Its time for elders to step forward and play a stronger role in addressing serious global environmental changes
More than 40 years ago the late Maggie Kuhn, an American social activist and devout Presbyterian, was forced into retirement on her 65th birthday. That was the accepted code of practice at the time. Maggie responded, not by taking up her knitting needles and seeking the porch rocker, but by founding the Gray Panthers movement to work for social and economic justice and peace.
Maggie Kuhn reasoned that her aims could be achieved through honouring maturity, unifying generations, being actively engaged and encouraging participatory democracy. She famously explained her view of the elder role in society in characteristically down-to-earth terminology – “The old, having the benefit of life experience, the time to get things done, and the least to lose by sticking their necks out, are in a perfect position to serve as the advocates for the larger public good.“
This type of declaration had an unquestionably strong emotional underpinning when it was first uttered, but the underlying motivation has recently been backed up by hard statistics. For example, in December 2012 the Huffington Post reported an interview with Dr Dilip V. Jeste, Director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California. The Institute conducted in-depth interviews with a thousand older adults and concluded that, even in the midst of physical or cognitive decline, most respondents reported a feeling that their well-being had improved with age. Factors which were found to counteract actual health deterioration and which appeared to significantly contribute to subjective success in aging were education, better cognitive functioning, better perceived physical and mental health, less depression, and greater optimism and resilience. In other words, many elders feel they have become better able to tackle difficult issues and, in so doing, may actually improve their own health.
As we move into 2013, Canada’s population has just edged past the 35 million mark for the first time in history. One in every seven of these millions is over the age of 65, and the fastest-growing population segment is the over-80s. In the years following World War II Canada had a large baby boom which swelled the ranks of the work force in the last decades of the 20th century and played a significant part in the country’s historic growth and development. The boomers are now starting to retire, and the ratio of the employed to the retired has started a decline which is projected to last for a very long time.
In the previous century people in their later years received a level of acknowledgement quite different to that on offer to today’s seniors. The older members of communities were regarded as elders and respected for their counsel and for their historical knowledge of events, resources and natural phenomena. This situation still prevails for elders in many First Nations communities, but in non-native communities embedded in a shopping mall culture and submerged in electronic information clouds, seniors have, to a large extent, become invisible.
Today’s seniors face pressures of marginalization from their younger compatriots, but many remain aware of the creative role they once played in society, and of the moral and intellectual resources which they still have. They can point with some pride to the fact that actions and protests against environmental and societal ills and grievances are not a unique feature of today’s Generations X and Y. The environmental movement was launched 50 years ago by some who are now elders in response to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring indictment of the pesticide assault on the environment. Images of the current protests in B.C. against oil pipelines and oil tankers reveal a noticeable proportion of grey heads and wrinkled faces amongst the throngs.
Concerns and actions over pensions and health care have long been the main concerns of seniors, and will certainly continue to be foci of attention in coming years. But for a growing number of elders, sometimes defined as “seniors with attitude”, the rapidly deteriorating global climate outlook and the intransigence of governments in coming to grips with dying oceans, melting ice caps, and extinctions of species and ecosystems have become the sparks for growing concern and rising indignation. Modern medicine and technology have tipped the scales for elders, giving them a decade and more of additional time in which to be active and involved, either within elder ranks or by joining with their much younger but similarly motivated compatriots,
Some of today’s elders will recall that they have been here before. As young disaffected people in the late 1960s they rejected the post- World War II system of their parents. From their ranks came the anti-Vietnam War demonstrators and the dedicated activists who established environmental organizations such as Greenpeace. Aging boomers now have an opportunity to return to their youthful idealism and to work to improve the environment and address pressing problems such as climate change. They have an opportunity to volunteer and to actively embrace newly rediscovered values.
Elders might have to reluctantly admit that they were themselves part of the system that created the present global environmental situation. In fact, a nagging sense of guilt might underlie some elders’ growing concerns over the increasing vulnerability of the ecosystems which underpin our 21st century life-styles.
