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    Blatant disregard for our children’s future fuels Bay du Nord project

    “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”

    António Guterres, Secretary-general of the United Nations

    “Letter to Cabinet: Reject Bay du Nord and focus on a fair transition for Newfoundland and Labrador”

    Sierra Club Canada

    Merriam-webster dictionary gives one possible definition of the word “radical” as “advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.” According to this definition, do you know of any “dangerous radicals” in Canada’s government? António Guterres said that these government officials were guilty of a “litany of broken climate promises,” adding, “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another. Simply put, they are lying.” [tinyurl.com/ipcc-3guterres]

    Canada has never kept its promises to reach any climate targets it has set for itself, even though its own reports are scientifically certain that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world and that this is effectively irreversible. [tinyurl.com/ipcc-3-2022analysis]

    Canada has no national political “leaders” combating climate breakdown. On June 17, 2019, Canada’s House of Commons declared a national climate emergency by a wide majority. Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, wasn’t there to support the motion, because he went to a Raptors basketball game in Toronto instead. The following morning, the Canadian government announced the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, which would almost triple the flow of tar sands bitumen.

    The key word that always brings into question Canada’s credibility is “target.” Targets are for governments 10 years in the future to ponder, on realizing that the nine previous years accomplished nothing to actualize those goals, so when Trudeau originally spoke about a 30% reduction in carbon emissions in 2030 from a 2005 level, a fact check by the CBC said Canada was not going to remotely make that “target.” When Trudeau and boy wonder Steven Guilbeault speak about a 40–45% reduction in emissions, no one believes them; who will be there in 2030 to admonish them and call them liars? Now, if Guilbeault’s power trajectory takes him to 24 Sussex Drive as Canada’s prime minister after the 2025 election, he might have to scrape around to come up with other reasons for not realizing those critical climate mitigation targets. Consider that 17% of all carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution were emitted between 2010 and 2019. Although the pandemic slowed down emissions, we are now greedily making up for lost time. If we are to meet a carbon budget that enables the world to stay close to a 1.5 Celsius rise, then definitely the Bay du Nord offshore oil project should be cancelled.

    The richest 10% of people on the planet are busily creating almost 50% of all carbon emissions, and Guilbeault’s goals can never be met, especially now that Bay du Nord has increased its original projection of 300 million barrels of oil to potentially 1 billion barrels of oil that will spew and burn by 2028.

    Keeping all this in mind, why would Guilbeault at the beginning of April give the green light to Bay du Nord, and do so right after the most damming IPCC report [https://tinyurl.com/ipcc3-policymakers], which categorically emphasized that there can be no new oil infrastructure if we are to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown? “I think the report tells us that we’ve reached the now-or-never point of limiting warming to 1.5C,” said IPCC lead author Heleen de Coninck. The Summary for Policymakers is only 64 pages long; did anyone read this government-edited and watereddown but still frightening document? Did Andrew Furey, the premier of Newfoundland, who said, “The Bay du Nord project is a go… It is a green light as we progress to a greener future,” declare victory upon hearing Environment and Climate Change minister Guilbeault give the go-ahead, or did he more likely also lobby so hard beforehand that even the science couldn’t make a dent in the cognitive dissonance that portrays this government’s connection to Nature, aboriginal groups and the rest of us? Maybe Guilbeault really thinks that Bay du Nord is a greenish mega project after all, as Furey seems to believe—or is it that Guilbeault is mixing it up with the end of the 17-year moratorium in Newfoundland on wind power just announced by Furey and fervently believes that the upcoming oil extraction at Bay du Nord will take on a tint of green? 

    Hey, do we really not now know what one of UN Guterres’ radicals looks like in Canada? It’s not just the journalists who can’t figure out why this Liberal government time after time insults sound scientific evidence. An open letter sent by Sierra Club Canada a month before the cabinet accepted the project, and signed by over 120 organizations, stated why the Canadian government should walk away from the Bay du Nord project! Talk about not listening to your citizens! [tinyurl.com/sierra-club-letter]

    It is not difficult to search out and read a bunch of Canadian newspapers, including Sherbrooke’s Tribune, which commented on the Bay du Nord project—Mickaël Bergeron’s April 9 article was titled Le manque de cran de Trudeau (“Trudeau’s lack of guts”)— and quickly recognize that the vast majority of journalists were not part of a cheerleading chorus for the government’s ill-informed decision. One online journal headline was “Climate liars, Canada branch.” [tinyurl. com/climate-liars]

    Guterres laid it on even thicker by courageously declaring the IPCC report a “file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world.” With the Earth “already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts,” he emphasized, “This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5° limit agreed in Paris.”

    Guterres must be speaking of Canada’s ‘radical’ prime minister and former climate campaigner ‘radical’ Guilbeault, who pronounced on April 6 that Bay du Nord was “not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects” and touted the corporate public relations fossil lobbyists’ sales pitch that Bay du Nord will be the lowest-carbonemitting project in Newfoundland’s coastal waters. Meanwhile Guterres blasted those new oil infrastructures as being “catastrophic” for long-term planetary health.

    As has been the case with Exxonmobil’s new fossil fuel extraction commitments in Guyana, Guilbeault is following a worrisome arrogant blustery trend: giving the go-ahead on major oil projects within a day or two of the IPCC’S condemnation of new oil infrastructure, and charging gleefully ahead the day after the declaration of a national climate emergency strategy by one of his predecessors. One newspaper called it a “slap on the face” to science. Guterres declared investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure “moral and economic madness.”

    I feel it’s necessary to go further and vigorously point out that the government’s decision to accept the drilling in Bay du Nord by the Norwegian oil company Equinor is a callous betrayal of the children of this country, who will be unable to lead their lives free from the climate and biodiversity breakdown that is constantly causing them massive anxiety. Trudeau and Guilbeault are facilitating ecocide.

    On the day Guilbeault visited Sherbrooke this month, Jacob Auger, a student at Université de Sherbrooke, was there to protest Guilbeault’s oil project. Placard in hand saying “Non à Bay du Nord,” Jacob asked for a surge of protest throughout Québec. These climate protests have already started in London; indeed, let them start here.

    See tinyurl.com/xr-big-oil-april-2022

    The man who loved ants 

    A tribute to a great naturalist: E.O. Wilson

    “The most successful scientist thinks like a poet—wide-ranging, sometimes fantastical—and works like a bookkeeper.”

    E.O. Wilson

    “Unless we move quickly to protect global biodiversity, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth.”

    E.O. Wilson

    When the preeminent American scientist Edward Osborne Wilson died in December last year at the age of 92, the world lost not only one of the greatest naturalists of the last 70 years, but a man who was so much more than a scientist. Wilson was a myrmecologist, one who studies ants, and he was even nicknamed Ant Man. Famously, he discovered how many insects communicate through the production of chemicals called pheromones. 

    I have read many of Wilson’s books. His breadth of knowledge was astounding, and that is why I was drawn to his remarkable pursuits. Books with names such as The Meaning of Human Existence, On Human Nature, The Diversity of Life and The Social Conquest of Earth tell us that Wilson was a man who pondered huge ideas. Was he the foremost expert on ants? Yes, but as the most prominent evolutionary biologist of the last century—he has often been called “the heir to Darwin”—he explored a vast array of potentially controversial subjects throughout his life and loved the challenges associated with these monumental projects.

    One of Wilson’s controversial theories was sociobiology, which he explained as “the systematic study of the biological basis of all forms of social behavior in all organisms.” Many prominent scientists thought it was outrageous to say that altruism, for example, could have evolved through natural selection. Evolution through natural selection was thought to foster only physical and possibly behavioural traits, but Wilson thought this theory did not delve far enough into the multi-dimensional raison d’être that a portrait of the complete human needs to explore—and not just humans, he was quick to say.

    It is unusual for any scientist to have such a profound influence on the course of so many areas of knowledge, and Wilson relished bringing the humanities and science together to solve our greatest problems. He has been one of the most vocal proponents of bringing together the unity of knowledge. It was his view that the cultural significance of the humanities was critical for there to be an expansive understanding of who we are, and that when scientists team up with the humanities to solve our most far-reaching concerns and aspirations, humanity will come together. “It is within the power of the humanities and the serious creative arts within them to express our existence in ways that begin to realize the dreams of the Enlightenment,” he wrote. He liked to imagine that extraterrestrial beings, upon coming to Earth, would not be interested in our technology or science but rather would be fascinated by the art, music, literature and other fields in the humanities that make us unique. 

