31 July 2016

Climate Change: What's Greed Got to Do With It?

Like many people around the world whose mediascape is (at times sickeningly) filled with sound bites and film clips, photographs and FB memes of candidates in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, I am trying to wrap my head around how far the American Republican party has strayed from its roots with their current choice of candidate. (Think Theodore Roosevelt. He was a(n admittedly progressive) Republican president, but also an environmental champion.)

You can probably guess why this American election (even though I'm not American) has had me thinking a lot about greed. And that, in turn, has got me thinking about the role of greed and greediness in the climate crisis. 

My own swirling thoughts have gone something like this: Greed, at its deepest subconscious level, must be a form of defensiveness, a seeking of security in people who don't believe in the abundance of the Universe. Which means there must also be a streak of ecological illiteracy inherent in greed, as greedy people don't seem to understand the collaborative nature of, well, nature (of which we're a part), and the fact that there is enough for everyone's need (as Gandhi pointed out).

The catch-22 is this: How do we help the greedy people who are ruining the biosphere feel more safe and secure at a time when their greed has made the climate (and therefore life itself) less safe and secure? Bad timing, eh? It feels like we're hooped. 

I decided to do a smidge of research to see what others put greed down to. The dictionary says that to be greedy is to have or show an intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth or power. (That certainly describes a certain Republican candidate.)

Thought leader (I love that term! I want to be one!) Frank Sonnenberg also equates greed with selfishness. "Greed is a term that describes ruthless people with naked ambition, people with an insatiable appetite for riches, those who give new meaning to the word selfish." We're living in a time when rich people can't have as much as they might want, because it all comes with carbon emissions that the world can't afford anymore. Maybe we just have to tell people like Donald Frump and the Rhymes-with-a-Soft-Drink Brothers that -- literally -- enough is enough. But that's going to take a huge shift in worldview, isn't it? After all, we're fighting not just hundreds of years of capitalism, but also a couple of decades of woowoo new age you-can-attract-everything-you-want brainwashing.

Sonnenberg quotes the character Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street: "It’s not a question of enough, pal. It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses." And yet, in ecosystems, there are no winners as long as there are losers. So are greedy people those who (think they can) live above the laws of nature? Is that why they just keep burning fossil fuels with nary a care for the biosphere -- because to them, metaphorical "winning" is more important than actually surviving?

Now as Sonnenberg points out, it's unfair to automatically "equate success and wealth with greed. The fact is, many successful people give generously of their wealth and/or their time. It’s also true that you don’t have to be particularly wealthy in order to be able to give.... [Some] people without means contribute generously of their time and skills every day, yet others don’t. Greed doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor."

But according to Oxam, when it comes to global warming and climate change, the world's richest 10% produce half of global carbon emissions, while the poorest half of the world's people contribute to just 10% of emissions.

Let's wrap our heads around that. "An average person among the richest 1% of people emits 175 times more carbon than his or her counterpart among the bottom 1%, Oxfam said." So in order not to be considered a greedy bastard, I guess one really has to consider -- and lower -- one's sense of entitlement, and then one's carbon footprint. 

So yeah. Greed => climate change.

p.s. Check out Oxfam's report, Extreme Carbon Inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first, here.

24 July 2016

Why You Should* Read This Blog Every Sunday

[* I've never been a fan of "shoulding" on oneself or others, but the climate change emergency is creating a lot of things we really should do.]

We're in the midst of a deepening, quickening, worsening climate change emergency. You wouldn't know it on a "normal" day in the developed world -- although there are certainly fewer normal days these days.

Anyway, here we are in the midst of this climate change emergency and we're still not talking about it much, if at all. If we want any chance of responding effectively to the climate change emergency, shouldn't we at least be talking about it. A lot?
Animals don't need to should on themselves because they act on their instincts to protect their young and safeguard their offspring's future. Perhaps we should stop ignoring our animal instincts!

So the reason you should read -- and share -- this blog every Sunday is that it will give you a new climate change conversation starter each week. (And there are over 500 posts here now, in case you need to stock up for a holiday dinner with your right-wing cousin or climate change-denying uncle.) For example, by coming here every Sunday, you'll get:
Did you know? material
Guess what I read! material
How about this? material
Holy $#@! material
You're not going to believe what I found! material
Confidence-building material (so you'll understand and be able to explain why climate change is an emergency)
Compassion-building material
What do you think of this? material
Hey, this could be good! material

Have you heard about this? material

• Perhaps most important, great Facebook comeback material (for when something stupid and inconsequential goes viral)
So, I hope to see you here every Sunday. Feel free to come in your pyjamas, with favourite hot drink in hand. And maybe you could invite a friend!

