Recent Comments
    Visit Us on Facebook

    Author Archive

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

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

    Global Resources Outlook 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    https://tinyurl.com/icn-greenhushing

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

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

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

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

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

    Astrid Puentes, environmental lawyer, Colombia-Mexico.

    https://tinyurl.com/Amnesty-activists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    https://tinyurl.com/Lithium-questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Global north’s agenda continues to impoverish all life

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

    Diamond Sutra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    from “Journey to the Interior” by Theodore Roethke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Low expectations for UN climate conference 

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

    from “Return” by Robinson Jeffers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Undermined by greed, we find ourselves in uncharted territory 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Saidiya Hartman

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

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

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

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

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

    from “To Ashes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    First Nations Health Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    No student should be denied climate education

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

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

    Walt Whitman, A Song of the Rolling Earth

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

    António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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