    Like Darwin, whom he called the greatest scientist in history, Wilson was not only a driven discoverer of previously unnamed species. He also wished passionately to try to answer the big questions that related to human existence. “Where did we come from, what are we, and where are we going?” was a prevailing mantra of his. His life’s work was, James D. Watson (co-author of the academic paper proposing the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule) stated, “a monumental exploration of the biological origins of the human condition.” As a result, Wilson frequently met opposition from other scientists. He had this to say, in his Letters to a Young Scientist, about perseverance: “You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.” And persist he did!

    Throughout his long career Wilson reached out to young people and tried to inculcate a close connection with Nature. His famous bioblitzes would involve many students, who would go out with him for an afternoon or for 24 hours to a city park or a wilderness and catch insects and other creatures to identify. His enthusiasm was contagious and his nonstop efforts were sometimes described as childlike. “For the naturalist, every entrance into a wild environment rekindles an excitement that is childlike in spontaneity, often tinged with apprehension,” he wrote in his 2002 book, The Future of Life. Such experiences, he insisted, remind us of “the way life ought to be lived, all the time.” 

    Children accompanied Wilson in his exploration of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique (and you can see a wonderful video of their bioblitz at https://tinyurl.com/eowilson-bioblitz), but his visit there was also a cautionary tale for us. Here was an incredibly biological diverse place that had been partially destroyed by war and greed. “Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal,” he had emphasized. The purpose of the visit was to find out if Gorongosa could be restored to its previous natural glory (https://tinyurl.com/eowilson-gorongosa). The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory has become a huge success in bringing together a diverse group of local and international enthusiasts to rejuvenate Gorongosa. (In recent years national parks have come under scrutiny because of their blatant disregard for local participation and, even worse, the forced removal of local human populations from newly formed parks.) “Humankind will ultimately awaken to its responsibility to the Earth,” Wilson maintained. In fact, he has emphasized throughout his writings that it will be a common ethics that will be the ultimate driver to protect the planet; we will not succeed otherwise. 

    Wilson called himself an agnostic and declared: “The true cause of hatred and violence is faith versus faith, an outward expression of the ancient instinct of tribalism.” And although he welcomed the role of religions in helping to save the planet, he insisted that “the best way to live in this real world is to free ourselves of demons and tribal gods.” 

    I believe that Wilson’s finest contribution to biology and our world was his steadfast resolve to push forward conservation biology. He was justifiably called “the father of biodiversity.” His very readable short books Biophilia and The Creation lovingly describe our planet’s living world—and indeed the word “biophilia” means “love of biological life”—but he admonished us, saying that a legacy of inaction to protect the diversity of life on Earth will catastrophically push us into the Eremocene, the Age of Loneliness, following the disappearance of millions of species.

    Wilson believed in the power of education, and his proposal for an Encyclopedia of Life led to the creation of an expanding global online database (https://eol.org) to include information on the 1.9 million species we know of. (There may be as many as 10 million species on Earth.) He was deeply alarmed at the acceleration of species extinctions around the world. In 2016 his book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life was published, and he worked tirelessly to promote the Half-Earth Project (https://www.half-earthproject.org), a call to protect half the land and sea on Earth in order to manage sufficient habitat to reverse the species extinction crisis and ensure the long-term health of our planet.

    In 2016 ornithologists discovered a previously unknown ant-eating bird in Peru. Everyone agreed that it should be named after Wilson for his unparalleled work in conservation. The Latin name for this bird is Myrmoderus eowilsoni

    Edward O. Wilson will be mourned by millions and his books will continue to inspire us to be closer to this Earth and our responsibility to protect it.

    New UN climate report issues a drastic warning: act now, or we are done for

    For years developing countries have asked for industrial countries to put aside US$100 billion a year to help poorer countries that never caused the climate crisis and enable them to adapt to the worst of climate breakdown. The money still hasn’t arrived in any consistent amounts and now that goal is probably being further put off by the prospect of war with Russia. In fact, Germany just announced that €100 billion will be spent on defence. As social and ecological nightmares bear down on the world as a result of Putin’s madness, the greatest planetary crisis, climate and biodiversity breakdown, is accelerating. The west has steadfastly refused to act swiftly on weaning itself away from methane gas and oil for its energy requirements—until now, when the safety of renewable energy (not nuclear) has become more appealing in the face of a decision to stop Russian imports of gas. How perverse and ghoulish is it that it takes a war for Europe to take insulating homes seriously! Meanwhile Ukrainian scientist Svitlana Krakovska, a member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has said that the sale of gas and oil to Europe by Russia has funded the war.  “This war…makes this window of opportunity [to stop climate breakdown] even more narrow, because now we have to solve this problem first.”

    It takes years to put together and have the world’s governments accept the scientific findings of the IPCC, which published its first report in 1990. It is eight years since its last exhaustive report came out. On February 27 this year the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report was published. Please see the 37-page Summary for Policymakers (https://tinyurl.com/ipcc-ar6-summary) to learn more. The full report runs to thousands of pages. It assesses the impacts of climate change by looking at ecosystems, biodiversity and human communities at global and regional levels. It also reviews vulnerabilities and the capacities and limits of the natural world and human societies to adapt to climate change. Many scientists are now telling us ominously that these current reports will be the last ones that can guide us away from a doomsday future. Unless the world acts now, a 2030 report will be too late to ferry the world into a safer and more stable climate.

    The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has already called the climate crisis a ‘code red’ emergency, and now with the publication of the second part of the IPCC’s latest report he is more specific. He tells us that this report painfully details what a code red world looks and feels like. Calling the abdication of leadership by world powers ‘criminal’, with the largest polluters “guilty of arson on our only home”, he goes on to say that the newest report is “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership… With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.”

    A synthesis report will be published in September this year, pulling together all the scientific work that not only targets climate, but also focuses in on biodiversity loss, ecological justice and the indisputable need to act now. Inaction will create irreversible negative changes for planetary-safe boundaries to be upheld.

    The concept of risk is a key factor in the report. The many graphics illustrate the complexity of mapping the world’s vulnerabilities. Changes in ecosystem structure, detailed as terrestrial, freshwater and oceans, that focus on all parts of the world’s regions from deserts to arctic and from Asia to North America are highlighted. “Anthropogenic climate change has exposed ocean and coastal ecosystems to conditions that are unprecedented over millennia.” It doesn’t stop there. Impacts on water scarcity, food production, health and wellbeing, cities and even infrastructure are carefully analyzed. What the 330 scientists who have contributed to this latest report are saying with the highest degree of confidence is that the decisions made so far do not bode well for humanity’s prospects.

    The report’s 21st-century analysis is broken into a 2022–2040 scenario, a 2040-plus description, and a later 2060-plus conclusion. Fundamentally the rise of fossil fuel emissions over the century will create irreversible and catastrophic changes. To emphasize this the report says, “Global warming, reaching 1.5 °C in the near-term would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans.” (We are at 1.2 °C now.) Because biodiversity loss accelerates quickly as 1.5°C is passed, more than 3 billion people will be directly impacted. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are in jeopardy: “Climate change including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes [has] reduced food and water security.” 

    Only in the near term can we hope to ward off the worse breakdown scenarios. “Climate change impacts and risks are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage,” the report warns. “Multiple climate hazards will occur simultaneously, and multiple climatic and non-climatic risks will interact, resulting in compounding overall risk and risks cascading across sectors and regions.” Even efforts to adapt will come to naught unless immediate strong mitigation actions are realized in the next decade. 

    The IPCC report details the need not only for short-term adaptation strategies, but also for ‘transformational’ ones.Transformational adaptation and relevant transitions look to long-term community and government involvement. “Without transformation, global inequities will likely increase between regions and conflicts between jurisdictions may emerge and escalate,” the report states. Short-term adaptation gains that do not reach out to diverse goals for resilience development will fail. “With increasing global warming, losses and damages will increase and additional human and natural systems will reach adaptation limits.” Please note that ‘losses and damage’ does not only apply to physical losses and damages, but also impacts mental health issues.

