26 February 2017

Why Are We Losing the Climate Change Battle?

We've spent this weekend with a wonderful new climate change activist friend who's collaborating on a writing project with my hubby. It's such a comfortable treat to spend time with a like-hearted soul.

One of the questions all three of us have been asking ourselves lately is how it is we've come this far and the deniers are still winning. In an email I received recently, Avaaz put it this way: "Just as we thought that crazy climate deniers were fading into history, they're back, with their hands on the levers of power in the country that emits 14% of the world’s carbon!"

Three answers to why this is so came my way yesterday. 

1. Canadian blogger Rolly Montpellier wrote: "Claiming that we can take effective action on climate change and ramp-up fossil fuel production at the same time is delusional. But for the most part [our prime minister Justin] Trudeau has been able to convince Canadians that this is a wise and a prudent course for Canada to pursue. He has lulled his followers into a deep sleep while climate change makes its ugly consequences felt around the globe."

According to science historian, Naomi Oreskes, "a new form of climate denialism is at work … one meant to persuade the public that fossil fuels are necessary and renewables unreliable…. Alternatives to fossil fuels are disparaged by a new generation of myths."

Rolly continues: "Trudeau is an artful practitioner of public messaging intended for mass consumption by a receptive but naive Canadian public. We Canadians want to believe that we are acting quickly on the climate problem. But we are not. So if you think that climate deniers are finally irrelevant, then think again. Deniers have found more creative and sneaky ways to support the strong interests of the fossil fuel industry. It would be dangerous to imagine that the era of climate denialism is over. Because, it’s simply not so!"

2. My response to Rolly's post helped me realize what we're up against: "We are going to extinguish most life on this precious planet because of a failure of imagination. Besides all the small addictions (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, cleaning) we suffer from as individuals, there is just one big culture-wide (and increasingly globalized) addiction that is killing us: money. The reason money is winning out over life itself is that people don't have (or aren't using) the creativity to imagine a world powered differently. So they fall back to the 20th century default ... money, profit, greed and fossil fuels."

3. The other answer came from an article in a(nother) new rightwing, depressive (is that the opposite of progressive?) online rag (the quote is so, um, stupid, that I can't even share it here), which showed that "the other side" is still quoting denying dorks with no credentials, trotting out years-old denial bullsh!t, slinging insults without apology, stating misfacts without flinching, and uttering nonsense without the slightest hint of embarrassment. And they somehow always out-time us, psychologically projecting by calling us the names we ought to have called them. But as usual, our side is too nice (after all, we're the ones who care about the climate change emergency), so they get away with it. 

And if you want a free trip into the Twilight Zone, just visit the comments section. You will read (if you can stomach it) the most illogical, irrational, unreasonable, unsound, groundless, incorrect, fallacious, preposterous, specious and disingenuous arguments ever presented on any topic, I'm sure. Yet it would take you a day or two to counter all their lies and mistakes and non sequiturs, so you won't do it. (The last time I tried, I was hung out to dry in a local newspaper so I don't blame you for not even attempting to set the other side straight.)

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that climate change deniers don't follow any rules, respect any rules, have any rules. They literally say whatever they want, even if it's totally cracked or untrue or irrelevant or debunked. The truth does not matter to them. They don't care enough about their children to check out what the current state of climate change is. They're too stupid or un(der)educated to realize that they're applying no critical thought to what they're (poorly paraphrasing from some denier website somewhere and) spewing.  

I feel for these people. I really do. But how can we possibly counter their deceit, their greed and their nonsensical rubbish when they're a moving target and our feet are stuck in the truth? My brain wants to explode just thinking about it.

19 February 2017

Getting Down to Brass Tacks and Solar Panels

I took the international students in my first year (university) sustainability course on a field trip the other day. We boarded a tiny bus and went to Sooke, British Columbia (south tip of Vancouver Island in Canada) to visit the T'sou-ke First Nation's solar energy initiatives.

