Archive for the ‘Nature Articles’ Category

Bewildered! Where do we go from here?

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and…when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

The best of all possible worlds can only come about if the most compassionate elements of humanity prevail. The world, encircled with a supercharged capitalism and would-be tyrants, must choose a path towards either love or destruction. Sadly, it has taken the coronavirus to shake up the world’s iniquitous economies, and the racist death of a man to push us to the brink. To where, though?

This whole article was supposed to be about trying to make sense of Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans, which was released on YouTube on Earth Day (April 22), but more pressing concerns needed airing. It is because it represents a pattern of injustices that I discuss it at all. I recommend that you watch this contentious documentary and its many unfounded assertions regarding renewable energy and green activists, if only because it mentions, though all too briefly, pertinent and important issues (population and overconsumption) that have relevance for our precarious lives. Though I’d agree with the makers that green technological fixes won’t solve the world’s problems, the film is a shoddy mixture of ill-founded allegations, and, for many, Michael Moore’s ‘green’ reputation is in tatters. Most egregiously, we are told that the green movement is built on fossil-fuel money and that Bill McKibben, one of its best-known activists, is a fraud. The film is a compendium of half-truths that pits us against each other, while climate deniers buy more oil stock. What a way to celebrate Earth Day! Moore does us a great disservice, as we need truth more than ever now, not a disingenuous film.

On Sunday, June 7, Sherbrooke protested the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota two weeks ago. An estimated 2,000 people, mostly under the age of 40, met in front of the police station to listen to speeches addressing this grotesque murder and institutionalized racism. For nearly nine minutes they (but not the police who were watching) knelt in silence with fists outstretched to bear witness to the many black and indigenous people discriminated against. Police violence and racism are a cancerous growth. At the same time, billionaires’ greed and influence in government are accelerating the alienation and suffering of those in poverty, while there is an unprecedented push by those in power to dismantle any semblance of democracy. The “rule of law,” enforced by readily compliant police for many centuries, has propped up the aristocracy and now the corporate agenda. Remember that Germany’s laws allowed Hitler to ravage Europe. Authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia are police states. Under Trump, the US is, as Noam Chomsky terms it, a failed state. Israel appears to be no better.

People around the world have condemned the racism found in their countries. Western racism has a long history. In Bristol, UK, also on June 7, the statue of an extremely wealthy 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, was toppled and thrown into the harbour. Colston made a fortune enslaving 80,000 Africans and transporting them to America and was heralded as “one of the most virtuous and wise sons” of Bristol as a result of his philanthropic zeal for that city. How could it be that for 300 years people chose to disregard the indisputable fact that this philanthropy was founded on dirty money?

In a message for World Environment Day on June 5, Vandana Shiva urged, “We need to shift from the assumption that violating planetary boundaries, ecosystem boundaries, species boundaries, and human rights is a measure of progress and superiority—to creating economies based on respecting ecological laws and ecological limits, and respecting the rights of the last person, the last child.”

There is no doubt that this decade will bring all sentient beings to a crossroads created by humans. Have the months of reflection and quietude imposed upon the human world by Covid-19 given us the courage to reach out towards inclusivity and give up a collective madness that until now has created more and more suffering for the planet, or will “business as usual” return with a vengeance and smash our beautiful world?

Addressing our interwoven injustices.

“A 2019 United Nations report by the world’s leading scientists warned that one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction worldwide due to human activity. At this scale, biodiversity loss will impact health, wellbeing and the future of the Earth in ways that are incomprehensible.”

– Ecojustice

On June 20 this year Amnesty International held a virtual World Refugee Day event with Nazik Kabalo, founder of the Sudanese Women Human Rights Project. Kabalo spoke about her harrowing experiences in Egypt and Sudan before coming to live in Canada. As many of us know, Canada closed its border with the USA to refugees last March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Groups such as Amnesty International are highly critical of the decision, declaring it illegal and stating that Canada could have easily tested and quarantined refugees instead of compounding the risks refugees face each day.

The interplay between social injustice, biodiversity loss, climate breakdown and the world’s poorest people, including refugees and Indigenous tribes, has always been a huge source of consternation for me. How does this intricate matrix of loss cast a defining hue on all of us? Even the pandemic’s tragic clarion call, which linked all of humanity, gave vast advantages to the wealthy to withstand its blight, helped along the way by a nefarious plutocracy. The Poor People’s Campaign strives to address with transformative actions “interwoven injustices.” Its policy platform starts with this principle: “Everybody in, nobody out. Everybody is deserving of our nation’s abundance.”