There are many role models for elders to follow if they elect to address the enormous challenges of the rapidly changing world. Vancouver’s own David Suzuki, himself now an elder after more than 40 years service as a scientist, broadcaster and author, gives a definition of humanity which serves well as an elder objective. “Our great evolutionary advantage has been the ability to lift our sights and look ahead, to imagine the world as it could be and then make the best choices to move toward that vision”.
Naramata Centre – a green, leafy place on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake, British Columbia. For more than 60 years it has been a haven for learning, spiritual nurture and renewal. Over the course of a July week, with the outdoor temperature easily leaping over 30oC, a group of us sought out a quiet, shady spot and gathered in a circle to have a conversation about the world and our place in it. We were mainly elders hailing from B.C. and Alberta, some from Saskatchewan and Ontario and one all the way from California.
Earlier in the day a small group of dedicated organizers had spoken to us, sung to us and exhorted us to take on the task of healing our afflicted planet. They regaled us with images and headlines of global climate change, vanishing species and troubled times. In grand biblical fashion they marched us around a hall where 12 gates had been set up, these made not from ancient stone but from board and paper on which we could scribble our concerns, thoughts and intentions. The gates were labelled Education, Politics, Alternative Economy, Waste, Energy, Neighbourhood, Earthly Kinship, Travel, Spirituality, Food, Water and Stuff.
And then we were sent off to form the conversation circle to express our own views and thoughts on the global crisis. No debates, no critiques, no defences needed against opposing views. We could say whatever we wanted. The outflowing comments were every bit as diverse as the underlying issues and concerns, but gradually some patterns started to emerge. With a little sifting, grouping and clarification we started coming up with some core thoughts and concerns which I share here.
Our view of the global scene:
- it’s not a black and white world, and we often seem paralyzed by the complexity of the gray distinctions;
- what’s happening in our familiar little piece of the globe keeps us from seeing the big picture clearly;
- sometimes what’s happening nationally and globally is so big it paralyzes us.
The global crisis is leading to personal conflict:
- growing awareness of the issues produces a sense of inner conflict;
- we feel conflicted by our lifestyles and the footprint of our well-intentioned activities, e.g. the carbon footprint of travel to reach transforming places;
- and yet, inner conflict can be good when it leads to growth and action;
- we will have to be willing to risk being in conflict about things that matter deeply to us.
- it takes courage to be distressed;
- there is spirituality in all peoples and in Creation.
- we are developing an encouraging level of consciousness;
- when the knowing/awareness moves from our heads to our hearts, it transforms us;
- we benefit from stopping and witnessing ourselves.
We noted that:
- change is inevitable;
- little things make a difference (one starling in a murmuration?);
- we live in a society that encourages polarization of views and attitudes;
- we tend to hold individual positions rather than search for common interests.
We enquired amongst ourselves as to what skills would be good in dealing with the situation?
- the skill to understand how the issue affects all parties;
- the skill to develop consensus (getting to that place where everyone involved can say, “I can live with that”);
- the skill to move the discussion from something based on individual position to one of common interest;
- the skill to deepen our spiritual practices
- the skill to understand what it means that everything is connected (a gentle spider-web?)
- the skill to hold an awareness of hope, energy, and spirit.
There was nothing particularly unique about our conversation under the green canopies of Naramata this past summer day. Thousands of discussions and conversations just like it go on every day across the land. But that’s the point. If more and more elders sit and talk the situation over with intention and spirit, then more and more will contribute to the great pool of realization as to where we are, where we’re going, and what we need to do personally to move to something better.
[with thanks to Tim Scorer for keeping the notes on which this report is based]
I discovered a set of data that says Canadians are a happy lot. A 2006 world-wide poll by the prestigious Gallup organization puts Canada joint 3rd in the world in terms of life satisfaction, just 0.5 out of 10 index points behind the leading and supremely happy Ticos of Costa Rica.
Some years back a Dutch sociologist, Ruut Veenhoven, noted the analogy between ‘healthy years’ (a statistic used much by public health specialists) and ‘happy years’ and figured he could use life satisfaction statistics to give an index of a country’s happiness. He multiplied the satisfaction index by the average life expectancy for a particular country and came up with a number which he joyfully termed ‘happy life years’ or HLY. Doing this calculation for Canada we find ourselves brimming over with 64 HLY for each (average) Canadian, just a tad ahead of the Europeans (62.2 HLY) and Americans (61.2 HLY) and a little ahead of the average South American (50.3 HLY).