    In other words, robust actions need to be implemented now; climate-resilient development “has a strong potential to generate substantial co-benefits for health and wellbeing.”

    This brings us to the dangers of maladaptation, whereby apparent solutions actually make things worse by not leaving space for natural processes. “Maladaptation especially affects marginalised and vulnerable groups adversely (e.g. Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities, low-income households, informal settlements), reinforcing and entrenching existing inequities. Adaptation planning and implementation that do not consider adverse outcomes for different groups can lead to maladaptation, increasing exposure to risks, marginalising people from certain socio-economic or livelihood groups, and exacerbating inequity. Inclusive planning initiatives informed by cultural values, Indigenous knowledge, local knowledge, and scientific knowledge can help prevent maladaptation,” the report states.

    Until recently, scientists have been poor communicators. It wasn’t long ago that they were told not to make or endorse potentially political statements. (Remember how Stephen Harper and more recently Donald Trump tried to muzzle scientists?) This has now changed. Recognizing that facts alone don’t inspire most people to take action, the IPCC asked the charity Climate Outreach to put together a manual for scientists to communicate effectively with the public. This is essential if communities are to be more engaged in being part of the solution to stop the slide towards climate breakdown. Climate Outreach speaks of a ‘social mandate’ as a result of the high priority most people now place on climate actions. In order to drive low-carbon behaviours, society must reflect the push for creating transformative policies that in turn allow corporations to place greater emphasis on vastly mitigating their high-carbon behaviour, thus making it a lot easier for national, regional and local policies to implement low-carbon-based legislation as a result of low-carbon social norms. Tragically we see so often that a weak social mandate fuels high-carbon behaviours, and corporations and governments are not incentivized to act. Climate Outreach is determined to turn this around. All the rest of us need to be there too. Please see https://climateoutreach.org

    New Year resolutions, not aspirations, are needed.

    The year-long preparations and lead-up by non-governmental organizations and activists to the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this autumn many times reverberated as despairing voices in the night reaching out to have others join in to take on governments and corporations. In fact, guarded optimism was expressed. By the last day of the summit, November 13, the myriad voices could still be heard by everyone except G20 governments and their hundreds of entrenched fossil-fuel lobbyists. Towards the end of the conference some delegates walked out onto the streets to protest with youth and other individuals against the intransigence of rich nations that saw only their immediate political advantages, often broadcasts for oil and coal lobbyists, ultimately resulting in governments’ outright and belligerent refusal to join a global fight to save our climate. After all, this was not, as promised, the most inclusive climate summit, but quite the opposite: it was a meeting of wealthy men that kept out world youth as well as those who suffer most from climate breakdown. Many declared it a flop. 

    Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s new minister of Environment and Climate Change, speaking soon after the conference ended, concluded that Canada had shown the world how serious it was in confronting the myriad climate challenges. He said, “When Canada, with one of the four largest oil and gas reserves in the world, committed to cap emissions from the oil and gas sector at current levels, that got attention.” So far this and other ‘commitments’ have dissolved into aspirations, not resolutions. 

    The last 15 years of precipitously rising fossil-fuel use in Canada and the federal government’s self-imposed benediction to continue driving more pipelines to completion through First Nation territories make that aspiration sound particularly hollow, just as Canada’s previous nationally determined contributions, as they were called at the Paris summit, never came to fruition. Can we actually believe that Guilbeault, a past Greenpeace campaigner, will have the clout to turn federal policy away from enabling gas and oil multinationals? A letter signed by a number of Bishop’s University students asking Guilbeault to outline what he intends to do about the climate crisis has gone unanswered, as have letters to Justin Trudeau and our local MP Marie-Claude Bibeau, all submitted on Climate Action Day in early November.

    A recent article by Barry Saxifrage in the National Observer entitled “Electrify everything? Canada cranks fossil burning instead” puts into perspective the grotesque failure of our federal government’s inaction in ending fossil-fuel production in Canada.

    Saxifrage takes information from National Resource Canada’s Energy Use Data Handbook, which covers 2000 to 2018, and a remarkable set of graphs emerges. For example, from 2005 to 2018 fossil-fuel energy use grew at a rate 10 times that of electrical power. And while fossil-fuel energy use increased from 70% of total energy consumption in 2005 to 74% in 2018, in the same period electrical energy use diminished from 22% to 20%. This is happening while this government pledges cohesive action to draw down carbon in Canada. Thankfully wood is being used less for energy, but that is not because there is a policy to do so.

    If our provincial and federal governments were truly dedicated to lowering climate pollution, we’d be moving much faster in the transportation sector, which accounts for the largest percentage of Canada’s carbon emissions. In 2018 an amazing 99.8% of transportation energy came from fossil fuels. Although governments are now offering incentives to buy electric cars, not enough has been done to speed the critical transition to those types of vehicle. If in Norway, which is also an oil producer, 50% of all car sales are electric, what’s stopping us here? Instead of Trudeau’s administration financing a disastrous pipeline forged with violence against youth activists, Indigenous peoples and old-growth forests, perhaps it could see through its destructive pro-oil smog to the urgent need for an increase in electric vehicle charging station infrastructure across Canada. Forget also about high percentages of electricity use in industry or agriculture: only when we examine residential and commercial energy does electricity crawl in the 40% range of providing zero-emission electricity. 

    With a little more helping hand from governments and Canada’s present zero-emission hydro, solar, wind and nuclear energies, which supply 83% of our electricity needs, production of electricity need not ever come from oil or gas. Of course, Québec’s hydro-electricity output is now even higher than that. Saxifrage quite rightly states, “Cleaning up our electricity has been Canada’s only real climate success so far. Now we need to get to work on the first part of the climate task as well—powering our economy and lives with our Canadian-made electricity instead of fossil fuels…because electricity carries all our climate-safe energy.”

    Let’s not look only to large government agencies to turn the tide and transition to an “electrify everything” way of life. Local municipalities can do so much more. The word is conclusively out that air pollution is a major source of harm for communities. Why not ban all those disgusting drive-throughs in our towns and cities? Although there are financial incentives to dispose of oil furnaces and replace them with electric ones, governments can prohibit new houses from having them in the first place. At the moment only 25% of space and water heaters are powered by electricity. The installation of heat exchangers can also be promoted and encouraged. 

    Our fossil-fuel love fest has reached the very edge of the cliff of climate breakdown. Canada tragically distinguishes itself as the G7 nation with the worst climate pollution record. While other countries have lived up to their climate pledges of cutting emissions by 1% below 1990 levels, Canada remains the undisputed profligate nation. We haven’t kept our promise: from Mulroney to Trudeau those reduction targets have not been met.

    What happened to robust Canadian 2030 targets, and where are our ambitions grounded? So far oil and gas subsidies have sidelined all our ambitions and, as we all know, long-range targets have been consistently abandoned by successive governments, including the present one. Grounded, did I say? How about keeping oil and gas in the ground and not burning it with disastrous consequences?

    This inability to put down national shields of myopic self-interest leads us to the last days of 2021. More than ever humanity desperately and steadfastly must confront its 30-year failure to prevent climate catastrophe. Resolutions, not mere Paris summit aspirations, are called for now. New year resolutions to protect and nurture our planetary health ask each of us to do much more for future generations. Resolutions are not only made by individuals: governments and industry must also act resolutely in favour of global climate action. The time for an Earth constitution that protects all life must be given supremacy over all national ones.

    Giving young people a public voice: a conversation with Anne-Julie Bergeron

    Anne-Julie saving food in a dumpster.

    Please tell the Record’s readers a little about your background, Anne-Julie. Where did you spend your childhood? Do you feel this has shaped your attitude towards Nature and the climate crisis?

    I grew up in a small town in Bellechasse, Qubec. Where I lived, Nature surrounded us mountains, forests, rivers, and a beautiful lake. Of course, seeing this scenery every day shaped my view towards Nature. Before I was even aware of the climate crisis, I felt the need to protect my environment. Nature was my haven of peace and I felt lucky the forest was my playground. I cannot count how many hours my brothers, my friends and I spent in the woods, playing hide and seek or building tree houses. Sometimes I saw deforested areas in my town, and something didn’t feel right inside me. As a little child, I could not tell what this feeling was. I only wanted the trees back.

