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    Archive for April, 2023

    Young people go to the courts to protect their future

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

    – Martin Luther King Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Now is the perfect time to replace your lawn for a glorious garden.

    “I teach self-reliance, the world’s most subversive practice. I teach people how to grow their own food, which is shockingly subversive. So, yes, it’s seditious. But it’s peaceful sedition.” 

    Bill Mollison

    This is a magical time of the year. When I heard the first robin sing the other day, I realized how desperately quiet winter had been. When I see new birds arrive at the bird feeder who weren’t there two weeks ago, it’s clear that all animals are celebrating the arrival of spring. It doesn’t matter that there may be a little snow on the ground, because suddenly there are creeks that have come alive and rivers are rising with the breakup of ice. Canada geese are on the wing, and vultures hover overhead riding the warmer air. We also emerge from our wintry habitats, change our shoes and adorn ourselves with spring apparel, and open windows to fresh air and perhaps new ideas.

    As the price of food rose 10% last autumn, did it occur to you to consider starting a garden, but then to ask where? Why not put the garden where presently there is a patch of grass? There are so many reasons to do so. It’s hard to beat freshly picked peas, spinach or tomatoes, and a parade of sweet pea flowers adds fragrance and colour; no lawn offers that. Besides, a liberated area of earth allows for a plethora of beneficial insects to enter the space. Furthermore, biodiversity flourishes when the garden is an organic one. Organic horticulture respects the soil and the creatures who live there; harmful herbicides and pesticides are not used. Although organically grown seeds are slightly more expensive than others, they are the foundation for any garden, as they are free of chemical residues that contaminate the land. It’s also fun to save seeds from your organic produce.

    In the depths of winter the joyful and hope-filled arrival of the seed catalogue kicks off the flurry of dreams, plans and actions for our awakening. You might have discussions with others about what to include that is new to the garden. A gardening plan makes sense, but spontaneity is important too, and it doesn’t matter if all you have is a sunny patio to start your garden paradise. A collection of different potted pepper plants, for example, will enliven any space with their elegant shapes and fruits. During April and May there are many seedlings that can be propagated in the house. In fact, I start basil—the tender leaves are a treat to eat in April—and snapdragons in early February. As you will probably know, supermarkets and hardware stores sell both vegetable and flower seeds. Right now is the perfect time to buy a selection of seeds, or, better, to use the seeds you have collected from last year’s harvest. If you use open-pollinated varieties, you will have many possibilities to save seeds. This gives you independence from buying what you can instead nurture yourself. Growing garlic is an example of home sustainability. There is never a need to buy garlic again if you save enough bulbs for them to be planted in late October. Right now they are pushing past the leaf mulch to harvest mid-July.

    Municipal garden plots offer a wonderful way to explore and hone your skills as a novice gardener, and if you don’t have a lawn or a piece of land to convert into a garden, you may be able to rent a plot. Sherbrooke offers this opportunity. See and

    For years I had a city garden plot and it afforded me many gifts: not only fine vegetables, but also a ready-made community of like-minded and enthusiastic people who shared their experiences. It was always enjoyable to stroll from one plot to the next and observe how other people went about growing their food—there are, as it turns out, a dozen ways to trellis your peas—and it’s a great way to make new friends. 

    There are other ways to find some space to grow flowers and vegetables. It is possible, as I found out, to cut out some of the asphalt leading up to your house and plant a tree or flowers in the space opened up. Simply laying some garden fabric on top of the area, framing it with wood and adding soil and compost makes for a successful area to grow flowers that help out butterflies and other insects. (There is something subversive—as renowned permaculturist Bill Mollison muses above—to the status quo that represents fossil oil, when we get rid of asphalt and free up land for living plants!) 

    Have a flat roof? Why not put some seasonal planters up there? Ask a neighbour who has too much grass if you can use some of the area to start a garden. Once you begin to look around while walking or cycling, you’ll see the immense opportunities there are for people to convert endless lawns into gardens. Naturally there are farms nearby, and some may be interested in starting up a community garden. Universities are also gearing up to support horticulture. Bishop’s University is now starting a program that teaches agroforestry, agroecology and permaculture; it is also a hands-on endeavour there. In this time of biodiversity loss and climate warming it’s vital that a new generation of students take up horticulture.

    More and more cities are allowing front lawns to be converted into flower and vegetable gardens. Toronto and other large cities are loosening up their bylaws to give people the opportunity to have pollinator gardens. No Mow May is catching on in the Eastern Townships, including Sherbrooke, to allow pollinators to have a larger source of flowers to visit. Public parks will defer the first mowing until after May. It is no secret that bee populations in particular are dropping precipitously, so they need all the help we can give them. One Sherbrooke resident who grew a garden facing the street called his action “horticultural disobedience”! So don’t worry about digging up the front lawn to replace it with a garden. People realize that those beautiful flowers are a sign not of your wilful neglect, but of your love for Nature.

    Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, written by Heather Jo Flores, is a wonderful book for self-empowerment. The book was written to celebrate Nature and to inspire us to create new synergies that make for a more compassionate and healthier planet. Visit to read it. It tells us, “Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland. These pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread pollution and global warming, and greatly increasing our risk of cancer, heart disease, and birth defects. In addition, the pollution emitted from a [gasoline] power mower in just one hour is equal to the amount from a car being driven 350 miles.” 

    Soon a few packets or envelopes of seeds will be rattling in my pockets asking to be sown in the warming earth. Hearing them call out is a joy each springtime. Make it yours too.

    Long-awaited UN synthesis climate report tells it like it is. We’re on thin ice.

