Category Archives: Hope

Crafters for Climate

I’ve done something a bit mad, and I’ll talk about why I’ve done this to myself more in another post, but for today I’ll just tell you what it is:

I’ve committed to creating, hosting or participating in one public Climate Change event connected to each of my hobbies, ideally before the Canadian election in October but if that can’t be arranged ASAP.

Sewing was first: two small workshops held at Needlework here in Hamilton, using scrap fabrics to make small climate action banners and support the youth strikers, while I spoke a bit about what the climate emergency is and how it connects to our much loved hobby.

So great to see a bunch of kids out on Friday!

I’ve put it all together in this post as a toolkit that you can take to your favourite local sewing space and do yourself (or with a friend!).

Approach

I absolutely did not have this well thought out to begin with: I just went to my favourite local fabric store with a hugely sketchy pitch:

With the climate crisis being so much in the news, and the UN climate conference coming up again, and a federal election being faught over the carbon tax–and with Greta Thunberg and the youth strikers asking for adult support and participation in the Sept 20 and 27 climate strikes–wouldn’t it be great if an unexpected community like crafters and sewers were to speak out in support of climate action? We could fabric scraps, I suggested, and maybe piece them into a banner for the shop window or the protests–or people could make their own–or iron slogans on t-shirts, or make tote bags–or, I don’t know, what do you think?

Fortunately Kate and Liz were super enthusiastic and supportive and had the much better and easier idea of using fusible web to make banners, but yes, out of scraps. And I’d talk a bit about climate change while we all make our masterpieces, and we’d raise some money for a local environmental group, and in short, it would be fabulous. Liz and Kate did most of the work: making the blank banners, setting up the event on their website, and collecting donations. (A huge thank you again!)

Agenda

After everyone arrived, Liz and Kate gave a basic introduction to the event and a how-to on the fusible web. Attendees brainstormed a slogan, sketched it out, and started tracing and cutting. About an hour in, after everyone had their slogan planned out and was focused on getting it done, I jumped into my talk.

It was very short–just a few minutes–and we were all working on our projects at the same time, so it was very informal.

Afterwards we kept chatting while we finished up our banners.

Here’s the one I made on Saturday morning, hanging at home on the living room wall.

Talk

Do any of you remember seeing the headlines about “twelve years left to save the planet” from a year ago? And if you do, how many of you feel like you have a really solid understanding of what that means? What is it we had twelve years left to do, and what happens if we don’t do it?

Here’s the basic rundown:

If we want to be reasonably sure that the planet can continue to support human civilization in something mostly like what we’re used to, we need to limit total warming to 1.5C.

We’ve already experienced 1C of warming, so there is very little margin left, and the global carbon cycle is so slow that what we’ve already emitted will get us to 1.5C some time this century whether we continue to emit carbon or not.

That sounds bad, yes? So when global leaders met and signed the Paris Accords saying they would try to limit warming to 1.5C, it led straight away to the question: ok, great, but how?

The IPCC commissioned a study on that question: how do we do this? CAN we do this? And about a thousand climate experts from around the world collaborated on putting together the information that came together in last October’s report. What they concluded was:

  • If we cut emissions roughly in half by 2030
  • And completely decarbonize by 2050
  • And then go into NEGATIVE emissions in the second half of this century

We have about a 66% chance of keeping warming to 1.5C, though we may overshoot it for part of that time before negative emissions have an impact.

That twelve years is how long we have to cut our emissions in half. Of course right now emissions are still rising, so that’s a big challenge.

AND! It will affect our beloved hobby, too. Let’s talk a little bit about how: we’re sitting in a space where just about every product started out as a plant on a farm, and which will be affected by a changing climate. Textiles and fashion have environmental implications beyond climate of course, like water use and transportation and fertilizers and chemicals during processing and dyeing, but I’m going to limit myself to climate impacts today because that’s what we’re here for.