    It is paradoxical that I felt so close to Nature as a child, and at the same time I thought big farms were natural. My grandparents had a dairy and hog farm. I visited them often, so I thought animals were meant to be ‘caged’ and give us food. Even in small towns, it is normalized to possess and commodify other living beings. In a sense, I am glad I could witness the captivity of these beings, because these memories make me realize how society denaturalizes animals and living beings.

    Does your family support you in your deep interest in and actions to protect Nature?

    In the first place, I would have said “yes”, because my parents support me in everything I undertake. However, the only way I could feel their support would be if they took actions themselves to protect Nature. I have often tried to engage in conversations with them about the environmental crisis and the things we can do as individuals. As soon as they realize their behaviour might be harmful to our planet, they disengage from the conversation. Yet I do not blame them. I understand their mentality comes from a toxic society and years of capitalism indoctrination.

    Why did you decide to take the Bishop’s University ‘Ecological Crisis and the Struggle for Environmental Justice’ class? Do you feel an affinity with other students regarding climate justice?

    I want my years at university to be meaningful and that I can have a positive impact on society. I am studying to broaden my mind, not to narrow it. As a young person, I am extremely concerned about the ecological crisis. I thought this class would be a great step to act for environmental justice. I feel some people took this class because it fitted their curriculum, but on the whole we all have an interest in protecting Nature. It is empowering to connect with other people of my generation and understand how they feel about this crisis.

    Have you attended any climate protests?

    Yes, I took part in the 2019 September climate strikes, which happened everywhere in the world on the same day. Recently, I attended two other protests in Sherbrooke.

    Tell us about ‘dumpster diving’ and why you participate.

    In short, ‘dumpster diving’ means to dive into supermarkets’ or commercial containers and retrieve waste. So far my ‘harvest’ has been good only in supermarkets. These companies waste many fruits and vegetables that are starting to get a little bad, or products whose use-by date is near. I remember salvaging a ton of products with merely damaged packaging. I know dumpster diving is illegal, but it is a way to protest against food waste and overconsumption. It is shocking to see how much companies throw away good products, and frustrating that many of them lock their containers so we can’t even see how much they waste.

    Why did you choose to be a vegan? Is this way of living easy for you?

    I decided to switch to a plant-based diet in 2019, after learning that about half of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by animal agriculture. Emissions do not only come from fossil fuels, but also from what we eat and buy. Moreover, it broke my heart to know that so many forests were destroyed for fields and pasture. Shortly afterwards, I went completely vegan. Of course I encountered some difficulties when adapting to veganism, but my habits settled quickly. It is now a piece of cake to eat well! I want to protect the animals, because they are part of Nature and I disapprove of any kind of animal mistreatment and exploitation. How can I aim to protect the planet if I think I am superior to other living beings? I simply refuse to be part of this insensitive system.

    The UN COP26 climate summit is taking place now in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s billed as a ‘make or break’ conference on curbing fossil fuel emissions and bringing about climate/biodiversity justice. What do you feel must happen at COP26 in order for the world to move forward on these critical issues? Is Canada doing its fair share?

    I am not a politics connoisseur, but from my little knowledge about COP26, this summit might be the last chance to make sure future generations will still be able to live on Earth. The climate crisis will affect the poorer countries first, so the rich countries should commit to supporting them financially. Rich countries are the biggest polluters. They need to change the source of their energy. Two-thirds of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels, and this is unacceptable. We need to make the transition to zero emission vehicles, but that is pointless if the electricity comes from fossil fuels. All countries should have attended COP26, but the presidents of Russia, China, Brazil and Turkey decided not to go in person (or not to participate at all). These countries are some of the biggest carbon emitters. Presidents should take their heads out of the sand. The science is clear: climate change is real, and human activity is the main cause.

    Canada is absolutely not doing its fair share. We had an election in the fall, and during the campaign the climate emergency was at the bottom of the politicians’ priorities. Our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, approves the pipeline expansion, whereas actions need to be taken now. I am anxious and angry because the catastrophes that are coming will radically impact our lives and there are no concrete governmental strategies to overcome the climate emergency.

    Many young people do not wish to have children because they feel that the world’s future is uncertain. What’s your opinion?

    This is a question that has been present in my life since my teenagerhood. I respect anyone’s decision to have children or not. For my part, I decided not to have children for the same reason you stated in your question. My hopes regarding the future are very low, and no one will be safe if the planet is burning.

    With success at the UN Glasgow Climate Summit uncertain, people are demanding renewed action.

    “There is sufficient evidence to draw the most fundamental of conclusions: now is the time to declare a state of planetary emergency. The point is not to admit defeat, but to match the risk with the necessary action to protect the global commons for our own future.”

    Professor Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

    The 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP  21), one of the ongoing series of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summits, has been described as the first successful pathway that determined the carbon limits 200 countries would voluntarily accept in order to reverse the Earth’s increasing temperature gains resulting from human industrial activities. The key drive in those negotiations was to try to limit a rise of not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels through each country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to lower carbon emissions. The ensuing Paris Agreement stated that every five years each nation would bring an updated NDC to the UNFCCC.

    Those ambitions do not come close to the reductions necessary to stop a cascading catastrophe. Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, has just issued a stark warning to the world. If this year’s Glasgow summit (COP 26) were to fail, she said, there would be “less food, so probably a crisis in food security. It would leave a lot more people vulnerable to terrible situations, terrorist groups and violent groups. It would mean a lot of sources of instability.”

    COP 26 was delayed from 2020 because of the pandemic and starts in a few days. This is the 26th time since 1995 that the UN has held a world conference with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, more recently, searching for the means to move forward on issues such as climate justice as it relates to equitable pathways for developing nations to adapt to worsening climate scenarios that they have not contributed to. Heavily industrialised nations such as Canada, Great Britain, Germany and the United States have historically had the largest impact on the increase in carbon dioxide emissions.

    Three pillars of climate change negotiations will present themselves at COP 26:

    1. Mitigation methods such as the phasing out of coal as the world community strives to drastically slow down carbon emissions.
    2. Adaptation to a rising level of crises such as flooding and drought to enable the world to continue to flourish. Adaptation also refers to ecological protections.
    3. The concept of ‘loss and damage’, which has gained traction in negotiations in the last decade. Small island states have led the push to demand that rich countries accept responsibility for the buildup of GHGs as they demonstrate their vulnerability to higher ocean levels created by melting glaciers throughout the world from the Himalayas to Greenland. Hand in hand with ‘loss and damage’ goes financial responsibility. ukcop26.org/cop26-goals/ 

    It was agreed at the Paris summit that by 2020 the rich industrial countries with their financial partners would give US$100 billion a year to other countries in extreme need. This hasn’t happened. Canada and the United States are laggards. 

    It’s common knowledge that under deadbeat climate-deniers Trump and company the US plumbed new depths in climate misinformation, even fostering an aggressive anti-science campaign to maliciously stop efforts to forestall climate breakdown, and ultimately withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. But what about Canada’s attitude? In a now infamous statement, the Canadian government under Trudeau declared that acquiring the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline for CA$4.5 billion was an opportunity to finance non-fossil-fuel energy possibilities! The pipeline, it stated, was “an unavoidable element in a national climate change plan”! Forget about the last vow by Canada to stop subsidies to the oil and gas sectors by 2023. Can that be possible as we continue to finance other pipeline initiatives through subsidies?

    For many, there is a fourth pillar in the COP negotiations, and that is to deliver substantial climate justice not by 2050 with net-zero GHG magical schemes, but by having citizens’ assemblies acknowledged as offering a viable and democratic pathway towards climate justice.

    Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg had this to say: 

    “In my view, success would be that people finally start to realise the urgency of the situation and realise that we are facing an existential crisis, and that we are going to need big changes, that we’re going to need to uproot the system, because that’s where the change is going to come… The change is going to come when people are demanding change. So we can’t expect everything to happen at these conferences.”

    Many people believe she is correct. 

