30 September 2018

On Becoming a Political Person

My husband and I are at the Green Party of Canada biannual convention this weekend in Vancouver. Some lovely friends convinced us to come, and our shared hotel room has been like a grownup's slumber party. ;-) 

One of the nicest things about attending this convention has been running into dear old friends from the environmental movement who, like us, have found their political tribe in the Greens. Loved your new music video, The Gasoline Breakup Song, Franke and Billiam James! "Sound Activism" ... fabulous! And Dr. Warren Bell, it was good to reconnect after years of watching your continued online activism and involvement with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. (My hubby, Dr. Peter Carter, was a founding director of CAPE in the mid-1990s.)


I'm going home psyched up to help people understand proportional representation (PR) so that they vote "YES" in my province's upcoming referendum on PR. Our first-past-the-post system puts all the power in the hands of one party, even if they have less than 50% of the votes. See Fair Vote Canada.

Elizabeth May's speech at Saturday night's banquet (the most vegetarian banquet I've ever attended!) was, in turns, quite moving and very rousing. What got the most resounding applause? When talking about the climate crisis, she said:
"The Green Party doesn't want to be a one issue party but if the one issue is survival then there is only one issue."
— Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
Another highlight for me was the Saturday morning keynote address by Caroline Lucas, a British politician who in 2010 was elected the Green Party's first Member of Parliament. She said several things that resonated for me, for example: "You can't just bolt the environment onto business as usual." Exactly! We need a transformation in how we "do business." (You can watch her half-hour speech here, from 3:00 to 31:44 — https://www.facebook.com/GreenPartyofCanada/videos/1825623187581859/.)

It's been interesting for me to observe my reactions at this political party convention. I'm proud to say that I helped Elizabeth May get elected twice now — she's my federal Member of Parliament — but it simply meant putting her bumper sticker on my little car and manning a Saturday table at the shopping centre in my tiny community before the election. I wasn't "involved in politics." It was something Caroline Lucas said that reminded me to be watching the political machinations this weekend:
"Complacency is a more dangerous enemy than denial."
— Caroline Lucas
And what I witnessed was a kinder, gentler political "beast" than I knew possible. Mind you, check out this refreshing UN address by New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, about her government's determination to focus on kindness. Kindness! Imagine that. (I've started her speech near the end, but it's worth listening to the whole thing.)

Don't get me wrong, the Green Party members in attendance at this convention got plenty excited at times and were generous with their standing ovations. They are certainly not a staid bunch. But the feeling here is that if they can't achieve their goals and still be decent people, then their goals aren't worth achieving. Souls are not for sale in the Green Party. People don't have to sell out any part of their beliefs or ideals. (Although my friendly amendment to a proposed policy to make it more ecologically literate in its wording — "people and other animals" instead of "animals and people" — was not accepted via the consensus process (too many red cards), which I'll admit was a bummer for this newbie. Our language choices can have a transformative effect, but some people either don't realize that, or are more comfortable with status quo — i.e., biblical — understandings of our species. But the consensus process worked to keep things rolling along ... and I can always try again another time.) 

Anyway, I just wanted to share my #GreenConv18 experiences with you. I hope that wherever you live and with whatever time you have available, you can contribute to making our political systems kinder, gentler, more ethical, and perhaps a tad more ecologically literate. 

23 September 2018

Children ... Our Vulnerable Little Ones

Twin tornadoes ripped through Canada's capital region on Friday night. In a country blessed with strong infrastructure (due to our winters and our wealth as a nation), nearly 300 properties were damaged or destroyed. Several people were injured but no fatalities have been reported, thank goodness, though hundreds have been displaced and some have lost everything. The stories of complete strangers opening their doors to those left without power or without a home at all have been heartwarming.

However, one harrowing sound bite of a father who nearly lost his daughter left me sobbing ... it is so metaphorical of what is already happening in other parts of the world, but what is only just beginning in this privileged region. Our children — our most beloved and yet our most vulnerable — are being hit first and worst by the ravages of climate disruption.

Listen in here as this distraught father describes what he experienced as he struggled to hold on to his daughter during the tornado. 

Folks, we are ALL struggling to hold on to our children now. Tomorrow, it might be the children of the wonderful fellow trying to comfort his friend. But we need to acknowledge that parents all around the world are not able to protect and save their children who are being lost in storms and mudslides and floods, or because of droughts and famines and contaminated drinking water. This one man's raw emotion is, for me, a metaphor for the pain and agony that all parents go through when they lose a child, or even just come close to it.

