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    Apocalyptic future can be avoided by citizens asking for less

    “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.”

    Flannery O’Connor

    “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”

    Bertrand Russell 

    Last Saturday in Paris a woman placed a blood-red poster over “Les Coquelicots” (“Poppies”) by the French impressionist painter Claude Monet, saying: “This nightmarish image awaits us if no alternative is put in place.” The nightmare is runaway climate heating and biodiversity loss. The painting, depicting Nature’s beauty, is not the first to have been defaced. Young activists point to Earth treasures that will be lost. Of course these actions are meant to shock. If the portrayal of Nature is so revered, why do we allow Nature, which inspired the painting, to be desecrated? People need to accept that having less, especially in the global north, but also demanding less, will rejuvenate Earth. 

    I approached Teresa Bassaletti, director of Sherbrooke’s centre for women immigrants, a few weeks ago to ask her whether immigrants, including refugees the centre supports, feel traumatized when they hear the sound of fireworks. Her answer was swift: the fireworks sound like bombs going off and the women she knows want those massive explosions, which happen frequently in summer, to end. Furthermore, there are readily available alternatives that don’t recreate the sounds of war. As a result of our conversation, Teresa and I, accompanied by seven women from the centre, went to speak to Sherbrooke city council at their public meeting on May 21. Teresa told the council that the fireworks affect the women’s lives by bringing back nightmarish memories. Many refugees suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Although chair of the meeting councillor Raïs Kibonge and mayor Évelyne Beaudin welcomed the testimony and empathized with the refugees, it isn’t clear whether the council will support a ban on fireworks when they sign a new contract with La Fête du Lac des Nations in the coming months. Will the pro-fireworks lobby be too much to withstand? A strategy is now coming to fruition for the Sherbrooke council to be in no doubt as to how immigrants and other Sherbrooke citizens are affected by those war-like sounds.

    Two weeks ago I mentioned in an article that smoking ads are widely prohibited and that climate offensive products should be too, including advertising for pick-up trucks and other large vehicles. One major city council in Scotland has done just that. You won’t see any advertising for fossil-fuel-powered cars, or indeed for cruise ships or airlines, on city buses or land owned by the city of Edinburgh, because the council believes that the high carbon emissions associated with such activities are incompatible with net zero ambitions.

    https://tinyurl.com/Edinburgh-bans-ads

    Scotland’s capital is not the only city in the UK to ban advertisements that promote irresponsible fossil fuel use. Advertisements that show cars driving up roadless pristine mountains or forging rivers are no longer to be tolerated. Toyota’s ad campaign “Born to Roam” (all over every corner of the planet) has been banned by the UK’s regulatory Advertising Standards Authority.

    https://tinyurl.com/SUV-off-roads

    “SUVs are being sold on a false promise of rugged adventure exploiting imagery of the natural world,” said Adfree Cities’ co-director Veronica Wignall. “In reality, SUVs are harming Nature, polluting our air, clogging up our cities and causing tragic loss of life.”

    Being climate/biodiversity literate informs us that we need to put into action what we have learnt from science and must go on to divest from many of our global north entitlements. It is not only universities, pension funds and banks that are finally being forced to take notice. Yet many of us wish to rationalize and bargain our way out of any perceived inconveniences. Recently someone told me that because they didn’t have any children they felt comfortable with flying whenever they wished, because having children is one of the major sources of more intensive consumerism and a higher carbon footprint. Comparing apples with oranges? As most of us are aware, children’s lives aren’t solely measured by their carbon footprint, and climate literate parents can inspire their children to have a very prudent consumer mindfulness throughout their lives.

    Although it’s true that one of the most efficient ways to lower an individual’s carbon footprint is to have fewer children (notably in the global north), this “educated” person thought it was their right to pollute on an equal carbon level to that of a parent. Of course an Indian child’s carbon budget wouldn’t even get you to the airport. Take a private plane? Sure, they said, even though a private plane pollutes ten times as much per passenger as a commercial one does.

    By hook or by crook that person demands their “credits” to add to planetary pollution. It sounds like an insane climate game to keep up with the Joneses—and the endgame is guaranteed climate destruction. That person reminded me of a pouting infant demanding her pound of goodies after seeing the baby next door devouring a corresponding mound of junk. This perverse “argument” promoting essentially rampant individualism is a legacy of capitalism gone wild. If all of us only respond to realizing our own wishes, shielded from consequences, oblivious to others, and refuse to be climate literate and protect the Earth for future generations, all is definitely lost. The 10% of the world’s population that is steadily ransacking the health of the other 90% needs to back off. Being climate/biodiversity criminals is not what humans should aspire to. 

    Conversations that centre on degrowth actions by individuals, communities, corporations and governments need to be accelerated. Inspired by John Lewis Gaddis’s On Grand Strategy, the means and ends to fulfill desire or indeed achieve anything not only need to reflect the capacity to do so, but also should be tethered and tempered by a global ethic that mirrors the beauty and fragility of this world. 

    Knowingly pursuing a course of action that increases carbon emissions should be a global criminal offence. While Biden is refusing to allow more natural gas export terminals in the United States, Greece, which produces 70% of its electricity from renewables, has emerged as a exporter of natural gas to Central Europe and beyond—but the gas is being imported first from the US! As Canadians know all too well, we have taken part in that extravaganza of gas exporting, which has a terrible climate and biodiversity cost.

    Despite the world gas industry branding their production as a “transition fossil fuel” leading to a renewable energy commitment, their actions prove that this is not their intention. The rush to cash in on gas exports after the Ukraine war began has created on a global scale a huge hindrance to moving briskly towards renewable energies, even though solar and wind power are cheaper than the production of methane gas. (“Natural gas” is a slick way of saying it must be good if the gas is “natural,” even though methane is in the near term a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.)