    Not only will governments, oil lobbyists and bankers attend the Glasgow Summit. Undoubtedly there will be thousands of protesters and NGOs present too, but will they be listened to by heads of state? Activism must proceed in individual countries to prod governments to climate action. Here are three examples: Norwegian youth are taking their government to the European Court of Human Rights in a bid to stop drilling for oil in the Arctic, saying that these new oil explorations are a threat to their future wellbeing. Extinction Rebellion promises to be a major player in civil disobedience activities around the world during COP 26 (October 31 to November 12) to demand that governments drastically speed up their climate initiatives around the world. Meanwhile, Insulate Britain activities have shut down roads in a bid to get the UK government to properly insulate Britain’s woefully leaky houses (the worst in Europe) by 2030 – which would reduce that country’s GHG emissions by almost 15% – as part of a total decarbonization strategy. 

    Read about Climate Outreach’s inclusive and inspiring events that will be taking place at COP 26: climateoutreach.org/public-engagement-events-cop26/

    As the government delegation prepares to present to the world Canada’s inadequate climate mitigation goals and tangible actions already in place, the promise given two years ago by Trudeau for a federal programme under a Just Transition Act, aimed at retraining oil and gas workers for renewable energy employment, hasn’t materialized. If Canada’s Liberals truly wish to wean Canada away from the fossil fuel industry, why hasn’t this program taken off? More words and no deeds. Canada’s place at the Glasgow Summit should be one of inspiration for Canada’s youth. So far they see only broken promises.

    Finally, it really comes down to the way governments include their citizens in the climate mitigation process. The ‘Action for Climate Empowerment’ section of the UNFCCC commits nations to engage their citizens on climate change – something that is often sidelined in the main agenda. Let’s hold our government accountable. Often individualism, as portrayed through capitalism’s literalism and lacklustre creativity, whether that be through the inactions of a country’s citizens or demonstrated by individual nations, is the curse visited upon ecological connectivity. Ecological and social health comes through community, not through separate entities’ refusal to communicate. It’s time to be world citizens, if total climate breakdown is not to occur.

    “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, while it was very alarming, was quite helpful in helping to focus minds,” said Alok Sharma, president-designate of COP 26. “The question is whether or not countries are willing in Glasgow to go forward and commit to consensus on keeping 1.5C alive – that’s where the challenge will be… All of these people are pretty adamant that what has to emerge from Glasgow is for us to be able to say we’ve kept 1.5 C alive.”

    Please visit cop26coalition.org/peoples-summit/ to see how people’s assemblies will run concurrently with the UN-sponsored COP 26 and build climate action plans despite world government procrastination.

    Giving young people a public voice: a conversation with Georgia LaPierre.

    Georgia LaPierre

    Tell our readers about yourself, Georgia. Has your family background encouraged you to be interested in social justice and climate/biodiversity issues or in general to have an appreciation for the natural world?

    I am 21 years old and grew up in Montreal. My family, particularly my dad, encouraged me and introduced me into the world of social justice and ecological issues by bringing me to protests and courses/talks about Nature and our changing climate. I don’t think I would be as socially aware and as involved in the climate justice movement as I am today if it weren’t for their support.

    A recent article in the scientific journal Nature looked into the emotional impact and the impaired trust in government the climate crisis is having on young adults.

    Having read that article, do you identify with any of the concerns that were expressed by the 10,000 people who were part of the survey?

    Of course I identify with the youth who answered this survey. I would find it quite worrisome if there were youth in our world today who weren’t suffering from climate anxiety. The science is clear – we have a very limited time frame to reduce the impacts of climate change, and our governments are doing nothing to act effectively. This makes me, as a young person, angry and sad. It makes it seem that they simply do not care about us. I go through phases where I’m a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person when it comes to the climate crisis. When I lived in Montreal, I went to the Fridays For Future protests every week, and the government made no response to our efforts. It is clear that they are not taking our demands and our futures seriously. If the government truly did care about their youth (who are alive today) they would not sign on for new pipelines and fracking contracts. They would take effective change that climate scientists are suggesting. 

    What courses are you taking at Bishop’s University? What made you choose those classes?

    My major is sociology with a concentration in gender, diversity and equity with a minor in Indigenous studies. All my classes have to do with these topics. I picked this major because, since high school, I’ve been a climate and social justice activist. I take the term intersectionality to heart – all issues in our world caused by human and capitalist activity are related, and they must be tackled as a whole in order to effect meaningful change. The courses I am taking make me understand our society better and these issues better. Using this academic knowledge, I hope to help make a change.

    Do you participate in outdoor activities such as snowshoeing or walking? 

    I do! Since a young age I have hiked, skied, walked and been on canoe trips. Without these activities, I would not have the relationship I do to Nature today, and probably would not strive as much to save it. Participating in outdoor activities showed me the beauty and importance of Nature, and made me understand that I am a part of it. I believe everyone should take time to be in Nature, because without it we are lost.

    Have you ever experienced taking a wilderness camping trip? If so, what impact did it have on your sense of belonging in Nature? 

    Yes! I would go on canoe trips, up to 5 days, and often we would be the only ones on the lakes and the rivers. My connection to Nature and my love for Nature was born out of these trips. I felt like I was a part of the current and the forests. On these trips, Nature made the decisions for us, so if there was thunder we could not continue our day and would have to make up for the lost kilometers on the following days. I learnt more about Nature after this, which brought me towards activism when I learnt of the devastating effects human activity has on it. 

    Are you deeply connected to Nature, or do you sense that you’re somewhat alienated from it? 

    I would argue that I am deeply connected to it. However, I do get lost from it sometimes. I’ll be so busy with work and school and social life that I’ll realize I haven’t spent enough time with/in Nature. My friends feel the same way. We should have to make time for Nature in order to feel a part of it. We should always feel a connection to it. 

    Do you believe in your generation’s ability to weather the intensifying biodiversity and climate uncertainties? Are you hopeful?

    I think in my current state I have been pessimistic. I believe my generation wants to effect change, but the science is clear: the change needs to come now. I’m tired of political leaders telling us how inspiring we are and how we’re the generation who will make change. Right now, we are all asking them to change, and they just don’t. I believe older generations need to take us seriously now rather than tell us we’ll change the world when we’re in positions of power.

    Is it important for people to respond politically to the climate crisis, or are there other ways that can make a difference in order to protect the planet?

    I think responding politically is very important, I think using your right to vote and voting for who you think is best suited to run our country and save the world is very important, but I do also think that there are other ways you can create change. I think through academia (what I’m planning on doing) we can help find the solutions to the climate crisis. I think through art you can convey the feeling of your generation into a digestible piece of art. I think by being a farmer and turning away from corporate farming to local, sustainable farming you can make a difference. There are so many ways that individuals can move towards making a difference, but until the government begins to take action, nothing will get better, so vote!

    What do you do to lessen your daily impact on the Earth?

    I am vegan and have been for about two years. I have reduced my consumption, I rarely buy clothes first-hand and I am aware of the packaging I buy food in. I also have decided not to travel by flight until I have discovered the world around me that is reachable by train or car. I really do believe in individuals reducing their carbon footprint – I think it helps us feel a little less anxious and helpless. Yet I would like to reiterate that individual action is not enough. Corporations are the ones who pollute the most, so when governments and organizations ask you to use reusable straws they are taking your attention away from the actual issue at hand. 

    Are you optimistic for the future? Do you wish to have children one day?

    I am not optimistic. It has been a couple of years since the first very serious IPCC report came out, and nothing has changed. Even the things that have been promised are happening too late to make a difference. I do not wish to have children. I did when I was younger, but due to the climate crisis I can’t bring children into this world. I think that as a parent your number one job is to love your child unconditionally, and I decided to not have children as a part of that love, because they would never be able to live up to their full potential or follow their dreams. However, if someone plans on having children, I completely support their decision and encourage it. This is just my personal opinion.

    Have you spoken in some depth to other people in their late teens or early twenties about the climate crisis and how you might stand together and fight for your future?

    I have! And I have gotten two responses: one is very optimistic and turns towards making effective change locally and globally, and the other is simply asking, “But what can be done?” I have never found an in-between sort of answer. I think there is a large disconnect between these two types of youth, and I would like to find a way to bridge the gap and create a stronger sense of urgency in those who don’t want to change or don’t see how they can help.

    Do you sense that your generation is different compared to older generations in its approach to tackling climate concerns?

    I believe it is. I think many youth in my generation are turning away from the capitalist system. I believe that we have begun to understand that exponential growth does not work in harmony with Nature and that we need to turn towards a system that not only coexists with but is a part of Nature, rather than a system that actively works against it. 