The UN, through the Millennium Development Goals launched in 2000 with the aim of meeting them by the end of 2015, followed by the present 17 Sustainable Development Goals has sought to strengthen societal justice and give a renewed voice for those in poverty – but with varying success. These are laudable projects, and if robustly acted upon they will certainly be a catalyst for change, but they are only a green shoot for humanity’s urgent healing.

Governments deliberately took advantage of (but by and large haven’t rescinded) the additional powers granted to them during the pandemic to suspend environmental regulations, and allowed industrial projects to proceed that otherwise would have been scrutinized. After all, protest was forbidden. When pollution levels rise, it’s always the poorest neighbourhoods that suffer the most.

It has long been expressed that until all of humanity is respected and governments aim for inclusivity in all societal actions, thus acknowledging their responsibility to enhance the wellbeing of all their citizens, no country expresses a universal principle of justice. Yes, with great flourish countries such as the US have constitutions that express those aspirations, but they fail miserably to enact any semblance of equal justice. Even if they did, the lack of any obligation to apply fairness to the whole of Nature would tear apart any country’s wellbeing. Humans are not separate from Nature. At its best, a Nature’s Trust would defend our fellow inhabitants.

CO2 emissions diminished by 17% compared to 2019 by the beginning of our April confinement, and were comparable to April 2006 levels, but they are now rising quickly. By mid-June, CO2 was only 5% lower than in 2019. Carbon-intensive industries received huge grants, or loans at 0%.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), has expressed great concern about a “carbon rebound.” Speaking to The Guardian, he said: “The next three years will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond. If we do not [take action] we will surely see a rebound in emissions. If emissions rebound, it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages.”

It is clear from the IEA’s analysis that retrofitting buildings to make them more energy-efficient, installing solar panels, and building wind farms will be far more effective than continuing to sustain a high-carbon economy.

But the trillions of dollars yet to be pumped into the economy are targeting everything from airlines to the oil industry. An obscenely low level of support is being given to creating millions of green jobs for people who will then be able to feed their families and remain in their own countries instead of becoming refugees. By stopping biodiversity loss and halting climate breakdown, society can come to a renewed balance of life for the planet’s inhabitants.

The Black Lives Matter movement is not only about police racism. It points to deeply rooted bias against people living in poverty. “Transformative” is a key word if our world is to become a just one. Let us not forget about the plight of the rest of Nature. Please see www.iucnredlist.org

Living, reading and gardening in the time of coronavirus

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage:
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

Richard Lovelace, 1642

Amidst the suffering and uncertainty that have been abundantly revealed throughout the world, the coronavirus has forcefully encouraged many of us to be more reflective and to pursue simple pleasures. There is a multitude of paths to choose from. This article speaks of some of my pursuits.

Daily reading, walking, gardening, music and chess, as well as video calls with overseas friends, have sustained me these last months. Here is a chronicle of these contemplative activities.

Enjoy Nature. The amaryllis is blooming quite miraculously, with five astonishingly stunning flowers. The bulbs have been with me for years. Just let them keep their green leaves after they bloom to give vital energy for the following spring. In this year of crisis they allow us to celebrate an engaging Nature that many of us were too busy to notice before.