But then along comes the UK’s New Economics Foundation to totally rain on our parade. They divide the HLY for each country by the ecological footprint for that country (measured in ‘global hectares’) and end up with something they call the Happy Planet Index or HPI. The HPI is a cleverly designed metric which relates human well-being and happiness to the planetary cost of that well-being in terms of resource extraction and imposition upon nature. Canada’s HPI is just 39.4, which puts us at a miserable 89th in the world (out of 143). Costa Rica again heads the list with an HPI of 76.1. An astonishing 10 of the top 11 countries on the HPI list are south- and central American, with economies only about one-eighth the size of Canada’s (measured on a per capita basis).
The ecological footprint concept was developed in the late 80’s by Dr. Mathis Wackernagel in collaboration with Professor Bill Rees of the University of British Columbia. Wackernagel has gone on to develop and extend its practical use as a tool for measuring and assessing global sustainability. It is a measure of humanity’s demand on the biosphere in terms of the area of biologically productive land and sea required to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste. In 2005 the total global ecological footprint was computed to be 17.5 billion global hectares, a global hectare being a world-averaged unit area for producing resources and absorbing wastes.
Canada’s ecological footprint computes out at something from 7.1 to 7.6 global hectares per capita, depending on the data and methods used to compute it. This compares to our South American neighbours who achieve their respective happiness levels on areas of from 1 to 2.5 global hectares per capita. A more telling comparison is that if every country on the planet lived at the same level of ecological impacts as our Latino friends, then the Earth could just about support us all indefinitely. If, on the other hand, they all guzzled fossil fuels and spewed out wastes the way North Americans do, we would need another three or four Earths to make ends meet.
But wait a moment say the cynics, especially those in Alberta. Canada’s economy is worth $1.5 trillion, compared to the $30 billion for a smallish South American country like Costa Rica. As hewers of wood, drawers of water and rampant extractors of resources from a huge, freezing cold country, you can’t expect us not to use resources like oil at a higher rate than much smaller economies which have warm climates and stacks of visiting tourists riding bicycles. Can you?
Well no, statistics from countries with widely disparate climates and natural resource bases are obviously not directly comparable. But consider this. A major component of the ecological footprint is the so-called carbon footprint (also measured in global hectares per person) which represents the biocapacity needed to absorb CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and land disturbance, other than the portion absorbed by the oceans. The average South American needs about 0.5 global hectares to absorb the CO2 emitted as a result of his driving, heating, burning, cooking and industrial processes. The average European needs 2.5 of the same global hectares. Canada, by comparison, needs 3.6 and the U.S.A. a whopping 6.4.
Does Canada’s size and cold climate account for the big differences between us and the Europeans and the South Americans? Ecological footprint data from the Global Footprint Network show that Canada’s per capita usage of land for urban areas, grazing and crops is not hugely different to that used by Europeans and South Americans, in fact we use less cropland per capita than the Europeans. What does stand out is the large contribution made to the North American footprint by use of forests [Canada’s forests cover more than four million km2, about 40% of the land area].
Canada’s very high fossil fuel consumption shows up in World Bank data which places Canada 11th in the world, with about half the annual fuel use per capita of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other choice locales with dirt cheap oil and refrigerated swimming pools. We have the same level of per capita fossil fuel use as Saudi Arabia. Each year Canadians use up more than six metric tons of fossil fuels (expressed as the oil equivalent) for each man, woman and child in the land. In so doing, we belch out 17 metric tons of CO2 per capita, which puts us globally in 11th place again.
Do we really need to use that much oil, gas and coal to maintain a happy life style? Its not a simplistic question, and has as much to do with lifestyles and consumerism as it does with resource use and distribution and the country climate. But one thing stands out. If you use large amounts of fossil fuel energy, you are going to pay for it. And that payment comes out of your pocket or from the bank in the form of a credit loan. The Certified General Accountants Association of Canada has compiled a detailed report on Canadian household debt and finds Canadian households at the top of the world list in terms of their debt-to-financial-assets ratio which is currently 10.1%. The U.S. trundles behind us with 7.2%, as does Europe (median 2.9%). And those friendly Latinos? Their debt is just 0.4% of household assets.
