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    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, 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Wheat field in England
    Courtesy of Plants for a Future 

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