By January I had received my vegetable seeds in the post after joyfully perusing the informative seed catalogues. Is hope another name for a seed catalogue? For over 45 years my delight in finding a box filled with life has brought much anticipation, but particularly this winter. (Brian Creelman’s website seedsforfood.net is a great source of seeds from the Eastern Townships, and Clarke & Sons in Lennoxville is also excellent for your gardening needs.) I set up the ultraviolet lights and began preparing to sow the seeds in containers of various sizes. Ah, the joy of having soil on my hands again! Rejuvenation! A real ritual. Aubergines, peppers, parsley, parsnips, onions, leeks, basil for pesto, brussels sprouts, kale and many varieties of lettuce were in pots by the end of February. Each year I make a point of discovering a new vegetable, and okra is the ‘vegetable of the year’ for my garden this season. Last year it was the European broad bean. Swiss chard is to be sown in a few weeks. Spinach I will sow directly into the garden later this month. Each April I grow sweet peas so that the garden will be bathed in unsurpassed colour and fragrance. From my observations, I suspect that this spring will be warmer than last year’s, so the tomatoes and several squash varieties are next to be put into mini-greenhouses inside my house. They do not tolerate any hint of cold weather, so they are welcome guests indoors till June. I like growing a small pot of basil or thyme on the windowsill. These herbs are easy to grow and fun to watch. Sunflower seeds collected last October are now ready for sowing. Peas and especially watercress will be happy in the wetter part of the plot. Pole and bush beans love warm soil, so June 10 might be a good day for them to meet the earth, but I’ll consult the biodynamic calendar first. The garlic and tulips are already up, and I delight in seeing them grow a little more every day. I’d like to think that I won’t need to buy any more garlic, as I save some for planting each year. Many people, apprehensive about food availability, are discovering gardening. Indeed, this vast surge of enthusiasm means that seeds are selling out in many places. In this time of need, are our WWII ‘victory gardens’ returning?

Online chess with friends is a boon in these times and creates solidarity. We play each day and write short notes to each other. See chess.com to set up some free games, even if you haven’t played before. You can take lessons there.

I’m reading Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and each day one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I speak daily with my friend in Cornwall, UK, and we read out loud Richard Powers’ The Overstory.

It’s impossible to play music together over the internet, so a violinist and I record our respective parts and then play duets. Practising music every day is a wonderful meditation. This solitary music-making encourages the discovery of new compositions. I am a classically trained musician, but improvisation is a delight and a challenge for me.

Physical distancing while taking a brisk walk or cycling on park paths enables the house-weary to feel a breeze and observe that spring is emerging ever more rapidly. The sky is clearer and the air less polluted than it has been for two decades. Now is the time to ask ourselves what is really important. Our rush to procure ever more things has brought the human world to its knees, and now that we are there we can contemplate what truly makes us.

Coronavirus and ecological/climate breakdown are interconnected.

“For years, normality has been stretched nearly to its breaking point, a rope pulled tighter and tighter… Now that the rope has snapped, do we tie its ends back together, or shall we undo its dangling braids still further, to see what we might weave from them?” – Charles Eisenstein charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/

What can our future look like, now that the business-as-usual mode of living is currently broken? Have we now seen a glimpse of a more egalitarian future these last few weeks through a broken window? True, all economic groups can catch the virus, but people living from paycheque to paycheque will disagree that future universal health care is there for them. Will Medicare for All finally become a reality in the USA?

We have certainly witnessed some inspiring actions. In Britain, arms companies are making ventilators. Across the world, pollution levels are drastically lower. The UN secretary-general called for a global ceasefire. Italians are singing on their balconies, and people around the world are dancing online (tinyurl.com/stayed-home). A visit to the supermarket revealed that bakers-to-be had bought up all the yeast for that first loaf of bread they’d dreamed about creating.

The responses of governments towards the novel coronavirus in the first month certainly tell us what their priorities are. Protecting oil, coal and gas interests and the industries that rely upon them reflects the same mentality that led to the 2008 bank bailouts: big business safety nets are always chosen over people’s health and wellbeing. The right-wing ‘leaders’ of the US and Brazil continue to use delay and brazen lies to help large corporations instead of their own people.

There are many parallels and links between the coronavirus and the biodiversity/climate emergency. In the name of capitalism, humans have obliterated many of the world’s wild places, built roads through them, plundered irreplaceable forests for exotic woods, destroyed rivers through mining and pesticide use, set fire to pristine places to raise cattle and produce palm oil, captured wild animals for foreign markets and thereby brought new diseases within easy proximity. If governments had not allowed oil, coal and gas multinationals to contaminate huge undisturbed areas, the world’s inhabitants would not be suffering now. Industrial governments’ denial of the impact of the biodiversity/climate crisis on future generations has left their moral leadership in tatters.

With the coronavirus, however, these politicians have an immediate problem: it’s the older generations that keep them in place. The over-55s are the most likely demographic group to die from the virus; alienate them, and you’ve lost power. Certainly the UK and the US governments are risking this.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said recently: “We are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves. And as we hurtle towards a population of 10 billion people on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally.”