    Demanding that the natural world be subjugated so that those super-consumers can have it all must be stopped. Climate/biodiversity literacy starts at home. Ask yourself if you truly need those outdoor lights on all night. Scientists tell us that natural nighttime darkness is essential for insects and other animals to thrive. If we are to help the myriad forms of life to heal, can we not also be quieter? Noise is a major contributor to wildlife stress, including by not giving animals a quiet space from dusk to daylight. Fireworks are a real problem for wildlife, and allowing the use of seismic reflection for ocean oil exploration interferes severely with the ability of many marine species to function. 

    World Environment Day took place on June 5, focusing this year on land restoration, desertification and drought resilience. Saudi Arabia is the “host” country for the discussions, even though it is in no small part responsible for worldwide habitat loss, desertification and drought. How could the UN allow one of the world’s largest oil producers to be the poster child for the UN’s oldest Nature education day? Nothing can change until we recalibrate, recreate and recall our seamless integration within Nature.

    “In proportion as [a person] simplifies [their] life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

    Henry David Thoreau

    Climate literacy starts with recognising that we are part of Nature

    “I’d make this the lead story in every paper and newscast on the planet. If we don’t understand the depth of the climate crisis, we will not act in time.”

    —Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org

    “Half of our climate debt is hidden under the carpet of a forgiving planet. If we don’t protect it, we will cause unstoppable, permanent, and irreversible damage.” 

    Johan Rockström, joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research 

    Last week several days focused on our planet’s ecological wellbeing – Endangered Species Day, May 17; World Bee Day, May 20; International Day for Biological Diversity, May 22; World Turtle Day, May 23.World Environment Day follows on June 5. These days celebrate the natural world and educate the public to be more involved with it. They are there to inform all governments too: the basis for all economics is Nature. It is vital to encourage climate and biodiversity literacy. But, as an amazing and engaging website makes clear, knowing about the climate begins with the recognition that we are one with Nature: https://tinyurl.com/Breathing-with-forest

    But who is listening? People are flying more, taking cruises to formerly off-limits places such as Antarctica, and unabashedly are demanding bigger cars, all of which is astounding in light of recent world climate catastrophes. Humans appear to be living on two parallel planets: one that supports and is interlinked with Nature, and another that is encased in a human construct that knows no self-restraint and indeed flouts the most basic communion with others. (One new condominium complex in Florida has a private lift not only for you but also for your vehicle, so you needn’t ever meet anyone…)

    As an example of this self-siloed individualism, over the last several months I have pointedly noticed an explosion of pickup trucks on our roads. Not only does their sheer size (and in particular the height of their front fenders) make these super-SUVs more dangerous to other road users in a collision, but they are also adding to an already alarming rise in emissions. Just last week global atmospheric CO2 emissions reached a disastrous 426 parts per million (ppm), the highest level since 4 million years ago. (This is 426 molecules of carbon dioxide in one million molecules of air.) Scientists have shown 350 ppm to be the highest safe level. It is as if people are no longer satisfied with having an SUV, which is destructive enough, and now they need to go for broke. I call this the “Pickup Culture,” whereby you can pick up nods of approval from other people for your status-riddled acquisition. Most people put very little in the cargo space.

    Of course, farmers and tradespeople need a vehicle that can transport heavy building materials and farm equipment, but the articles I have read on the subject point to conspicuous consumption as the main objective in having an $80,000 Tesla Cybertruck or other off-road pickup vehicle that is constantly being promoted as a crash-through-river-and-mountain anti-Nature statement. Indeed, as most countries now ban smoking advertising, those perverse car ads that proclaim omniscient power over Nature are toxic and should not be allowed either! The global north’s 10% of world population is defined by a super consumerism whose shopping sprees seems to be limitless. No wonder climate scientists are in despair. https://tinyurl.com/Despair-of-climate-scientists

    A few weeks ago, the $34 billion Edmonton to Burnaby Trans Mountain Expansion 980 km pipeline began filling with bitumen to be exported to all parts of the planet. Climate/biodiversity activists, including many Indigenous communities as well as other citizens across Canada grieved upon hearing this news, and with good reason. The pipeline will soon deliver 144,000 barrels a day. This amount will go up over the coming years, but for the sake of a minuscule quantity of the dirtiest and most energy-intensive oil produced on the planet, pristine terrain has been sacrificed, Indigenous territory violently expropriated, and the British Columbian coast put in jeopardy.

    Add to this oil tanker traffic polluting with more fossil fuel to get the oil to market, and the project is untenable; include, too, new Alaskan and Ugandan pipelines further adding oil to the daily world usage. Remember that the world currently burns almost 100 million barrels of oil each day! What sort of human gives the green light to build an oil pipeline in the face of accelerating climate change? Clearly there are plenty of us who would do so. Avarice is not in short supply.

    The Pickup Culture is only too happy to bleed Earth dry in order to be cool. And although the vast majority of young people want a climate action plan to be implemented now, 10% of Earth’s population is all too content to open the oil spigot. Americans and Canadians burn around ten times more fossil energy than Indians do. So-called educated people continue to fly or take cruise ships, both of which use vast amounts of oil. Amazingly, many cruises are promoted by National Geographic which receives millions in revenue when rich North Americans fly to southern Chile and take small cruise ships to see penguins and icebergs in Antarctica, along with a National Geographic wildlife photographer who accompanies them to document that they saw these animals before they disappeared because of climate breakdown. Talk about blowing your life’s complete carbon budget.

