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    With so far to go, two words give hope for future climate negotiations 

    “As a blind man, lifting a curtain, knows it is morning,
    I know this change:
    On one side of silence there is no smile;
    But when I breathe with the birds,
    The spirit of wrath becomes the spirit of blessing,
    And the dead begin from their dark to sing in my sleep.”

    from “Journey to the Interior” by Theodore Roethke

    “The wording of the final text from COP doesn’t match with the science and there is real concern we will miss targets.”

    Chloe Brimicombe, climate scientist, Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change

    The fact that the words “fossil fuels” are included in the final UN COP28 agreement appears to some observers to be a small miracle, considering how divided delegates to the conference were just days before. After two years of accelerating climate and biodiversity disasters, one would think that two other words, “phase out,” might have made greater headway; they did not.

    As some commentators stressed, without a fair transition to renewable sources of energy, which notably includes a massive financial commitment from the so-called developed nations, phasing out fossil fuels will fail. For example, in Canada there has been much talk by the Trudeau government of helping petroleum workers to find new skills to enable them to transition to other energy jobs, but this goal has stagnated. Why? Probably because the oil lobby doesn’t want it to succeed.

    So “transitioning away” from fossil fuels was as good as almost 200 countries could get to, but tragically not far enough to save us from untold grief, unless there is a radically different shift away from the plutocracies that rule the world’s response to climate, social justice and biodiversity. “Whether you like it or not, fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late,” remarked the UN secretary-general, António Guterres. 

    Although the COP agreement is by the consensus of all nations, the Small Island Developing States weren’t included, because they were still formulating their submission to the discussion and were out of the room. No one told these 39 delegates to return for the vote. Everyone knew that those island nations were disappointed with how negotiations were going; appearances may be deceiving, but the final vote may well have deliberately been set up at the moment they were holding a conference elsewhere. In the end they decided not to block the deal.

    Around 2,500 oil lobbyists (of whom more were present than had been at any other climate conference), including a large number from Alberta, had a grossly oversized influence at the United Arab Emirates COP28 meeting. Nowhere in the 21-page document agreement can the words “oil” or “gas” be found; nor is methane mentioned. To be fair, those words haven’t been included in any of the previous failed 27 conferences either. Concerned scientists and citizens no longer shake their heads in disbelief. Climate criminals rule. Extinction Rebellion scientists put it this way: https://tinyurl.com/Scientists-Rebellion

    Cutting these lobbyists out of the conference would give most of us some confidence that progress can be achieved at these meetings. Pictures of all those private jets at airports for UN summits could become a thing of the past. After all, would armaments industries be allowed to attend a peace conference? On December 13, a day added to the conference to enable the parties to come to an agreement, Saudi Arabia’s delegate was already boasting that the agreements “do not affect our exports, do not affect our ability to sell.”

    Climate scientists speak about “baby steps” being taken to achieve a phase-out of fossil fuels. Aspirational statements and “signals” that proclaim a new direction are clearly insufficient. The world is now beyond those lies. “Rich countries have worked hard to try to get a hollow headline on fossil fuels out of this COP. They are like emperors with no clothes,” wrote Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, in The Guardian. 

    At a press briefing organized by UNICEF, Francisco Vera, a 14-year-old Colombian climate justice advocate, brought up an issue many have refused to discuss: “All the money being invested in the war on Gaza, but they say there isn’t money to fight climate change. What is happening to our humanity? If we want climate justice, we have to end war.”

    Billions are spent on killing each other. That money should be spent on helping the global south countries to prepare for what the global north has created: accelerated climate heating in 160 years. It is not only the financing to enable countries to adapt to the ravages of climate chaos that is needed, but western nations also need to move forward by embracing a systemic adaptation that looks to ultimately moving away from a capitalist unending growth mindset where war plays a major role in sustaining its momentum. 

    So, at the end of two weeks, can the world find any solace in this conference’s resolutions? There was talk of a Global Stocktake, which looks at everything we have achieved and what the world’s governments have so far failed to achieve—the gaps in our knowledge or political will, perhaps, that impede our ability to take action—and now we must work diligently to find solutions.

    This Stocktake refers to the agreements made at COP21 in Paris in 2015. COP28 in Dubai was meant to assess where we are in stopping climate catastrophe, and to see how far we have come in implementing the goals of the Paris conference. It is an essential tool for ramping up climate action. For example, more money needs to be dedicated to health issues that arise from climate breakdown.

    How do we help each other attain that goal? Although it appears nearly impossible to achieve, nations want to keep the limit of a 1.5 Celsius increase from preindustrial temperatures alive and within their sights as they look at their policies. There is a pledge to triple the production of renewable energy, and a little more financing has been given to the “loss and damage” restitution that the global south has so keenly sought from the industrial world. The Global Stocktake is a way to figure out the impediments to taking action and implement successfully the climate goals first spoken of in Paris.

    At this time last year, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was being held in Montreal. When oil is not a subject, the delegates for the most part come together to protect the planet, and actions, financial and otherwise, continue to make progress. Remember that the agreement demands that deforestation be halted and that 30% of land and oceans be protected by 2030. Nature gives us the gift of sequestering carbon. Next year’s biodiversity conference will probably take place in Colombia. A good choice, as Colombia is one of the most biodiversity rich countries on the planet.

    Let’s see what happens at the UN climate conference in Azerbaijan in 2024. Next year is set to be as hot as 2023, which of course forebodes more climate disasters. Will the world’s “leaders” ever get past politics and venture to guarantee a liveable planet for our children? The British writer George Monbiot has said that the whole COP process is fraught with loopholes to allow important decisions to be made. He suggests that we look to treaties instead: tinyurl.com/Monbiot-on-COP

    From leaf blowers to the biodiversity/climate crisis – and help to navigate the horrors

     “The UN Emissions Gap Report shows that the emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon. A canyon littered with broken promises, broken lives, and broken records. All of this is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable, and a massive missed opportunity.”

    U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres responds to https://tinyurl.com/Gap-emissions-UN

    “Less than an hour. That’s only what Canada’s new pledge of US$11.6 million will cover as the damage caused by the climate crisis through extreme weather has cost $16 million an hour for the past 20 years, according to a recent report.”

    André-Yanne Parent, executive director of Climate Reality Canada.

    The 28th UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) is now more than half over. A further article will explore the outcome of talks that brought 70,000 people to the oil kingdom of United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is highly unlikely that the infamous distinction that 2023 has as the warmest year since observational records were first kept 174 years ago will spur on the 197 countries that are represented at COP28 to finally phase out fossil fuel production; all governments in the global north are corrupt.

    It was encouraging at the beginning of the conference to have over US$400 million pledged for the loss and damage fund that helps the global south cope with adaptation and health, but the US was severely criticized for contributing only US$17.5 million. Remember that country is historically the largest greenhouse gas polluter in the world. Billions have been given to subsidize the fossil fuel industry by both Canada and the US. And, to put this in perspective, almost US$900 billion was given this year to the US military, which is the largest institutional carbon emitter in the world.