Come by, if you will, any third Thursday of the month to the airy and spacious offices of the David Suzuki Foundation on West 4th in Vancouver. There you will find an august group of people engaged in earnest debate around the conference table. Half are women, half the men are bearded, many are grey, most are retired, some won’t admit to it. The group comprises an eclectic group of engineers, biologists, sociologists, business professionals and numerous other worthy occupations. These are the Suzuki Elders, all volunteers. This is as fine a group as you would wish to meet anywhere. How do I know this? Because I’m one of them.
The David Suzuki Foundation is one of the foremost environmental advocacy organizations in Canada, and indeed the world. With a staff of over forty, it engages with government, business and individuals to provide science-based education, advocacy and policy to effect the social changes demanded by the planet’s perilous condition. The enthusiastic and highly motivated staff devote their days and many of their nights to researching, writing about, debating and promoting the Foundations’ chosen targets:
- keeping Canada on track to do its fair share to avoid climate change;
- trying to convince Canadians to balance their high quality of life with efficient resource use, smart energy choices, energy-efficient transportation, and being mindful of the products, food and water they consume;
- advocating the protection of Canada’s diverse marine, freshwater and terrestrial creatures and ecosystems; and
- trying to get Canadians, especially youth, to understand and appreciate their dependence on a healthy environment.
The Suzuki Elders share the Foundation’s vision but our take on the issues is coloured by age, experiences and our collective, occasionally hazy, memories. Most of us can remember all the way back to the Second World War, indeed some of us were caught up in it as children. Our youth was an age of community, of heavy reliance on face-to-face exchanges. Long-distance communication required hand-written letters, memos hammered out literally on a 50 lb black Remington, or yelling through a rotary telephone. Local news came via a thick wad of newspaper which later doubled to line drawers or as a wrapping for fish and chips. International news arrived via a scratchy radio with vacuum tubes and a big yellow dial encased in a huge pressed oak cabinet.
Space was not a problem for us in our pre-elder years, especially those of us who grew up in Canada or some other outpost of the empire. We recall Dad hitting the road in a thundering great V-8 which gulped a gallon of gasoline for every eight miles it managed to cover. That was not a big problem for Dad – the stuff cost just 20¢ a gallon. When the V-8 was finally coaxed to hit the road, we could cover a few hundred miles and hardly see any other cars or people – just distant forests, mostly untouched, and the occasional scattered farm with workable soil for anyone willing to take a plough to it.
Garbage was not a problem, we just dumped it and someone else would eventually come along and haul the stuff away to throw in a landfill somewhere. Garbage looked a little different back then – lots of glass bottles and containers, all kinds of paper wrappings, very little plastic, no Styrofoam, no disposable diapers. Factories and power stations blew out huge volumes of smoke and effluents. They weren’t a problem either, the wind would blow the smoke somewhere else and the local rivers and streams were pretty convenient disposal areas.
That’s all changed of course, and we know it as well as anybody. The planet has advanced on many fronts in the decades that we’ve been aware of it. We can now talk to anybody anywhere on the planet, and even see his or her grinning countenance on our cell-phones. We’ve got pineapples from Costa Rica, tomatoes from California, mangos from Mexico and butter from Ireland. Thirty-one brands of beer line the shelves in the liquor store, some from unpronounceable places like Plzeň, Izmir and Dharuhera. We can talk, read and write on i-Phones, i-Pads and Blackberries. We can Google, Twitter and chuckle on Facebook. We have conferences over the internet. Kids don’t succumb to poliomyelitis they way they did when we were kids. Diphtheria and whooping cough are just names on a chart on the back of the clinic door. Canadians now live to 90, thank to medical science and health care, our parents’ generation seldom got past 60 or 65.
