Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

About 30 years ago we began sojourning from the city to our cabin in Howe Sound. Our island retreat was an idyllic place to relax and recharge before returning to the work and worries of the city. It was also a safe and stimulating place to introduce children and now grandchildren to the wild outdoors. They spent summers exploring beaches and forest trails, mostly unsupervised and unstructured. It was hard to get lost on an island and they were mostly isolated from serious hazards. There were the acceptable risks of wasps, water sports, fires and falls. Deer, ravens, owls and occasionally raccoons visited our clearing on the island but they were mostly welcome unless they took excessive interest in our garden.

Recently, however, rumours circulated of a cougar on the island. A dog had been mauled, paw prints were found in mud, and there were second-hand reports of sightings. It is a large island so such warnings were filed mentally away with the forest fire advisories as something to be aware of but not too concerned about. Then we heard first hand that the cougar had been seen on the rocks above our beach where the grandchildren had played on their summer visit.

The abstract became real. Our sense of safety shifted as we imagined an encounter on the trail to the beach. Cougars are iconic creatures and efficient predators. They rely on stealth, speed and precision to bring down prey often twice their size. Attacks on humans are rare but have been fatal. Although the probabilities are low, when shadows lengthen and you are alone on a trail the possibile seems real enough. I found myself more vigilant, scanning my surroundings more closely and listening more carefully to sounds I might have otherwise ignored. I carry a walking stick now that is a bit more solid than before and a flashlight when I am out at night.

There is something primal in this reminder of my tenuous position on the food chain. The feeling probably predates the ice age when humans were fair game for predators before technology gave us the edge in close encounters. I can imagine the cougar watching me from the shadows to see what the upright apes are up to now. It is good to remember that the wild is not a Disney movie or a nature documentary. And I am glad cougars are not vengeful since this one was no doubt displaced from its home range by land development or clear cut logging.

We can share the island as long as the cougar does not develop a taste for grandchildren. I am probably at greater risk from ticks than from this new neighbourcougar and there certainly are far greater dangers in the city than from cougars in the wild. That said, I will continue to carry a stout stick when I walk in the woods and be more alert to the sudden, swift and silent movement that would presage a dramatic end to my story – but one well worth telling to the grandchildren.

International Coalition of Grandparents Appeal for Climate Sanity

Statement to national and international political leaders from Concerned Grandparents – united for our grandchildrens’ sustainable future

Halfdan Wiik, chair, Grandparents Climate Campaign, Norway
Peter Jones, chair, For Our Grandchildren (4RG), CanadaGuest blog seal

International Grandparents call for a new moral leadership, giving priority to the safety of all our grandchildren and their right to a sustainable planet. Putting their best interest at the top of national and international political agendas will demonstrate solidarity between generations.

The latest IPCC reports leave no doubt – the health of our planet is in grave jeopardy.

Our grandchildren must cope with the risk of uncontrollable global warming in a world ridden by famine, sickness, displacement and despair.   This risk has greatly increased, yet international climate negotiations are stalled.

The search for new sources of fossil fuel grows. More fertile land is being stripped, precious water contaminated, and more habitats for animals and humans disrupted.

We know that most fossil reserves must remain in the ground if global warming of more than 2 °C is to be avoided. Consequently, coal must be phased out faster. Environmentally costly fossil fuel sources such as tar sands, coal seam gas and shale gas cannot be exploited. In the fragile High Arctic, where unique habitat and precious marine life must be protected and prioritized, oil exploitation must stop.

“Turning down the heat” for the sake of our grandchildren will require changed attitudes and sincere efforts to slow down consumerism in affluent societies. We need to recognize and adjust to the limits of the Earth’s resources.  We must regard saving, caution and moderation as positive values – economically beneficial to both today’s and future societies.

As elders we acknowledge our time-honoured role as caretakers of the inheritance of future generations. We owe grandchildren everywhere sustainable living conditions, clean air and water, fertile and uncontaminated land, and a contained global climate.

In short, we owe them a planet Earth as wonderful as the one we have enjoyed.

Therefore we call upon concerned grandparents of the world to join us in efforts to force political leaders – national and international –to protect the rights and safety of children and all future generations.

Natural history field trips: August 2014

by David CookWoodland-walk

In Nature’s infinite book of secrecy a little I can read
- William Shakespeare

 

This month I have a field trip along the trails of Stanley Park to view how the forest has regenerated after the storm of 2006 and a hike up to the peak of Mt Strachan in Cypress Provincial Park looking at the geology on the way.

Sunday August 24th, 2014

The Perfect Storm

An interpretive field trip for Suzuki Elders: Bringing youth and elders together.

Trip leader: David Cook

Meeting location & time: 10:00 am in the parking lot at Third Beach concession stand in Stanley Park. Turn right at Tea House after the Hollow Tree then right again.

Duration of field trip: 2 to 3 hours.