For many ‘leaders’, however, the destruction of nature is one big lucrative scheme that benefits themselves and their cronies. Courtney Howard, board president of the Canadian Association of Physicians, upon hearing that the Canadian government was planning a bailout of oil and gas multinationals, responded: “Oil and gas companies, lobbyists and the decision makers they have formed relationships with are counting on Canadians being too occupied coping with an ongoing health crisis to register that our country is considering a massive transfer of public funds to support the very industry most likely to cause the next health crisis.”

Capitalism’s deregulated markets have helped destroy nature and spread the virus, which is exactly what happened in Wuhan’s animal market. By putting capital first, China, the UK and the USA accelerated the spread of coronavirus, just as they have continued to speed up climate breakdown. Trudeau’s misguided financial package to oil companies will be a missed opportunity to put people first and create a just future for all Canadians.

Many climate and social activists are working to have people realize that the foolhardy gift of trillions of dollars given in the last month to big business should be invested in a safe climate, planetary health and a flourishing future for children. Please read thelancet.com/infographics/child-health

Thomas Homer-Dixon of the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, wrote recently:
“Today’s emerging pandemic could help catalyze an urgently needed tipping event in humanity’s collective moral values, priorities and sense of self and community. It could remind us of our common fate on a small, crowded planet with dwindling resources and fraying natural systems.” tinyurl.com/homerdixon-coronavirus-future

Alliance of World Scientists Issue Bleak Warning

In 1972 the first United Nations Conference dedicated to the state of Nature took place in Stockholm. It spoke of the fragility of the planet’s ecosystems and helped spur the expanding interest in conservation. The UN Environment Programme was created in the same year to promote sustainability and stewardship for the Earth.
Seven years later, amidst growing concern about greenhouse-gas emissions, the First World Climate Conference was held in Geneva. This event was important because it laid out the internationally recognized concerns about climate change. Its Declaration stated: “Having regard to the all-pervading influence of climate on human society and on many fields of human activities and endeavour, the Conference finds that it is now urgently necessary for the nations of the world: (a) To take full advantage of man’s [sic] present knowledge of climate; (b) To take steps to improve significantly that knowledge; (c) To foresee and prevent potential man-made [sic] changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity.”
Over the next nine years there were further gatherings of scientists and governments, culminating in the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
tinyurl.com/history-climate-activities
Forty years after the Stockholm Conference, the Alliance of World Scientists (AWS) came together to issue a warning to the people of the world to take action. They expressed their concern in a preliminary paragraph: “Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to ‘tell it like it is.’ On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.”
tinyurl.com/aws-warning
It is some of those graphical indicators that I wish to share with you. They are important because they speak about more, much more, than just atmospheric change, which until now has received most of the attention. The graphs are divided into two groups: the first sets out the human activities that have changed our climate, and the second focuses on the impacts of those activities.
A human population graph begins the first list. In 1979 there were 4.4 billion people on Earth, and now there are almost 7.8 billion, spelling out massive hurdles for our planet’s ability to sustain life as we know it if we continue on this trajectory. Total fertility rate has dropped considerably since 1979 but is beginning to rise again. More than 220,000 babies are born each day – over 80 million each year. There are close to 4 billion ruminant animals (cows, sheep and others), belching huge quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Per capita meat production has risen sharply since 1979 (causing huge biodiversity loss). World Gross Domestic Product has risen 80.5% every 10 years – but remember that this reflects every kind of ‘product’, including cleaning up the devastation and pollution following disasters such as hurricanes and fires. And the graphs go on, covering tree loss globally and, specifically, in the Brazilian Amazon; fossil fuel consumption, which overshadows the advances made in renewable energy; and air transportation, which increased from half a billion flights in 1979 to almost 4 billion in 2019. (A small percentage of humanity take those flights.) Individuals’ carbon emissions are continuing to rise, fossil fuel subsidies are going up obscenely, and carbon pricing has crashed. The only good news has been more divestment from fossil fuel stock.
What have been the impacts of these changes? Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from 336ppm in 1979 to 413ppm in 2019. Methane and nitrous oxide – another greenhouse gas – have risen steadily, bringing surface temperatures to new heights. This alone defines our emerging climate crisis. In the last 20 years in particular there has been massive loss of ice in Greenland, the Arctic and the Antarctic, leading to higher and warmer oceans. Global glaciers, a major source of fresh water, have melted significantly, giving a billion people less security for their water needs. At the same time, ocean acidification continues, with disastrous consequences for coral reefs and other marine life. Finally, the graphs spell out the repercussions of extreme heat and fires. Sound bad? It is.
Do you think going out to buy discounted things on Black Friday is a good deal? It’s not. Make Black Friday a Buy Nothing Day! Over-consumption is both a symptom of the poverty of our inner lives and a direct threat to having a vibrant, balanced planet on which to live – and thrive. tinyurl.com/buy-nothing-day-2019