Climate change—impacts on cotton:

  • higher temps a mixed bag, depending on geographic region and how close they already are to upper tolerance levels
  • drought, storms, all decrease yields
  • yields in some countries already declining
  • during the 2011 Texas drought, 55% of cotton fields were abandoned
  • even in low-warming scenarios, yields in America expected to decline 30-46%
  • solutions include GMOs for heat and drought tolerance, using more wild varieties and cultivars that tolerate extremes better, and changing farming practices to better conserve water etc. Even so, yields will almost certainly decline.

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/why-climate-change-material-cotton-industry

https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/129/358/172950.html

http://www.insidecotton.com/jspui/bitstream/1/2600/1/Bange%20and%20Constable.pdf

Linen/flax

Not as much research or writing, but yields are declining for now and expected to continue to decline; however, not as severely as cotton (because it uses the entire plant, not just the seed?)

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329655637_Flax_crop_production_and_climate_change_from_diagnosis_to_solutions_for_the_future_Philippe_GATE_and_Olivier_DEUDON

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25796897

Polyester/synthetics

A single polyester t-shirt has carbon emissions of 5.5kg, (about double that of a cotton t-shirt).

https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/textile-industry-and-climate-change/

Bamboo & Rayon

We also have a solution here too. There are definitely sustainability concerns with the production of rayon, but bamboo was described by Project Drawdown as having significant potential to sequester carbon because it’s a perennial plant that grows very quickly.


So there you go. Everything in the world, including this shop, affects and is affected by the climate crisis.

And of course, it’s not just textiles, is it? If it were, we might be less concerned, though I personally have no interest in living in a global nudist colony.

Reports on climate impacts expected for Hamilton this century include: more extreme weather events, more precipitation in the spring, winter and fall; more drought in the summer; more ice storms; more extreme heat, leading to an anticipated 2 months or more of extreme heat every year by the 2080s ; more invasive species; new pests and diseases to our region (like Lyme disease).

At the same time, these impacts are going to be worse for vulnerable and marginalized communities: women, racial minorities, people with low-incomes or disabilities, are all going to feel the effects more.

But this also means that just about anything you do to make the world a better, fairer place will help on climate change. For example, the same people at Project Drawdown found that if you combine the mitigation impacts of education for girls globally and improved access to family planning, women’s rights have as much impact on climate change as wind turbines.


You’ve probably already heard about the things you can do as an individual or a household to reduce your carbon: drive an electric car or take transit, avoid flying, avoid meat, change to LED lightbulbs, set your thermostat to use less heat and air conditioning—and those are all great, but if we need to decarbonize, we need societal change. Our province shutting down all the coal-fired power plants was, at the time, the largest climate mitigation project in North American history, because at a stroke we all emitted less carbon in our electricity regardless of our personal choices.

We need a lot more of that, which means action from all levels of government and business and industry leaders. Which isn’t going to happen unless they hear from a lot of us.

Which is where our lovely banners come in, and the school strikes and demonstrations. It’s amazing to me that even the conservative party has a climate policy for this year’s election. It’s crap, and it would make emissions go up, but they’ve got one–they’ve conceded that it’s real and accept that the public wants to see action. This is a direct result of increasing public visibility and pressure from things like the youth strikes. So the best thing for all of us to do is get more involved.

Other Ideas

You weren’t at the workshop, you aren’t going to a strike: how else can you be part of mobilizing and publicly supporting action on climate change?

It is uncomfortable and new territory for a lot of us, but so much is at stake.  Please find a way to be involved!

Theory

For the climate nerds, here’s the theoretical background: climate communications research shows that conversations about the climate emergency are more successful and lead to better outcomes when:

1. They are in small groups or one-to-one, rather than mass communications
2. They come from a trusted member of that community, rather than from an outsider
3. They are built on shared values and priorities
4. They tackle solutions and a vision of a desired and desirable future

These workshops put that theory into practice in the Hamilton sewing community.

Losing the Plot (and maybe finding it again)

Those of you who have met me in the last few years, particularly online, especially particularly through the blog, may not know that I used to write. A lot.

As in, I started reading novels when I was five, and started writing them when I was seven. As in, I have an overflowing bankers box full of journals from elementary school through university. As in, I’ve published short stories, essays and articles.

And then, a few years ago, blogging aside, I completely stopped.

Occasionally I’d get an idea and write it down, but that was all.