Registration: Not required

Description of event: Walk with me through the forest of Stanley Park where the effects of the storm of 2006 were most destructive and see how it is recovering by natural regeneration with some assistance by human management. We will discuss how such natural events are beneficial to the long term ecology of a forest. We will see how we as managers can influence the pace of forest recovery as well as guide it towards what we require as users of the forest.

A free public event sponsored by Suzuki Elders. All ages welcome. Membership in Suzuki Elders not required.

Click here for further information about the Suzuki Elders.

 

Saturday August 30th, 2014

Ascent of Mt Strachan, Cypress Provincial Park, West Vancouver. A slow hike with many geological interpretive stops.

A joint field trip for Nature Vancouver and Friends of Cypress Provincial Park Society.

Meeting Time & location: 09:30 am at McDonalds, Park Royal (West Vancouver) for car- pooling. Payment to cover gas costs for those receiving a lift from Park Royal would be appreciated. An alternate meeting location will be at the green Olympic rings at 10:30 am in the downhill ski area of Cypress Provincial Park.

Duration: 5 or 6 hours.

Terrain: A steep ski run with a loose, pebbly surface that is treacherous on descent because of the loose pebbly surface. Deep-tread hiking boots with ankle support are essential. Sneakers not recommended. Walking poles recommended.

Elevation Gain: 500 metres.

Trip Leader: David Cook.

Description: Join me on a hike from the down-hill ski area at Cypress Bowl up the Collins Ski Run to the peak of Mt Strachan (1454 m), an elevation gain of about 500m. On the way there will be numerous stops to view the geology of the area in rock-cut exposures formed during the construction of the ski-run. While this field trip will be primarily to look at the geology, we will make a short side-trip for lunch and to look at an area of sub-alpine pasture recovering back to forest after a pre-historic lightning fire. The highlight will be the southern peak of Mt Strachan where there are magnificent views of Howe Sound and the glaciation has smoothed a remarkable polished pavement of metamorphic rocks, the oldest rocks to be found in the region. Those who wish can continue to the main peak of Mt Strachan. This is a full day’s hike, so bring lunch, water and prepare for changes in weather. If it is a clear day, a hat will be required, as the full length of the route is open to the sky.

Registration is not required. Membership in Nature Vancouver or Friends of Cypress Provincial Park Society is not required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Personified

earth-from-spaceThis poem was inspired by a serious problem – climate change.

Humans are wired to create this problem, but not for solving it. We express concern about climate change, yet find it difficult to motivate effective action which would bring us relief from that anxiety.

We are wired to react by reflex to protect our children from harm, but we treat the climate danger intellectually, not emotionally.  We instinctively know the connection between climate change and ourselves, yet we don’t feel it. Our reaction to the Ebola virus is visceral and the threat visual enough for us to generate a response, but climate change simply leaves us numb.

A useful response seems to demand a kind of love which is hard to come by.

 

What if the Earth had big, brown eyes—

Would we love her then?

What if the Earth were three feet tall,

         a warm furry ball

         a nightingale call—

Would we love her then?

 

What if the Earth smelled all milky and musk?

What if her shape were an elephant’s tusk?

What if she rhymed with birth, mirth and nourish?

What if you saw her, and found raw courage?

Fire, Air, Earth and Water

Sister, Lover, Mother, Daughter

Help us heal our home with laughter

Sing her praises to the rafter!

 

 

Putting a price tag on nature

Pricey bluebirdOur Elder-in-chief, David Suzuki, is well-known for his strong views on modern economics. His statements through the popular media that conventional economics is a form of brain damage have ruffled many a feather and elicited vitriolic retorts from the financial media. David’s main objection to the “dismal science” is that, when faced with the necessity of having to address the loss of natural ecosystem services (such as the hydrologic cycle, the activities of soil microorganisms or the fertilization of flowering plants by insects) economists invariably take a short cut and lump all these diverse and very heterogeneous functions and components into just one variable – externalities.

Externalities, in economic lingo, are factors whose benefits and costs are not reflected in the market price of goods and services. David’s concern is that relegation to that category virtually guarantees that little further notice will be taken of nature’s diverse benefits in project and policy evaluations and decisions. Most externalities are components or processes that do not have a market value in the typical sense – they aren’t traded and paid for in the market place. Nobody pays a swarm of bees to pollinate a fruit orchard, nor does anybody hand over a cheque to a few billion soil microorganisms to turn old vegetables and lawn clippings into useful compost.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean those processes are then excluded from all further reckoning. For example, apiarists are paid in fruit-growing regions to transport their hives of bees to orchards to carry out seasonal pollination; the owner of the land holding the dumped organic matter can tend the resulting compost and place it in bags to sell at profit at garden shops. The processes may be external to the economic balance sheet, but the products need not be.

There doesn’t appear to be anything inherently anti-environment in the science of economics (it is a science by the way – it was first defined in 1803 by Jean-Baptiste Say as “the study of production, distribution and consumption of wealth”). The doyens of modern economic theory like Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson treat natural resources like any other, and their textbooks, used by millions, apply all the normal economic principles to environmental components like forests, polluted air and fisheries. However, the natural resources they use as examples, like fish and forest products, are typical market commodities, i.e. they are traded back and forth in commercial markets, and prices can be readily set by the buyers and sellers.