    Although Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, president of COP28, vehemently denied that oil and gas deals were to be discussed there, this clearly is not the case. Furthermore, he has been implicated in other controversies such as continuing unabated methane flaring despite the UAE’s assertion that the highly dangerous pollutants from this practice were banned years ago, and his refusal to accept the scientific consensus that the phasing out of fossil fuels is essential. “They went too far in naming the CEO of one of the largest—and by many measures one of the dirtiest—oil companies on the planet as the president of the UN Conference on Climate this year,” former US vice president Al Gore said.

    Besides UAE’s oil deals being in the media, Saudi Arabia’s push to lock in oil exports to Africa would stop those countries from pursuing renewable energy later on as the cost for solar and wind power continues to plummet. The only good news to come of this is Al-Jaber’s desire to salvage his reputation and ban closed-room oil deals. Oil lobbyists have been omnipresent at these meetings, and that must stop!

    After COP28 ends on December 12 let us see what it has achieved; there is much talk about phasing out coal in the US, and for tripling nuclear power plants—in my opinion a ridiculous idea, as it takes generally 12 to 15 years from design to energy production, with huge costs always inflating the final price tag, while clearly there are sources of inexpensive and far less dangerous sources of electricity immediately available. And on top of this and the obvious and ever present waste disposal conundrum and uranium mining injustices, climate change has already shut down nuclear energy production because the rivers that supply the water needed for cooling are increasingly at risk of experiencing low levels. The war in Ukraine has also put into focus the ever-present risk of other catastrophic consequences.

    For now COP28 is skating on a slick of oil that threatens to upend any meaningful agreement, but as governments appear ready to confront methane emissions perhaps at least something can emerge from these discussions.

    For many years I have read books and articles by James Gustave Speth, an experienced and thoughtful writer on Nature. A new article examines what he calls “the Big Mistake of climate catastrophe”—the ideas and misguided actions that have accelerated the climate emergency—but he also looks to the future and encourages us to change. “The most fundamental flaw leading to the Great Mistake is a set of dominant cultural values and habits of thought—an outmoded and now dangerous consciousness. Today’s values have allowed us to totally miss the point that the climate crisis is a moral failing… Today’s individualism wars against community and social solidarity. The habit of focusing on the present and discounting the future leads away from a thoughtful appraisal of long-term consequences, as has happened in economists’ models of the future costs of climate change. Future generations? What have they done for us?” Speth believes not only that on-the-ground adaptation as a result of climate upheaval is necessary, but also that systemic adaptation can put community and the planet first and rectify huge mistakes. https://tinyurl.com/Speth-Big-Mistake

    I have always detested gasoline leaf blowers and fortunately I am not alone. They are a perfect example of how an entitled western society’s flair for exceptionalism has brought the world down to its knees in the face of biodiversity loss and climate chaos. Hyperbole and hysteria, you say? One of these monstrosities emits the same amount of nitrogen oxide in an hour as driving a Toyota Camry 1,600 kilometres. I am not surprised by this, as gas lawn mowers are equally guilty of not passing any air pollution test, but leaf blowers exceed the damage they cause. I was therefore eager to read the article “The Gasoline-Powered Leaf Blower as a Metaphor for Industrial Society” by Richard Heinberg. https://tinyurl.com/Gas-leaf-blower-pollution For such a world-renowned and prolific author who focuses on the need to move away from fossil fuels to spend his time reporting on these grotesquely noisy and air-polluting two-stroke machines was refreshing. After all, we all have had the occasion to suffer being close to them.

    What I cannot understand is why each autumn and spring their blast of pollution invades university campuses when students are trying to study. Heinberg says: “Unlike most other loud machines, leaf blowers produce low-frequency noise that travels long distances and penetrates building walls. That’s why a single leaf blower can annoy an entire neighborhood… The noxious stew of gases released by leaf blowers—including cancer-causing benzene, volatile organic compounds, ozone, and nitrogen oxides—is a health hazard for workers and bystanders alike.” Often low-paid landscape workers don’t wear ear protection and definitely not masks, even if their supervisors ask them to do so from time to time.

    So much for the branding of enlightened, compassionate and “green” universities and corporations.  Perhaps leaf blowing humans can look to leaf cutting ants as an example of resilience and cooperation, so often lacking in our own species. https://tinyurl.com/leafcutter-ants-lessons  Another title for Heinberg’s article might have been “The Epitome and Anatomy of Stupidity: How the Leaf Blower Sums up the Capitalist World.”

    To help us navigate the distressing global situations we find ourselves in, The Pocket Project is giving us the opportunity to listen to many Nature-engaged people during the COP28 conference until December 12.Please listen free of charge to the conversations at the Climate Consciousness Summit and take solace and action. “The 10-day event will address climate grief and listen to climate solution holders and communities on the frontlines. For every sign up, we plant a tree! Join us…” https://summit.pocketproject.org/

    Low expectations for UN climate conference 

    A little too abstract, a little too wise,
    It is time for us to kiss the earth again,
    It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
    Let the rich life run to the roots again.

    from “Return” by Robinson Jeffers

    Carlos Manuel Rodríguez is CEO and chair of the Global Environment Facility, the world’s largest trust fund for environmental protection. In a recent article I mentioned how the Facility has helped obtain money to move forward the COP15 biodiversity agenda to help Nature. Rodríguez was named as one of a 100 people making vitally important contributions to stemming climate catastrophe in the forthcoming December 4th issue of Time Magazine. He told the magazine: “There is not a single country today that invests more in protecting nature than it spends on activities that destroy it… Governments should phase out all subsidies, incentives, and policies that financially support carbon emissions coming from different sectors… But unless and until the negative subsidies go away, we will not be able to make a positive difference about climate change or nature loss.” In other words, we need to starve the oil, gas and coal industries of their sources of financial backing. It starts with governmental subsidies that, despite the promises to end them, are still there. Canada is tragically no exception. Rodríguez goes on to say that only then can the world move rapidly to decarbonization. Although you may not agree with the inclusion of some of the names on the list, please read about the other Climate 100 people who are recognized for their achievements. tinyurl.com/Time-100-Climate

    Why should our banks and governments wish to loan money to the fossil fuel industries? In part can it be because only 48% of Canadians and 38% of Americans believe that human activities are the main cause of climate change? Even after the climate chaos of 2022 and 2023, the majority of people in the most energy-consuming place on Earth think that their activities are not a major cause of climate destabilization. Indeed, 33% of Canadians and 34% of Americans believe that natural changes are equally to blame. And while most of the world believes climate change is happening, only about a third of North Americans are very worried about it and fewer still are fearful of the repercussions it will have on them personally. Furthermore, while 74% of people in Portugal believe that climate change will do a great deal of harm to the lives of future generations, only 63% of Canadians and 52% of Americans agree. At the same time only 26% of Canadians and 23% of Americans claim to know a lot about climate change. As I have written repeatedly, our educational systems are woefully preparing us to be climate/biodiversity savvy despite the unease expressed by a local university about these findings. tinyurl.com/Yale-climate-communications 

    The UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai begins on November 30 and runs until December 12.This year it will address the impact of climate on health. In response to this, the pre-eminent medical journal The Lancet has sent COP28 President Designate Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber a letter signed by an astonishing 46 million medical professionals demanding an immediate phasing out of fossil fuels due to the overwhelming health crises these fuels perpetuate. https://cop28healthletter.com/

    Of course it has been expressed many times that because Al-Jaber is the head of a United Arab Emirates oil company, this gives oil lobbyists an inside track for their propaganda. Talk of the fox guarding the henhouse! There have been repeated calls for him to step down, but to no avail. Even before the start of the conference it is easy to understand that it is already compromised. 