17 July 2016

We Need a Climate Change Mobilization at World War II Speed

It's not often that climate change activists hear news so good that they find themselves skipping and hopping and jumping about, crying and laughing and hugging! But that's what happened to us this past week. Here's what was in the email we received:
In a shock decision, the Democratic National Convention platform committee voted overwhelmingly Saturday night to include language in the party’s platform championing a “World War II-type national mobilization to save civilization” from “the global climate emergency.” (See the video of Russell Greene’s and David Braun’s awesome speeches and the vote here.)

The full text of the amendment reads:
Democrats believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to wait for another nation to lead the world in combating the global climate emergency. In fact, we must move first in launching a green industrial revolution, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because it is in our own national interest to do so. Just as America’s greatest generation led the effort to defeat the Axis Powers during World War II, so must our generation now lead a World War II-type national mobilization to save civilization from catastrophic consequences. We must think beyond Paris. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, climate experts, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities to chart a course toward the healthy future we all want for our families and communities.
Oh my gosh, my beloved and I have been calling for a declaration of the climate change emergency for years now. (I've mentioned it 105 times in this blog alone!) So we couldn't believe what we were reading and hearing. You see, once the emergency is declared, it'll be like letting a genie out of a bottle. The world and all nations will have to move at an urgent pace on emergency measures. (Right?)

The neat thing is that my next blog post (this one) was going to be about a war time speed mobilization. Peter has been an advisor for the folks who made this happen, so we feel personally invested in their campaign. Now to get the Democrats elected in the United States this November and a climate mobilization campaign going in Canada. OMG, this is so exciting!


A few weeks back, we talked about how a whole nation was able to "not see" what had gone on under its nose -- sometimes literally just down the street -- during World War II. The Holocaust is such common knowledge now that it's difficult to understand how so many people could have turned a blind eye to it ... or been born and raised with no knowledge of it.

Margaret Klein Salamon, PhD, is a young New York psychologist who explained in a recent video that her Jewish upbringing gave her an exposure to the Holocaust that has informed her climate change activism -- indeed pushed her into it. Margaret, along with journalist Ezra Silk (who also grew up with a deep understanding of the Holocaust), is calling for a climate change mobilization that will rival the Allies' (and especially the Americans') mobilization as they entered the Second World War. In fact, Margaret founded The Climate Mobilization based on what she knows is possible because of what's been possible in the past.

In this video, Lester Brown explains how the United States stepped up after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. It's an evocative story of what we human beings are capable of when we make the choice to act.

The full video (from which this excerpt is taken) is available here.

In the following video compilation put together by my hubby, we see more evidence of the speed at which we can turn things around -- when we make the choice to act.

So watch this space for mobilization ideas as we roll them out. And many thanks to our friends and family who understood how big this news is and helped us celebrate. 

SPOILER ALERT p.s. We watched (well, my hubby bailed, but I watched) The Martian the other night. Yes, sure, it's fiction, but it portrayed very well the kind of time, money and energy that the United States is capable of throwing at a problem -- in this case, one astronaut left behind (by accident) on, you guessed it, Mars. And the motivation to do so didn't come just from a desire to look good in the public eye. It came from enough people at NASA demanding that they do "the right thing." So, Americans, please have a look in your hearts and see if 7.3 billion Earthlings equal one Matt Damonesque Martian. Then do the right thing.

10 July 2016

The Wrath of Grapes - An Experiment in Denial

I like a good thought experiment every once in a while. But I discovered they can be a bit scary as well as instructive.

My favourite thought experiment was when I tried to picture being a big-time capitalist, someone for whom profit and money (and greed) are everything. It was fascinating. After I (in my imagination) let go of all the things I -- and many other so-called progressives, or lefties -- care about (you know, children, other species, future generations, just some small things), I was left with visceral excitement at the thought of making money. Truly, my imaginary profits made me feel like the winner in a game.

The thrill was an addictive feeling! Suddenly I understood why people who don't have a deep bond with the rest of Nature, who don't give much of a flying leap about their children's future, who wouldn't understand when I say "I love the butterflies" act the way they do. Because what the hell else do they have to live for? To them, life is a game, and if life is a game, then they might as well be winners rather than losers. And big winners, too. Sadly, this globalized attitude is making losers of all of us, but at least I understand it now.

Imagine my shock when I was the subject of an unintended thought experiment -- and learned viscerally what it's like to be a denier of a new truth. And I'm not talking about paid shills, touts, ringers, abettors and accomplices of the fossil fuel industries. No, I mean the people who deny the climate is changing (or that we're changing the climate) because they cannot abide the thought (it collides with what they've always known to be true -- I mean, things have been going along pretty tickety boo their whole life, haven't they?). [They probably don't even know that the climate has indeed been stable for the last 10,000 years, allowing the invention of agriculture to take hold and the population of humans on the Earth to increase dramatically.] They cannot allow in the possibility (it's too scary, for heaven's sake; just don't even go there; if we ignore it, it'll go away, right?). Nor do they use their critical thinking skills when presented with the evidence (that's because many of people never develop critical thinking skills or scientific literacy).