    At the same time, young people try to take their governments to court to argue that a failure to protect them from climate breakdown is unjust. Most of the time, these court hearings are stopped. One major trial in Oregon ended abruptly this last week. Meanwhile, the following website unflinchingly lays out the role banks play in funding our collective 10% global north madness: https://tinyurl.com/Banking-chaos

    At the same time, in northern Ontario the Omushkego people are protecting what they call the Breathing Lands, as their lands contain vast peat bogs that hold immense quantities of carbon. They wish to protect an area five times the size of Nova Scotia. https://tinyurl.com/Breathing-lands

    Please read the UN Emissions Gap Report 2020 to better understand the “the role of equitable low-carbon lifestyles.” https://tinyurl.com/Equitable-living

    Not sure of all the information you need to be climate literate? A fantastic booklet, Atlas of Climate Change: Changes in the Atmosphere and Risks of Warming enhances our climate/biodiversity literacy. It was written by scientists for the general public to have an informed and strong foundation to make Earth-friendly decisions. https://tinyurl.com/Atlas-of-climate

    We know that conservation actions make a huge difference. A new report points out that great success has come by doggedly pursuing biodiversity goals. https://tinyurl.com/Conservation-actions, and a recent meeting attended by all countries connected to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity made headway to protect Nature at the upcoming conference in Colombia this autumn.

    Finally, a world symposium on climate literacy will take place online this September. The organizers say: “The many challenges posed by climate change outline the need for climate change literacy… As climate change affects all sectors of society, climate literacy is necessary for everyone, from policy-makers and scientists to students and the general public, ensuring a well-informed community ready to tackle these challenges effectively.” https://tinyurl.com/Climate-literacy-symposium 

    We dance round in a ring and suppose,
    But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

    —Robert Frost

    Giving young people a public voice: a conversation with Ugandan climate/biodiversity activist Nicholas Omonuk

    This is a conversation featuring a dedicated young man who has worked tirelessly to bring climate/biodiversity awareness to many schools and communities in Uganda. I first spoke with Nicholas in a global online meeting of people who were discussing climate breakdown. 

    Nicholas, please tell us a little about your life when you were growing up.

    I grew up in a rural community of Pallisa in Eastern Uganda in a pastoralist family. My family heavily relied on livestock as a critical source of food, labour and milk.

    In our tribe the boys are meant to take livestock for grazing, and the girls fetch water for home use. Through this combined effort there is equal delegation of tasks and in such a way we would be able to have water at home and keep our livestock healthy. My father would sell milk, livestock and cash crops like cotton so that he could pay our school fees and handle the basic needs at home.

    As I grew up we faced severe droughts, which dried up most of the seasonal wells that provided water in the village and to livestock in the community. The droughts not only depleted our water wells and grazing lands but also resulted in food scarcity. Together with my brothers, I embarked on extensive journeys with livestock in search of accessible water and grassy areas located kilometres away from their residence. We would leave at about 9am after  breakfast and come back at around 2 or 3pm.

    Simultaneously, my sisters also had to walk longer distances to fetch water from the nearest available water wells and boreholes that still had some water. Although the water was not clean enough, they did not have a choice but to fetch that water. Our livestock grew malnourished and it became difficult to sell them at a fair market price. Fruits and crops also dried up. Since my father could not get enough money to fend for us, he resorted to rearing chickens to raise extra income. He would sell a tray of eggs for roughly US$2.5, which was below the market price.

    In 2017, I graduated from high school and because I performed well I was given a scholarship to Kyambogo University, a glimmer of hope for me because it enabled me to study for a bachelor’s in surveying in the School of Built Environment, graduating in 2023.

    Did you embrace your connection with Nature as a young child, or was it through your education that you slowly felt such an affinity for Nature and the need to protect it?

    I think for me the connection with Nature was already there. I loved climbing the trees to pick fresh mangoes, and I would climb tamarind trees in my grandfather’s compound to pick and taste the fruits. We also had jackfruit, passion fruits, banana plantations, cotton, cassava and sweet potatoes. Getting these fruits fresh from the garden was exciting for me and was an exercise in trying to explore each one. We also had many trees around our compound and I noticed that some would shed leaves during droughts.

    I didn’t really know as a teen that I had to protect all that we had until I reached the university. Things are different now. I no longer see so many bees in the compound, and it’s difficult to find even a single snake there, yet back in the day you would encounter a snake at almost every tree you climbed. I don’t see squirrels any more, and I don’t see any fireflies at night. So much has changed.

    When did you become an activist? 

    I found out about climate change from the university in 2021. Discovering that the droughts that I had faced as a teen were a result of climate change, I decided to do research and take steps to fight it so that communities like mine don’t have to face the same issues that ours faced. I knew I couldn’t do much at the time, so I decided to become a climate and biodiversity activist to spread more awareness about how climate change is affecting East African communities.

    Do you and your fellow activists think you have made a difference in opposing ecocide?

    I think we are making a difference. One thing we have done is educate communities about climate change. We have also planted trees in over 100 schools, and we have received a good success report of those trees surviving. Besides doing community work, we have organized campaigns on the protection of forests in Uganda like Bugoma Forest and Mabira Forest, which have been threatened by deforestation due to human activity. We have also been campaigning against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) to protect human rights, ecosystems and our climate.

    Uganda calls itself a parliamentary democracy, but one party, whose leader, Yoweri Museveni, is president of Uganda, has oppressed the opposition to such a degree that there really is only one political group. Human Rights Watch has documented human rights abuses. What is your vision for Uganda’s democracy and its ecological heritage?