Questioning the Hypnotic Lure of Black Friday

Time magazine is famous for the ‘Person of the Year’ who adorns its cover each January, but in 1988 it decided to feature instead ‘Planet of the Year’: Endangered Earth. The image is of an embattled-looking Earth held together with twine. The precious Earth is frayed. The accompanying article, written by Thomas A. Sancton, is entitled ‘Planet of the Year: What on EARTH Are We Doing?’ These words could almost have been written today: “Now, more than ever, the world needs leaders who can inspire their fellow citizens with a fiery sense of mission, not a nationalistic or military campaign but a universal crusade to save the planet. Unless mankind [sic] embraces that cause totally, and without delay, it may have no alternative to the bang of nuclear holocaust or the whimper of slow extinction.” – Time, January 2, 1989. [tinyurl.com/time-what-on-earth]

By 1989, Bill McKibben’s book The End of Nature was spelling out the unfolding crisis of climate change. NASA climate scientist James Hanson had already told the US congress that greenhouse gas emissions were increasing as a result of the burning of fossil fuels and that this must stop. At the same time, trade deals were being signed and governments were more and more being asked by corporations to sideline climate-mitigation projects. So-called neo-liberalism and the advent of the outright hostility of extreme corporate capitalism (as well as Soviet-style communism) towards Nature and social justice has at its core the inability to end this climate emergency. We must recognize this! Thus it was that the 1992 Rio Summit turned into one more world conversation that ultimately did not move governments to act on solutions to save our endangered planet. 

Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, documents the unswerving attempts by corporate power to hamper efforts to ultimately save our planet and our last chance to find a just response to corporate greed through the Green New Deal that is being heralded by many as a solution for many of our ills. Here we are at the end of 2019, and fires are ravaging Australia. Australia’s government ‘leaders’ refuse to discuss the clear connection between climate breakdown and those deadly fires. On Fire also looks at our ingrained behaviour that fosters a constant reaffirmation and perpetuation of globalization and capitalist greed as well as the rise of the far-right nationalism, racism and ecocide of ‘Trump and company’: “Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know. Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy — a hybrid instead of an SUV… At its core, it is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy, which means the world’s most manic consumers are going to have to consume less so that others can have enough to live.” With Black Friday (November 29) a few weeks away, the world is about to enact the grim spectre of overconsumption in hyper-mode. To counter this frenzy of buying things, Buy Nothing Day was conceived. And I’m told there are plans here in Sherbrooke to have some creative responses to Black Friday’s gluttony. 

Naomi Klein’s first book, No Logo, chronicles the rise and power of the brand name — Nike, for instance — and the iniquity of the foreign sweat shops that make our clothes as well as everything else, while her book Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism graphically details how corporations profit when a disaster happens — New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, for example. Over the span of 20 years, her books have documented the growing dangers to the world’s peoples and to biodiversity.

So what is the Green New Deal? It was inspired by President Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1930s America and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the second world war. Both schemes helped to give employment to millions of people. The Green New Deal aims to build on these successes to combat the war that is being waged against us and literally inflames the entire Earth. It is a response to the excesses of plutocracy that have led to the real possibility of climate chaos. What started with a few young and newly elected US congresswomen and an equally enthusiastic Sunrise Movement pressuring Washington Democrats has blossomed to unite many eco-socialist movements worldwide in demanding the end of racial and gender inequalities, protection of vulnerable workers, and universal health coverage, while we repair the damage of unlimited growth ideologies/market-based solutions and at the same time have a speedy climate-friendly transition to 100% renewable energy. The war on Nature, fanned by hideous austerity ventures by Donald Trump and his buddies, can be replaced by a Green New Deal that can rejuvenate democracy and end the climate crisis. 

For more details about the Green New Deal, please see dataforprogress.org/green-new-deal-report

Climate strike students praised by EU President

“I am glad to see that young people are taking to the streets in Europe to raise visibility of the issue of climate change. Their movement has spread to many cities and can bring about change. Our goal is to allocate a quarter of our budget to climate change mitigation.”