Some big names in modern economic theory actually stand out as being very cognisant of environmental issues. The late Kenneth Boulding is credited with energizing the field of environmental economics in the 1960s with his essay ‘The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth’. He described the open economy of the past with its seemingly unlimited resources as “reckless, exploitative and characteristic of open societies (like cowboys!)” and contrasted it with the closed economy of the impending future where “Earth will become a single spaceship without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system”.

Perhaps the economist who has invoked environmental concerns to shake the economic foundations more than anyone else is Herman Daly. At one time the senior environmental economist at the World Bank, he made news in 1994 when he resigned to protest the Bank’s unwieldy bureaucracy and antiquated policies. Daly identified a problem for economics much bigger than the issue of externalities – the spectre of unlimited growth. He worked extensively in northeastern Brazil, a region beset by a burgeoning human population and a seriously depleted natural resource base. He also read the books of his contemporaries, the environmentalists Rachel Carson and Paul Ehrlich, and it was obvious to Daly that, like a human population, when the economy grows, it does so at the expense of the ecosystems that sustain it. For him, the realistic way of viewing the economy then was as a subset of the overall ecosystem, which implied that the economy must have some optimal scale relative to the larger system which should not be exceeded if serious consequences were to be avoided.

Another of Daly’s contemporaries, Robert Costanza, moved the focus to the interface between ecological and economic systems. This then led to the need to estimate the market value of natural goods and services which are not traded in the marketplace – things like natural habitats and processes such as reduction of airborne pollutants. A plethora of methods to estimate the economic value of natural capital and processes has evolved over the years – things like mathematical modelling, calculating how much the market would pay to avoid losing a particular natural resource, etc. In 1997 Costanza and his colleagues caused a stir with their published estimate of the value of the entire biosphere (between 16 and 64 trillion dollars; the international GNP at that time totalled about 18 trillion dollars). A recent David Suzuki Foundation study of the economic values of water supply, air filtration, flood and erosion control, wildlife habitat and agricultural pollinators, carbon storage and other benefits provided by natural and managed ecosystems in the 5.6-million-hectare Peace River watershed in British Columbia gave a conservative estimate of $7.9 to $8.6 billion per year.

Estimating the economic value of natural capital and ecological processes seems a logical step in the quest for long-term global sustainability, but it may have serious pitfalls. The British journalist George Monbiot contends that pricing natural capital results in gobbledygook because the values of such disparate resources are really non-commensurable. Not only are apples being compared to oranges, apples are being compared to every other conceivable money-making commodity. Monbiot’s even bigger objection to putting a price on nature is that, rather then protecting the natural world from the depredations of the economy, the approach harnesses the natural world to the very economic growth that has been destroying it all along! The processes that in the past have been so damaging – commodification, economic growth, financialisation, abstraction – can hardly be expected to now protect the living planet.

Personally, I don’t see the issue as having anything to do with the science of economics at all. In my experience it has more to do with the single-minded attitudes and actions of [some] proponents of development, [some] market-oriented economists who support those developments for the sake of personal monetary gain, and [some] politicians who seek the seemingly easy way to electorate approval. The same phenomenon can be seen in the medical field (new expensive pharmaceuticals touted by professionals) and in the food sciences (genetically modified crops as the way to bigger profits).

The natural environment has enormous economic and health benefits for the world and its inhabitants, but individuals and corporations are driven to make a profit. No profit derives from leaving anything undisturbed, because a developer or corporation must “add value” in order to sell. This incentive is what is so destructive. Destruction of natural ecosystems converts to dollars, so the true value of nature is ignored. Overcoming this perverse incentive is the true economic challenge of the 21st century.

Making Elders

by Stephen JenkinsonGuest blog seal

[Reproduced with permission from http://orphanwisdom.com/making-elders.

On this you might rely: there are times when magic, mayhem and the mandate of your days gather themselves together and will make a claim upon your attention. If good fortune and good timing prevail, those times won’t be lost on us. Generally the visitation is a subtle one, and so it can happen that the habits of the eye and tongue require a more dramatic event. The hubris of our times can cause any of us to mistake this visitation for something we thought of. But the truth is that these moments are as clear an evidence as we’re likely to get that all our best realizations come from Elsewhere, that we have the great good fortune to have been thought, by whomever, wherever our best stuff comes from. These are moments both adamant and easily missed.

Some twenty five years ago a man who’d come to me for some guidance asked that I work through some ideas with him from a book I’d not heard of called Iron John. The next day I was invited by a set designer to be in a film with an author I’d not heard of called Robert Bly, and another called Marion Woodman. I asked what part I would be playing and was told: “Yourself” – often a challenging assignment. And so that autumn I had the blessing of sitting for days with two achieved people in the depth of their powers and purpose, two elders alight with the incandescence of noble speech and tethered to their time.