    I envision our democracy as one where communities are involved in most of the decision-making processes. One thing about our country is that the minority in power make decisions for their own selfish benefit without involving the community. There is a lot of corruption, tribalism and nepotism. At the same time, the opposition is prone to oppression and the risk of loss of life.

    I would love to see a country where there is freedom of speech, where communities have a right to say no if they are not involved in any decision-making processes, and where there is a balance between the opposition and the ruling party.
     

    Nicholas has shown great courage and dedication in climate/biodiversity action. Here he tells me of the impacts of a major oil pipeline that, if built, would run through Uganda and Tanzania. 

    The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is a 1443-kilometre pipeline being built by TotalEnergies, China National Offshore Oil Company and the state-owned Uganda National Oil Company with the Tanzania National Oil Company to transport oil produced from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. Nicholas, please tell our readers why you and other activists in Uganda are adamantly opposed to this pipeline.

    We are against the pipeline for a number of reasons:

    • Displacement and loss of livelihoods

    The construction of the EACOP has resulted in the forced displacement of local communities, who have lost their lands and properties. People have been relocated without fair compensation. The project has left these people without farms, money for education, adequate shelter, and a sense of belonging, leading to increased food insecurity for those affected.

    • Environmental consequences

    The pipeline’s route crosses more than 200 water bodies, which are vital sources of food, provide habitat for diverse animal species, and support biodiversity. The project endangers life both underwater and on land, jeopardizing ecosystems and the livelihoods of people dependent on these resources.

    Besides that, some of the oil wells for the pipeline are located in the middle of Murchison Falls National Park, which is home to threatened wildlife.

    • Human–animal conflicts

    The noise from the oil drilling has driven animals out of their usual territories and onto people’s land, leading to conflict between wild animals and humans. Local people’s lives are at risk, and as of today at least six people have been killed by elephants in villages around Murchison Falls National Park.

    • Climate change impact

    One of the most significant global challenges we face is climate change. It is estimated that the EACOP project will emit over 34 million tonnes of CO2 every year, contributing to global warming. The consequences of this will include more frequent floods, heatwaves, droughts, landslides and heavy rains. While Uganda and Africa as a whole emit a fraction of global carbon emissions, they bear the brunt of the climate crisis. This raises critical questions about fairness in addressing climate change.

    • Oppression and restrictions 

    Climate activists and others who have tried to oppose the project have faced severe oppression from Oil Taskforce police and the army. In addition, people are not allowed to fish or farm in areas close to the site, evidenced by the capture of fishing boats from locals who try to fish around there.

    Climate activists have faced illegal detention, beatings, arrests and blackmail.

    Various pro-Nature groups have accused TotalEnergies of being perpetrators of “climaticide.” Do you agree with them?

    Yes. TotalEnergies is responsible for over 40 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. This means that it has made an immense contribution to the climate crisis. Besides that, most of the TotalEnergies projects have had appalling effects on human rights, ecosystems, and the health and livelihoods of people in the global south.

    In your opinion, can the global south, of which Uganda is a part, prevail in its insistence on social and ecological justice as a prerequisite for an equitable relationship with a post-colonial global north that can finally bring colonialism to an end?

    I believe the global south can prevail in instilling social and ecological justice. Most people in the global south are very much connected with Nature and ecosystems. To them land means food for their children, it means cultural heritage, it’s their home, it’s their source of income, and it’s also where they seek medication when they fall sick.

    If global north countries do not tamper with our land, with our resources, I believe we can have social and ecological justice. Before colonialism and the scramble for and partition of Africa, people used to live in harmony with each other and with Nature.

    I think if local communities are allowed to decide on their own what they do with their land, and whether they favour any specific fossil fuel project, it will be easy to have social justice. I think that before any project is set up in any global south country the different risks should be analyzed, and if they are great then the project has to be stopped without causing any damage. But with corruption and capitalism it has been easy to set up such disastrous projects that affect our climate and biodiversity.

    Nicholas plans to attend the next UN climate conference with other young people from the global south. As a result of his direct experience of UN climate conferences in Egypt and the UAE, he feels strongly that the meetings offer young people an important opportunity to exchange ideas about how to protect our planet. He also hopes to study for a master’s degree in climate and society. 

    Please visit https://www.stopeacop.net/ to better understand how disastrous the oil pipeline is for the people of Uganda, Tanzania and the rest of the world. You can also help by signing petitions mentioned on the website.

    The proposed route looks almost as if it were drawn to endanger as many animals as possible.”

    Bill McKibben, climate/biodiversity activist

    Earth Day brings together what matters

    “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
    There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
    There is society where none intrudes,
    By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
    I love not Man the less, but Nature more”

    Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage 

    “We need the tonic of wildness—to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of Nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features . . . the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.” 

     —Henry David Thoreau, Walden 

    When, years ago, I visited the surrounding land and swam in Walden Pond, not far from Concord, Massachusetts and made famous by Henry David Thoreau, who went to live there in a small cabin in 1845, I had already read Walden; or, Life in the Woods, which describes his stay there over a period of two years. I had time to reflect on where I was going as I cycled there from Boston, and felt that I was approaching a sacred place. Oddly, there was no one else there, and I was pleased to find the water clean and inviting.

    I had known since the age of 15, when I had first read Walden and Thoreau’s other writings, including On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, that I could trust his deep connection to Nature. He had built his cabin from repurposed and found materials, all for the grand sum of $28.12½ (equivalent to $938 today). I have tried to emulate his handiness and quest for living a simple life. I have never felt happier than when being with people in the tropics who do not have a door to their dwelling.