But it has all come at a huge price. The vast unfilled spaces and volumes of our youth are no more. They’re chocked full of our disposed and industrial wastes. Sprawling cities and megahoused suburbs have filled the landscape on our continent; mile upon mile of shanties and slums occupy the land on the other continents. There is so much disposable plastic and so many used condoms floating around in the oceans that it all forms huge islands in the middle of the Pacific. Oil spills have become so big that they threaten the future of entire coastal systems such as the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of animal and plant species which were around when we started out are no more. Fish such as cod and salmon, which once provided the basis for regional and national economies are in steep decline. The climate is changing and even the short-term scenarios are foreboding. Our national and international leaders waffle and cogitate and bend before the mighty dollar.
We don’t speak of it, but there must at least be an occasional tinge of guilt when we remember that it is our generation that contributed massively to this sorry state of affairs, driven by consumerism, greed and an inability to see the linkages between resources and their environmental underpinnings. We overlooked the simple fact that everything comes at a price, not necessarily financial and often hidden, and that there are limits on the capacities of the biosphere to absorb the wastes we produce in such incredibly huge quantities. On a higher level, it has become abundantly clear that we’ve lost our way, our sense of home and of belonging to the rest of Creation.
It was a realization of this loss that brought the Suzuki Elders together in the first place. The David Suzuki Foundation offered us a home and some friendly words of advice, but told us we would have to make our own way, sort it all out for ourselves. So here we sit talking, preaching and harrumphing, as elders are wont to do. We write the odd declaration to tell the world that things are in a great mess and that we don’t like it. We debate structure and function and constitution, as do all groups sooner or later. But what we haven’t done is actually try and remedy the situation.
Why not? Well, for starters, we’re not sure how to go about it. Our name is actually a bit of a handicap. Elders have been historically defined by two things – advancing age and wisdom. The classic examples are the elders of First Nations communities across the Americas. Elders have been, and still are in most cases, cornerstones for them. Their elders have experience, they have seen, they have endured for hundreds if not thousands of years, commonly in the very same areas that their own elders occupied. In communities with strong oral traditions and little use of printed and archived materials, aboriginal elders have been the repositories of knowledge and experience for their communities and a point of reference for interpreting changes from the norm. Not much of consequence typically happens in an aboriginal community unless it is first run by the elders.
But this model does not work for us. Age in modern western culture does not carry the built-in respect that it does for aboriginals. For us the word ‘elder’ has become synonymous with ‘senior’, with all the inevitable connotations of diminished capacity, demands for care,and the cause of lop-sided burdens on the budget. For many elders themselves the term has become pejorative, to the extent that some educational institutions even eschew the term ‘elder’ in their programming and seek kitschy alternatives such as the synthetic construct ‘third age’.
The wisdom thing doesn’t fit very well either. You can know a lot but unless you can impart it to someone who needs it, it doesn’t count for much. When younger people need information they typically don’t go seeking out elders for the answers, they turn to their laptops or mobile phone and simply Google the question. The internet has opened up massive libraries and databases to everyone on every conceivable subject, all free of personal bias and many free of charge. Why seek out some older dude for information when you can get it all with graphics, abstracts and annotated references? What the web cannot provide of course is the wisdom to use the data and information smartly. But then, considering the state of the planet at present, we elders cannot lay claim to much expertise in that regard either.
For some the term Elder conjures up a vision of stern-faced oldies, deeply steeped in religious chapter and verse, handing down decisions to the more youthful generation below. Not a good model for us either. We’re not any better equipped than the rest of the populace to formulate solemn decrees to deal with the complexities of the planetary biosphere. Nobody is standing at the church door waiting for our advice.
So what to do then? Well, we may be ageing but we can still count. There are fifteen of us around the table here, fewer when the weather is nice outside. But there are some 300,000 elder-age people in Vancouver. There are more than a million elders, however you care to define the term, in British Columbia and nearly 5 million in Canada. Heaven only knows how many are wandering around elsewhere in North America and the rest of the beleaguered planet. We may get no respect, as the saying goes, but we still have a vote. And our numbers are increasing all the time. Our potential to make real changes to the way we treat our Earth is truly enormous, if we can but get ourselves motivated, organized and all pointing in the same direction.