    In the run up to COP28, Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and a world-renowned activist, published a damning article aimed at the ecological criminality of such governments as Canada, the US, Australia and Norway. https://tinyurl.com/McKibben-on-oil-exports

    I have never read anything by McKibben that was so forthright in his condemnation of these governments’ ecocidal policies. Basically, he is demanding that countries like Canada stop exporting their gas and oil. Canada’s small population “couldn’t burn the enormous quantity of natural gas that’s been found further north in Alberta if they all turned their thermostats to 115 and wore bathing suits all winter. That’s why they’re busy building pipelines to take the oil and the gas to the Pacific.” Absurdly, it is only when the fossil fuels are burnt that their emissions are registered. This means that Canada doesn’t have to declare any emissions relating to the gas and oil it ships overseas. The recent Newfoundland oil extraction scheme uses the same playbook. The full life-cycle of fossil fuels must be addressed. “The most important decision big exporters could make is to say, ‘We won’t be the hydrocarbon equivalent of the narcotics cartels,’” McKibben writes.

    The State of Climate Action 2023 report by the World Resources Institute intensifies the demand that COP28 act on the climate crisis:

    “Recent rates of change for 41 of the 42 indicators across power, buildings, industry transport, forests and land, food and agriculture, technological carbon removal, and climate finance are not on track to reach their 1.5 °C-aligned targets for 2030… Failure to seize this moment and dramatically accelerate ambitious climate action across all sectors will exact a high price, with far-reaching consequences for all life on Earth.” tinyurl.com/State-of-climate-action-WRI

    The only indicator that is on track to meet its goals concerns electric light-duty vehicles, but remember that those vehicles obtain their electricity mostly from dirty electric grids—coal, oil and gas—and Québécois are keen to point out that it’s hydro that supplies their EV power needs. But a caveat needs to be inserted: dams destroy Indigenous communities and create untold ecological ruin to river systems and land.

    Speaking about biodiversity in the context of climate action, and vice versa, is a necessity; fortunately, the trend to do so has accelerated since last year’s UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) Montreal. Recent positive work by the member countries has been the central role traditional knowledge plays in protection and sustainable use of biodiversity as reaffirmed at a UN Biodiversity Convention meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

    There was also excellent news from the European Union last week, with rewilding efforts at the centre of the Nature Restoration Law, part of the European Union’s Green Deal to protect the environment and reduce planetary heating, which will “establish measures to restore at least 20% of the bloc’s land and 20% of its marine environments by 2030. Currently, about 80% of natural habitats in Europe are in need of restoration. At least 30% of degraded habitats must be restored by the end of the decade under the law, rising to 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050.”

    It is hoped that this law will be passed later this month, but Sofie Ruysschaert, nature restoration policy officer for BirdLife Europe, pointed out that the “true litmus test lies in whether this law will really address the staggering repercussions of the climate and nature crisis. And that will only be seen if and when member states properly implement the law.” tinyurl.com/EU-Nature-Deal

    The Guardian is currently running a series of articles entitled “The age of extinction,” reporting on how people are fighting to stop the catastrophic loss of species. Here is one example: tinyurl.com/Age-of-extinction-journalism

    Undermined by greed, we find ourselves in uncharted territory 

    “Responsibility for the better economy, the better life, belongs to us individually and to our communities… If we want to stop the impoverishment of land and people, we ourselves must be prepared to become poorer.”

    from a speech entitled Less Energy, More Life by Wendell Berry for a convention of Unitarians, 2013

    At the end of October this year, a peer-reviewed scientific article appeared in Nature Climate Changeentitled “Assessing the size and uncertainty of remaining carbon budgets.” Remaining carbon budgets refers to the Paris UN Climate Change Conference’s aspirational target and declaration that humanity must not go past a 2 degree Celsius (2C) threshold and preferably stay much closer to a 1.5C limit above the world’s pre-industrial temperature if we are not to bring on a shambolic unravelling of society and possibly a tipping point to bring on other simultaneous crises, sometimes referred to as a polycrisis. The carbon budget is how much more carbon and other greenhouse gases we can emit globally without sending the planet’s climate into utter chaos. Declarations can be cheap. 

    The 2021 Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use stated a goal to halt and reverse global deforestation by 2030. The annual Forest Declaration Assessment looks into how well countries live up to their word, and in 2023 it published a rigorously researched, withering report showing that the deforestation of millions of hectares keeps us from achieving that goal; furthermore, 4.1 million hectares of especially vital tropical forests was decimated in 2022. “The world is failing forests with devastating consequences on a global scale,” WWF Global Forests Lead Fran Price said in a statement. “It is impossible to reverse nature loss, address the climate crisis, and develop sustainable economies without forests.” 

    As was strongly stressed last year in Montreal at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), little attention is given by governments and large corporations to embed the critical values that will slow and reverse biodiversity loss, and often money is invested in activities both consciously and inadvertently that in a benighted manner ransack our forests.

    There are, however, governments that help finance the UN climate and biodiversity agendas through the Global Environment Facility (GEF). GEF held a global meeting in Vancouver in August this year on funding biodiversity projects and launched a new global biodiversity fund: “The new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (GBFF) has been designed to mobilize and accelerate investment in the conservation and sustainability of wild species and ecosystems, whose health is under threat from wildfires, flooding, extreme weather, and human activity including urban sprawl.”

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said recently that we have only a 50% chance of avoiding exceeding a 1.5C global temperature rise by the middle of the next decade, but what I found terrifying was a graph showing that during several months in 2023 we lurched past 1.5C before lowering, even though the overall global average is currently 1.2C. Now scientists speak cautiously about returning to a 1.5C average global temperature; in other words, many scientists are baking hope into their future calculations to reset global temperatures downwards even as the world passes major carbon no-go levels. Is it really possible to return to 1.5C from, say, 1.9C? In theory, yes, but it would take enormous dedication on the part of the richest economies to do so, and at present such concrete pledges are not evident. Why give governments that way out when most will happily kick the can down the road and leave it to others to clean up our present ecological mess?