It was during that filming that I heard the phrase ‘father hunger’ for the first time. Robert Bly went on to a considerable writing and teaching career during which he was a sane and poetic beacon to many, but it also drew towards him implacable expectations of surrogate fatherhood by legions of men, an inevitable, impossible assignment given the desperate times we are in. I had a few visits with Marion Woodman in the subsequent years, and on one such visit she spoke of her encounter with cancer. She was fairly sure then that the illness had come upon her partly as a result of the blistering, adamant demands from legions of women reading her books and attending her courses that she re-mother them.

Since then I’ve wondered upon their examples as well as their learning, and upon the costs that seem to have accrued to them for having been turned into stand-ins or famous replacements for the remote, damaging or bewildered parents many people in our time were born to. Somewhere in there is a great misapprehension about what has gone missing, and what is needed and deserved. I am fairly sure now that it was not mother hunger or father hunger that was feeding upon their work and their persons.

I am often asked about the reasons that this modest endeavour of mine is called Orphan Wisdom. In answering I find I spend most of my time speaking about orphans. When I ask what it is that results in orphanhood, the automatic answer is: no parents. Which is never true, not culturally and not personally. We are guaranteed to have parents. That is the genetic assurance of our birth. Parents are both required and inevitable for this event, and our appearance on the scene is proof, and in some fashion, at least for a time, they are there and from them we proceed. Of course there are qualities of being parented that can be lamentable or worse, but the truth is that most of us come out of our childhood and adolescence with clear and direct experience with parents, and that has gone a long way in influencing how – and if – we parent, should our turn come. There are people who wish they had different parents, but few left wishing they had parents.

There is no hunger for what was. There is nostalgia, and lament. The kind of hunger Bly and Woodman and others detonated was a hunger for what hasn’t been, and it remains so. This is a hunger for elders. People in their teens have it. People in their thirties have it. People in their fifties and sixties have it, too. Imagine people in their fifties and sixties attending spiritual workshops and self help seminars, waiting for some kind of elder to guide them into the depths of their lives and turning someone who is willing to try into the mother or father they really deserved or should never have had. This happens, frequently. Their hunger is ample sign that, while parents are an inevitability, genetic and exemplary, elders are not.

Elderhood is not a consequence of what a birth certificate says, otherwise we’d be awash in them, with more on the way. It is not a consequence of not having died yet, nor of enduring a life. It is not what will happen if you or I stick around long enough. That condition I would call ‘senior citizen’. Seniors are a consequence of death not happening. Elders are a consequence of a lifetime lived in the presence of elders, with all the subtle training laying out a template for service instead of retirement. Elders are a consequence of a whole sequence – a fragile sequence- of things happening. This sequence has a soul, and this it seems is it: elders do not achieve their elderhood. For all their labours of learning they must still await elderhood being conferred upon them by those who seek them out. Elders are finally made by the willingness and the ability of everyone else to have elders in their midst, to have recourse to them.

Consider then how unlikely elderhood is in a time which medicates, resists and barely tolerates age instead of venerating it, in a time when being self made is king and queen of all aspirations, in a time when senior citizens are competing for jobs and life partners and the attention of the marketplace with people half their age. Elders aren’t self made. They can’t be. They don’t confer elderhood upon each other, for it isn’t theirs to confer. They serve the culture which has given them their lives, their elders, and their achievement as elders only flowers when they have some place to serve. That place is younger people.

Earlier this year I began to teach a little about this elder hunger, and at one of the first sessions something important happened. A good sized group of people gathered to hear a few of my ideas about elder making, and more than half of them were well into the second half of their lives. I asked the young organizer of the event to help me present some of these ideas by beginning with a kind of question/answer dialogue with me. Though nervous he took to it well, and brought us to the heart of the thing directly, with his first question. He told us that many of his generation lived with a grinding, undiagnosed and low grade depression that hovered at the edge of their days. He asked me why that was, where that came from. My answer: this depression is not a consequence of the impotence simmering in the presence of global warming or of the nefarious mayhem of free trade or the caravan of miseries that parade across the micro screens of their lives and masquerade as information, though depression is probably a legitimate response to those things. In fact, it isn’t depression at all. It is a longing for something not quite seen, a longing that has no container, no shape and no language these days. It is a longing for the vault of heaven to stitched back together. It is a longing for something enduring and honourable to precede them into the hall of ancestors and worthies, something worth being. It is elder hunger.

I don’t know if anyone heard that, or if anyone recognized what I was saying, or wanted to, or agreed in some fashion that this could be so, or was overly concerned about any of it. But I know this: a young man at the front of a room of older people confessed a sadness and a longing for elders on behalf of his generation, and he did so clearly and articulately, and no older person in that room came to him. No one took a chair and sat beside him and said, “Well, this is all true and not as it should be. But tonight you are not going to lament about this alone. I’m going to sit here with you and we will wonder our way towards a little sanity and companionship on this matter. And thank you for asking.” I do recall that some of the older people defended themselves against this hunger and the indictment that is clearly also in it. One older man said that he considered himself a good grandfather, that skyped his grandchild regularly.