Where are the rest of us? Taking a leaf out of our younger colleagues’ book, we Google all the relevant terms – elders, environment, planet, conservation, biosphere. And we find nothing – not one other organization of elders concerned with the issues that brought us together here. We can only speculate on why the rest are so unconcerned . Are they just too comfortable, too busy fighting life’s daily grind, too ignorant of the issues? But whatever the cause of the apathy, the potential is great. And so are the challenges. It’s time to get moving. Go Elders!
The Get Out Migration march in April and May of 2010 in which thousands of people walked from points between Echo Bay in the Broughton Archipelago to the steps of the British Columbia legislature in Victoria, British Columbia, is yet another chapter in the long crusade against marine net-cage feedlots in western Canada. Led by biologist Alexandra Morton, the marchers and the watching crowds represented commercial and sport fishermen, First Nations, businesspeople, organizations, residents, scientists, government employees and pretty much everyone else with a connection to salmon and other resources in one of Canada‘s richest resource regions. Their goal was plainly stated: to make a stand against the perceived biological and social threat and commerce of the industrial marine feedlots which dot the north-eastern and western coast line of Vancouver Island. The campaigners hold that marine feedlots are a threat to wild salmon populations by intensifying diseases, depleting valuable fishery resources [which make up the feed for the caged fish], privatizing ocean spaces and threatening sovereign rights to food security.
The salmon aquaculture industry in B.C. developed from ten operating farms in 1984 to a peak of 135 farms in 1989, and today number about 130. Marine feedlots hold a variety of finfish species, mainly Atlantic, Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as smaller numbers of black cod and halibut. Through rationalization and consolidation, the number of companies holding aquaculture licenses has declined from 50 in 1989 to 12 today. Especially irksome to the campaigners against net-famed salmon is the fact that more than 90% of the farmed salmon are held by just three large Norwegian companies – Marine Harvest, Cremaq and Grieg Seafood.
Salmon diseases are a major issue of concern for the anti-fish farm brigades. They point to fish diseases such as ectoparasitic sea-lice, infectious hematopoietic necrosis and infectious salmon anaemia [both viral diseases] which are known to occur in penned salmon and which are potentially highly infective for migrating wild salmon passing near salmon farms. They point to big drops in runs of Fraser River sockeye salmon, Broughton Archipelago pink salmon and Clayoquot Sound chinook salmon in recent years, and find significant correlations between these phenomena and the presence of nearby salmon farms. They point too to correlations between the presence of net-penned salmon along the coastlines of Ireland, Scotland and Norway, on one hand, and outbreaks of salmon lice infestation in wild salmon passing through marine waters close to these pens, on the other.
But the government agencies responsible for regulating salmon farming in B.C. coastal waters don’t quite see things the same way. The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans cites agency research to demonstrate that marked periodic fluctuations in numbers have long been a feature of pink salmon runs, and in fact pre-date the introduction of salmon farms to the area. Their data show that pink salmon populations in this region are highly variable and cyclical in nature. There have been years when pink salmon abundance was extremely low, and these years were followed by a gradual increase to very high abundance. They observe that sea lice existed on wild salmon for tens of thousands of years before the first salmon farm was ever established in Canada. They cite ongoing departmental research which shows that the levels of sea lice found in wild Pacific salmon in the Broughton Archipelago have declined each year since 2004. And anyway, they say, sea lice levels are controlled on salmon farms to levels which take the risk to fish outside the farm to negligible levels.
The provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Lands weighs in with the view that its comprehensive health management program for salmon aquaculture is based on a precautionary approach, and that regular monitoring consistently shows that B.C.’s aquaculture industry upholds a high level of environmental standards and is serious about co-existing with wild salmon stocks. Monitoring thus far has identified no new diseases that had not already been reported in wild, hatchery-reared or research salmonids in B.C.
Now, how can this be? On one hand, a deeply concerned and unquestionably committed community with a vested interest in the well-being of salmon; on the other hand, groups of professional biologists, veterinarians and experienced fishery resource managers, all looking at the same issue and coming up with radically different conclusions. It’s not a unique situation. Consider the similarly wide distances [and emotionally-generated rancour] between protagonists and antagonists of other thorny issues like climate change or the efficacy of homeopathic remedies. Different themes, same problems.