    Speaking of hope, one might expect that in the 21st century a Nobel Prize in Economics would be awarded to a candidate who was fostering growing links between world economies and climate/biodiversity, but 2018 prizewinner William Nordhaus’s analysis of Gross Domestic Product and its connection to rising temperatures demonstrated that quite the opposite was the case. In an unflinching and damning exposé of Nordhaus’s damaging legacy on climate mitigation policies, we discover in the below Intercept article that this man and his associates, who appear to know nothing about science and seem to care not a jot for Nature, have had a detrimental impact on major scientific groups such as the IPCC by coming up with quantitative mathematical models that seemingly make it perfectly acceptable to allow for higher temperatures without having much of an impact on the economy. Talk about having your cake and eating it too! Since most of GDP, according to this “mathemagical sorcery”, takes place indoors, it doesn’t matter what happens outdoors. Are there agricultural concerns in a drought- or flood-plagued world? No worries, Nordhaus says, since food production amounts to only a few percentage points of GDP (compared to – my example – the armaments industry). Please read: When Idiot Savants Do Climate Economics.

    E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful elegantly and succinctly hit the nail on the head: “It is inherent in the methodology of economics to ignore man’s dependence on the natural world … owing to its addiction to purely quantitative analysis and its timorous refusal to look into the real nature of things.”

    In great contrast to Nordhaus’s oblivious anti-Nature stance was that of another Nobel laureate in Economics, Elinor Ostrom, who conducted “field studies on how people in small, local communities manage shared natural resources, such as pastures, fishing waters, and forests. She showed that when natural resources are jointly used by their users, in time, rules are established for how these are to be cared for and used in a way that is both economically and ecologically sustainable.”

    It’s not surprising that people are overwhelmed by the barrage of disastrous events now announced each week, or even daily. The major damage to Acapulco hotels by Hurricane Otis, as well as the realization that Antarctica’s enormous size and cold is not going to inhibit the melting of its glaciers, would typically top the list of this week’s top five catastrophic events – but we won’t speak of genocidal wars.

    Who wants to remember what took place this summer, or ponder the effects of the 2016 apocalyptic fire in Fort McMurray’s oil patch that consumed vast areas of forest, destroyed thousands of homes and traumatised the community? In his recently published book, Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World, John Vaillant does just that. He describes how “alive” that mega blaze was. The methane bomb has also lost its newsworthiness in 2023, but it will come back soon enough.

    The result, of course, as we creep closer to a Mad Max landscape, is for the top ten percent of the richest, “educated” people to double down on their fantasy-like exceptionalism to Nature’s laws, indulge their perceived entitlement to pollute, and jet off, with the conviction that before long there will be a complete ban on consuming anything but locally prepared tempeh burgers: some deniers will declare that the grave warnings are all nonsense and fly off to Mexico for a week or two.

    On a more positive note, the diehard over-60-year-olds who showed up last week at a inaugural climate/biodiversity meeting will be thanked profusely by younger generations for taking a stand against consumption-encrusted and ecocide-oriented criminals. Their idea is to mobilize their brethren into a powerful community of people who will use their wealth and political power to lobby effectively for a brave new order that will stop the onslaught on Earth. Their strongly held conviction is that societal change and collectively organized citizens will not only give us a reprieve, but also nudge humanity in a more empathetic direction. Aînés dans l’action climat is the name of the group. 

    Artists are leading the way in the transformation of a broken world

    “So much of the work of oppression is policing the imagination.” 

    Saidiya Hartman

    When I look at, amongst other traditional landscape paintings, The Hay Wain, created by John Constable in 1821, I observe with nostalgia the artist’s representation of clean, pesticide-free water, pollutionless skies, thriving trees and a small, unobtrusive cottage on the bank of the river the horses and wagon are crossing—a semi-pristine land with humans in harmony with Nature. Landscapes help define a nation and its individuals.

    Fast forward to July 4, 2022, and two climate/biodiversity activists have adroitly superimposed a 21st-century equivalent of that bucolic river scene on Constable’s original; in that rendition, a plane flies overhead, the trees are dead, there are ugly skyscrapers and a belching smoke stack, and finally a large truck comes up the polluted river. Tragically, there are now many local landscapes that echo this dystopian image. Meanwhile, there truly is not one toxic-free river in all of Britain in 2023, and ecological systems are in a devastating free-for-all. 

    Now transform any of the landscapes of the Canadian “Group of Seven” painters, or Québécois Fredrick Simpson Coburn’s landscapes with horses to have a similar outcome, and you get the idea: we have created “the ecological rift” between humans and the rest of Nature, discussed in an important book of that name by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York. The authors write: “The planet as we know it and its ecosystems are stretched to the breaking point. The moment of truth for the earth and human civilization has arrived.”

    Now think about Nature poets like Wordsworth or Keats writing 200 years ago and transform them into contemporary eco-poets such as W.S. Merwin, who penned:

    All the green trees bring
    their rings to you
    the widening
    circles of their years to you
    late and soon casting
    down their crowns into
    you at once they are gone
    not to appear
    as themselves again 

    from “To Ashes”

    On to music, and remember Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for solo violin and orchestra, but turn it on its melodic and harmonic head and you get Frank Horvat’s Auditory Survey of the Last Days of the Holocene, where in one segment you can hear trees being cut done with a chainsaw in the background: https://tinyurl.com/auditory-survey

    Tchaikovsky’s 19th-century ballet Swan Lake was recently metamorphosed by contemporary French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj into a struggle to save swans and lakes from the capitalist machinations of an oil baron’s fossil fuel dreams: https://tinyurl.com/swan-lake-transformed

    Let us heed the call of artists. Artists have always been at the forefront of society. The arts give us the imagination and the guts to turn around these most dangerous times in humanity’s history. See, hear, sniff out, listen and by all means taste what they unreservedly spread before us. 

    Eighteen Québec universities have come together to hold six free online sessions on different aspects of climate every Wednesday at noon until November 22 in order to give citizens an all too brief foundation in climate education. It is a beginning. The first of these webinars took place on October 18 and gave us the historical background to the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP), including excellent graphics for the upcoming COP28 meeting to be held in Dubai from November 30 to December 12. Other webinars will focus on such critical climate topics as forests, oceans, climate justice, water, agriculture, energy transition, eco-finance, and the role of cities in climate mitigation actions. 

    This is a new effort on the part of Québec’s universities to begin to take seriously their responsibilities towards the students they are entrusted to care for. You may remember that I wrote a long article, “No student should be denied a climate education,” on September 15. I strongly urge all levels of educational institutions to speed up and intensify their commitment, and let’s not ever forget the need to robustly put into general practice a weaving of biodiversity into the heart of education. In order to register for the webinars, see https://unis-climat.teluq.ca

    “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing!”

    John Stuart Mill, inaugural address delivered to the University of St Andrews on February 1, 1867

    A generous and just Thanksgiving: doing more than voicing gratitude for the Earth’s bounty 

    “Acknowledging traditional territory specifically focuses on First Nations land title and rights, but it is also a means of raising a broader awareness of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit culture and history – specifically by way of our own relationships to the land and water… It is impossible to talk about Indigenous-specific anti-racism without talking about European imperialism and the theft of land…The story of First Nations people in Canada is…through the relationship to the land and water.”