    Do you belong to any activist groups?  Do you go to protests?

    Yes! In Montreal I was involved with Dawson Green Earth, Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion. And, yes, I went to a lot of protests. In my last year of cegep I went to at least one protest a week. I think that showing your discontent is one great way to demand change from the government.

    On campus at Bishop’s it’s a little harder, so I’ve been focusing on more local change. I am junior co-chair of the Sexual Culture Committee on campus, for example, and we organize a yearly march called Take Back the Night and work on projects to create a safer and healthier environment on our campus and in our local community.

    What plans do you have for the future, after graduating from Bishop’s?

    I have a couple of plans, one of which is becoming a professor and doing research. The other is to work for organizations and advocate for a more just world. I will see where the wind takes me, as they say, but one thing’s for sure: activism has been a part of my life from a very young age and I think it will always be a part of my life.

    A review of Carl Safina’s Becoming Wild

    As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists.

    Albert Einstein

    There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.

    Herman Melville, Moby Dick

    Carl Safina’s Becoming Wild: how animal cultures raise families, create beauty and achieve peace is an intimate tapestry of the lives of three animals that exhibit meaningful cultures.  Sperm whales, macaw parrots and the chimpanzees are visited, and with the help of scientists and naturalists, Carl Safina examines their families in the context of culture. What makes these animals who they are? For example, sperm whales have complex communications that allow extended families to stay together. A certain group or ‘clan’ of these whales will only communicate with the same members of that clan. Water is an incredible conduit for sound and as the whale moves across the oceans a whale can listen to and respond to another member many kilometres away. This also enables them to come to the defence of the young extremely quickly.

    But how they come to the defence of their young is determined by learning specific to that group of whales. “Genes determine what can be learned, what we might do. Culture determines what is learned, how we do things…Social learning is special. Social learning gives you information stored in the brains of other individuals. You’re born with genes from just two parents; you can learn what whole generations have figured out. “  Culture presupposes that there is innovation in a group. The author gives us many examples of how just one animal can impart to others a new  way of interaction in the world. So there is both the process of learning and conformity. Carl Safina goes on to define culture as “information that flowssocially and can be learned, retained and shared…Innovation is to culture what mutation is to genes; it’s the only way to make any process, the root of all change.” Becoming Wild is all about the amazing cultures found in Nature, not just human culture. Tragically, humans until recently thought they were the only beings on the planet that had culture.  Roger Payne’s 1970 recording of the whales ignited a keen interest in other species. When Payne and Scott McVay published “Songs of Humpback Whales in Science in 1971 everything changed, well almost everything, except the continuation of the industrial killing of the great whales. People began to strongly question the need to destroy these sentient creatures. Was it imperative that margarine contained whale oil, for fertilizer or that machinery needed their oil?  

    It has always struck me that one of the great perversities perpetrated by fossil fuel corporations and their lobbyists is its active and unremitting ability to help kill off whales, something that men in boats throwing harpoons could never quite manage. You’d be correct in assuming that once whales were not murdering for their oil to light up houses because fossil fuels took over that task things would have improved. As the oceans lost large numbers of whales the boats had to go further and further. The cost in fossil oils became almost prohibitive but that only pleases the petroleum industry. When whaling vessels have to go to Antarctica to hunt that makes the oil executive richer. This is not to say that the petroleum industry pushed the hunters to destroy the whales, but it is part of a web of deceit and greed that has brought us to our ecological crisis. Carl Safina puts it succinctly: “Energy is always a moral matter. It has tended to reward immoral behaviour.” 

    What kept the butchery going was the ‘respectable’ quasi-scientific but highly political International Whaling Commission that was established in 1946. Unbelievably the Commission was set up to stop the extermination of whales so commercial whaling could continue! Quotas were arbitrarily established and then countries lied about their catches. A moratorium in 1979 came and went. Only public opinion saved the whales…or did it? Each of Safina’s chapters on whales are entitled ‘Families’. We learn about the close knit life of the whales and how unique each family is. All the members in a group of families ,a clan, use ‘codas’ that identity them specifically. Codas are clicking sounds that have specific meanings. Each family has its own unique series of clicks that give information. New skills to hunt fish are shared in the clan. Whale cultures teach the young not only how to survive but to learn their way of life. When adults are killed by humans in grotesque numbers, the adolescents have not yet been given the opportunity to have passed on to them life skills. Genes are not enough to survive. Fragmentation of families destroy the abilities to be innovative. If “culture is home” as the author describes it, whales lose their homes when families are torn apart. Carl Safina reluctantly says, “It means something acutely awful, I think: that the human species has made itself incompatible with the rest of Life on Earth.” To say this is to send a jolt of horror through the reader. Whales have responded to the question, “How best can we live where we are?” Will humans do the same?

    To this day the Japanese still demand that whales are slaughtered for ‘research’. Arguing that whales are killing too many fish brings to mind the same spurious rant that wolves must be decimated to save the livestock industry, and to bring it closer to our human ‘home’, when indigenous groups lose their languages and land all is lost.

    Scientists now know that sperm whales help the oceans to be a healthy enriching habitat for so many species. They are also a key species to slow down the climate crisis. When these whales dive, guided by sonar, into the great depths they capture great volumes of squid. They bring to the surface many nutrients, but just as importantly, the whales poop usually before they dive and it becomes an important source of nutrients for wildlife and the propagation of plankton that soak up the carbon dioxide.

    Recently, a lot of effort has been brought forth to celebrate the lives of animals. David Attenborough’s documentaries and others such as “My Octopus Teacher all are trying to undo the self imposed calamity humans find themselves in; Becoming Wild does the same. 

    Whales are not alone in bringing a culture to their communities. Macaws and chimpanzees do the same. Safina writes: “Flexibility that becomes shared habit is called ‘custom.’ Customs learned through generations becomes tradition. Traditions make up culture… A culture can be a package of traditions, a repertoire of behaviours, skills, and tools characterizing a group in a place.” We humans can easily recognize our own cultures even if their everydayness is sometimes hidden from us, but once in a while innovation moves that culture to a new, enriched place. Conformity and nonconformity are equally vital in shaping a culture. But why can’t we accept that non-humans also have cultures? Becoming Wild is as much a contemplation and celebration of the cultures of three non-human species as it is of the human one, but Safina also speaks forcefully about the frailties that undermine human potential.

    Safina’s chapters on the marvellous cultures of macaws and chimpanzees are also a conversation about who we are. He asks us to pose and try to answer difficult questions. Our obsession with violence is mirrored in that of chimpanzees. Why have our cultures allowed this to happen? Humans also place great value on beauty and on peace, so why haven’t we been able to supplant violence? It’s not that chimpanzees and humans don’t harbour “tender emphatic concerns for others and brave altruism.” We do, but both species are trapped in hierarchy and male, misplaced violence. “Chimps don’t create a safe space; they create a stressful, tension-bound, politically encumbered social world for them to inhabit. Which is what we do. This behavioural package exists only in chimpanzees and humans… Chimps may hold clues to the genesis of human irrationality, group hysteria, and political strongmen.” It appears to be abundantly clear that another primate, the bonobo, has it right when their cultures (of which there are many) are based in matriarchal supremacy, as peace reigns in those communities. 

    The author brings us to a research station on Peru’s Tambopata River where various species of macaw are studied. Here, too, are vibrant cultures that celebrate life. Safina wants to comprehend the nurturing place that beauty plays in the lives of these birds. He also wants to understand why beauty is so important for humans. His answer, at the end of the book, is succinct: “Living things anchor what is beautiful… Beauty is a simple crib-note for all that matters.” An astonishing response, I thought, and though seemingly esoteric, I believe that it makes perfect sense. Unlike the smaller green parrots, macaws are fabulously colourful, and even though they are strikingly beautiful and so visible there are few predators that can catch them. Their high level of intelligence has given them the means to avoid being eaten. Beauty is their reward. Safina harks back to Charles Darwin when he speaks about sexual selection and beauty. Beautiful males are chosen by females: it’s that simple. Safina takes up this idea: “Beauty—for the sake of beauty alone—is a powerful, fundamental, evolutionary force… The radical preference of Life is: beauty.”