    Walden Pond hasn’t changed since Thoreau was there, though the trees are broader and higher. I’m not alone in my praise or in taking a pilgrimage to Walden Pond, as thousands have come too. His sojourn there was an inspiration for the world to cherish Earth. 

    The renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote a letter to Thoreau more than a century later. He imagined the two of them a-sauntering through the woods and spoke of his gratitude for Thoreau’s presence in a prologue to his book The Future of Life. He even invited Thoreau to join him and a hundred others at Walden Pond on July 4, 1998 for the first Biodiversity Day (sometimes called a BioBlitz, in which local people and scientists try to find and document all the forms of life in a small area of land and water).

    https://tinyurl.com/Letter-to-Thoreau

    He also sang Thoreau’s praises as the “founding saint of the conservation movement,” and wrote, “a lake is the eye of the world through which—your metaphor—we can measure our own souls.”

    Wilson believed that giving young people an interactive set of discussions on biology would foster a deeper love for Nature. His free 7-unit, 41-chapter multimedia work E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth, written for high school students, is remarkable. You can download the series from the iBooks Store. As an example, the description of cells is astonishing, and to see one magnified 10,000 times took my breath away. Such beauty. We are taken into the multi-faceted interlocking parts of the cell. We see how a cell lives. This series certainly helps us celebrate Nature’s wonders.

    https://tinyurl.com/eow-life-on-earth

    All of this brings me to the celebrations, protests, concerts, lectures, films and poetry gatherings that started in 1970 for Earth Day—a grassroots initiative that has become the world’s largest secular holiday, and that for many of us has expanded into Earth Week. Earth Day itself falls on April 22, but many times it’s scheduled to take place on the weekend before or after a mid-week April 22 to enable more people to attend. The official theme for 2024 is Planet vs. Plastics.

    The deadly effect of plastics for humans and other animals is well known, so highlighting the UN negotiations on substantially curbing plastics on such a recognized global event as Earth Day makes sense. The UN negotiators are at last moving ahead with a global plastics treaty. Their fourth session starts in Ottawa this coming week.

    https://tinyurl.com/UN-plastics-treaty

    This weekend the Center for Biological Diversity and others in the Break Free From Plastic movement will rally to remind the negotiators what’s at stake: human rights, public health, the climate, and the environment. 

    https://tinyurl.com/micro-plastics-human-health

    “We need to ensure that we use, reuse, and recycle resources more efficiently. And dispose safely of what is left over. And use these negotiations to hone a sharp and incisive instrument to carve out a better future, free from plastic pollution,” said Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Inger Andersen.

    You can learn more about Earth Day at https://tinyurl.com/Earth-Day-conversation

    Having a day or a week to meditate on appreciating as well as protecting our wonderful planet is clearly not enough. There are many internationally designated theme days that should also be contemplated, including, to name a few that many have taken part in, World Water Day, World Wetlands Day, World Environment Day, World Population Day, International Day of Forests, Amphibian Week, World Oceans Day, World Frog Day, World Rainforest Day, and International Day for Biological Diversity. These events are meant to educate us into becoming activists for protecting our Earth, and the global north needs to take particular notice.

    Earth Day celebrates our enfolding commitment to Earth. Is Earth Day, then, the binding of all the above celebratory days, and the centre of our love for life on Earth? Many say that Earth Day is every day. Let’s make it so. 

    Global North off the charts and tone-deaf to Nature’s plea for help

    “High-income countries use six times more materials per capita and are responsible for ten times more climate impacts per capita than low-income countries.”

    Global Resources Outlook 2024

    Besides the usual musical definition of “tone-deaf” there is this one: “Having or showing an obtuse insensitivity or lack of perception particularly in matters of public sentiment, opinion, or taste.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary

    Jubilation followed the news that a biodiverse and fecund cold-water coral reef off the coast of British Columbia had been discovered by Indigenous people and that another reef had been discovered near the Galápagos Islands. Calls to immediately protect the areas received support. At a time when warming oceans are harbingers of coral bleaching, any good news gets its rightful share of publicity, but is it enough?

    A concatenation of ongoing Earth crises is upon us, but not because the warnings haven’t been voiced. Governments have been swayed by corporate money instead of being clarion voices for their own peoples’ wellbeing.

    More than a century after Eunice Newton Foote recognized and articulated the greenhouse effect in 1856 (something that has often wrongly been attributed to John Tyndall), the oil companies’ scientists realized that there is long-term danger from burning fossil fuels, which increases the temperature not only in the atmosphere but also in the ocean. They kept this knowledge from the public because they wanted to maximize profits.

    In 1985 the astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan laid out before the US government the coming existential crisis that humanity would face if greenhouse gases were not urgently curtailed in the coming decades. https://tinyurl.com/Carl-Sagan-speaks

    Sagan called for all nations to act together on a plan to combat the rise of emissions so that future generations could flourish. The eminent climate scientist James Hanson, testifying in 1988 in front of Congress, basically said the same thing.

    In 1989, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature, the first popular book on the perils of increasing climate warming. The 1992 Rio Earth Summit helped to cement the relationship between Earth systems, economics and political engagement, and the resulting Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed by most countries, including the United States, and the landmark accord was the first global treaty to explicitly address climate change.

    In 1992 some 1,700 leading scientists signed a letter of warning asking for immediate action “if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” More than 15,000 scientists endorsed a second warning 27 years later, declaring a climate emergency and detailing the need to limit the human population and reduce the per capita consumption of meat and, amongst other resources, fossil fuels. The 2006 climate documentary based on Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth reached millions of people and helped launch the climate movement. 