    First Nations Health Authority

    The loss of biodiversity and the climate crisis are intricately enmeshed with colonialism and its malevolent kin, capitalism. The destruction of Indigenous cultures and of their ability to be stewards of the Earth continues to be felt acutely today. Although it is blatantly insufficient as a token event to refuse to celebrate colonialist Columbus Day in the U.S. and to include Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada’s Thanksgiving holiday meditations, we can come closer to embracing Indigenous Earth stewardship. Actions are needed to dismantle and sink the toxic imperialist legacy of Columbus’s ship. Please listen to the podcast Holding the Fire.

    Annie Proulx’s book Barkskins tells the multi-century story of the deep divide between the spiritual and ecological consciousness of Indigenous peoples and the genocidal policies of European invaders who destroyed the Indigenous peoples’ culture in tandem with the creeping deforestation of incredibly biodiverse lands, and the pollution of the waterways in New France (Québec), is well documented. And Serge Bouchard’s The Laughing People: A Tribute to my Innu Friends speaks poignantly of the invasion of Indigenous lands. Both books are available at the Lennoxville Library. The effects of this ecocide can be seen all across Southern Québec and into the North as well.

    Of course it has been de rigueur for some years to murmur or pen in a sombre and contrite tone, with almost religious fervour, references to Indigenous unceded territory by institutions such as universities, churches, corporations and governments at the beginning of a lecture. Equally reprehensible are articles, sometimes written by lawyers, that endeavour to give credibility to their weak arguments by surreptitiously placating or distracting, or perhaps feebly attempting to assuage the conscience of white audiences by parroting the undisputed fact that lands have been stolen (‘unceded territories’) from Indigenous peoples; by some, it is implied as a consequence that we have forthwith absolved ourselves by faux confession and can now blithely continue on with the show. How unctuous and hypocritical. And indeed, it shows how ethically bankrupt we are when we bare our chests with humility to proclaim our genocidal past and continuous ecological theft… and stride on, as is implied in the First Nations booklet. Let’s be clear: acknowledging unceded territory is only a first step aimed at a reconciliation that must go on to weave actions into tangible and ultimately mutual resolution. 

    Many might ask themselves, upon coming to a lecture and hearing a prescribed and rote 30-second acknowledgement of the occupation of unceded territory, whether audiences should rise to their feet and scream, “Give the land back! It is never too late. Give back this sacred land to the rightful peoples who honour it!”  I for one can feel the audience squirm in their seats each time words are uttered but are divorced from positive actions. What would happen if they did stand up and demand restitution? Most lawyers who represent these institutions and who only uphold and pass on the colonialist mantle would surely refuse, and if flush with money might perhaps hand over with much fanfare a building or two to parade their generously to the vanquished on their unceded territory in order to ‘compensate’ a grotesque injustice. 

    Historically, to pillage the land in the name of an unknown future is the invader’s raison d’être for most solutions, is even called ‘sustainable development’ by some so-called experts, and is the antithesis of Indigenous peoples’ close connection to the Earth.  I recently read one article that mentioned sustainability 20 times. The current invasion of Indigenous lands in British Columbia for the construction of a fossil fuel pipeline is only one of many instances whereby ecocide, tragically fostered by governments and institutions as a pseudo-policy for ‘energy security’, manifests itself, and in Québec there is no shortage of examples.

    Done with the equivalence and finesse of a slaughterhouse knife that effectually pars down the existence of biodiverse lands into a newly ‘enhanced’ achievement is something that has always been emulated by corps of engineers throughout the world, and Québec is no different. It’s called ‘expertise’. 

    It’s time to radically build on and revitalize past Indigenous acknowledgements in our communities that have sadly been reduced by bad faith in some instances and to vigorously take on non-hypocritical action by returning lands to Indigenous peoples. For example, if you are an institution that occupies 100 acres on Indigenous unceded land but have much more land than that, give back the majority of that land. All the rest is a capitalist investment supplanting wisdom by rapacious greed. “As he cut, the wildness of the world receded, the vast invisible web of filaments that connected human life to animals, trees to flesh and bones to grass shivered as each tree fell and one by one the web strands snapped.” ― Annie Proulx, Barkskins

    There are of course those who speak with deep humility and truthfulness when they acknowledge Indigenous lands, as it is clearly not their intention to spout words of acknowledgement regarding unceded lands before a church service or a university lecture in the manner that is criticized in the First Nations Health Authority booklet cited in this article. Crucially, what actions will be taken to truly allow for reconciliation and justice? Shredding a landscape, ripping off its topsoil, polluting the land with noise and diesel contamination and then moulding and reformulating the topography like a science experiment is NOT the way to acknowledge unceded lands. This is the festering sore, the long cut road through primeval sacred forests, which started 400 years ago.

    There are many people who unreservedly understand the climate and biodiversity crises. The September 29 Climate Action protest in Sherbrooke brought out maybe 300 people, and even though some free bus tickets were distributed, the publicity was at best incomplete and few students attended from Bishop’s and University of Sherbrooke. Most of the protesters were exuberant teenagers, together with a new group of older people who have banded together to fight climate/biodiversity collapse, but there was only a smattering of university students. After a summer of great catastrophe around the world, including the forest fires of Québec that caused so much destruction and pollution, would not more young people be expected to come out? Could not teachers have announced in each class the climate protest and urged their students to attend by creating communities that care? Is that not one part of climate education? Government and educational administrations worldwide, in thrall to climate deniers for 35 years, refused to educate their youth, and now unenfranchised, under-educated and a mostly consumer-obsessed apolitical students populate the campuses of many Canadian universities, with few skills to protect their future. Have adults adequately provided young people with the guidance and straightforward universal science education necessary to counter these crises? Clearly not. 

    And yet, when I attended a three-hour biodiversity workshop last week, I witnessed a strong resolve on the part of people younger than 35 to move past the slumber, the inertia of older self-complacent generations. Desperate to slake their thirst for knowledge, they seek it outside the bounds of the institutions upon which it is incumbent to provide education in the most pressing issues of our time. 

    No student should be denied climate education

    “I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete,

    The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains jagged and broken.”

    Walt Whitman, A Song of the Rolling Earth

    “Humanity is in the hot seat. For vast parts of North America, Asia, Africa and Europe, it is a cruel summer. For the entire planet, it is a disaster. And for scientists, it is unequivocal – humans are to blame…Climate change is here, it is terrifying, and it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”

    António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

    Even five years ago, I never envisioned that each September when I returned to write articles after a summer break I would need to give a recap of all the horrible planetary events of the summer that reflected the increasing velocity and ferocity of climate warming. Last July is predicted to have been the warmest month ever recorded, even according to scientific records of the last 120,000 years obtained through ice cores.

