby was more bemused than amused when the only explanation we could think of was that we'd talked about climate change at the previous year's Christmas dinner. We're pretty sure other friends have shunned (well, dropped) us because we have a lot to say on the topic of the changing climate. 

Certainly I've had friends suggest that I not be so negative (hmm, well, um, the end of most life on the planet will certainly give jellyfish the chance to flourish ... how's that for positive?), or not be so emotional (we seem to have chosen a path to extinction, ho hum, pass the peas ... is that better?). Have you seen my article on this topic in Alternatives Journal? Love in the Time of Climate Change. (Not my title -- I wanted to call it Can Deep Green Climate Change Activists Have Friends and Find True Love?)

When I speak to educators and other audiences, I often underscore the necessity of summoning our courage and compassion to becoming heroes for today's children -- and all future generations -- of all species. I hadn't registered that the simple act of speaking about climate change to others and speaking up about it in front of others is actually an act of courage.

Since I read that article, I've got my brave on and have started fighting back against the deniers (who are still around in full force despite the sheer weight of the evidence of climate chaos from around the world) by calling them out in the comments sections of online articles about climate disruption. They're often so irrational, so lacking in compassion, or so just plain wrong that it's not at all hard to respond to them. 

In other words, one doesn't have to be a climate scientist to counter the deniers, one just has to be a person who understands, as Greenpeace Canada's Laura Yates does, that "climate change is the most urgent threat humanity has ever faced." She wants to "be part of the generation that listens to the science, moves away from fossil fuels and begins the clean energy revolution." I'm a lot older, but so do I!

Just remember to talk compassion for the children and the world's most vulnerable who are already losing their lives or their livelihoods, their food security and water sources, their homes and entire homelands. You can also mention the precautionary principle, thinking like an ancestor, and how you'd like to leave behind something other than progenycide as your legacy. Let's all start speaking up on climate change!

08 May 2016

I'm Baaaack! (To Spread Courage and Compassion - Are You In?)

I think that's a famous quote from some horror flick. It's also how I'm feeling right now. I gave up writing this blog post-Lima climate change conference (COP20) when the result was so discouraging. (Why had I expected anything to come of it in the first place?) I couldn't even pretend anymore that I had the heart to carry on, especially when I knew Paris was going to be a sham as well.

It's been almost a year and a half since I last blogged. So why the change of heart? 
  1. My husband sobbing inconsolably at the increasingly terrifying news on accelerating temperature and CO2 level increases -- and still working every day to try to wake people up.
  2. My best friend telling me about the deer jumping in front of cars as they tried to flee the Fort McMurray wildfires (and realizing that millions more animals will have perished). 
  3. The mom of one of my students discussing compassion with me on a beautifully warm evening in April. (We don't often have warm nights in the summer, let alone in April.)
  4. Someone on Facebook saying that her daughter is already ho-hum about climate change. "Yeah, yeah, I know, apocalypse," she says.
  5. Starting a letter to Canada's prime minister begging him to put life before corporate profit -- and not being able to finish it for the tears. (There's no ink on a blog for tears to ruin ... though I'd better not cry on my computer.)
  6. This month, people around the world are participating in the Break Free from Fossil Fuels / Leave Coal, Oil and Gas in the Ground campaign.
7. And me realizing that I don't have the luxury to not try my very best to move people, governments and fossil fuel corporations to action. So I'm back at my weekly blogging habit. I'll be here every Sunday morning again.

Folks, I'm no scientist. But I know the science on climate change cuz I live, sleep and eat with it every day. If you want to learn the science (it's hard to stand up for the planet and the children's future if you feel "the other side" can win the argument with their sciency-sounding assertions), here are my hubby's websites:

Urgent Climate and Ocean Rapid Response

State of Our Climate 

Only Zero Carbon 

Climate Emergency Institute

Climate Change and Food Security 

Climate Change Emergency Medical Response

Climate Crime 

Next, this is a call to courage. Mine and yours. It's so scary to truly countenance what's coming if we don't turn this juggernaut around. Experts used to think all the climate chaos $#@! was going to happen at century's end -- and most people still believe that, not realizing that the timeline has sped up something fierce. Hell on Earth is what we're facing if we don't get to zero carbon at lightning speed. 

Let me say that again. This is your children's life we're talking about. Your life. My life. My mother's life, too, and she just turned 90 and is hale and healthy. If we don't make the rapidest possible switch to zero-carbon renewable energy technologies and a zero-carbon economy, we're going to fry. It's going to be very ugly much sooner that we thought.

So screw up your courage and turn on your compassion, folks. We've gotta get going on this, sadness be damned. 

Are you in?