    “Humanity is on thin ice—and that ice is melting fast… Concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest levels in at least 2 million years. The climate time bomb is ticking… Today’s IPCC report is a how-to guide to defuse the climate time bomb… It is a survival guide for humanity.” Video

    UN Secretary General António Guterres

    During the last few years I have often quoted UN Secretary General António Guterres in these articles. As the leader of the UN he should inspire people and countries to take notice of grave humanitarian and ecological situations. He advises us to act on impending crises. His voice is one for solidarity and the courage to face existential threats.

    But who listens to him? Certainly not global north societies. This is a source of great sadness for me and many others who have recognized for decades the looming encirclement of a multitude of crises that are now at the point of being unleashed full-blown upon this world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that was released a week ago is being called a “survival guide.” This is NOT hyperbole. “The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years,” the IPCC declares

    The recent first water conference given by the UN in 50 years points us to the immediate task of giving urgent relief to the accumulative wrongs wrought against the most needy. The IPCC points out the extreme scenarios that are gaining higher and higher scientific confidence, whereby the global south finds it increasingly difficult to cope with the many cascading crises, including sea level rises, that will upend already fragile communities.

    The IPCC report published this month links achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals to the immediate reduction of carbon dioxide levels: “Climate change has reduced food security and affected water security due to warming, changing precipitation patterns, reduction and loss of cryospheric elements, and greater frequency and intensity of climatic extremes, thereby hindering efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals.” Goal 6 targets clean water and sanitation. Places like Africa cannot meet clean water and sanitation goals unless the rich nations get their act together. The report is a must-read!

    Bill McKibben’s book The End of Nature, published in 1989, was the first book aimed at raising public awareness of the catastrophic direction in which the accumulation of carbon dioxide pollution would take us: where we are now, on the cusp of ecological and societal collapse. (Tellingly, the secretive scientific papers written by fossil fuel companies had laid out the dangers back in the 1970s.)

    Now that McKibben is over 60 years old, he has co-founded Third Act (, the purpose of which is to bring the wisdom and huge financial clout of the richest living generation to put pressure on governments and financial institutions to stop loaning obscene amounts of money to the oil and gas industries that in turn accelerate new levels of production. It is well known that institutions such as Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of America are financing climate destruction. Recent protests have brought older people to the banks to demand the cessation of those loans or else lose the billions of dollars that the over-sixties generations control. As McKibben recently said in an interview with Democracy Now!, “If we can get that message through, if we can remind people today of the connection between cash and carbon—literally, somebody who has $125,000 in those banks is producing more money, because it’s being lent out for pipelines and frack wells… Five thousand dollars in the bank produces more carbon than flying back and forth across the country. So we need these banks to start acting responsibly. And we need it—well, the IPCC said we’re in the last act of this drama unless we stand up and move fast. That’s one of the things that Third Act is really about.”

    The UN report just published ties together all the IPCC’s other reports to show that it is now or never that humanity must act to ensure wellbeing for all creatures on Earth. The last part of the report includes a strategy for achieving a vast reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in order to make the second half of this century tolerable—for there is the means for us to do so. If we fail in this, we face a grim and harrowing future. Please see the graphics included in the report.

    One of the scientists who worked on the IPCC 6th Assessment Report is Joëlle Gergis, who has just published Humanity’s Moment: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope. In a recent conversation with The Revelator, Gergis said: “The 2020s will be remembered as the decade that determined the fate of humanity. We can each choose to be part of the critical mass that will change the world. And when we do, it will bring profound meaning and purpose to our lives… We know exactly what we need to do, we just need governments all over the world to urgently implement policy to avert disaster… The IPCC has very clearly laid out a path towards stabilizing the Earth’s climate. For that to happen we need ordinary citizens to vote for politicians who will take real leadership, and also be prepared to do whatever we can in our own lives to live more sustainably on the planet.”

    The famous investigative journalist Daniel Ellsberg, a lifelong activist against nuclear weapons, was interviewed recently for a New York Times piece, “The Man Who Leaked the Pentagon Papers Is Scared.” In the interview he expressed his fear that we are living in the most dangerous time for humanity. He questioned the ability of governments to stop nuclear war as well as climate chaos. Guterres’s role is to shine a beacon of courage and activism at the UN and the world, but without all of us in the west saying enough is enough, nothing will change.

    The secretary general tells it as it is, and the IPCC deals in unadorned language too: “The likelihood of abrupt and irreversible changes and their impacts increases with higher global warming levels… Climatic and non-climatic risks will increasingly interact, creating compound and cascading risks that are more complex and difficult to manage.”

    In a stark graphic, the IPCC shows the levels of generational climate risk. A person born in 1950 has had nowhere close to the existential risk of a person born in 2020. The IPCC shows us unequivocally by how much every ton of CO2 is estimated to increase global heating.

    It’s vital for each of us to think about our individual carbon budget, which crucially reflects our ecological footprint. For example, if you are a 50-plus-year-old North American and have been flying, in keeping with your financial abilities, since you were 20, you have probably busted your carbon budget. The mindset of North Americans to shamelessly pollute has no equal in the rest of the world. Carbon budgets are not only for governments to rein in. Massive consumption levels by North Americans are increasingly out of line. Are we purposely undereducated and incurious?

    It is interesting to note that the graphs that accompany the report include both Canadians and Americans as North Americans, who contribute to the largest carbon levels. Canadians are the equal to American profligacy. Please read the IPCC report and transform your everyday activities and goals to reflect what is at stake: everything.

    “At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity.”

    Chico Mendes