    Sadly, on August 23 I read an article by Bob Weber of the Canadian Press, in which he writes that recent research has shown that it is seven times more likely that the fires we’ve had in Québec this summer, intensified by climate warming, will occur again in the future. You can read the study Weber references at https://tinyurl.com/analysis-of-Quebec-fires

    How can an ever-expanding and committed group of people find the inspiration to overturn a century of capitalist colonialism and greed that commits human society to its own destruction? A recent article in the Guardian, “The world is burning. Who can convince the comfortable classes of the radical sacrifices needed?” told of the life of Simone Weil, the philosopher and WWII resistance fighter. Weil gave up all her creature comforts so that she could resist the invasion of France by the Nazis. [tinyurl.com/Climate-action-and-Simone-Weil] 

    Vibrant portraits of people who were and people who are passionate in their determination to make significant changes in order to enact visions that are successful must be shared. I think of people such as Rachel Carson, E.O. Wilson, Albert Schweitzer, Bill McKibben and Greta Thunberg, as well as the students who demonstrated in a Montana courtroom that fossil fuels are putting the future in jeopardy—and won their case. Indeed, for centuries inspired stories have pointed the way to fundamental and beneficial life-affirming actions. The words of the poet Walt Whitman have been enormously influential in bringing us closer to Nature as well as singing the virtues of democracy.

    And once in a while governments take the plunge and protect their citizens. The California state legislature recently affirmed its support, urging the U.S. government to join a worldwide effort to develop “a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty as an international mechanism to manage a global transition away from coal, oil, and gas.” Extinction Rebellion, 350.org and other activist organizations such as Just Stop Oil (two of whose courageous activists are currently in jail in the UK serving draconian sentences of up to three years for peacefully drawing attention to the climate emergency, one of them facing subsequent callous deportation away from his young family) have an important role to play in the quest to stop an unravelling of the planet’s ecosystems.

    It can never solely be isolated individuals who move us forward and inspire us. What led this August to the ban on the drilling of oil in one of the world’s greatest biodiversity locations, Yasuní National Park in Ecuador, was an ever-growing educated population. Democracy can bring new victories to save our capacity to change our direction from a fossil fuel dead-end future to one that is respectful of future generations’ right to life. This vote is important, not only for Ecuador and for the Indigenous peoples in the Yasuní, who now have hope of living in peace. It is also a potential model for stopping through democratic means the expansion of fossil fuels. 

    Encouragement needs to be given to schools for all different age groups that mainstream and foster climate/biodiversity knowledge and even acknowledge the power and relevance of civil disobedience during these times of spiralling ecological and societal crises. However, the ones that latch on to the same old planet-wrecking brands, which are then announced with fanfare, must be enlightened and persuaded to change course. Curriculums must be overhauled and must reflect urgently on the decaying world order if students are to have any chance of truly flourishing. Schools from primary to university can lead the way to ecological stewardship.

    There is a full-scale crisis unfolding, and universities need to step up by recognizing that their curriculums must bear witness to this undisputed fact. Universities are failing miserably to educate their wider spectrum of students to what lies in wait for them if they don’t have the educational skills, and, just as importantly, the passionate mindset to turn this accelerating crisis, which Joanna Macy has called “the Great Unraveling,” into “the Great Turning.” [tinyurl.com/film-joanna-macy]

    Many universities will say that it isn’t their role to help students become activists. I firmly disagree. We live in uncharted and dangerous times. We all need to take a stand, and universities must change if they are to be relevant. As scientists have belatedly learned, it’s not just the peer-reviewed science that moves people to accept or reject climate warming. Issues of climate/biodiversity justice, governance, eco-anxiety all need to be spoken of. 

    It’s an age-old question that citizens, educators and governments—as well as, more insidiously, corporations—have joined the chorus to ask: what the goals are that educational groups such as universities should strive for. Groups used to embrace what was called a ‘liberal arts’ approach, whereby an university degree did not mean that you graduated with just a major course or narrow field of study, but rather that your diploma told the world that you were well versed in any number of topics; that you weren’t a single-topic, laser-focused individual, but rather you had a wide spectrum of interests that would enable you to be a more creative and compassionate person who engaged empathically with the world. That was the general notion, but what has become of that notion? If the intention of the liberal arts model is for a student to be a more well-rounded individual and hence a more engaged citizen, is it not also the role of the university and secondary education to inculcate an understanding of the most pressing issues of the day? And I’m not only speaking of science courses.

    After two decades of engaging myself fully in this crisis, I can’t help but maintain that universities are abandoning their students in favour of the siloed learning that has gained favour in the last 30 years. I was therefore dismayed to learn that a course at one university named “Ecological Crisis and the Struggle for Environmental justice,” which was absurdly offered every two years, will not be taught this autumn; it was meant for a broad spectrum of students and was not focused on the science, but on philosophy and the arts. Such a class needs to be offered constantly, not cut from the curriculum!

    Mandatory classes that focus on broad current ecological concerns are more frequently praised as being gateways to a better understanding of where society is and what we can do about the present polycrisis. Funnelling students into specialty majors without a wider spectrum of ideas both cultural and academic is the antithesis of a liberal arts education. Waldorf schools, by contrast, offer their young students and their students’ families a Nature-oriented programme for their long-term development and self-improvement. Is this where education must start? There has never been a lack of educational strategies: Rousseau, John Dewey and Plato all wrote passionately about education.

    The world’s fast-moving crises need to be the focal point for educational activism. Who would care whether your specialty would make you economically better off, if you hadn’t thought about and acted upon the crises that would befall you in the near or far term? University needs to be an awaking process and not primarily a trade school in computer science—or music, for that matter. 

    It has come as a welcome—and, for some, mind-blowing—surprise to learn that France’s premier engineering school, École Polytechnique, has decided to make sure that all its courses have ecological foundations: tinyurl.com/curriculum-changes

    And now students are writing manifestos demanding change: manifeste.pour-un-reveil-ecologique.org/en

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declares: “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” If we are to continue to believe that our schools are one of the pathways to a liveable future, there is no time to dally.

    An increasing world population exacerbates the crisis of Nature

    Overconsumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.”

    ~ Jacques-Yves Cousteau

    It has been stated many times that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is at best a poor indicator of humanity’s and the planet’s wellbeing. The Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE) [www.steadystate.org] has always rejected the argument put forward by capitalism-driven economists, industrialists and most governments that growth is the key to better lives across the planet. In fact, perpetual growth is a recipe for runaway profits, ultimately promotes ecocide, and at its most aggressive, as it is currently, leads to the genocide of Indigenous groups and the poorest people. Sound like an unstoppable disease? 

    Though it is true that countless millions have been able to pursue healthier and fulfilling lives when pulled from extreme poverty, the way to get there is not through unlimited economic growth, which in turn is just smoke and mirrors and relies on an ever-increasing human population. Yes, contrary to the pronouncements of people like Elon Musk who believe that an ever-expanding human population is necessary if only to inhabit an utterly inhospitable planet like Mars, unlimited growth is the undisputed hallmark and madness of modern-day extractive colonialism. w

    The people at CASSE show that GDP is always linked to the ecological footprint of a country: the higher the GDP, the more land is consumed to facilitate that growth, and the less room there is left for biodiversity to flourish. And of course humans are part of the planet’s biodiversity. So, on a local level, if Sherbrooke’s Plan Nature will truly protect 45% of its land and thus limit growth, developers will tend to hate that plan because for them development, as part of an outdated economic paradigm of endless growth, is always a good venture and brings “wealth” to more people. Preserving and increasing habitat is fundamental for the survival of wildlife. 

