Monthly Archives: March 2012
Four days. Four events. Each brings engagement with determined, passionate and thoughtful folks acting for the environment.
Note to self: Balance is needed! Walking and talking with others beats the gloomy environmental news of the day.
Event One: I see the future and it is now. To whit – on March 27, in an SFU hall filled with the energy of several hundred young people, the One Earth Initiative-sponsored We Canada group ended their 16 city cross-Canada “engaging civil society” marathon. We Canada’s purpose? To dialogue with elementary, high school and university students about the how and what of a Canadian strategy proposal for the June 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ( Rio 20+). From Corner Brook to Victoria – 8,000 young people reached in eight weeks. Results? Consensus on three big “policy asks” for these young Canadians to champion at Rio on our behalf :
- Measuring What Matters – Beyond GDP
- Getting the Prices Right (eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and putting a price on carbon
- Making Trade Fair (public procurement policies).
This old organizing pro observed inclusive process, informed content and brilliant use of high tech and social media. Of course – they are under 30!
The well pitched presentation included Severn Cullis-Suzuki then – at age 12, delivering her famously moving 1992 Rio speech, and Severn now – a veteran international environmental campaigner and mother of two, now inspiring young(er) people to believe that We Can have an impact. There was acknowledgement of Canada’s past role in progressive international environmental work, an obvious deep desire to occupy that place again, and clear commitment to make it happen. For the We Canada background policy documents, and ways to support this fine work by young Canadians who have taken up the torch, (do check out their sample letter to Canada’s Environment Minister!) go to http://earthsummit.ca/
Note to self: Remember when I was 29 and everything was possible? It still is.
Event Two: The timing was perfect. Inside the Art Gallery, as evidenced by the dramatic banner hanging over its Georgia Street steps – an exhibit entitled “Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture.” Outside the Art Gallery, a formidable line up of elder Chiefs and young leaders from our coastal First Nations lay down an eloquent defense of the lands and waters we all live on and by against the incursion across them of pipelines and oil tankers carrying tar sands bitumen.
It is noon Monday, March 26. In the chilly rain 1200 people, including a clutch of Suzuki Elders, listen to these proud, respectful and articulate “radicals:” Actor Tantoo Cardinal; SFU professor Mark Jaccard; Wilderness Committee’s Ben West; 11 year old Sliammon singer Ta’Kaiya Blaney; 350.org’s founder Bill McKibben – visiting from America; Forest Ethic’s Nikki Skuce; Jim Britton from the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union; Kids for Climate Action’s Sophie Harrison; Greenpeace Tar Sands Campaigner Melina Laboucan-Massimo; Heiltsuk Chief Edwin Newman; Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ Stewart Phillips; Ruben George, Sundance Chief from the Tsleil-Waututh people of Burrard Inlet; and Art Sterritt , Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations group. Organizers ensured a range of perspectives were presented – from no tankers, no pipelines, no tar sands development, to the rights of Aboriginal people, to the spiritual value of our shared lands and waters, the future of our grandchildren, all carefully overlaid with words about the necessary coming shift to alternate energies and a no/low carbon future. Hear all the speeches at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2sA0OFpWgU
Note to self: Be a witness to the voices. Always show up. It matters.
Event Three: What do some retired North Shore folks do on a Tuesday morning? Well, 25 of them arrive at Capilano University’s Eldercollege to listen and engage with Suzuki Elders presenting a six part environmental series “Transition to the Future.” Over many planning meetings, Elders pull together our own expertise, find the best resource material, and design discussion strategies. On these March and April Tuesday mornings we present on approaching the limits, energy in transition, technological solutions, re-thinking our relationship with earth, telling a better story, and how we will get there – - from here. Attendees respond warmly, are open to learning, and are supported by us to share outwards amongst friends, family and community.
Note to self: This too is good work. We are still in the game.
Event Four: On the first warm spring day, a Saturday afternoon to boot, you’d think attending an annual general meeting would be last on anyone’s do list. But on March 24, Suzuki Elders and friends show up to our AGM to hear about constitutions, strategic plans, and vote in Elder Council members (check out the Suzuki Elder website (https://sites.google.com/site/eldersdsf). Then, as invited, our retiring (and eldest) Suzuki Elder Phillip Hewett stretches his lanky 87 year old frame out of a chair to tell us the 16 year story of the Council of Elders at the David Suzuki Foundation. He’s been with us since the beginning, and now, as the Elders are reinvigorated with new members and infrastructure, he’s letting go. Something about needing time to write his memoirs and climb the local mountains more often! The last enviro rally I attended with Phillip was on a hot August afternoon at pipeline giant Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby refinery and docks. After the speeches, as we trudged back up the hill, I wondered out loud – you know – the “we are so small – they are so big” lament. Without missing a beat, Phillip called up words (as is his forte, being a retired Unitarian Minister), these from Vaclav Havel, and said, “We do it …..because it is the right thing to do.”
Note to self: Yes. And thank-you Phillip for your years of doing it.
Without a name; an unseen face
And knowing not your time nor place
Tomorrow’s Child, though yet unborn,
I met you first last Tuesday morn.
A wise friend introduced us two,
And through his shining point of view
I saw a day that would see
a day for you, but not for me.
Knowing you has changed my thinking,
For I never had an inkling
That perhaps the things I do
Might someday, somehow, threaten you.