    In the Budongo Forest in Uganda Safina meets Cat Hobaiter, who has been observing some chimpanzee communities for over a decade. We learn about the lives of several chimps and their interactions within their groups. There is an astounding similarity between their gestures and those of young human children. Most are identical and have similar meanings. Human children use 52 distinct gestures, and chimps use 46 of those same ones. Gestures create the means for cohesion within the family, and greater tenderness, particularly between mother and baby. The chimp mother is the sole parent to bring up the babies, and peace resides there. Between males, and certainly in the complicated relationships the alpha male has with other males, violence is often ready to surface. Contrast this with bonobos’ path to peace: “little violence among males, between sexes, and among communities.”

    Throughout the book there is a deep uncertainty that humans will have the courage and capacity to see that non-humans must be cherished and protected. Safina asserts that “caring that they’ll exist after we are gone is a moral matter… The things that threaten whole communities of other species also threaten us… Africa keeps the deepest of primate pasts. The question is whether it holds a future.”

    Only humans can now answer that. Carl Safina’s tribute to whales, chimpanzees and macaws can empower us to embody a new ethic for this world: one that loves all life on Earth, not solely our individual tribes’ wellbeing.

    Suffragettes’ “Deeds, not words” motto invigorates climate activists

    “Where the voice that is in us makes a true response,
    Where the voice that is great within us rises up,
    As we stand gazing at the rounded moon.”
    (Wallace Stevens)

    You may be surprised to learn that if you look at the origins of the word “human” you’ll discover that, a long way back, it is related to the word “humus,” meaning earth or soil. Humus is the organic component of soil. To be human is to be from the soil, and right now there are millions of conversations taking place that strive to bring us back to being a “people of the earth” as our ancestors knew deeply within their beings. These conversations are not only between humans. As we discover the “secret lives of…” all sorts of species, hugging a tree might not be considered so bizarre to many. Industrial society wished to stamp out our love for Nature; now it is simply resurfacing. Just ask a cat, horse or dog person if they converse with those animals, for example. But is humanity living up to its own name, people of the soil?

    Many climate and biodiversity campaigners, including Extinction Rebellion (XR), Greenpeace and 350.org, are strongly critical of governments’ climate inaction. These same groups denounce fossil fuel reduction targets of 2050 – or any other year beyond 2030 – as being truly the “new denial” by corporations and governments who refuse to accept the climate/ecological crisis. Activists point out that politicians looking only towards the next election couldn’t care less about what happens in 2030 or 2060, and that is why campaigners are taking up the suffragettes’ clarion call “Deeds, not words.”

    When on Earth Day this year, after nine women in the UK smashed 19 windows of the headquarters of a major bank, a journalist asked a member of XR if the public would not call that vandalism, her response was that no life was ever endangered by the broken glass, but that since 2015 that bank has supported the fossil fuel industry with tens of billions of dollars – it should be noted that Canada’s RBC does the same – ignoring the plain truth that this is financing climate breakdown. It is the banks that are the true vandals – of the planet’s integrity. Who, she enquired, is really the criminal?

    The same stunts corporations use by publishing targets and long-term goals to show off their climate care could be found at the climate summit hosted by Joe Biden on Earth Day. Brazil’s climate-denying president, Jair Bolsonaro, gave us little to believe in concerning his intentions for the wellbeing of the Amazon, by cutting the budget of his environment ministry despite his promise to stop all illegal deforestation by 2030. The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, utters the same hot air on commitments to real deeds to stop runaway climate change. Biden appears to be one of the few politicians in America who are taking bold steps to move forward on climate issues after four disastrous years of Trump climate denial; but will a recalcitrant congress let him proceed? (Trump and the Republicans were co-perpetrators in the race to commit ecological catastrophes.) As usual, Trudeau is giving the same mixed messages to Canadians. He has clearly emerged as one more superficial wafting and ineffective politician. 

    The International Energy Agency confirms the fact that fossil fuel use will increase in 2021, undermining various targets of the rich nations. Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director and a leading authority on energy and climate, said: “This is shocking and very disturbing. On the one hand, governments today are saying climate change is their priority. But on the other hand, we are seeing the second biggest emissions rise in history. It is really disappointing.”

    It is because of the historical intransigence of world governments and corporations that the Glasgow Agreement between worldwide non-governmental organizations and peoples is now finding ways to demand climate justice before and after the UN Climate Summit that is to be held in Glasgow this autumn. www.glasgowagreement.net/en/

    Acclaimed eco-philosopher Joanna Macy explores through her many books, interviews and actions our relationship with Earth’s beings and what we must do to revitalize our commitment to saving ourselves and all life on Earth. She warns us, saying, “Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to nuclear war, none is so great as the deadening of our response.” She speaks with great urgency when she discusses the “Great Unraveling” now taking place as species are driven to extinction. Yet she encourages “active hope,” the realization that the actions to save our ourselves and the planet are always there for us, regardless of the current state of planetary demise, “as people acting in the defence of life wake up to the grandeur of who they are and find sources of strength and synergies beyond what they could have expected.” This is the Great Turning that she sees growing rapidly throughout the world.

    Macy asks herself and us difficult but vital questions that need to be addressed if we are to stop the destruction, the unraveling of our planet’s ecological stability. “How do we be fully present to our world at a time when the suffering and the future prospects for conscious life forms are so grim? How do we look straight in the face of our time, which is the biggest gift we can give, to be present to our time? It’s so tempting to want to just pull back like a turtle in its shell. It’s so tempting to just close your eyes and busy yourself with other things.” Her thinking encompasses Buddhist teaching regarding the universal condition of suffering present in the world. She is convinced that apathy is the “refusal or inability to suffer.” She goes on to say that we can choose to be with our world with our minds and hearts present to the suffering that is there.

    The Great Turning can start by slowing down the destruction of corporate growth and individual overconsumption. New patterns of collective behaviour, new ways of construing our relationships on every level can evolve, so the first dimension of the Great Turning is “Holding Actions” and slowing down the unravelling of our world through many kinds of activity that, for example, welcome regulatory and legislative work, and protests on the streets that lessen the harm being done, including everyday “slow violence.” Direct action is important, but it is only one path to be taken. “Sustainable Structures” is the second dimension of the Great Turning and might include new ways to create an ecological agriculture/permaculture, new ways of measuring wealth and prosperity, or invigorating communities with true resilience. The third dimension is “Shift in Consciousness”, rooted in our perceptions of reality. Macy calls this a “cognitive revolution,” which is the recognition that our planet is a living system, not just a warehouse or sewer to be despoiled. She goes on to say that this revolution is a shift from seeing the world as stuff, things and entities to seeing reality as “flows of relationships” that are able to be self-regulating and evolve in time to flourish with extraordinary complexity and intelligence. All three dimensions are able to reinforce each other and there isn’t just one way for the Great Turning to proceed. Joanna Macy’s memoir, Widening Circles, is available at the Lennoxville library. www.joannamacy.net

    Recently I attended a virtual talk given by Addy Fern. She and her husband, Ken, have transformed a 28-acre barley field in Cornwall, UK into a biodiversity-rich gem. What I witnessed when I visited Plants for a Future some years ago and again last week was Addy’s passionate desire to participate in this Great Turning. What was most striking to see was an aerial photo showing an oasis of dense woodland in the middle of a depleted landscape. Sadly, Addy’s commitment with her family and volunteers to transforming a monoculture on poor soil into an amazing place vibrant with Nature has had little influence so far on the surrounding area. I asked her whether the neighbouring farmers had been inspired to follow her family’s 30-year lead in nourishing the land. Did they not see what a high level of health Plants for a Future was giving to all of Nature there? There are no real answers to these questions except that a change of consciousness needs time to manifest itself, and there is no doubt that the Ferns’ work is one of many seeds across the planet that are participating in blooming the Earth. www.theferns.info

    A few miles from Lennoxville lies La Généreuse organic farm. Here the family of Francine Lemay have likewise created a place that celebrates Nature. The last 40 years has seen many transformations to the land. They have always stayed true to biodynamic principles when growing food, and the accompanying forest encourages wildlife. The large field with a variety of decades-old apple trees has never been sprayed with pesticides, and the bee colonies nearby help with pollination. La Généreuse also encourages the arts and early education. It is truly a place of wellbeing, supporting the ecological self to flourish. www.lagenereuse.com

    Wheat field in England
    Courtesy of Plants for a Future 

    Homer-Dixons book, Commanding Hope, brings us to a better future.