    All of this brings me to reflect on UN World Population Day, held on July 11th every year since 1990. This year we contemplate the milestone of a human population of 8 billion. The focus in 2023 is on safeguarding the health and rights of women and girls, and on putting the brakes on Covid-19. With almost half of all pregnancies unintended, women and girls frequently find themselves in an untenable situation. Through the years, the UN has tried to foster open discussion regarding the rights of women and girls, always stressing the right to an education because this in turn lowers the pregnancy rate. It is equally important that men be educated too, as in many countries they are the ones who impede girls’ education.

    With the number of humans likely to exceed 10 billion before decreasing, the strong case to advocate for and celebrate the need to make people aware of the relationship between an increasing human population and ever-creeping consumption levels has not gone unnoticed by those who demand that our besieged ecosystems be protected. It has been calculated that the super-rich top 1%’s destructive ecological footprint is responsible for 15% of carbon emissions, but our jet-setting neighbours in the west, who by and large form the next 10% of the world’s population, are culpable for a massive 48% of emissions. 

    This May, ‘Population Decline Will Change the World for the Better’, an article by Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity, appeared in Scientific Americantinyurl.com/fewer-people-better-world

    Feldstein writes: “Where our current model of endless growth and short-term profits sacrifices vulnerable people and the planet’s future, population decline could help create a future with more opportunity and a healthy, biologically rich world… We can maintain the economic status quo and continue to pursue infinite growth on a finite planet. Or we can heed the warning signs of a planet pushed to its limits, put the brakes on environmental catastrophe, and choose a different way to define prosperity that’s grounded in equity and a thriving natural world.” 

    China’s per capita ecological footprint might be far lower than that of the US, but owing to its much larger population and its import of western industrial companies, its total footprint is twice as large as that of the US and thus its carbon emissions represent a third of global emissions and its impact on deforestation is huge. Feldstein goes on to say: “Reducing consumption in high-income countries is necessary, but insufficient on its own if global population continues to rise.” 

    If we look at the excellent graphs and data from Toronto’s York University tinyurl.com/Ecological-footprints we can easily see that no country surpasses Canada’s damning ecological footprint – not even the US. Does this mean, in part, that Canada’s population is too large? Although its biocapacity (the area of biologically productive land and ocean area providing food, fibre and timber, accommodating urban infrastructure, and absorbing excess CO2) per individual is “healthier” than that of our southern neighbours, a steady decline of biodiversity is indicated over several decades. Our rapacious consumption history shows that our population of 38 million people extracts the equivalent of five Earths to sustain this pattern, while a country like Democratic Republic of the Congo is still within its one world of sustainability, though it too is in a steep decline of biocapacity.

    Clearly Canada has to do better if it is to stop a precipitous abyss in its ecological integrity, but until it does so, should it strive to also lower its population? Cleaning up our house first seems to be a logical place to start. For where is Canada extracting its four extra worlds of biodiversity and climate destructive industries if not from other countries? We do live on a finite planet, after all. North Americans forget this at the world’s ultimate peril. This is why the UN’s recent climate and biodiversity conferences had the global south ready to mutiny if the biodiversity and climate-warming losses and damages indebted to it by the global north were not addressed.

    A good example to show the discrepancy between rich and poor can be seen in the spiralling use of air conditioners. As more people can afford to buy an air conditioner to combat deadly heatwaves, those same air conditioners have become one of the fastest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and they heat even further the air outside. At the same time, a billion people don’t have access to electricity at all and are not responsible for the escalating climate crisis. There is nothing equitable about cooling with air conditioning, which further divides society between the haves and the have-nots. Closer to home, Toronto has become a world success story with its deep Ontario lake water cooling of over 100 large buildings, which lowers the city’s emissions, but there are many simpler ways to cool our cities without air conditioning. See, for example, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windcatcher

    Overconsumption threatens all life on the planet. A lower population level will help reduce consumption levels and enable women to participate more fully in their own future.

    Western anti-Nature prejudice can be transformed

    “O ruin’d piece of nature, this great world
    Shall so wear out to naught.”

    William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Lear

    When in 1951 Rachel Carson published her extraordinarily popular book The Sea Around Us, which galvanized huge interest in the oceans, she was not overly optimistic concerning humanity’s ability to be an engaged steward and partner to these vast and rich biologically endowed marine regions of the Earth. She said: “There has long been a certain comfort in the belief that the sea, at least, was inviolate, beyond man’s ability to change and to despoil. But this belief, unfortunately, has proved to be naïve.” Seventy years ago people thought the ocean was pristine, but in the intervening years it has lurched from one crisis to another.

    Carson amplified her urgent call to protect life on Earth with her revealing book Silent Spring, for she wished to whittle away a dangerous collective prejudice that has increasingly wrought havoc. Adding to the growing destruction of the fantastically fecund coral reefs brought on in large part by climate warming and the insatiable demand for the sea’s marine bounty, including its minerals, the newest concern is the level of plastics found in the ocean. 

    June 5 is World Environment Day, and this year its focus was on the ending of plastic pollution. Now, at last, a UN treaty on global plastic pollution based on the full life cycle of plastics is going ahead, with the details to be finalized by the end of 2024.

    We all know that there is great beauty, creativity—imagination, if you will—and intelligence in all sentient life forms. There are groups of people throughout the world who are striving to address an embedded ignorance of Nature, as there are also millions who share the recognition that the Earth’s biodiversity is unique in the universe.

    As we know, the prospects for the future on this planet grow dimmer with each year as biodiversity is lost, nuclear threats grow, and climate action never seems to take hold fast enough to hold off the sheer madness of a fossil-fuelled, irresponsible and unethical growth economy that is surely epitomized by gross domestic product (GDP). That homage to capitalism at its worst doesn’t care whether this growth economy encompasses the production of more armaments or the financing and reckless forging ahead with artificial intelligence.

    Nature is now given a price, but such intangibles as the inalienable right for humans and animals to have a healthy quality of life is looked upon askance and often shrugged off as some utopian pipe dream. Yet there is never a lack of ways for a person to wake in the morning and not feel beauty, even though the west would like to requisition it all by refusing to stop its extractive neo-colonial obsessions. In place of that unbridled greed courage, determination and education are fertile soil for a sense of agency that can grow vigorously.

    The David Suzuki Foundation announced recently that a long overdue overhaul of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is finally inching closer into law with Bill S-5, which spells out the right of Canadians to a robust and healthy environment. There are huge implications.

    Can Canadians soon go to court and finally be empowered to make a winnable case highlighting a loss of biodiversity or clean air and water, and make governments large and small criminally responsible? Will S-5 demand that governments and corporations will no longer be able to play down and stop climate action? Can humanity slash a jagged hole through its most unconscionable values and allow a light shine through to foster peace with Nature? Bill S-5 is a strong pathway towards making federal and regional governments accountable to Nature—and, yes, humans are included.

    On May 26, several demonstrations happened in Québec. Vigilance OGM organized the protests. OGM stands for genetically modified organism in French—GMO in English. 