This morning, I received the latest piece from a wonderful friend and climate change activist, Dr. Reese Halter. Fossil Fuels Poisoning Children explains why we need to get to zero combustion and zero carbon emissions, even without climate change in the picture. The statistics in this article are horrifying. Half of the 4.4 million schoolchildren in New Delhi, India have permanently stunted lung development from breathing fossil fuel pollution. What are we doing to our children?
"Man has poisoned our children and the entire planet with fossil fuels. Now we must all fight for our survival."
One commenter wrote: "In a world that has been created for all, it is a tragic reflection on humanity that our children are being born already poisoned by our own hand. No accident of nature but the hand of man's own greed." 
Reese responds: "We are ALL one. And it's high time that we understand the severity of this crisis...."

Which brings me to the last thing I want to share this week (besides a link to a 2017 post I wrote called What Parents Won't Acknowledge About the Climate Crisis Is Going to Kill Their Children). It's a video in which two scientists talk about the "perfectly normal and natural" reactions that people have when they first truly grasp the urgency of this crisis. 

While watching it, I noticed two things. At about 7:30, one of the scientists shows that she hasn't yet grasped how bad (and not neat) things are going to become. You can hear the denial set in when she talks about her own child. The other thing I noticed is that feeling this range of la-la-I-don't-want-to-hear-this emotions is a developed-world privileged luxury. As I pointed out above, many parents have already experienced devastating loss — they can't deny that this is happening.

16 September 2018

Here's Proof that the Climate Change Crisis is a Crisis of Imagination

I read something at Inside Climate News the other day that made me laugh and nearly cry at the same time. 

Have you heard of the Heartland Institute? Their mission is "to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems." Sounds pretty benign, until you remember that it's free-market capitalism that is killing the biosphere. (The "free" in free-market economics means capitalists are free to make as much money as possible in any way possible with as little government regulation as possible. But who was it who said, perhaps a bit tongue in cheek, that the role of government is to keep corporations from getting away with murder?)
Heartland co-founder Joseph Bast provoked laughter by recounting carmaker GM's response to the Trump administration proposal unveiled last week to freeze fuel economy standards. Quoting the vision statement of GM CEO Mary Barra—that the company is working toward a future of "zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion"—Bast said: "That is impossible, and it's absolutely ludicrous. Zero of each of those things mean zero cars. It means zero respect for people's personal choices of transportation. It would mean a devastating impact on the economy."
Imagine, a car company is envisioning a future of "zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion" — and the Heartland Institute laughs. That would "mean zero cars," they say. 

So because they can't imagine a different future, a better future, a future where "people's personal choices of transportation" aren't killing off the future, they just deny the climate change crisis and focus on free-market "solutions." 

These free-market men in suits take themselves very seriously. But if they don't have the creativity or imagination — both signs of intelligence, gentlemen — to envision, or at least support, creative and imaginative zero-carbon solutions, then how can we take them seriously? 

I never thought I'd lend my support to a car company. But when it shows vision, inspiration, inventiveness, resourcefulness, ingenuity and originality; proposes some nifty ideas for fighting the climate change crisis; and uses government regulations as the parameters within which to innovate, well, I'll go with a company with that kind of imagination to make the changes necessary to safeguard the future. I think the Heartland Institute forgets that there is no economy — let alone a free-market economy — on a planet devoid of human life.

09 September 2018

The Talanoa Dialogue for Climate Ambition — An Opportunity to Have My Say

The United Nations 2017 climate conference (Conference of the Parties or COP23) was hosted by Fiji (though, sadly I'm sure for many attendees, it was held in Bonn, Germany). 

A lasting keepsake of the Fiji talks is the Talanoa Dialogues, to which I contributed yesterday.

Talanoa is a traditional word used in Fiji and across the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good. The process of Talanoa involves the sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling.

The goal of the Talanoa Dialogue is to help implement and increase ambition in each nation's commitments to emissions reductions and other climate action (their Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) by asking stakeholders to answer three questions:

  1. Where are we?
  2. Where do we want to go?
  3. How do we get there?
I responded to the first question on behalf of GreenHeart Education (my professional me), and would like to share it with you here. The Dialogue is open for submissions until 29 October 2018, so that input can be compiled before the next UN climate change talks in Katowice, Poland in early December. Go for it if your organization has got something to say!

By the way, you'll see why I laughed at my captcha ("school") when you read my contribution. 

--> Question 1: Where are we?

a) The commitment (planned and/or announced) as well as the actions taken so far that are in line with aims of Paris Agreement, the 1.5/2 degrees’ goal and the transition towards a net-zero emission society by this mid-century [Maximum 300 words]

Where we are is in a climate change emergency, but one we refuse to acknowledge. Where we are is still talking all sorts of numbers when the only number that counts is ZERO – zero carbon, zero combustion, zero emissions of greenhouse gases. Where we are is the poor and the vulnerable being hit by climate diasters first and worst. 