So, there is a lot of work to be done. Would that the hunger for elders among young people not be extinguished by despair or hostile disowning of the current regime. Would that people of middle age give their peak income generating years to learning the etiquette of service to a culture that no longer seems to need them, readying themselves for elderhood. And would that old people keep a chair by the door of their ebbing years, and stay alert for a faint voice outside that finds a way against the odds to ask for real guidance and a reason to continue. Would that it were so.

Abundance, Digital Distress and Time

by Morgan ReidGuest blog seal

Originally presented at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, March 23, 2014

I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy” – Thích Nhat Hanh

We have a largely materialistic lifestyle characterized by a materialistic culture. However, this only provides us with temporary, sensory satisfaction, whereas long-term satisfaction is based not on the senses but on the mind. That’s where real tranquility is to be found” – The Dalai Lama.

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DSC_0106 rev

This apple is a bit of a modern miracle. Partly because it’s March. A fresh apple in March! And shelves full of them in every grocery store.

How many of us have grown apples? How many of us have stored apples over the winter? Like in a cellar or basement? This perfect apple didn’t come from a cellar, but from a storage facility where humidity, temperature and oxygen levels are mechanically controlled and monitored by computers. This apple is an example of modern abundance. Apples aren’t in season. Apple season is six months away. But we can buy almost anything in many places, almost anytime. Anyone who has experienced seasonal shortage might realize modern abundance is pretty remarkable. But to those of us who have lived in relative comfort in modern times, this abundant availability of food and other goods is just normal.

Before modern refrigeration and storage were widely available, only the best apples were selected and stacked in baskets and crates, then kept cool in cellars, underground pits and caves. Although I grew up in modern times, when I was a kid we had a cellar dug into the bank near the stream that ran through our property. It was like a small basement. In October, we would look at the big box of apples and the dozens of jars of fruit, vegetables and salmon, and feel a deeply pleasing sense of abundance. In mid-winter, getting home from school, we would run down to the cellar where it was warmer than the freezing outside air and reach into the box and pull out a perfect crisp, cool, sweet apple. In late January, they were getting a little soft, and by March, they were gone. No apples left in the cellar. The garden was still muddy and bare from winter, except for a few stems of kale and chard and a few buried carrots. The thimbleberry and blackberry bushes by the creek were still months from bearing fruit, and fishing for steelhead and winter chinook was an expensive and chancy sport rather than a realistic source of food. We stacked empty jars on the cellar shelves after each meal.

Today, there are plenty of apples on grocery store shelves. In fact we all know we can get just about any fruit, vegetable or food product just about any time, a short drive or walk from home. We can buy an unbelievable range of toys, gifts, housewares, clothing, appliances, tools, electronics, and entertainment. Compared to older times, when the beginning of spring was when we humans deliberately, and out of necessity, consumed less, now every new season marks a new shopping cycle.

Long before I or anyone I know was around, the Equinox marked a time of hope for life to re-emerge after the dark, cold winter. A time to hope for renewal and a fresh new growing season to start. A time to reassure ourselves that food would again be abundant, and that we would again celebrate and feast together. We use the symbols of eggs, bunnies and flowers to remind ourselves of the fertile abundance the renewed season will bring. And we remind ourselves that the forces of good and of life are strong, and that goodness and light return even after a dark winter. In the old days, things were rough in the early spring. People had been hungry for awhile, some got sick. At this time of year, we really needed flashes of hope and light: little shoots of green, a bit of solemn confidence and some sweet surprises and big smiles from the grown-ups. And a nice party for everyone, young and old. These are all about raising spirits.

Today we have abundance beyond measure. More than we need, more than we can readily comprehend. But it seems that we are still hungry. With all this abundance of things, what do we do? I can see that a lot of us spend time with each other and do quite a lot of good work. Many of us have grown up working a lot, doing the things we needed to do to bring abundance to our families and to this church as well. But today, a lot of us are experiencing a different kind of abundance: this incredible avalanche of material goods, and of information and technology and entertainment that have become part of normal life for so many of us.

And many of us are still hungry for Something. There’s this feeling of need. That desire for Something in the old days was what motivated us to go outside, or to put on a show, or to explore the world. How many of us remember that feeling of wanting to have something to do and someone saying “Go play outside.” And you did. You’d read all the books, played with all your toys, there was nothing on TV or you didn’t have a TV, or you were over your quota and anyway not allowed to waste a day sitting around inside. So you connected with friends and did something. When I was twelve years old, during the March break, my brother and I found some wood and built a tree house, more of a tree platform, ten feet off the ground and eight feet square. It had beams and floor joists. We didn’t officially know how to build a floor, but we did it. Our parents had no idea what we were doing out there in the forest. When it was built, we called them outside to see what we had done. We ran ahead, climbed up and hid there, so that when they walked down the path through the forest they didn’t know to look up until we popped our heads over the edge and yelled with unforgettable pride, so they could see what we had done. We loved our tree fort, but the look on their faces, their amazement. That was gold! Those were the old days.