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

What do the following organizations have in common? 

Earth Strike, Fridays For Future, Global Climate Strike, 350.org, Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, The Climate Mobilization…

They are all asking us to join or support the global school and general climate strikes on Friday, September 20 and Friday, September 27. (On September 27, 1962 Rachel Carson’s powerfully illuminating book Silent Spring, detailing the destruction of the natural world by human activity, was published.) 

Global Climate Strike says: “This September, millions of us will walk out of our workplaces and homes to join young climate strikers on the streets and demand an end to the age of fossil fuels. Our house is on fire — let’s act like it. We demand climate justice for everyone.”

In the European Union, the equivalent of US$250 billion will be spent on climate change mitigation each year for seven years, starting in 2021, but Greta Thunberg, the youth activist and school climate striker, who was speaking to the President of the European Commission last February, said that there is more to do and that we cannot wait. Act now, she demands. We must drastically cut Europe’s emissions. Otherwise we will not be able to keep the warming of the globe under 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, she explained. She went on to say, “There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge.” Meanwhile, more than 12,000 students marched in Brussels.

The science certainly agrees with Thunberg, but why then has Canada been such a climate action lagger? Why have adults in Canada been so reluctant to embrace the climate science? Many activists will say that we’re so enmeshed in the consumer-capitalist system that we do not know how to extricate ourselves from a ruinous pathway. The thought of a degrowth, ecologically based way of life is anathema to the vast majority of Canadians. Canada’s fossil fuel consumption continues to grow more rapidly than our politicians would have us believe, while the EU and Russia have significantly lowered their use. In 2016, individual Canadians used more than five times the global average of energy, 29% higher than the average American.

These energy facts are contained in Canada’s Energy Outlook, a recent report by J. David Hughes, one of Canada’s foremost energy experts: energyoutlook.ca

For an excellent, accessible critique of Hughes’ report, see award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk’s article ‘Nine Uncomfortable Canadian Energy Facts’: tinyurl.com/9-uncomfortable-energy-facts

While adults flounder and procrastinate, young people are demanding that governments tell the truth about the climate emergency. Around the world, students of all ages are responding in their millions to confront the apathy and half-measures implemented by governments. 

In the Sherbrooke area, plans are under way in the universities to strike for the climate.

And it is not only students who will be taking part. Adults will be supporting the young people and organizing their own work strikes, many with the recognition of their employers that we must all take a stand against climate and ecological chaos. According to the international environmental organization 350.org, “parents, academics, bakers, trade unions, doctors, farmers, caretakers, celebrities, and teachers” in over 6,000 cities in 169 countries have pledged to organise climate strikes this month.

Climate rebel dispatches from around the world

From Sherbrooke to Sydney, Rio to Delhi, climate protesters are demanding that governments act now to save us from extinction.

Here in Sherbrooke Extinction Rebellion launched its first action on October 12 and La Tribune and CBC covered the event. See tinyurl.com/xr-action-sherbrooke

We wanted The Record to be able to report on what is happening in Sherbrooke. I took part in the Extinction Rebellion ‘slow swarm’ that gathered at Jacques-Cartier Park. What is a slow swarm? It is a way of getting people to take notice without disrupting the movement of the public too much. On October 12, 50 people took their climate placards and walked to the traffic lights at the intersection of Boulevard Jacques-Cartier and Rue King Ouest. Each time the pedestrian light turned to green, a group would cross to the middle of the road and stand facing the cars to show their placards. When the light changed to green for the cars, the group would wait on the sidewalk and hold their signs up for the people in the passing cars to see. A huge proportion of drivers honked their horns in approval. This went on for over an hour. Some of the protesters were nervous to begin with, but they were soon delighted with the response. Many of the students had not participated in a demonstration before, and they were clearly empowered by their first action. Before the ‘slow swarm’ there was a palpable sense of purpose, particularly amongst the under-35s, a group that will feel the effects of climate breakdown most acutely.

Meanwhile, around the world Extinction Rebellion (XR) had a strong and at times very moving presence in many cities and towns. See rebellion.earth/act-now/events/news/ for images and reports.