    Even though humanity has witnessed the multifaceted catastrophes brought on by rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, there is no enforceable treaty in sight to reduce these emissions. Take methane, for example. Although it is a much shorter-lived gas than carbon dioxide, its potency to heat up the planet is many times greater. Aggressively reducing its emissions can give us some drastically needed time to focus on carbon dioxide.

    However, although nations have pledged to reduce methane, the vast majority do not accurately report their emissions statistics to the UN. What emerges is a potpourri of estimates and downright lies. “Satellite data analysed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows methane emissions from oil and gas fields globally are around 70 percent higher than governments claim, mainly because of unreported leaks and flaring.” From Turkmenistan to the US and Canada, there is a great deal of cheating. https://tinyurl.com/undercounted-emissions

    How can the UN finally call out the industries that have not curtailed emissions? Enter the MethaneSAT satellite, which can pinpoint where all the methane is coming from and hold governments and corporations accountable by “ushering in a new era of climate transparency and accountability.” https://tinyurl.com/methane-momentand https://www.methanesat.org

    We also need to have an intelligent and perhaps intense discussion regarding the methane produced by belching cows, which is the greatest agricultural source of the gas and is impacting climate change. Through diet and breeding, concerned farmers are working on reducing the methane produced by cows, but more emphasis needs to be placed on eliminating meat from our diet altogether, as this would also make room for a resplendent biodiversity turnaround.

    After seemingly large public climate education gains in the last 6 years, beginning with Extinction Rebellion’s 2018 creative civil disobedience strategies and, inspired by Greta Thunberg, Fridays For a Future climate actions across the globe, governments and corporations are now backtracking on their commitments to make large dents in their greenhouse gas emissions, to the dismay of climate/biodiversity scientists, social justice advocates and concerned citizens everywhere. Though some investment companies are implementing positive changes to their climate/biodiversity policies and the advice they give their clients, many of the world’s largest are erasing from their literature their resolve to do so.

    A new word has emerged that describes these reactionary decisions: “greenhushing” is when these corporations no longer publicly express pro-climate business advice or frame their financial planning around knowledge based on climate science. What they say behind closed doors might lend credibility for green policies, but it’s hush-hush now. From mighty banks to corporations, mum’s the word.

    https://tinyurl.com/icn-greenhushing

    Suddenly, governments are afraid to affront the fossil fuel industry and their cronies and are retracting promises to spend billions on climate/biodiversity action. Even the new rules approved by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, detailing how public companies disclose to investors climate risks and the greenhouse gas emissions they produce, have been watered down. 

    Right-wing threats to sue or haul these institutions in front of hostile government committees, suppress new pro-Earth strategies and have pressured the largest banks and investment corporations to mute their new found enthusiasm for the transition away from fossil fuels. This spells a disaster for future generations. Why would we be surprised? It has never been easy to get past the corporate self-imposed barriers that artificially separate business decisions from a more holistic planetary approach, even if that approach will ultimately distribute greater financial benefits over the long term. 

    It’s not only business models that don’t accurately reflect the required impetus towards the greener technologies, ecological responsibilities and ethical obligations that many investors are now clamouring for. The highly complex scientific climate models that have been used for 40 years to guide society haven’t by a long way kept up with the on-the-ground realities of the climate crisis. Those same models that inform, amongst others, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change must reflect the rapidly unfolding climate emergency. We simply haven’t internalized what is around us. By burrowing our heads in the sand we aren’t even attuned to the crises. Yes, our bodies and minds in the west are tone-deaf to visceral reaction by Nature to the onslaught. Climate models haven’t responded to the severity of what is swiftly challenging those models, so a huge chasm has appeared. Models are no longer adequately advising humanity of future planetary upheavals. Erica Thompson’s book Escape from Model Land: How Mathematical Models Can Lead Us Astray and What We Can Do About It details the growing concern with these models.

    Let us be inspired by the five women Amnesty International recently highlighted for their fervent voices for climate justice.

    “Local and Indigenous communities should be at the center of conversations around climate justice, and have a key role to play in seeking solutions. Their voices must be heard, including those from the youth and women, and the solutions they propose should be considered and implemented.”

    Astrid Puentes, environmental lawyer, Colombia-Mexico.

    https://tinyurl.com/Amnesty-activists

    Are electric vehicles truly a panacea for our fossil fuel ills?

    “The long lifetime of fossil fuel CO, creates a sense of fleeting folly about the use of fossil fuels as an energy source. Our fossil fuel deposits, 100 million years old, could be gone in a few centuries, leaving climate impacts that will last for hundreds of millennia. The lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere is a few centuries, plus 25% that lasts essentially forever. The next time you fill your tank, reflect upon this.”

    The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate by David Archer, geophysicist 

    Monday’s eclipse experience viscerally includes all of us as beings of the universe who do not control the heavenly orbs. Most of the time we forget this at our ultimate peril. A few dozen private jets came to Sherbrooke for the occasion, spewing pollution and causing more haze.

    The history of our use of fossil fuels is one of utter devastation. Wars, expropriation of lands, biodiversity loss, climate breakdown, glacial melting, vast areas of contamination affecting land, oceans, rivers and aquifers, massive human rights violations, huge health impacts and even constant small spillages of gas or oil in our streets and neighbourhoods, are leading to untold suffering that is already beginning to unfold. As oil companies in 2024 increase their obscene profits so does their legacy of pillaging Nature expand.

    Four years ago I bought a small electric car, and these days I have many conversations about electric vehicles (EVs). Most people’s negative reactions to them range from passionate opposition to being worried about whether there are sufficient rapid charging stations along the roads. 