Today, we—grown-ups—have built an abundant universe of technologies to reach for when we feel the need to do something: the internet, smart phones, video games, World of Warcraft, Facebook, Pinterest, texting. Now I know that you and I haven’t designed and built these personally. But from the perspective of a young person, we adults approve these technologies implicitly. In fact, while many of us grew up without networked digital communications and entertainment, we now accept them as normal. But they are not. They are new, and they may not be as great as the technology zealots, marketing specialists and the human-computer designers would like us to believe.

Let’s take a few seconds to remember what normal was like fifteen years ago. It’s not easy to remember, because we humans are adaptable. We get used to the new normal pretty quickly. The new normal is that 30 percent of North American households have no limits on screen time for children and teens. The new normal is that the average North American teen has a screen in her face for seven and a half hours a day every day. The new normal is that we don’t seem to have the time to help our kids with their problems. And the new normal is that we adults need to go and “work” on the computer some more. Children and youth are following our lead: looking at their phones, computers, televisions, and game consoles, following us into the habit. Into digital default; and when it gets cut off, into digital distress.

There is a growing, recent body of research into this new normal, asking to what extent the new normal might be harming children’s chances in life. We know that brain development during childhood and youth is rapid and complex. We are learning that too much time on screen harms learning, thinking, and moral development. The biggest concern is that we don’t know to what extent we are risking children’s capacity for future learning and development. Overuse of technology may cause changes in the structure of the brain that limit later learning and development in areas like empathy and motivation. As a result of this research. the Canadian Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children “aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to [screen time], 3-5 year-olds should be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 year-olds restricted to 2 hours per day.” The Kaiser Foundation (2010) and Active Healthy Kids Canada (2012) found that the new normal is that kids are on screen for four to five times the time limits in these guidelines for children and youth. It’s kind of an experiment, really. We are responsible for a massive experiment in which our young people are the underage research subjects. Are we giving informed consent? What are we risking in this experiment?

A friend reminded me that we have done massive social experiments with our young people before—widespread literacy is relatively new—and these experiments had both benefits and costs. I don’t think this is the same experiment. We need to consider “What costs are we incurring with this present experiment?” And “What exactly is the experiment?” Just to make this a little more real, imagine you are handed a consent form asking you to sign your permission for your nine-year-old to see seven hours of TV, video, video games, smart phone apps political messaging and advertising every day for an indefinite period of time. There’d be a warning on the form: Risks may include learning and social difficulties; or Combined with an average North American diet, sedentary behaviour may cause health problems; and There may be increased chances of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety, depression and the controversial diagnosis of Internet Addiction Disorder. Would you sign the permission form and send a child into this experiment?

I will note that some studies have been able to measure increased abilities in video gamers on certain skill tests, but it turns out these tests are measuring what children learned in the video games, rather than their skills in real life. There is plenty of research that identifies problems, and there are quite a number of health care providers in several fields who are fully occupied with treating children with problems associated with excessive screen time. Something to keep in mind if this turns into a debate: it’s easy to point to kids who have done OK, despite overuse if technology: family involvement, stable homes, enriched environments, good diet, friends, good schools. These can all counter the progress of digital addiction. But does anyone really claim that seven and a half hours a day of screen time is good for children? No, not really.

Children and youth are much more likely to be healthy and smart, good and happy if they spend less time online and more time in the real world. But that is not the trend right now. The trend is that those of you who vaguely oppose all this digital culture might sheepishly deprecate yourselves as Luddites, those famous opponents of automation technology from the early industrial revolution. And you expect to get brushed aside. But maybe you’re just right. Maybe your instincts are right. Maybe you’re countering a massive cultural trend that is going in an unhealthy direction and you’re not sure how to approach your son or daughter or friend when she or he doesn’t want to turn off the video or put the phone down for a few minutes.

And what about sleeping? Sleep is important to learning, development, and mental and physical health. When it comes to taking a break, getting rest and unwinding and recharging and processing our experiences through sleep, we are in a dark time indeed. “Night time. It’s a good time to sleep,” I tell my son. But many children are awake into the night. A Boston College study found that 75% of nine and ten year-old children are sleep-deprived, and most of them are allowed screens in their bedrooms, unsupervised. When all these patterns combine, are we reducing children’s chances for a healthy, happy life? We see children being fed a digital diet that leaves them hungry. And chances are they will be fed medication rather than a nourishing diet of real life, and time with family, friends, and nature.

It is a dark time. But the desire to stay online, to keep watching the next episode, to play up to another level, is real and strong and learned. And it can be unlearned, in time. It’s time to re-emerge from this digital darkness, and to reclaim our time, and to help our children reclaim their young lives. Equinox and the Ostara rituals have been around for a long time, to recall the energy of life in the time of rebirth of plants and animals and good spirits. In our wish, this year, for abundance, what do we really need? We’re short of life’s most precious gift: Time. But because of the abundance of connections we have around us—the friends, families, the people sitting next to you in this community of like-minded seekers—we have the wealth we need to create more time.