So here's what happened to me. We were enjoying a birthday lunch with a wonderful friend earlier this week. Somehow the conversation moved to the epidemic of food waste around the world and what some countries are doing about it. From there, we made our way to the topic of organic food and the notion that there are some fruits and vegetables one should never buy and eat unless they're organic. 

"Like grapes!" I piped up. I can proudly say, with visions of Cesar Chavez in my head, that I haven't eaten an un-organic grape in decades. 

"Grapes aren't on the list anymore," said my friend. 

That was it. As my stomach lurched, I went into a kind of out-of-body experience, watching myself go into full-body visceral denial. "Yeah," he continued, "the magazine Consumer Reports created a chart of which conventionally grown fruits and veggies we can eat if they're from certain countries." 

Najlah Feanny/Corbis
Yeah, sure, I thought to myself. Grapes? Those luscious orbs of sweet, delicious juiciness not dripping with pesticides? No way. If Cesar Chavez taught me nothing else (and there was much he had to teach), he taught me not to trust produce grown and harvested by oppressed, underpaid, gassed and poisoned farm workers. Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) union ... that was all happening during my most sensitive and absorptive years, my childhood and early teens. Something that was so inculcated -- that conventionally grown grapes poison not just the eaters but the planters and the pickers and their children, too -- well, it had to be true. 

And how could something that was so true then not still be true now? (See the acrobatics my mind and soul were going through to defend myself against this attack on a deep-rooted knowing?)

"Hmmph," was about all I could splutter. "Where's the evidence?" He made a copy of the chart for me, but my eyes couldn't focus on it. My mind was racing back through those years of not eating grapes when I could have. How long ago did this situation change? Worse, how could it have changed without me knowing? When did Cesar Chavez and the UFW win and I didn't notice? OMG, I didn't know if I was embarrassed, saddened, bittersweetly happy -- I just knew I felt challenged to my very core, er, pips. 

It took me days to work up the nerve to finally take a good look at the chart. Yup, according to Consumer Reports, I can trust the safety of conventionally grown (why is it "conventional" to spray poison on our food?) grapes as long as they come from Chile, Peru, Mexico or the United States. Peaches, nectarines, tangerines, apples (except from New Zealand), strawberries and cranberries; green beans, peppers (sweet and hot), sweet potatoes and carrots -- that's the list of ten foods to "always buy organic" no matter where they come from. This is produce you're better off not eating if you can't eat organic. And grapes are not on that shortlist. (By the way, the chart is found in a special report entitled Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide: A Shopper's Guide.)

Please note: Organic food growers are not paying me to promote organics or to feel yucky about eating produce that used to kill farm workers. So I'm a garden variety denier -- with some critical thinking skills. I therefore decided to dig a bit deeper. I came across a USDA Dirty Dozen list that rates produce on a scale of least to most pesticide residue. I've known about this list for ages -- and always just assumed that grapes were on the list. Well, it turns out they are on the list: #11 - imported grapes. What? I can trust Californian grapes? Really?
"Why are some types of produce more prone to sucking up pesticides than others? Richard Wiles, senior vice president of policy for the Environmental Working Group says, 'If you eat something like a pineapple or sweet corn, they have a protection defense because of the outer layer of skin. Not the same for strawberries and berries.'"
Well, grapes are pretty thin-skinned. Okay, maybe not like berries, but still. (See what my denier mind is doing? Bargaining! One of the stages of grieving. Yikes.)
"Remember, the lists of dirty and clean produce were compiled after the USDA washed the produce using high-power pressure water systems that many of us could only dream of having in our kitchens."
Ha! There, see? (I'm cherry picking from a PBS blog there, looking for evidence to shore up my belief system.) Ooh, I would have made a good climate change denier, had I not spent the last quarter of a century living with one of the world's holistically sharpest minds on the climate science.

Anyway, folks, I just wanted to share with you that I have new empathy and compassion for deniers (of the unpaid ilk). It's tough, eh, when a new truth comes along that upsets the (organic or conventional?) apple cart of what you knew to be foundational truth. 

I think I'll probably keep paying the premium for organic grapes (who does it hurt?), but I'd like to encourage climate change deniers to hop on the apple cart and simply start learning and talking about climate disruption and what it is going to mean for your children and grandchildren -- and their food security.

And don't feed your loved ones peaches this summer unless you know they're organic!

from Consumer Reports Special Report: Pesticides in Produce

03 July 2016

EARTHx: A Prescription for Our Children's Future

Here's a guest post by Howard Breen, which was published June 30th, 2016 as an op ed in the Vancouver Observer. (If you've already read it, it's worth reading again!)