    Frankly, I’m perplexed why those same educated people seem to forget that their lives have been spent travelling by plane, buying carbon-intensive products (including cars, electric or not) and generally being in the top 10% of the world’s population that is ripping apart the natural world through biodiversity loss, fossil fuel pollution and climate heating. Canada is one of the top five elite and notorious countries for overconsumption. As people accelerate their use of flights—Montreal’s Trudeau airport is getting a C$4 billion facelift to tempt them to do so—the simplest research shows that there is a lot going for electric vehicles, if only to massively lower pollution levels, as well as getting rid of the chemical stench from fossil cars’ exhaust which is not often spoken of. 

    But the details make the arguments in favour of EVs appear less clear-cut and merit examination.

    The majority of new cars will probably be electric by 2040. Some of the very valid questions that come up all the time concern the vast amounts on energy and water needed to produce them, as well as the difficult recycling process, on which only now is any progress being made. 

    https://tinyurl.com/Lithium-questions

    Like all road vehicles, EVs use tires, which through particle abrasion are a major contributor to air and water pollution, with humans and wildlife equally affected. (Fishers are suing tire companies for polluting rivers.) In fact, because of the weight of the batteries EVs carry, their tires wear out faster those of fossil-fueled (ICE) vehicles, causing greater pollution. https://tinyurl.com/Tires-toxic-pollution

    And if you are considering buying an electric SUV or, worse, an electric pickup truck, think again: the fossil energy required to build those monsters outweighs any climate benefits for a very long time–and they use larger tires.

    Québec’s hydro-electricity source can be counted as one good reason to drive an EV. In Québec we like to think that our hydro production is the cleanest source of electricity, but there are serious problems associated with it. Does it cause less climate heating than coal, gas or oil generation? Of course, but it releases considerable quantities of dissolved methane from the breakdown of vegetation through disturbing the water. Fortunately there is research going ahead to capture this potent greenhouse gas from the dams. https://tinyurl.com/Hydro-dams-and-methane

    We also need to remember that Québec’s hydro dams come with ethical issues relating to the large areas of land that are flooded and the displacement of Indigenous communities in order to build them.

    Another contentious issue relating to EVs is the mining for lithium, nickel and cobalt for the batteries, as well as the production of the batteries themselves, both of which have a vast impact on local people’s lives and the surrounding Nature. Many new mines violate the rights of Indigenous communities, and most of the time there has been little or no consultation between communities, mining companies and governments. Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Nevada is one such devastating mining extravaganza approved by government, and it will operate on federal lands, no less. A court recently refused to rescind the mining permit despite the acknowledged harm accruing to the land and the people living there. 

    Closer to home, the Québec government allowed electric battery producer Northvolt to obtain permits for EV battery production close to Montreal without going through a thorough assessment process. Considering that a different development was refused building permits on the same precious wetland area, I do wonder what twisted machinations came to pass… There have been many protests, but Northvolt is still pushing ahead. https://tinyurl.com/Northvolt-protests

    Conversely, a proposal by Rio Tinto to develop one of Europe’s largest lithium mines, in Serbia, was also strongly opposed, and in 2022 the permits to proceed were rescinded, although the corporation is still trying to find a way forward. 

    The devastation continues: Indonesia finds itself in the midst of huge criticism for allowing nickel mining to proceed on an island where an Indigenous uncontacted tribe lives. Adlun Fikri, a Sawai activist from Sagea, summed up the situation: “In the upstream area where they mine, it’s destructive, degrading forest, destroying forest, and causing human rights violations. The local residents here bear the cost for global ambition [net zero]. Western people enjoy the electric vehicle, and meanwhile we get the negative impact.” 

    The introduction of a coal-fired nickel-smelting complex in the area is also causing considerable damage and distress.

    “It is an unacceptable, false climate solution to build new captive coal plants to power nickel processing operations and to deforest such large areas for nickel mining,” said Krista Shennum, a researcher at Climate Rights International. “Electric vehicle companies should ensure their critical mineral supply chains are fossil fuel free, and foreign governments—including the U.S. and E.U. member states—should provide financial support to Indonesia’s energy transition, including to decommission these coal plants.” https://tinyurl.com/Indonesia-nickel-project 

    If the global north is to break from its colonial mindset, it must stop expecting that there have to be sacrificial zones for its ill-begotten extractive technologies. A new social paradigm must ensure that social justice is the norm and basis for all actions, and ecologically driven policies must underscore it, turning away at last from the excesses of the Industrial Revolution. 

    What, then, is there to celebrate about EVs? In my opinion, they are undoubtedly the lesser of two evils. In fact, I have never read a peer-reviewed study that concluded otherwise. Over their lifetime, electric cars do not pose the heightened climate risks that fossil-burning (ICE) cars do. True, it takes a couple of years to pay back all the fossil fuel emissions embodied in their manufacture, but over the lifetime of the vehicle the pollution is less than that of a typical ICE car. Every small reduction is significant. If possible, getting rid of a car is always the best solution.

    EVs, no matter their size, cut down drastically the obnoxious odours, air and noise pollution where that is needed most: the city. And whereas EV reliance on fossil energy for charging their batteries slowly diminishes with the increasing use of renewables, fossil-fueled vehicles will emit harmful pollution every second of their existence.

    Electric vehicles will not save us from ourselves and will definitely not stop by themselves the slide towards climate/biodiversity collapse, but they are one part of the endeavour to turn a final page on fossil fuels.

    It is definitely not to our governments and certainly not to the corporations that voraciously encircle society that I look for glimpses of humanity’s better self. A week ago I visited Sherbrooke’s Café 440 on Wellington South. The café hosts many events, including traditional dancing and discussions. Possibly eighty people under the age of 40 were there to listen to Caroline Desruisseaux, who is obtaining her masters degree from Université de Sherbrooke, speak about Québec’s Indigenous people, biodiversity and climate heating. Apart from the occasional move of a chess piece, everyone was in rapt silence. All of those bright, vigilant people are the reason why there is cause to believe that we can transform our growing ecological tragedy into a celebration for Earth justice and peace.

