The Blessing of Living the Questions?

Ramblings from Solstice 2013 to January 2, 2014

by Michael Lewis

Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal

Mike Lewis

As one contemplates 2014, the wondrous, unique, tiny blue dot we dwell upon is in deep trouble. It is no news to anyone who knows me that I live between despair and hope. There are plenty of reasons for both. Alas, uncertainty is the only constant.

The personal question that continuously emerges from accepting this tension is where to put one’s tiny repository of time and talent. If one is committed to making hope more concrete rather than despair more convincing, how do I concentrate my little bit? At the age of 61, this is the question I cannot seem to shake.

The fact that I am a Canadian exacerbates the restlessness this question provokes. I like to think I am a reasonable Canadian that has been shaped by the reasonableness of the country I grew up in. My problem is I am feeling more and more unreasonable. Is this because I am becoming a grumpy old man? Or, might it be my country is becoming more and more unreasonable?

As the gloomy evidence related to the catastrophic impact of human-generated carbon becomes more and more unassailable, our Federal government is doing all it can to accelerate the expansion of the tar sands in Alberta, a province which, if it were a nation, would be the highest per capita carbon emitter in the world.

As much of the world is cutting back on burning carbon-rich coal (good news), American industry and various governmental agencies in Canada are doing all they can to facilitate more and more thermal coal (the dirtier grades) to be transported from south of the border by longer and longer trains in order to find a temporary home at a new port installation smack dab in the middle of the Fraser River delta. Why? So that it can be loaded onto bigger and bigger ships destined for Asian markets, where it can be burned to produce more and more carbon spewing electricity to further clog our overloaded atmosphere, that is why!

Continuous claims that all this activity is being managed by a ‘reasonable’ approach to balancing interests is buttressed by advertising campaigns designed to soothe us with a promise of renewal and prosperity and protection of our natural environment. Those with a contrary perspective are seen as unreasonable, unwilling dreamers with their heads up their back ends who do not seem to comprehend the reality that the world needs our oil, and quickly. Those with a contrary perspective that dare to publically challenge government and industry elites pushing the fossil fuel agenda are labeled somewhat more harshly; they are the foreign financed radicals deemed to be bordering on terrorist activity.

So much for democracy. Deception, lying, threats, self-dealing, denial and deflection of evidence – is this our lot, the new Canada, a managed citizenry controlled by a combination of threats and a constricting but economically grandiose vision of being the prosperous new energy super-power?

So, back to the question. Here I am. I live on the only earth we will ever know. I am a Canadian. I live in the westernmost province; the proverbial gateway to Asia. I am 61. I have six grandchildren. I am of a generation that is the biggest though mainly unwitting beneficiary of fossil fuel-induced economic growth. I want us to radically but systematically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, a goal that is premised on the best evidence available. Unfortunately, I am living in a country where a small but powerful, ideologically bound, self-interested cabal is eschewing their responsibility to help Canadians make a positive transition to a low carbon economy.

Given such a miserable set of circumstance, what then are the options then for an aging lotus-land WASP to responsibly share his time, talents and spirit?

Is my consideration of heading for the front lines of civil disobedience ‘responsible’, or not? Would it be a relevant witness to all I care for and love or would I merely be a sop to my momentary lapses into despair and a yearning for more timely relevance? It is a good question; after all, I have been a primary beneficiary of the age of fossil fuels and economic growth, so now that I know better, do I not have a primary responsibility to add my weight to the growing numbers of young and old actively taking the risks necessary to change the course being set to accelerate the rush for the spoils we seem bent on in this country? Is this not reasonable thing to ask of myself?

Or, should I stay on my path of writing, researching, consulting, speaking and spreading ideas and innovations that represent resilient pathways to meeting our basic needs into the future? Is this a ‘reasonable’ approach? After all, I have been doing this for 40 years and have a good idea of how long it takes to advance innovations that have proven themselves. Might confining my attention to this domain be akin to hiding my head in the sand? After all, alternatives, no matter how successful, are not invulnerable to the gathering onslaughts of ever more volatile climate ‘events’. Would not focusing on reducing the risks of carbon be a wiser choice for the use of limited time, talent and resources?

Or, perhaps, I should just stop all of it and just live day to day. Many good and wonderful people I know are on this path; love those you are with and have faith that hardened hearts will be softened through acceptance and active caring. After all, without a ‘change of heart’ we will not prevail in the bigger issues. But is this attractive variation on the Zen thematic not merely a somewhat convenient way of just hiding out from the rather inconvenient truth that our challenges are systemic, not merely matters of the heart or even individual behaviour? Change in both are necessary.

My problem, or perhaps better put, my challenge is that I want it all. I want to help stop the madness, be an active participant putting in place the practical and hopeful alternatives rather than pressing the ‘pedal to the metal’ on the path to the precipice, and I want to be imbued with a spirit satisfied with loving and nourishing what is right in front of me day by day.

Hmmm….. I did confess at the beginning of this missive that reflection seems a chore at times,  “a sure indication it is time to stop long enough to see what bubbles up.” Well, at this point my search for the ‘new found land’ is yielding a strange aroma. My “want it all” conclusion feels like a lot of work and would take some serious attitude adjustments on my part, God forbid.

But might this just be what constitutes a generative pathway forward? Resisting what is wrong-headed and damaging, spreading alternatives that make ‘common sense’, and daily loving the people and the processes one is connected to – are these not gracefully militant and practical ways to live?

Thus ends my serious but light-hearted rambling reflection on the state of…….well, whatever. As you might surmise, my next communication of this sort could just as likely emanate from a prison, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a successful innovation transplanted, or from my pen while on a silent retreat where I will no doubt be personally bent on getting focused and experiencing stillness, an outcome which could be an inordinately long process.

I believe it is time for a rum and the dregs of the egg nog. Sometimes such arduous bouts of contemplation and the clarity of action that falls out of such deep thinking can be helped along by such intoxicating aids. Anything is possible.

May each of you have a wonderful and meaningful 2014 and may you and yours be showered with blessings as we all live the questions and challenges of our time on this earth. Keep posted. Maybe I will yet make some progress bringing resistance, building alternatives and living gracefully together into a nice neat and tidy whole.

Meanwhile, I wish the best to each of you this coming year.

About Suzuki Elders

The Suzuki Elders are a voluntary association of self-identified elders working with and through the David Suzuki Foundation. We bring our voices, experiences and memories to mentor, motivate and support other elders and younger generations in dialogue and action on environmental issues. Suzuki Elders listen, learn, share and act through educating, communicating connecting and advocacy.

Posted on 9 January, 2014, in Elderview and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I can’t quite agree that the problem is simply a case where ” a small but powerful, ideologically bound, self-interested cabal is eschewing their responsibility to help Canadians make a positive transition to a low carbon economy”. We must remember that this cabal was voted in not by armed militias, as happens in many countries, but freely and democratically by 5.8 million Canadians. This electorate must all share, or at least tacitly approve of, the cabal’s oil-powered policies. Moreover a substantial proportion of the other 8.9 million voters are also quite happy to go along with a carbon-supportive administration, in fact most of them never give it a second thought. It follows that actions such as civil disobedience or citizen action are then actually misdirected. The basic problem is ourselves. We have met the enemy and he is us (apologies to Pogo).

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