What happened was–I lost faith in the narrative arc.

Doesn’t that sound weird? Who has faith in the narrative arc? But as it turns out, that’s the one thing I needed to have if I was going to write. Even non-fiction has a kind of plot, a series of events that link causally, a conclusion whether hoped-for or actual. Epiphanies. Breakthroughs. Progress. Injustice or obstacles overcome, whether internally or externally. Battles won, or lost. Something the book is trying to accomplish. Not just a series of  random, unconnected data.

And I lost the pattern. I lost the plot.

Everything was random and nothing meant anything. People didn’t change, not really; or if they did it was so rare, so obscure, so hard, so impossible to pinpoint, and so difficult to describe, it wasn’t really worth talking about.

Professionally, the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference just about broke me.  Nicknamed Hopenhagen, and widely discussed at the time in climate circles as the world’s last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change, which it ultimately failed to do. So here we are in 2019, with raging wildfires and hurricanes that maybe should be in a brand new category 6 and climate refugees and a political order that is barely doing the things it should have done 20 years ago but with so much pushback that every climate gain is constantly contested and under threat.

Copenhagen broke my heart. It felt like the world had died, or maybe that the world had been admitted to palliative care and I was waiting for either a miracle or the final passing.

Part of that was family stuff. Do you know what it’s like to watch people, for decades, determinedly entangle themselves with abusers? Who defend the people who abuse them? Who scrounge around on the floor for crumbs of attention from people who hurt them–who talk about this as “love” or “kindness”?

Watching someone cling to those who have been a source of immense pain and no pleasure would challenge anyone’s notions of change or progress or insight or epiphany. Not everyone wakes up “one day” and leaves an abuser, whether that abuser is a parent or a spouse or a partner or a sibling. A lot of people stay forever, by choice–and spend a fair bit of energy and time trying to get other people to stay too.

I used to think that I had changed. Yes I had a crummy childhood, and that crummy childhood left scars and quirks a mile wide and a mile deep, and yes it caused me to make a series of disastrous and destructive romantic choices, but I’m learning–right?

Oh, change.

No. As it turned out I wasn’t. Or I wasn’t learning as much as I thought, not changing as much as I thought, still had blindspots and quirks and scars nearly a mile wide and a mile deep. As hit me over the head like a concrete 2×4 when I broke up with a man who’d assaulted me, bugged the apartment of his ex-wife and hired a PI so he could keep tabs on who she was fucking, sold his house and moved to an apartment halfway between where I live and where I worked after we broke up, stalked me so well that I knew exactly who it was and yet had no proof.  Why did I ignore the signs? Had I changed or learned or grown at all?

Now. This may not be clear to you already. But I have treated change as something between a part-time job and a significant hobby since my teens.

I wrote lists of new year’s resolutions, with milestones, deadlines, checklists. I talked to therapists. I read self-help books and psychology books and neurobiology books and philosophy books and parenting books and how-to books of all kinds. I was never, ever going to turn into my mother. Not only does she hurt people as reflexively and easily as most people make a sandwich, but she is as a result almost completely isolated; there is no part of her life that I want. Change was more important to me than God, for the period in my life in which I was religious; change, overcoming, learning, and being a better person, was the single most important thing in the world to me before Frances was born. Nothing was too hard or too much in my quest to be and do everything she wasn’t.

And at 38, in the wake of this relationship, I was hit like a brick in the face with the realization that what I really needed to worry about was becoming my father.

It is very difficult to make change and progress your life goals and then realize at 38 that in some important respects not only have you not changed or progressed, but you were aiming yourself at the wrong finish line.

And the point of this isn’t actually to depress any of you, but to provide some insight into my state of mind beginning in 2009 and then building over the next several years. Climate depression (a real thing now, and nice to have more company, though I’d obviously prefer the alternative) meeting up with a terminally dysfunctional family and a personal crisis of faith, causing a killer case of writer’s block, and the inability to compose a single prose sentence except for sewing and book reviews for several years.