When I made the above presentation in March 2014, I offered each member of the audience a coupon. For time. Sometime. I suggested that, while the daffodils were still up, they find someone to give that coupon to. It’s good for an hour of their time – an hour of undivided, unplugged presence. Doing something or doing very little, it’s up to them. But in the giving of that time (which is really just a seed), we create an hour of the kind of time we all need more of. And in those hours our friendships grow, and in the unplugged time, in the several hundred hours among us, away from tweets and texts, in the real world, together, our children may blossom and thrive again.

References

Video Games Can Help Boost Social, Memory & Cognitive Skills

10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12 

Pediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan 

Dunckley, V.L. Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain 

Tremblay, et al. Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years (aged 0–4 years) 

Three Voices/One Message: The Importance of Mimesis for Human Morality. Sally K. Severino, Nancy K. Morrison 

Web Junkies

American Journal of Psychiatry. Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction

The meaning and use of shared stories about our personal connections with nature

by Erlene Woollard

As Suzuki Elders for the Environment, we often think and debate about how our roles and actions can be most useful in helping to provide positive social change. We ask ourselves how we might make our stories useful and even essential to providing encouraging pathways for younger people and help them to manoeuvre the natural and political environments they will inherit from us. We, in turn, rely on each other and the many “others” we are engaged with for encouragement and guidance. Scholars and “doers” happily share their wisdom and observations and offer to communicate to us by “quotable” quotes that we can choose to enhance our journeys through this complex business of living well but lightly on the earth.

I want to share some of those quotes that I have sought or stumbled upon recently, starting with one by Nancy Lubin:

“In the long run, numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you really want to connect with our audience, give them what they’re waiting for, what we are always waiting for. Tell them stories.”

Taking this to heart, more than thirty Elders have recently written stories and this project is described in other documents. Ten of these Suzuki Elders are now working with a group of high school students who have shown more than a passing interest in our stories. We are seeking to capture the essence of the stories through conversations, planning meetings, interviews and an upcoming video to further capture this work.

This has led me to look back to the work of Marshall Ganz whose tools of telling stories (of me, we, now) has been a guide for communication staff at the David Suzuki Foundation who have thus guided our SE process. I note that Ganz’s work was inspired by Alexis de Toqueville’s quote:

“In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.”

On seeing this, things fell into place for me as I realized this important act of combining is often missed. When we look upon our stories as being an important part of a community seeking to connect as a system devoted to social justice and positive change it becomes more obvious how our stories can help.

The current system has its own storyline perhaps best captured by poet and philosopher Wendell Berry:

“The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and less wasteful.”

This quote can help us define a way to change current public discourse from consumption, violence, death and jobs at all costs to a more balanced discourse of respect and love of a more natural life where we can combine leadership, inclusive discourse, thoughtful change and humanity while building community.

In order to offer encouragement in these times, when calls for civil disobedience seem our only resource, our stories may offer positive actions to complement them. This leads me to reflect on the life of Henry David Thoreau, the American guru on civil disobedience and his essays about his life, actions and observations.

His quotes that resonated (among others) were the following:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” 

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.” 

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” 

Our stories and any other actions we choose to take as elders have the potential to encourage a better public discourse to inspire ourselves and others to make sure our song for a healthy world is sung loudly and clearly, long before we die.

This reflection linked back to Ganz’s concept of “combining” and led me to seek a better understanding of Ubuntu, a South African philosophy translated broadly as a belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all of humanity. Molefe offers two maxims that have become popular definitions for ubuntu. The first is the Mbitian maxim:

 “I am because you are and since we are, therefore, I am”.

The second is the Nguni aphorism (in English)

 “a person is a person through other persons”

…..and suggests that one’s relationships with others are the foundations of one’s personhood or humanity.

In this completion of a circle I am led back to de Toqueville, then Ganz, then to the Suzuki Foundation and ourselves and our work with the community and those younger than ourselves. My passionate hope is that if we can keep this circle vibrant, the world will benefit from our work in a way yet to be determined…….

Pacific Trail pipeline protest

I got a call from Ruth at about 7:45 pm. I was heading into a Mozart concert at the Chan Centre. Ruth said, “Come on down to the Chevron Refinery. Three people are chained to the gate, protesting Chevron’s part in dismantling the First Nations protest camps blocking the construction of the Pacific Trail gas pipeline.”

I sat through the Mozart Horn Concerto and the Ravel Mother Goose Suite. Then I had to leave. I got to the Chevron Refinery on the Burnaby Waterfront (near the Kinder Morgan tanker loading dock) for the final act. Ruth told me that the police were going to cut through the chains and bicycle U-lock and arrest the three protesters.

There were about 30 protesters and around 20 RCMP. As I approached the gate a guard said “You’re trespassing on private property.” I could see that 30 protesters were already well onto private property, so I just kept walking and joined them: in my suit and tie.