Three observations can be made by the dispassionate observer, if indeed there be such a thing where salmon in British Columbia are concerned, which may help unravel the problem. The first is that neither side in the salmon farm dispute can prove conclusively that they are right and the other is wrong in terms of the impacts of salmon farms on wild salmonid populations. Neither side has ever seen wild salmon in large numbers actually dying of sea-lice or a viral disease. When tribesmen in East Africa reach the conclusion that their cattle herds have been decimated by drought, they do so while standing on a grassy, waterless plain surrounded by the carcasses of hundreds of their dead cattle. Such certainty does not exist in the B.C. marine environment. Sick and dead salmon are rapidly consumed in the depths and are removed from human view. What biologists and salmon farmers in fact see are relatively small numbers of fish in a sample haul, or larger numbers of farmed fish inside a net pen. They have to project, through calculations, correlations and complicated mathematical models, from their observations to the population at large in the sea, which is mostly out of sight and out of reach. They do so in the knowledge that the factors they measure, be they the numbers of sea lice on a caught salmon or the condition of the caught fish are but a few amongst many environmental and population factors which affect salmon in their life cycle from stream to seas again. Fisheries biologist Brian Harvey waded through all available reports on sea-lice and salmon and came to five conclusions – salmon farms produce large numbers of sea louse larvae; encounters between farm-produced larvae and salmon cannot yet be observed [but are completely plausible biologically]; the percentage of sea lice on wild salmon that come from salmon farms can’t be quantified; the role of alternate [not from salmon farms] sources of sea lice is not yet understood nor quantified; and understanding the direct link between sea lice from salmon farms and wild salmon populations will be a “lively” area of research.
The second observation is that the arguments over diseases and impacts of farmed salmon on wild salmon may be important to scientists and local communities, but are small beer in relation to real economics. The Canadian aquaculture industry is a major food production segment of the national economy, generating more than $1 billion in GDP in Canada in 2007, more than $320 million in direct GDP and about $685 million in spin-off business. It is responsible for an estimated 14,500 full-time equivalent jobs, many of them in coastal and rural communities in Canada. In British Columbia, salmon farming is the province’s largest agricultural export, and generates $800 million in economic output annually and provides employment for 6,000 men and women in direct and supply and service jobs, many in coastal communities where other opportunities are limited. This level of economic activity obviously generates a commensurate amount of political weight.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the two sides in the dispute are really contesting something much deeper rooted than sea-lice or fouled water. These are just focal points for the polemic. For the coastal communities, the fishermen, the First Nations bands and the marchers on Victoria, wild salmon are not just fish. They are a symbol of place in the northwest, a marker of the community of individuals, enterprises and organizations committed to live in a way that strengthens local and regional economies, sustains the natural abundance of resources, and provides a nurturing for the spirit. For them, salmon are food, a basis for commerce and a vital source of nutrition for the land. For the salmon-farming industry, the fish have become just a corporate-produced commodity, akin to broiler-reared chickens or monocultured corn spread across the prairies, generating huge amounts of food, cash flows and corporate profits. The one view deals with resource communities as they were and as we might choose them, the other best befits the future beset by distant and burgeoning global populations who need the food, know little about the Salmon Nation, and in fact care not a whit about it.
A 2010 series of public opinion polls reveal that 58% of Canadians consider global warming to be real and mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities. By comparison, only 41% of Americans and 38% of British citizens think this. A further 17% of Canadians think that global warming is indeed a fact, but that it is mostly caused by natural changes (the corresponding figures for the U.S.A. and Britain are 20% and 26%). That leaves a quarter of the Canadian population with either no opinion at all or the view that climate change is theoretical and without any proof. A disturbing 39% of Americans and 36% of Brits fall into this category.
Why do such a lot of people find it so difficult to accept something which many others consider one of the most serious problems the planet has ever faced? Effective and persistent deliberate misinformation by the energy industry is one very obvious reason. Deep suspicion on the part of conservative people of climate-change views expressed widely and forcibly by others considered liberal or just plain radical is a second likely major factor. Perceived overstatement of the consequences of climate change has not helped credibility of the climate change lobby.