As a physician for nearly 40 years, Pender Islander Dr. Peter Carter [my beloved] did his best to save lives and help heal thousands of patients. But it wasn’t until he retired and became a full-time climate change research presenter that he made his most dire diagnosis.

“Earth has a dangerous fever it can’t shake,” Dr. Carter says. “The atmosphere and oceans are being poisoned by excess carbon dioxide, which reached a record 409 parts per million this spring. (It should be under 350 ppm.) CO2 is highly persistent and cumulative in both vital systems of the biosphere. The planet is in a rapidly deteriorating state of emergency for our future survival.”

As if to prove this diagnosis correct, the NASA team at Climate Science Awareness and Solutions has recently predicted that 2016 will be another record year for surface temperature increase, which is now above 1.0ºC (a record reached in 2015). “We are living on a planet substantially damaged and different from the one our species has developed on. Global temperature is now in the extremely dangerous zone for the world population and the rest of the “biosphere,” Dr. Carter explains. 

According to Dr. Carter, founder of the Climate Emergency Institute, “The 2015 UN Paris Climate Agreement prescription only offers ‘intended’ targets that pretend to cure the afflicted Earth. The Paris prescription is to keep administering the poison under the guise of good intentions, which can only result in the death of the patient.” The 2 May 2016 UN Climate Secretariat update of nations’ non-binding targets reports that emissions will be higher in 2030 than they are today – making the Paris Agreement a death sentence.”

The essential – and totally reliable – test that Dr. Carter uses for this grim diagnosis is the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere. “Record high, still accelerating levels of atmospheric GHG pollution have for years been on a consistent heading to end the human race and wipe out almost all life on Earth (both on land and in the oceans). Just in the last few years, the levels have jumped up even faster.”

“In a time of climate change deceit,” Dr. Carter confides, “telling the truth is a personal act for global survival.” So he doesn’t mince words when he shares the urgency of the climate and oceans emergency. “When I was a physician, it would have been the grossest negligence not to tell my patients of their diagnosis, no matter how bad it was.”

“The worst crime of all time, and now clearly the greatest evil ever, is the connivance of the big banking and fossil fuel corporations – with the compliant complicity of some big-economy governments – to deny the catastrophic dangers of continued emissions and to keep delaying decisive and rapid action to put global emissions into decline. This worst-ever negligence has come about because as a society we are in deep denial of the dire state of planetary emergency the entire world is in.”

The prognosis is grim. Dr. Carter believes that “only our profound care and compassion can save today's children and all future generations from inheriting a literal hell on Earth.”

The 2014 Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave us the bottom line for our future survival. “The IPCC said that limiting warming requires ‘near zero emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases.’ Science rules this world, and rules out more carbon emissions.”

The “other long-lived greenhouse gases” are methane and nitrous oxide. Methane emissions from the livestock industry and artificial wetland rice production, as well as from the natural gas industry (fracking), can and must be eliminated. According to Dr. Carter, “The switch to a healthy vegan (lower GHG-emitting) diet is now vital for tomorrow’s children – and today’s – to have a life worth living.

Other “prescriptions” to get our greenhouse gas fever down include ending government subsidies to fossil fuel corporations and charging large corporate greenhouse gas polluters the full cost of their deadly pollution.

“Our only and best imaginable future is with safe, clean, everlasting 100% renewable energy,” Dr. Carter says. That’s why he is now urging an immediate planetary emergency Manhattan-style R&D Project along the lines of a worldwide Marshall Plan model – a global-scale venture to rescue our future. His emergency response plan depends on fast tracking the progress being made to develop safe, zero-carbon, and super-high energy-dense fusion power. Fusion will be able to power heavy industry and heavy transportation that clean renewable energy is not yet up to.

“The burning age is over,” insists Dr. Carter. “We literally have no future with fossil fuels. With carbon-free fusion power, we’ll be able to manufacture the enormous amount of renewable energy infrastructure we need without having to burn more fossil fuels to rebuild the entire world for the age of safe, clean, everlasting energy. To survive the climate and oceans emergency, and revert to a safe level below 350ppm CO2 and 1.5 degrees Celsius, we also have to mechanically remove vast amounts of carbon dioxide directly from the air for the next hundred years, chemically converting it to a solid carbonate, which can be safely achieved only with safe, zero-carbon, energy-dense fusion power.” 

“Runaway climate change and ocean acidification are not future-tense events,” concludes Dr. Carter. “It is of the utmost urgency that we immediately act to abolish the burning of fossil fuels – or watch as fossil fuels abolish humanity.”

EARTHx event in Victoria, BC, Canada - July 4th, 6-10 p.m. at the Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad Street). The planned program for EARTHx includes video screenings and presentations on the climate and oceans emergency. (The VEC refreshment bar will be open for the event.)