The decision this week by the police to impose a London-wide ban on XR actions was highly criticized by Amnesty International, lawyers and politicians. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said, “I believe the right to peaceful and lawful protest must always be upheld.” In response to the ban, XR continued to hold non-violent civil disobedience actions while their lawyers went to court to oppose the decision. The ban brings up an ethically important question: what are the responsibilities of democratic governments to permit lawful and non-violent protest? The British Tory government claimed that protesters are not justified in continuing to occupy streets or monuments. “While we share people’s concerns about global warming, and respect the right to peaceful protest, it should not disrupt people’s day-to-day lives,” a spokesperson announced, but XR say that their actions are justified because of the urgency of the situation, and point out: “We have proven to the world that this rebellion is a truly global movement, growing rapidly within and between nations, and comprised of people with the selflessness, the creativity and the courage to resist the madness of this ecocidal system.” 

It is the business-as-usual ‘everydayness’ of the perceived right of banks, governments and financial corporations to finance by loans or subsidies the well-oiled machinery of accelerated climate chaos that XR demands citizens disrupt. Thus it is significant that XR decided to stage a protest in front of the Bank of England, even though the bank’s governor, Mark Carney, seemed to be agreeing with them by firmly warning that every corporation must take seriously the need to respond to a net zero emissions goal or else disenchanted investors could make them go bankrupt. This warning comes as it has been revealed that only a fifth of the world’s largest companies will meet the Paris climate agreement goal of a 1.5 Celsius limit in temperature increase by 2050. To XR, this target spells catastrophe. Why Extinction Rebellion has been out in force around the world is precisely to demand that the 2050 target be moved forward to 2025. ‘Day-to-day lives’ can’t wait for 2050 climate actions.

Back in Canada, with a federal election looming, a net zero carbon pathway plan has gained much traction as a valid campaign topic. For these politicians Extinction Rebellion has brought to the forefront what the perils are of failing to address the life/death issue of climate for humans and wildlife alike. 

For further information about Extinction Rebellion, please see rebellion.earth/the-truth/ 

Climate Strike!

CLIMATE STRIKE!

Friday, September 27, 1:00 pm

Université de Sherbrooke

2500, boulevard de l’Université, Sherbrooke, J1K 2R1

act.350.org/event/globalclimatestrike/19583

Climate reporter Barry Saxifrage’s article in Canada’s National Observer on July 31 this year has a headline that tells us where we are in combating climate change: “Fossil fuel burning leaps to new record, crushing clean energy and climate efforts”. The graphs spell out the bad news, with one (“Fossil fuel burn per capita: G20”) showing Canadians at second highest among the G20 nations, just behind Saudi Arabians in our fuel usage!

tinyurl.com/saxifrage-fossil-fuel-burning

When Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser for the UK government, called the acceleration of climate change destruction “scary”, many in the scientific community were taken aback. The reason for this is that emotive language has never been part of the scientific lexicon. Peer review and painstaking accuracy via mathematics, statistics and graphs as well as precisely verifiable fieldwork have always been the hallmark of the scientific community. As the crises facing our climate and biodiversity have become indisputable, so, too, has the desire by scientists to somehow reach the public’s heart and influence the world’s people to respond to the growing global threat. Of foremost concern is the need to radically expand this conversation to a community that we are part of: western and rich (by any global standards), and… energy gluttons. The tragic inability to confront our climate chaos goes back to Hobbes and Locke and a mechanistic view of Nature. Governments wish our scientists to use a language that will never allow the general public to connect with dry scientific research. Until the last 10 years, scientists were muzzled.

“Heart” and “scary” are among the new words being used to collectively lift us off our La-Z-Boy and Girl recliners and prod us to influence each other as well as our equally lazy and corrupt governments. 

Many people claim that using emotive vocabulary depresses us and we’ll simply shut out the call to action; that children will become so overwhelmed that they will become paralyzed with fear. But Joanna Haigh, Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College London, said: “David King is right to be scared – I’m scared too. We do the analysis, we think what’s going to happen, then publish in a very scientific way. Then we have a human response to that… and it is scary.”

But are children overwhelmed? I think not. Just look at the huge response of school-age students to their fellow student, Greta Thunberg, who will be visiting Montréal for the September 27 community strike. Finally they have one of their own who hasn’t participated in being part of the climate problem, if only by being too young to pollute excessively as we do so obsessively in North America!