Tomorrow’s Child, my daughter-son,
I’m afraid I’ve just begun
To think of you and of your good,
Though always having known I should.
Begin I will to weight the cost
Of what I squander; what is lost
I should never forget that you
Will someday come to live here too.
Poem by Glen Thomas
Acknowledgements to the Interface Carpet Company
by Jim Park
There has been much concern voiced lately over the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline (ENGP) which, if built, would traverse northern British Columbia and deliver bitumen to a deepwater tanker terminal at Kitimat, B.C.
Loudest amongst the voices heard are those who oppose the pipeline for a variety of reasons, and make use of the media and public meetings to make their objections known, often in emotion-coloured messages. One message, currently circulating online, shows a video of 10-year old Ta‘Kaiya Blaney from the Sliammon First Nation band in North Vancouver singing a song of protest against ENGP.
The displays of public emotion have drawn some criticism from observers. They note that the people making the emotional responses have no technical knowledge of the issues involved in pipeline projects and cannot provide any useful expertise in reaching a decision as to whether the project should be built or not. In their view, these folks are simply repeating the anxiety that others have put into their minds. The use of a child as a tool to communicate objections to the project is seen as reprehensible and a form of child abuse.
However, for me, when reading or listening to these arguments, what comes to mind is the age-old struggle between the logical mind and the illogical emotions.
People with a scientific background have spent lifetimes approaching challenges and achieving goals using the scientific method: detailed observation, comprehensive and structured data collection, and objective analysis of the facts to reach repeatable conclusions. This is a good thing; it is the tool that helped us to achieve the scientific breakthroughs that created the high standard of living that we enjoy today.
However, those without a scientific background have never gained this tool or learned the discipline required to approach the physical universe from a non-anthropocentric perspective. They approach life from an instinctual, threat/reward-oriented, highly personal level. Some few have managed to harmonize the mental and emotional aspects of themselves, and have gained an inner peace with themselves and the world, in which they try and live a lifestyle of creative harmony with the natural and artificial worlds around them. To me, these are the wise ones.
As we all know, facts can be twisted into any shape that is desirable depending on the viewpoint of those paying our wages. Studies can be conducted and facts collected and analyzed about a given topic ad infinitum. This is how and why those interests opposed to the anthropogenic causes of climate change can keep delaying concrete action; introduce some doubt and uncertainty, whether factual or not, and science dictates that further analysis is required in order to “prove” the hypothesis one way or another, and nothing changes.
The danger of always approaching the complexities of life through scientific eyes is that we cut ourselves off from that which is being studied. We have to disconnect – that is what the objectivity of the scientific method is all about. The observer and the observed. The more distant we can be from that which is being studied, the better. And it is here where the underlying problem resides. When we try and use logic to explain everything, we don’t feel an emotional connection to anything.
Many of those who oppose the ENGP have experienced a strong emotional connection with the natural world, it’s beauty and complexity. They are the ones who can truly say “Mother Nature is hurting!” because they FEEL that hurt, whether it be the destruction of biomes, pollution of the earth, air and water, or the extinction of species. For many scientists, economic interests and politicians, to “feel” is anathema. As such, they tend to denigrate the weight and value of the opinions of those who “feel”.
Is it reprehensible to use children as tools to “communicate one’s objection to a project”? I find it reprehensible to use children as sexual objects as in the TV show “Tiaras and Toddlers“. I find it reprehensible to use animals in advertising. I find trophy hunting reprehensible. I find factory farming to be reprehensible. I find war and poverty and ignorance to be reprehensible. It is reprehensible what is being done to indigenous people downstream from the Alberta tar sands: polluted rivers with deformed, ulcer-ridden fish, a dramatic increase in cancers associated with petrochemicals. Sorry, can’t act on taking remedial action to improve living conditions for these people because the facts aren’t all in yet; there are conflicting studies. And while this endless argument goes on, people are getting sick.
In the final analysis it will be the children who inherit the world that we have created for them; they have to live in it. We’ll all be dead and buried in the not too distant future, and won’t have to worry about the “mistakes” that we have made, but they will be in their prime, and have to deal with the world that we have left them based on the decisions being made today.
To desire a natural and bounteous environment in which to grow up, have a family, and live a simpler yet fulfilling life in harmony with your surroundings is a pretty sane goal to me. To respect and love life in all its diversity, and to kill only for sustenance where that which is killed is wholesome and chemical-free is a worthy goal on my book. How much “technical knowledge” does a parent need to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child? How much “technical knowledge” is needed to simply say that I don’t want to take chances on my children’s future and don’t want potentially toxic pipelines in my backyard?
When it comes to taking action to prevent further degradation of our planet, and to nurture the recovery of the natural world for future generations, then I believe children should stand with their loved ones on the front lines. If the emotional impact of seeing and hearing the voices of children will hasten the speed of positive change in our world, then they have my blessing.
Whatever our individual beliefs as to the percentages between natural cyclical and human-induced causes for climate change, the natural world is very sick and changing rapidly and we had better start working together to heal it and identify remedial options. This can best be done by acknowledging both the logical and emotional components of the problems that we face and finding holistic solutions for each of them.
That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
The houses are all gone under the sea.
The dancers are all gone under the hill.
T.S. Eliot (1939)