Long story short – the three got cut loose and arrested for breaking the injunction. As Betty Krawczyk points out, injunctions pit the prisoners against the court system, which was not the target of the protest. But that’s why Betty got a 10-month sentence for sitting down in front of a bull dozer at Eagle Ridge Bluffs. Harriet Nahannee also went to jail, got pneumonia, and died soon after her release.

So what is this about?

The Pacific Trail is a pipeline route for fracked natural gas from B.C.’s northeast to Kitimat. Once this pipeline route, crossing the Rockies, is complete, it will be much easier for the Enbridge pipeline to follow the same, or nearby, pipeline right of way.

But isn’t natural gas the least carbon intensive fuel for the amount of energy created? And when it spills, it just evaporates into the air. All this is true, so natural gas has met with little opposition. But should it get a pass? I don’t think so because of the unresolved problem of “fugitive emissions” of methane in the process of recovering the natural gas.

What’s wrong with methane (CH4)? If you use the UN method of deriving CO2e, i.e. converting the Greenhouse Gas methane into CO2 equivalent terms, methane has about 23 times more powerful greenhouse effect than CO2 over 100 years. The problem is that during the first 20 years it has over 70 times more impact than CO2. I’m more worried about the next 20 years than the next 100, so I prefer the “70” over the “23” when comparing methane to CO2.

What is methane?

Methane is the primary flammable portion of natural gas. Methane and natural gas are almost the same thing. Pure methane is odourless, and is abundant in coal. It’s the gas that causes the canary in the coal mine to croak. Fugitive emissions of methane in coal mining are also extremely high. There has been an academic tussle over fugitive emissions of methane in fracking since 2011. The latest report indicates that fugitive emissions of methane are still so high that the carbon footprint of fracked gas is about the same as coal. In other words, when you apply a full analysis of carbon intensity from production to consumption of fossil fuels, fracked gas and thermal coal are tied for worst.

Should the Pacific Trail gas pipeline get a free pass?

No.

Thus the three people chaining themselves to the Chevron refinery gate. Chevron is a major partner of the Pacific Trail pipeline, and wants it built ASAP.

So the May 30 action deserves our support. The protesters were peaceful, and careful not to provoke the RCMP, when I was there. I believe there will be more blockades at the Chevron Refinery at the north foot of Rosser St., one block west of Willingdon.

I heard one of the three chained to the gate say “I am aboriginal, and this is aboriginal land. I am exercising my right as a First Nations person to sit on our land.” Nearby his wife nursed their baby

Green Team saves tonnes of material from local landfills and builds community too!

by Jill Schroder

Vancouver has a deserved reputation as a green city but, with a population approaching 2½ million, has to work hard at dealing effectively with the disposal of solid waste (currently estimated at 1.5 million tonnes annually. Recycling currently accounts for about 55% of garbage reduction. Metro Vancouver’s targets for the future  are 70% recycling by 2015 and 80% by 2020. Community recycling programmes are now, and will continue to be, essential components in solid waste management.

Foto 2Residents at Panorama Place apartments in the West End have, through the efforts of half a dozen volunteers, run an effective recycling programme for the building which has reduced the building’s garbage by more than 25% and, over the years, has diverted tonnes of garbage from landfills. We would like to see other residents in Vancouver do the same thing for their buildings.

Our Panorama Place Green Team got its start some 15 years ago when a group of residents campaigned to convert the roof of the apartment’s parking garage into landscaped green space. Our efforts in that direction were ultimately unsuccessful but they started a conversation about how we could make our building ‘greener’. The start was simple enough – providing a bin for residents to recycle beverage containers, which were then not included in the City of Vancouver’s recycling program.

Foto 1Over time the diversity of recycled materials has grown significantly. In the past 6 months our group has collected 30 98-litre bins of styrofoam, 30 bins of waxed cartons and beverage containers, 30 bins of soft plastics (including shopping bags and wrapping), four bins of hard plastics, hundreds of batteries and light bulbs, and dozens of electrical appliances. In May of this year Metro Vancouver expanded its blue box recycling program to include things like waxed cartons, Tetra Paks, and ice cream tubs.

Foto 3We all take turns driving the bins to the depot when they are full. Of the 146 units in the building, about three-quarters are currently taking part in the recycling program. Municipal garbage pickup from the building has been reduced from four times a week to three.

November 2013 saw a step forward when our Green Team embarked on a food scraps recycling program. We started with a 25-unit 6-week trial run before opening up the program to the entire building. Metro Vancouver has proposed banning all food scraps from landfills and transfer stations by 2015, so we saw the need to get a head start. The program has been a huge success, collecting more than 2 tonnes of organic waste in the past 6 months (enough to fill four large dumpsters). Since the inception of the food waste program we have noticed that recycling of other materials has increased. An unexpected side benefit has been the transformation of the buildings recycling room into something approaching a social hub.

Foto 5

We are now making our progress and achievements wider known so as to spread the word and encourage others to start similar programs in their buildings. Start small with a committed group of people and just do it!

 

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