When the planet’s most famous climate scientist, James Hansen, wrote his book Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, it was a very human appeal by a great scientific mind reaching out to the general public to respond. Fellow American scientist Michael E. Mann has also written for the public, but the most powerful force in the world for climate justice has been Bill McKibben, who has written a plethora of articles and books and co-founded the climate group 350.org. McKibben is not a scientist, and indeed we need everyone to contribute. His newest book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? is available at the Lennoxville library. The enormous frustration by the scientific community has led other non-scientists to take up the banner to inform the public. The efforts of George Marshall’s climate education group in the UK can be viewed at climateoutreach.org, and Guardiancolumnist and author George Monbiot writes on climate at monbiot.com. Here in Canada Naomi Klein writes with intense power. You have only to dip into The Shock Doctrine: This Changes Everythingand her new book On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, to be inspired to stand up. 

Now it’s up to you to come out and support our youth to have a healthy world. We can complain about governments’ ineptitude all we want, but it’s up to the individual now to demand change. Make your voice known during Canada’s federal election campaigns.

… and with your friends, family and co-workers plan to strike on September 27!

act.350.org/event/globalclimatestrike/19583

Youth has become the inspiration for ecological stewardship

Swedish school student Greta Thunberg didn’t believe that her one-person strike in front of the parliament in Stockholm less than a year ago would have much of an effect on her government’s climate change policies, but her frustration with the rate of meaningful climate action by governments convinced her to protest. Last August she stayed away from school to engage people on climate action possibilities. Her reasons for not going to school were simple: why bother going to classes if her very future was being completely compromised by accelerating climate chaos? Her implacable view was that unless she did everything she could to push back this chaos a formal education was worthless for herself, her generation and future generations. Has her one-person climate action brought change? Resoundingly, but not in the way that you might think. The election last September didn’t prove to be a game-changer for climate policy in Sweden. “The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe—it doesn’t exist today. We need to change the system, as if we were in crisis, as if there were a war going on,” Greta told The NewYorker magazine last October. Although many politicians and even Pope Francis, a climate action crusader, have met with her and expressed their solidarity and admiration for her resolve as well as her courage, what Greta’s school strike in front of parliament did was to galvanize the world’s students.
Many readers will remember the strike in Sherbrooke on March 15 this year. Several thousand people came out to walk from the Université de Sherbrooke to City Hall. Multiply that one action thousands of times across the globe, and you have the makings of a true youth civil disobedience climate action movement.
Last week I had the honour to speak with a class of high school science students. I wanted to hear from them how they viewed the biodiversity/climate crisis. Several students felt invigorated by the global student strikes and were planning next autumn’s civil disobedience actions. One student told me that the surge of support from her fellow students had given her a new purpose in life. Many students have felt betrayed by older people. For example, although adults speak about caring about and loving their children and grandchildren, they fly often and sometimes even compound that massive greenhouse gas pollution by then taking a cruise ship—unquestionably one of the foulest vacation choices possible. There doesn’t appear to be any carbon emissions budget that adults adhere to. Some buy electric cars to ‘offset’ their absurdly grotesque energy consumption, and thereby attempt to assuage their guilty consciences with one more purchase. Perversely, the over-fifty crowd, born to consume more than any other generation before them, through their political power, politics and life examples are the harbingers of worsening ecological chaos. The teenagers I met resent this deeply.
Where are older people in the climate action movements? Besides the traditional groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, which have helped forge a Green consciousness, Extinction Rebellion (XR), which began in the UK only last November, has had tremendous success in mobilizing public participation, including some older people, in its demand for worldwide government responsibility in responding to the climate emergency. Indeed, members of this burgeoning movement have now decided to bring the blight of air pollution caused by motor vehicles to London’s street protests. They have done so with enormous creativity. The movement has grown exponentially across the world, and here in Canada thousands of people are participating in actions. XR points to People’s Assemblies as a way to rekindle democracy and as a critical way to bring back and reignite people in our communities:
“Decades of inadequate political action have led to a climate and ecological emergency that poses an unprecedented existential threat to humanity and all life on Earth—‘politics as usual’ will not meet the challenge we face.
“A citizens’ assembly provides us, the people, with a way to request radical change, and a request from the people gives a legitimacy to government to act, and allows for cross party support.”
Find out more and join Québec’s XR group at https://extinctionrebellion.ca/quebec