    Global north’s agenda continues to impoverish all life

    So you should view this fleeting world —
    A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
    A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
    A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

    Diamond Sutra

    “Costing the Earth” is a phrase that will be familiar to most of us, in the sense of something being excessively expensive; but with biodiversity loss and climate change both accelerating, the expression should be used literally—to denote that a lack of action to reverse industrial societies’ voracious and extractivist demands will cost life on Earth its home. At last it has factual teeth, and we must take seriously that the cost is not merely financial or metaphorical, but indeed existential. “Costing the Earth,” then, carries an imperative to carefor Earth.

    BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth and other similarly named podcasts and lectures are dedicated to exposing and reorienting the direction humanity needs to take to protect Earth’s complex and marvellous ecosystem. Grotesquely, however, the phrase “costing the Earth” has been used as a slogan by corporations and governments that put forth the fraudulent case that taking action outside their fossilized agendas is not economically viable. Their organized and reckless irresponsibility has created an omnishambles of vast proportions. 

    There are encouraging signs, however. Students want—and need—big changes. A diet dependent on the exploitation of animals places an enormous burden on humanity’s ability to mitigate climate heating and wildlife/biodiversity loss, and scores of university student unions are now demanding that food supplied on campus be vegetarian or vegan. https://www.plantbaseduniversities.org/blog

    Banners with slogans like “Plant-based university: end the climate crisis” are being unfurled across European campuses, achieving startling success that not only translates into much lower carbon emissions at those universities, but also acts as a catalyst for more dialogue amongst students, their families and communities to demand action on biodiversity, climate and pollution. As these interlinked crises expand and are felt viscerally by a growing population of younger generations, the clear decision to be vegan is overwhelmingly being embraced. Canadian universities are slowly catching on, and Concordia University now offers free vegan lunches. https://tinyurl.com/CBC-vegan-alternative

    When people are able to express their demands for climate/biodiversity action and are successful in initiating those changes, they feel better about themselves and their prospects. Eco-anxiety has been radically expanding amongst students, who gut-wrenchingly are beginning to despair. So, for example, when the group Éco-Motion came to Bishop’s University to mentor a group of a dozen or so students for two hours during the university’s mental health week this winter, the students were given the opportunity to explore their feelings through conversation and written material. It is clear that further sessions are needed. https://www.collectif-ecomotion.org/

    In my article “No student should be denied climate education” in this newspaper on September 15 last year, I advocated for an intense redirection of curricula, as seen in some European universities, to reflect the urgent need to mainstream the interlocking crises into courses offered at these institutions. Bringing in speakers to meet with students sets the stage for more interaction. A recent public talk at Bishop’s University by Canadian Senator Rosa Galvez, “Driving climate change action,” was a way to inspire students to participate and to gain a deeply needed sense of agency, but it was only a beginning. 

    Recently I have come to know a little of the important ecological work that the renowned Indian ecologist Dr. S. Faizi has actively fought for. He has helped give a voice to the global south and has eloquently expressed the overwhelming need to have Indigenous peoples be the stewards of biodiversity instead of the typical tyranny of post-colonial governments pushing aside Indigenous knowledge. As a negotiator for ecological rights of the south, he has proposed establishing a United Nations Environmental Security Council for addressing ecocides, and at the same time disbanding the UN Security Council, which he accuses of being anti-democratic; those powers should be given back to the general assembly of the UN.

    Dr. Faizi’s work in forest conservation in India and his activism in standing with Indigenous groups to protect their lands have brought him numerous accolades. He is a mentor for many who strongly believe that the north–south axis has left the global south impoverished. As a demonstration of this he recently wrote an essay, “Self-withering: The Biodiversity Convention and its new Global Biodiversity Framework,” which details how the global north makes it extremely difficult for the global south to have agency over its ecological destiny. At present, he points out, there is no requirement for a “north-south balance” as set out in previous international conservation treaties. He ends by saying, “The climate crisis and biodiversity disruption are likely to cause the extinction of the industrial civilisation in the not-too-distant future. The capitalist mode of infinite exploitation within a finite system carries the seeds of its own destruction.” https://tinyurl.com/South-Centre-Faizi

    Those of us who attended the biodiversity conference in Montreal (COP15) in 2022 realize that there must be immediate and resolute negotiations to bring about a just solution to how the Global Biodiversity Framework includes the aspirations of all nations; otherwise, as Dr. Faizi emphatically states, there will be a “self-withering” of the entire biodiversity project. An inspiring portrait of Dr. Faizi can be found at https://tinyurl.com/Faizi-ecologist

     As well, on 13 March, Dr. Faizi just became one of six recipients for the 2024 Planet Earth Award. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1036826

    As 2024 continues to show a worrying trend for higher temperatures, the southern hemisphere is on the cusp of having its ultra-biodiversity-rich coral reefs decimated. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains: “When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.”

    As Dr. Faizi has so adroitly written, it is the global south that has born the brunt of the global north’s excesses. If the UN Convention on Biological Diversity is to prosper and fulfill its mandate, countries like Canada and the United States (which has not ratified the Convention) must turn away from an apocalyptic future, not by sabotaging efforts, but by empowering the south to foster an enlightened ecological worldview.

    “Nature can be our saviour,” said Inger Anderson, the head of the UN Environment Programme. But only if we save it first.” 

    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