My students were all very impressed, each for a different reason. Our tour began with a traditional ceremony with a warm and wonderful elder and spiritual healer, Shirley. It included music, prayer, smudging, a water blessing, and a welcome. Many of the young people were moved by the reverence of this ceremony, and the many ways that it incorporated (included and embodied) elements of the natural world.

Our tour of the three solar installations (students were impressed by the bank of batteries, getting up close to some photovoltaic panels, and the fact that the T'sou-ke First Nation is making money by selling energy back to the grid) was punctuated with other experiences. On the bank of the river, we noted the white shell midden (an ancient garbage dump of sorts), which also contains archaeological treasures such as arrowheads, utensils made from antlers, rock tools, and beads from the early days of trading with Europeans. We also learned that during the salmon run each fall, the sand bars are filled with bears taking their share of the fish!

Next, we got to see a 54 foot long dugout canoe, made in the 1990s from one very large tree trunk. We were regaled with stories of tribal journeys — great ocean trips from one community to the next all along the coast, with days full of paddling followed by dancing, drumming and feasting to all hours of the morning. Only three rules for these great celebrations: no alcohol, no drugs, no cell phones! (My students didn't think they'd survive. ;-)

Finally, we saw a Nissan Leaf electric car and charging station up close and personal. People can (and do) drive from all across North America to charge up for free at the charging station at the T'sou-ke First Nation! We also saw and learned about solar thermal installations that pre-heat water for hot water tanks.

Perhaps the niftiest story we heard (the day after discussing the Just Transition to Green Jobs in class) was that when the T'sou-ke Nation put out tenders for the solar installations, they said they wanted the winning contractor to not only train some T'sou-ke members but also then hire them to help with the installation. That way, there's more of a sense of ownership of the project, several members have new job skills, and repair and maintenance is done in-house.

Once inside again, the students were invited to take back their power by lowering their own energy consumption as much as possible. This, it turns out, ought to be the first step before determining what solar energy capacity you need to put on your roof. (I rememember Amory Lovins calling this "nega-watts" — the energy not needed due to conservation efforts.) Each wrote their conservation commitments on a paper leaf and taped it to a Tree of Life poster on the wall. 

Our host, Andrew, wrapped up the session with an explanation of the S-curve, sharing that the price of solar panels has dropped so much that we're on the verge of an explosion. "If you were thinking of investing in solar," he said, "now's the time."

Shirley, the elder, said a farewell prayer on our behalf, and then it was time to say goodbye. All the way back to the university, the students shared with me their favourite moments. I could tell it was a worthwhile field trip for them, as it helped them see in action several of the principles of sustainable development that we've been learning about in class.

Believe it or not, that story was just a preamble for what I really want to talk to you about today. I found the field trip quite inspiring myself, and especially so when I came home to an email about a certificate program in community energy management. My interest was immediately piqued. Six courses make up the certificate:
  • Intro to Community Energy & Emissions Planning 
  • Community-Based Renewable Energy 
  • Green Energy & Local Economic Development 
  • Financing & Governance for Green Energy Systems 
  • Reducing Energy Use in New & Existing Buildings 
  • Low Carbon Transportation
For a few minutes, I was really quite excited by the prospect of taking these courses and really helping my community make its way to localized renewable energy. But then I remembered something. I don't "get" energy. As I've admitted here before, I was hit by lightning as a child and I've been afraid of electricity ever since. So I've never learned about it, experimented with it, or done anything more than carefully plugged in an appliance. 

When I realized that the learning curve for me would be like pushing a boulder up a steep hill, I immediately forwarded the email to people in my community who are already involved with and steeped in the world of renewable energy. 

I don't have to take these courses. I am a teacher, but also a connector of people to learning opportunities. That is one of the gifts I can give to the climate change movement. 

Here's the information, in case you're interested in the Community Energy Management Certificate. The courses are online, so you could take them from anywhere in the world.


