25 June 2017

The Climate Change Emergency is a Crisis of Imagination

The gift I gave myself this year for my big birthday was a workshop called Intercultural Shamanism and Plant Spirit Medicine. The main purpose of this workshop is to deepen our connection with the rest of Nature. It's for people who "see plants, trees, and all of nature as sentient beings that live, breathe and communicate." (Yup, that's me!) It started yesterday and carries on today, with glorious weather, two wonderful teachers, and a lovely group of co-sojourners.

Two thoughts struck me yesterday as we hiked up through a forest to the spot where we would spend our afternoon together. One was a "message" from the dance of shadows along the path that the shade provided by trees is going to become more and more life-giving as the Earth heats up. (Note the record-breaking heat waves in the American southwest these days.) Residential tree cutting should now be considered — and treated as — a crime.

The other thought was a reminder that what has kept us on the business-as-usual track of rising carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations is a society-wide crisis of imagination, something I've written about before. Our leaders, Don and Sandy Ollsin, explain that oftentimes, when people are doing what's called attunement work with plants and other sentient beings, they worry that it's their imagination coming up with things.

That thought, that concern, shows exactly why we're in the midst of a crisis of imagination. That worry belies a belief that a thought, an idea, an impression or notion that comes from the imagination is somehow worse than something that comes from our logical, rational side of the brain. Of course, I realized! It's not just that we've lost the ability to think creatively and let creative thoughts come to us (from all sources). It's also that we've downgraded the value of imaginative and creative thought. Here's what Don and Sandy have to say:
In general, in Western culture, rationalism is up and imagination is down, according to authors / researchers Lakoff and Johnson in their book Metaphors We Live By. They point out that we are under the domination of an outdated scientific paradigm that is still deeply ingrained in our thinking, language and practice. This is where we need to change — it is time to wake up from Descarte's dream and Newton's sleep! The idea of reductionism is outdated. The visible world is not all that exists — the invisible realm is alive and well. Everything is interconnected, field energies are real and have an impact on us, and the observer affects the observed.
Don and Sandy also shared some quotes from Albert Einstein on the importance of the imagination:

"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination."
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
"Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere."
I've often defined intelligence as the ability to make connections. I see now that it takes imagination to be able to see connections that don't exist until we make them. And if people don't trust or value their imagination, then they cannot develop their full intelligence. It's what leads to the black-or-white, either/or thinking that plagues us. 

As I've said before, people seem to think that either "life has to stay the way it is (comfortable and unsustainable), or it becomes sustainable and miserable." What about all the wonderful possibilities in between unsustainable and miserable? Surely, as I have wondered in the past, a generation raised on The Jetsons and Star Trek on TV can picture a different world, a different way of living, that works for the climate and the biosphere?

Maybe one vital solution is for all of us to simply stop and smell the roses ... and then listen carefully to what they have to say to us.

18 June 2017

What Parents Won't Acknowledge About the Climate Crisis is Going to Kill Their Children

I went seakayaking with a great group of students recently. It was a lovely west coast (of Canada) almost-summer afternoon ... sunny but not too hot. We spent the morning learning how to handle the boats and exploring the intertidal life along the shore.

We stopped for a lovely picnic lunch on a beach. Afterwards, I managed to fall in the water getting back into my kayak. (It's a habit I have ... I figure if I fall in, nobody else will have to. And it made for some comic relief.)

On the way back, the group was more focused on technique and speed, but I had a few moments of calm to talk with the leader of our outing as we floated under the bridge with the current. 

A seagull passed by us. "The whitest thing in the world," I proclaimed, "is a seagull's breast." The leader laughed and agreed. Then I said, simply to carry on the conversation, "Seagulls and other seabirds are in huge decline [see page 6 Seabirds Going the Way of the Dodo?]. Have you noticed that?"

"No ... do they know why?" she asked. I managed to get one or two reasons out (mainly, a decrease in their food sources) before she said, "I can't hear that stuff. I've got two young kids and it makes me too sad." 

Even on a gorgeous day with the wind at our backs in self-powered (i.e., zero-carbon) conveyances, still we can't face it. If we can't face it when our own circumstances are good, does that mean we're really going to wait until the local %$#@ hits the fan before we even acknowledge the impending implosion of global ecosystems?

If people who have wonderful little bundles of reasons to take action aren't taking action, truly, where's the hope in that? People want hope, but they won't pay the price for it. And the price is feeling the sadness of what's going to happen if we don't feel the sadness and let it motivate us to speak up on behalf of the children we love so dearly. 

Speak up. That's all I'm asking. Or even just listen. Hear. Open your ears and eyes. Open your hearts. Be willing to feel the pain, to lament the losses that have already led to precipitous declines in seabird populations. 

That same fate (environmental and ecological changes caused by climate change; pollution and habitat destruction diminishing the biodiversity upon which we depend) awaits our children if ... but you don't want to hear it.

11 June 2017

BioBlitzing to Help Us Fall in Love with the Rest of Nature

I'm taking a bit of a break this weekend as I'm hosting some international students from the university where I teach. In fact, this is part of the group I taught a course called Introduction to Sustainability to in the winter.

They're here in my island community to participate in Parks Canada's BioBlitz. According to their website, a bioblitz is a race against the clock to find and identify as many plants and animals in the park as we can in 24 hours. In this case, it's the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in south coastal British Columbia. We'll be listening for birds and bats, looking for intertidal creatures, and checking the lake for freshwater species.

I'm really looking forward to our weekend of camping together (these students come from all over the world) where every conversation will probably bring up a sustainability topic or issue. But it also means I won't be here to blog about compassionate climate action.

So, let's use this as an opportunity to remember to relish and spend time in the natural world that we're working so hard to safeguard.

Happy bioblitzing in your part of the world! Make as many new nonhuman friends as you can.

03 June 2017

Unleashing the Abundance of Hoarded Wealth

Do you know what made me cry this week? No, not that President T**** has pulled out of the Paris Agreement. (That man, all he seems to care about is money and attention.)

No, what made me cry was reading that former New York City mayor (and eighth richest person in the world), Michael Bloomberg, has pledged $15 million to pay the US share of supporting the UN Convention on Climate Change secretariat, "including its work to help countries implement their commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change."

There was something about a person with billions of dollars more than he needs actually doing something good and right and important with that money ... after all the bad news of late ... and I just burst into tears!

According to an article in The Telegraph, Bloomberg — also a UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change — said:

"Americans are not walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement. Just the opposite — we are forging ahead. Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up — and there isn't anything Washington can do to stop us."


I've often thought, Imagine this world if all the rich people stopped hoarding their money ... if they remembered that they can't take it with them ... if they kept enough for their comfort (and sure, a bit of dazzle if they're into that) but shared the rest, realizing that their wealth actually belongs to the whole world ... if they finally learned that you can't eat money, and that a healthy Earth is our greatest wealth and security.  

This week, I caught a tiny glimpse of what the realization of that daydream — all that unleashed abundance — could accomplish.

p.s. There's MORE good news! Massachusetts Republican governor, Charlie Baker, has just signed his state onto the U.S. Climate Alliance, a growing coalition of states (started by Washington state's governor Jay Inslee, New York's Andrew Cuomo, and California's Jerry Brown) determined to meet and even surpass their greenhouse gas reduction targets. But hey, I guess it's not too surprising ... Boston has always been a seedbed of progress and innovation.