    Try to speak about mainstream food systems’ fossil-fuel-pumped rigidity to the government, and often you’ll encounter an unwillingness to discuss such an important subject as the safety of our foods. CropLife Canada is the principal lobbyist for pesticides use, targeting the government.

    People on some protests carried several ‘tombstones’ bearing the names ‘choice’, ‘science’, ‘transparency’ and ‘democracy’, clearly decrying the possible death of all four of those guardians that a democratic society relies on to function fully. Some solemnly carried a casket with the name ‘CropLife’ written on it. Biotechnology is the key to a better world, according to the website croplife.ca. CropLife promotes products such as “Long Shelf-Life” strawberries (proudly touted as “the first #GeneEdited strawberry to hit the market”), and represents the huge biotechnology industries that push for GMOs as the answer to everything. 

    I like what anthropologists Anne Buchanan and Kenneth Weiss have to say: “Life is an orderly collection of uncertainties.” We are finally coming to the conclusion that the universe is an expanding, open system. Ignorance and prejudice regarding such topics as colonialism, gender, culture, climate and biodiversity can be ended if humanity so wills.

    Climate/biodiversity advocacy groups such as 350.organd Extinction Rebellion endeavour through non-violent means to shake us up. Tom Bullough recently wrote for Writers Rebel: “To be a writer today is to hold the climate and ecological emergency at the heart of your work… If the emergency is not at the heart of your work then you’re not writing honestly, and if you’re not writing honestly then you are not a writer.” Provocative words to get us to stand up and take notice of our own proclivity to sit back. I fully embrace what he offers us!

    Magazines such as Resurgence & Ecologist and Orionlive up to Bullough’s admonition and are sweet antidotes to our anti-Nature prejudices. Take some time to discover their writing, which jubilantly educates us and celebrates the ability to create a better world for generations to come. 

    I sometimes think that those finely clipped, pesticide-ridden, over-fertilized and biodiversity dead-zone lawns that western society cherishes so highly are a mirror, a microcosm, a landmark or a cemetery, if you will, of our dead feelings for Nature, and that if we could only break through these toxic attitudes to know our place as just one biological species of many in a replenished and open macrocosm, the world would truly flourish.

    The great biologist E.O. Wilson put it succinctly: “To strive against odds on behalf of all life would be humanity at its most noble.”

    Young people go to the courts to protect their future


    “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

    – Martin Luther King Jr.

    Martin Luther King Jr. wrote those words in 1963 while he was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama for instigating a coordinated campaign of protest against desegregation. Was he referring only to humans, or did he acknowledge the ecological web of being too? It wouldn’t surprise me if he had had the extraordinary prescience to point out to us the interconnectivity of all life and not just focus on human relationships, as the ecology movement was about to get started with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. And I have no doubt that if King were living today he would say that those same inexplicable but vital pulses of mutuality across Nature are being increasingly frayed.

    On April 22nd, millions of people celebrated Earth Day. The UN calls it “Mother Earth Day,” and it was celebrated within the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which resolves “to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction.” [www.decadeonrestoration.org/] This resolution partners with the Convention on Biological Diversity, whose recent summit in Montreal I reported on last December. However, the resolution speaks to all of us, and calls out to each of us to do our part. 

    In the past I have celebrated Earth Day by attending Earth-themed concerts and protests and by propagating seeds; this year it was sweet peas. I also read the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report, State of the Global Climate 2022 [tinyurl.com/WMO-climate-indicators], published on April 21st this year. One of its key messages is: “The years 2015 to 2022 were the eight warmest in the 173-year instrumental record. The year 2022 was the fifth or sixth warmest year on record, despite ongoing La Niña conditions.” As the three main greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide—rise to new levels, so temperatures increase, along with intensified flooding and droughts, rising sea levels and the loss of glacial ice. The report looks in depth at global climate indicators and key drivers of climate breakdown.

    There is no dearth of peer-reviewed reports on the biodiversity/climate crisis. The WMO report amplifies with frightening graphics what we already know will come: a “death sentence,” as the Secretary-General of the UN bluntly calls it, is rapidly approaching and will be upon us unless all people give immediate attention to the crises. This report is aided by an interactive and simplified overview version, which I highly recommend: tinyurl.com/WMO-stories

    These accelerating ecosystem disasters in the last two decades have caused young people to launch many legal challenges around the world to force governments to move on the climate crisis. Young people in Canada, Norway, US states—Hawaii and Washington—Pakistan, Peru, Portugal and the Netherlands have brought cogent arguments to the courts. The urgency for young people lies in the universal truth that climate chaos will upend their lives. 

    Young people in Québec and Ontario have individually gone to court claiming that their charter rights are being violated. Last week Justice Marie-Andrée Vermette, who presided over the case in Ontario said young people “make a compelling case that climate change and the existential threat that it poses to human life present special circumstances that could justify the imposition of positive obligations under section 7 of the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms],” which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security. Despite acknowledging that young people and Indigenous groups would bear the brunt of Ontario’s lack of commitment to uphold its pledge to act on the 2015 Paris climate agreement, she was skeptical that weaknesses in Ontario’s climate plan violated section 7 of the Charter.

    Vermette also dismissed the idea that Ontario’s plan violated section 15 of the charter, which recognizes the right to equality under the law without discrimination. A similar dismissal took place in Québec, where the courts rejected young people’s fight for climate mitigation by refusing to accept that the Québec government has a direct obligation to protect its citizens from climate chaos. The Québec organization Environnement Jeunesse (ENJEU) announced in 2018 that it was taking the Canadian government to court for failing to protect young people from global warming. The court documents begin with the question, “What is the purpose of a government if not to protect the lives and safety of its citizens?” This class action lawsuit was also dismissed.

    An inspiring article in the Guardian interviewed young people from around the world who decided to fight for their right to have a future [tinyurl.com/young-people-court]. Some courts are beginning to listen to young people’s climate arguments. I have followed for years the ups and downs of the US-based Our Children’s Trust, which has forged ahead to defend the claim that young people and future generations have inviolable rights that include climate stability. So far only the Netherlands Supreme Court has ruled in favour of demanding climate action by its government. tinyurl.com/netherlands-court

    Many people cannot but ask why it is that young people need to confront their elected governments by reluctantly taking up the protracted and exhausting fight in the courts to counter the self-imposed inertia of democratically elected governments. Why is it that there have now been 27 UN climate conferences, and yet it is still taboo to even mention having a reduction in fossil fuel production on record at those conferences? Typically, young people are pushed aside at these world summits. As a result, they feel that they have no choice but to go to the place of last resort—the courts—to voice their despair and overturn these flagrant injustices.

    It should be noted here that there have been no court appearances by young people in authoritarian countries, as the courts there are “owned” by those same regimes. But are not western courts similarly “owned” by corporate power? As democratically elected states increasingly fall or are made into one-party states as is the case in Hungary, perhaps we need to say that we are potentially next. Governments that are only beholden to their corporations and not their constituents become plutocracies. As the world rides on the cutting edge of so many crises, those who unfailingly believe that democracy is being threatened must come to the aid of young people to reinforce our protection of Nature—and humanity.