    We…must come to terms with nature, and I think were challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves. – Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring

    In the past the December holiday season and the coming New Year imbued many of us with a vision of a prosperous and loving future. For most of us the pandemic has been an unmitigated disaster: people we love have died, how we work, learn and communicate has been severely hampered, daily comfortable schedules have been uprooted, financial woes have been exacerbated, our mental health has suffered through unprecedented isolation, and our sense of overall security in a world we thought we could have some control over has been smashed. Those who could choose to take cruises and planes at a moments notice have found themselves sitting at home. Even moneys perceived ability to fix any problem will not loosen the grip of this virus. A cure-all vaccine is trumpeted, but it seems that many people will refuse it, questioning its efficacy and the motives of governments and the pharmaceutical companies that produced it; some even speak of dark and tyrannical objectives. Fear and trepidation permeate our daily lives.

    At last humans are realising that we are part of Nature, which we have abused for so long. But is this reluctant and grudging acknowledgement coming too late for us? Our ever-increasing encroachment into natural habitats and refusal to respect the notion of limits to growth for humanity, characterized by global unethical capitalism run amuck, is now in the process of ruthlessly pursuing climate breakdown. Covid-19, it appears, represents one more landmark on the road to devastation that we collectively continue to encourage.

    Thomas Homer-Dixons recently published book, Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril, comes at a time when many people believe humanity is soon to be forced to its knees. But Homer-Dixon states: Real social and political change only happens in times of crisis, because crisis is needed to discredit existing systems of worldviews, institutions, and technologies, and the structures of power that sustain them.

    Commanding Hope is dedicated to Homer-Dixons two young children, Ben and Kate, who are continually alluded to throughout the book, whether that be in a drawing of theirs or in dialogue between them and their father and mother. To put it succinctly, Homer-Dixon wrote this book as if his childrens lives depended upon it. It took him eight years, and nothing will stop him from finding a non-magical elixir of knowledge and informed action to save his children and ours.

    He begins with an account of the heroic efforts of Stephanie May, a young Connecticut woman, making phone calls in 1957 asking people to protest against atmospheric nuclear testing. In 1961 she goes on hunger strike while walking up and down in front of the Soviet Unions Manhattan UN mission, asking them to save the worlds children by eliminating the tests. To her amazement the press takes notice and ultimately her efforts bear fruit. Against the odds, the powerful determination that she displays is in its essence what Homer-Dixon calls commanding hope. And this is the same engaging hope that teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg displayed in 2018 when she sat outside the Swedish parliament with a handwritten sign.

    Homer-Dixon contrasts this positive renewal of the world with the Mad Max apocalyptic films, where the world is drawn down to the lowest ecological and civil possibilities. But juxtaposed with that nightmare he discusses J.R.R. Tolkiens Lord of the Rings and the unlikely push by the communities of Middle-Earth to forge again lost alliances that will bring about a cessation of grotesque hostilities and a renewal and affirmation of an alternative worldview that cherishes life and happiness. The long quest to find a way to finally dispose of the Ring and bring about an era of peace and harmony finds its greatest strength in an unassailable sense of hope; it is a hope to create a better world around which Homer-Dixon weaves his book. We recall all the tribulations and faltering ambitions to create a just society in The Lord of the Rings, and Homer-Dixon reminds us that our present-day world far exceeds the dangers expressed in Tolkiens book. Humanitys struggle to stop climate chaos, an ecological catastrophe, nuclear destruction and the rise of authoritarianism constitutes an almost impossible task compared to the ascent of Mount Doom, a goal for the Fellowship of Middle-Earth that will become achievable, if immensely difficult. Homer-Dixon calls it a superordinate goalone thats clear and specific, that everyone shares, that overrides all others, and that cant be achieved without cooperation, and he repeatedly cautions us that we might not be so fortunate but we have too much at stake not to vigorously pursue safety for our children.

    True, our challenges far outweigh Frodos, but Homer-Dixon affirms that we can push back the darkest elements of humanity and flourish. But how do we get there? By intensely reviewing and modifying our personal and public worldviews as well as understanding that our institutions and technologies are tightly interdependent: they influence each other, depend on each other, and usually hang together in a cohesive way. Stereotypically a western worldview might include a commitment to personal freedom and free enterprise, while its institutions support free economic markets and a communitys rules, and its technologies let us feel were independent by, for example, driving cars. Homer-Dixon strongly recommends that we immediately set about transforming our mindsets and ultimately the mindscape of humanity to establish meaningful change that will let coming generations of sentient life succeed, but to do this we must enable our capacity to establish a bedrock of values that must never be forsaken when we investigate what is feasible in this unabashedly unsentimental quest to save the planet.Commanding hope comprises three strands. Honest hope means rigorously applying scientific methods and moral truths, and not thinking ourselves into a spiral of fantasy about what is possible. Astute hope recognizes the need to understand diverse peoples worldviews and aspirations. Powerful hope motivates us to work together, as agents with a compelling common purpose, to solve our problems.

    Furthermore, we must diligently and deeply understand what is enough and combine it with what is feasible in our quest for a renewal of a world in peril. Feasible is no longer what the corporation, business-as-usual elite will chance, but rather it is tempered with imagination that fuses it to an enough that has solid principles of justice that include all of us; choosing what part of civilization is to be saved over another in a crisis is not an acceptable response, even in desperate times, Homer-Dixon warns us. We do not, however, give up on what has inherent value but is not immediately important, because we then lose the core of an authentic future. At the same time, honest hope prevents a turn towards unsubstantiated, unscientific decision making. Commanding hope creates the pathways we vitally need for this new world of equality and respect for Nature; it is gritty and resolved in its determination.

    Sometimes an individual can instantly flip their worldview. At the age of 20, while hitchhiking abroad, I stopped to buy a drink of milk from a vendor. He poured the milk from an already opened carton. When I said I wanted it from a sealed carton, he furiously refused, saying how selfish and entitled North Americans were. I felt ashamed and realized he spoke the truth. That two-minute conversation changed my worldview with regard to wealth, food scarcity and inequality.Unfortunately, groups and nations modify their worldviews far more slowly than an individual can, and that change comes for the most part incrementally. Our worldviews connect us with our communities, stabilize our sense of who we are as individuals and groups through time, anchor our visions of a desirable and hopeful future…so were terrified when theyre threatened, explains Homer-Dixon. In response to potentially overwhelming crises, it is humanitys primary responsibility to push those static and seemingly intransigent destructive worldviews to the side and strive for migration to an entire world participating in renewing the future. Through learning about universal human temperaments, asking what Homer-Dixon calls binding questions, conducting thought experiments whereby we put ourselves in an opponents worldview, new cognitive-affective tools, and supporting our world values, humanity can forge positive worldviews that embrace a world-inclusive identity that makes perfect sense, as our greatest concerns are global in nature. Cultural identities are not sacrificed by doing so. Social order, fairness, opportunity and identity remain at the core of our worldviews and commitments.

    Climate breakdown will challenge all of us and our worldviews, but how we respond to the possible chaos will determine our success in preventing the worse outcomes. Worldviews that help us surmount fear by inspiring rather than extinguishing the hope that motivates our agency have a great chance of flourishing.

    Alternative worldviews and not rehashed older ones help us forge a better tomorrow. Worldviews that recognize human temperaments such as empathy, prudence and exuberance as well as commitments to opportunity, safety and justice and a shared global identity preserve not just a space for some form of democracy, but for all life too! Homer-Dixon speaks of an immortality project…that gives people and groups around the world broad possibilities to imagine, tell, and weave together their own hero storiesand to live them togetheras we move towards a shared vision of the future.Commanding hope becomes the emotional and rational energy and agency humanity must maintain to steadfastly leap through the inevitable dangers ahead of us. Homer-Dixon believes this jump is feasible and, he maintains, enough if we succeed in the transformation of our institutions, particularly our carbon-based energy system and our model of economic growth. This must be our aim in moving towards a sustainable and equitable future.

    Please listen to the CBC Ideas interview with Thomas Homer-Dixon.