Where we are is smack in the middle of a crisis of imagination and empathy – only compassion and innovation can save us now, but it seems they’re in short supply. Where we are – but we just don’t know it yet – is in the most exciting time ever to be a human being: at the very start of a huge global race to ZERO … or bust. And luckily, because developing countries perhaps aren’t as (politically) entrenched in fossil fuel energy as the so-called developed nations, they all have a headstart in the race to ZERO.

b) Progress made so far against the above commitments, including success stories, case studies and gaps [Maximum 300 words]

Sadly, in many educational circles, climate change is still seen as controversial (thanks to the highly funded and highly successful denial campaign), and therefore barely gets taught. Because human beings have evolved over the last 10,000 into a species dependent on agriculture, and because agriculture depends on a stable climate (which we’ve mostly had for the past 10,000 years), the impacts of a destabilizing climate are threatening food security around the world. 

The Most Important Curriculum
We cannot grow food overnight and nor can we LEARN to grow food overnight, therefore learning food growing skills must become an important part of every school’s curriculum (along with soil building, water collections, and energy generation). While literacy and numeracy will always be part of education, they are of no importance to people who are starving. 

This is one area where we are seeing progress around the world, although we still have far to go. The spread of permaculture, agroforestry, carbon farming, and organic and regenerative agriculture is helping to build resilience in food
systems while we work toward ZERO

greenhouse gas emissions.

c) Quantitative impact so far with respect to mitigation, adaptation, resilience and/or finance [Maximum 300 words]

I’m sorry I don’t have numbers to share. But perhaps this is where 100% (the opposite of zero) should come in, in the form of a global goal to get a learning garden into every schoolyard around the world.

I just received this message re my input:

On 2018-09-12 06:12, Talanoa Dialogue wrote:

Dear Sir/Madam, 

Thank you for your message. In order to inform the Talanoa Dialogue, the COP president invited Parties and stakeholders to the Convention on Climate Change as well as expert institutions to submit input.

We regret to inform you that we cannot publish inputs by individuals.

We would encourage you to affiliate yourself with a non-Party stakeholder to the Convention for submitting your input.

Best regards, 

Talanoa Dialogue Team 

Here's the response I sent:

I'm sorry to hear that you don't consider GreenHeart Education an "expert institution." However, I do appreciate you letting me know. (I'm not sure how far you'll get in the fight to safeguard the future by only listening to those who haven't yet managed to safeguard the future. But there's the conundrum.)

Julie Johnston
GreenHeart Education

02 September 2018

Dragonflies, Depressions and Climate Crimes

Somehow, through sheer coincidence or rather eerie synchronicity, it's exactly one year since my last post. Last fall, I started this post and never finished it:
It seems I took an unintentional break from blogging last month. I didn't mean to. August was a blur of toothache and doctor appointments. Then suddenly September became a blur of post-retirement busyness! Conferences, courses, meetings, seminars, editing to deadline. And now suddenly it's October.
Now it's a year later, and what a year it's been. In fact, just as I started writing this, a huge dragonfly scared the wits out of me by buzzing outside the window and smushing its wings up against the glass. It's attracted to the light, I thought, but then I decided to look up the symbolism of dragonflies.
"The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world, symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life."
— www.dragonfly-site.com
Change, transformation, renewal, lightness and joy. Robyn Nola said, "Dragonflies are reminders that we are light and we can reflect light in powerful ways if we choose to do so." Perfect encouragement to get me writing again!

As I mentioned, this was my first year of retirement — and somehow I've been busier than when I was working. I helped my hubby and his co-author birth their book, Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival. You can order it here, through Clarity Press. (I'm boycotting Amazon until they improve how they treat their employees, but it's available there, too.) 

People in positions of power and influence all know that we're in a climate and oceans emergency, but most of them are knowingly and negligently ignoring this knowledge in order to keep lining their pockets with filthy fossil fuel money. It's disgraceful, and it's time we started calling climate change criminals exactly that.

The last thing I want to talk about this week is depression, namely my depression. It's really hard to function effectively when cursed with the knowledge and vision of what's going to happen to all the children in the world if we don't get our freaking greenhouse gas emissions in check. 

But, as Dragonfly has suggested to me today, I can look at this from a different perspective. I can encourage myself and others to see this as an exciting time to be a human being. With so much hanging in the balance, every choice and every decision we make holds weight. Are we going to condemn today's young people by ignoring our knowledge of the climate and oceans crisis? Or are we getting down to work to ensure them a future, out of sheer love in our hearts?