George Marshall of the British-based Climate Outreach and Information Network has analysed public attitudes towards climate change and finds several similarities to attitudes towards other unpleasant realties in life. He quotes Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics Stanley Cohen who uses the term passive bystander effect. This describes societies who are faced with conflicts between a moral imperative to take action and a need to rather protect themselves and their families. Cohen suggests that people deliberately maintain a level of ignorance so that they can claim they know less than they do. They exaggerate their own powerlessness and wait indefinitely for someone else to act first. Societies negotiate collective strategies to avoid action. They arrive at unwritten agreements about what can be publicly remembered and acknowledged, and what cannot.
This all sounds a bit severe, but Dr. Kari Norgaard of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, has reached similar conclusions, and believes that denial [of climate change] is a social construct. Based on her research in Norway, she believes people to be deeply conflicted about climate change, but they manage their anxiety and guilt by excluding it from the cultural norms which define what they should pay attention to and think about – their “norms of attention.” People accordingly and tacitly agree that it is socially inappropriate to pay attention to climate change, so it does not come up in conversations, as an issue in voting, or in consumption or career choices. It’s a bit like a committee that has decided to avoid a thorny problem by conspiring to make sure that it never makes it onto the agenda of any meeting.
Marshall notes that there are many different ways that the proximity of climate change could force itself onto our agendas. We already feel the impacts in our immediate environment. Scientists and [some] politicians urge us to act. The impacts directly threaten our personal and local livelihoods. And, above all, we realize that it is our consumption and affluence that is causing the problem. However, people have decided that they can keep climate change outside their “norms of attention” through a selective framing that creates the maximum distance. Thus they define it as far away (“it’s a global problem, not a local problem”) or far in the future (“it’s a huge problem for future generations”). They embrace the tiny cluster of sceptics as evidence that “it’s only a theory,” and that “there is still a debate.” And they strategically shift the causes as far away as possible: “I’m not the problem—it’s the Chinese, the rich people, the corporations, whatever.” Europeans (and Canadians) routinely blame the Americans.
People seem to have selected, isolated, and then exaggerated the aspects of climate change that best enable their detachment. And, ironically, focus-group research suggests that people are able to create the most distance when climate change is categorized as an “environmental” problem, not a social or an economic one.
Who or what is an Elder? Ask a kid and she’ll say it’s someone older than she is. Ask a botanist and he’ll talk about northern hemisphere shrubs and trees with white flowers and berries. Ask people from an aboriginal culture and they’ll tell of old people in the community who are the keepers of wisdom and are sought after for their counsel, encouragement and blessing. Ask anyone else and the best you’ll get is a shrug.
Elders are, for the most part, all in the last one-third of their lives. And they don’t look much different from others of their age group. But they’re not just seniors with a fancier title. Elders and eldering have much less to do with appearance than with attitude. They have realized that how they choose to view the world and what’s happening around them significantly affects their choices, their actions and their resulting experience of life.
The Eldering Institute ® defines elders as those who have realized that the later years are a prime opportunity for a rich and rewarding life. Rather than waiting for the inevitable loss, decline, lack of purpose and resignation, They describe elders as those who have learned how to change their perspective by focussing on compassion, health, happiness, creative self-expression and service. In place of contributing new knowledge and information, Elders instead choose to share their wisdom. Their insights and perspectives are readily available to help others live life more successfully on their own terms. They connect ideas and solutions. They collaborate with others who are passionate about their common interests, thereby creating possible futures that all would choose to live into. Rather than controlling, manipulating or resisting, Elders can accept the situation and then share the possibilities they see.
The Institute describes Eldering today as requiring the transcending of age in relationships with others and the willingness to listen to what others have to offer. Eldering is about living life as a contribution. Eldering means living life as a contribution to life. Elders have the time and the opportunity to share the best of themselves, and to have purposeful conversations on issues that really matter. Elders have learned how to listen attentively and non-judgmentally. Elders make the effort to look and listen and to see what is wanted and needed in the world.
Elders realize the importance of learning and personal growth throughout their lives. They are eager to discover what’s going on in the world. They open themselves to new inputs and are inspired by what others see and do. They view each day as an opportunity to expand their life experience.