And to learn more about the T'sou-ke Nation's solar project, visit http://www.tsoukenation.com/first-nation-takes-lead-on-solar-power/. Be sure to watch the movie over in the righthand column. It's quite inspiring!

12 February 2017

Why We're Still Not Teaching, Talking about or Tackling the Climate Change Crisis

Yesterday, I co-led a workshop on climate justice to a wonderful group of teachers who are social justice advocates within their union locals. One of the exercises — an activity that I haven't done in a while — got me wondering aloud once again why it is that here in Canada, we still don't hear people talking in coffee shops about the climate change emergency. What gives? How is it that we just keep on pretending that things aren't changing all around us?

Some colleagues and I came up with the following list of barriers that keep people in our society from facing and dealing with the climate crisis. I thought you might find some food for thought here. I'd love to hear what you think!

1. Climate change is scary stuff. It makes people feel bad just thinking about it. And people don’t like to feel bad ... so they try not to think about it.   
2. Climate change is a result of greenhouse gas pollution, but it’s not being addressed in terms of air / atmospheric pollution. 
3. People have been so numbed and dumbed down by screen time that the constant repetition of deniers’ “memesin the social media echo chamber makes their claims sound true. Because people are too busy to check out the veracity of the deniers’ claims, they are susceptible to being misled and deceived.  
4. Selfishness is no longer frowned upon and sacrifice is for chumps. In our society, people just dont think like ancestors anymore. (Everybody wants change but nobody wants to change”—a YouTube commenter). 
5. Climate change is a global issue that makes personal and local solutions seem unimportant, trite, and useless, so people get discouraged.  
6. In a weird sort of NIMBYism, people say climate change is happening elsewhere (Not In My Back Yard), so they dont have to think about it. What has happened to our compassion?  
7. The concerted denial and confusion campaign has been extremely well funded and organized by vested interests (seven of the eight biggest corporations in the world are fossil fuel companies). This denial campaign has been very successful in seeding doubt about the science in the publics mind and very successful in promoting delay in our global response to greenhouse gas pollution.    
8. Climate scientists who arent trained to communicate with the public cant compete with the self-proclaimed pundits in the denial camp.
9. Cognitive dissonance creates a vicious circle. People dont see governments taking urgent action, so they think its not urgent. And since citizens arent demanding urgent action, governments dont want to take urgent action, afraid it might impact the economy. (Actually, climate change mitigation would be a large economic benefit everywhere.)  
10. Theres so much to know and learn and understand! Thats why people must listen to scientists, not deniers. But lack of media literacy means the public has fallen for things like the bias of false balancein the news.  
11. Scientific, ecological, and climate illiteracy is widespread. The public lacks understanding of concepts such as ecological limits, peer review, weight of evidence, feedback loops, exponential growth, shifting baselines, carbon cycles, and even natural versus industrial / anthropogenic causes of climate change. This is where teachers can make a difference.  
12. This is a crisis of imagination and creativity. Getting to zero carbon ought to be viewed as an exciting goal. Teachers can contribute to reaching this goal! 
13. In our culture, people dont always work well together. Key stakeholders and negotiators often find it difficult to cooperate. Sometimes processes and rulesnot to mention greedget in the way of success.
14. People don’t get that our greatest near-term threats from climate change are food and water shortages and insecurity. Humans have evolved over the last 10,000 years into a species dependent on agriculture, and agriculture has depended on the stable climate of the last 10,000 years. Climate change threats are more imminent than people think.

05 February 2017

Unprecedented Climate Change Emergency

Well, I've spent about a week in bed with this flu, which means I'm not feeling up to much blogging today. So allow me to leave you with a video book review done by my husband, Dr. Peter Carter. In the video below, he reviews two books written by David Ray Griffin, the second co-authored by a lovely new activist friend of ours, Elizabeth Woodworth. Both books are available on Amazon. I hope you and yours manage to stay healthy this season!