None of these facts have changed: the climate is still an actual global dumpster fire, and it’s possible–and even likely–that none of the work I do will make a measurable difference; my family on both sides is still a mass of enablers, abusers and mental illness; that I will almost certainly remain completely oblivious to at least some of my own blindspots, and damage myself or others in their shadows; and that no one wants me to talk about any part of this.

Everything I really want or need to talk about makes people extremely uncomfortable. You can hardly get people to nope out of a conversation faster than if you mention climate change, unless it’s to talk about a petite attractive well-educated well-spoken nicely dressed wealthy white woman completely lacking in empathy or conscience, especially when that woman is your mother. Both upend everything people want or need to believe about how the world is or works, and I get it, but also, I’m at a place and in a life where survival means looking at what’s there, actually there, not the pretty picture that was modge-podged on top of the festering rot.

Honest festering rot can be useful, if it breaks down into soil and feeds new life. Slapping a glossy photo on top, besides being a lie, prevents growth.

Anyway, here’s the thing:

Nothing I ever said to my family made a difference; it’s possible, even likely, that nothing I say about climate change will make a difference. Life is indeed meaningless and the values we assign to ourselves, our place in society, nature and the world are arbitrary.  I talked to my dad a hundred times about how he was being treated, and he still stayed, and he still died. I’ve been yakking my head off about climate change and what it means for us as a civilization, a species, and a planet, for twenty years, and scientists as a group have been talking about it since the 1800s, and CO2 levels are still going up and things are getting worse.

This was meant to be an environmental blog, once upon a time, though even back then I wrote a lot about sewing and I can’t see that not continuing. These days, it looks like half the world is freaking out about climate change in the same way I did in 2009, and I find that there are things I want to say. That it is possible to look at the future we’ve made and say, maybe there’s no hope, but there’s still a point; I can’t solve this, but there is so much good that I can do in this crisis, good that only I–or you–can do.  That there is a huge difference between 1.5C and 2C, even though both are terrible, and another huge difference between 2 and 2.5; hell, even the difference between 1.5C and 1.6C can be measured in lives lost, and every single one of those lives matters, and one of those may be the one you save, whether you ever know it or not.

There’s no point. I grant that. I have no control over how my words are received or the impact they have, if any. Our world is engineered to strip almost all of us of most of our power, and then convince us that the powers we still have are irrelevant: boring, pointless, trivial, and weak, confined to our wallets and the periodic drama of the voting booth, nothing in the face of a new Netflix special or whether or not Jennifer Aniston is pregnant for real this time. I know it. You know it. And nevertheless. I’m going to speak, if only because if I don’t, I won’t be able to live with myself.

There’s no plot. We’re all sitting around like climate change is some Hollywood drama or Marvel movie and a hero is guaranteed to arrive in the 11th hour with a foolproof plan so the rest of us can sit back and wait, but we are not guaranteed a hero, and we’ve had plenty of plans offered to us over the decades, and we’ve decided none of them are to our liking.  Ok. So maybe out of some combination of hubris, denial, laziness, skepticism, neurological hijinks, unfettered capitalism, historical flukes, democratic erosion, colonialism and greed, humanity goes extinct and takes most of the world with it. Hell, trees almost did that, once upon a time.

There’s no narrative arc. The western story of social progress built on economic growth is, like Wile E Coyote, marching on thin air while the ecological basis of our species disintegrates beneath us, and will eventually plummet–is in some cases already plummeting. Maybe we’ll dash madly back to solid ground in time, and maybe we won’t, and in either case my words are unlikely to make a real difference. So be it.

I’m saying it anyway.

Over to you, Harper

“Canada’s economy is integrated with the United States’ to the point where it makes absolutely no sense to proceed without aligning a range of principles, policies, regulations and standards.

“For this reason, Canada has fully aligned its 2020 emission reduction target to reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels with the United States. This target has been inscribed in the Copenhagen Accord and is subject to adjustment to remain consistent with the U.S. target.” (from Canada’s Action on Climate Change)

“No nation can solve this challenge alone — not even one as powerful as ours. And that’s why the final part of our plan calls on America to lead — lead international efforts to combat a changing climate.” (President Obama introducing his new climate change policy, June 25 2013)

Well.

This has been quite a day.

Defense of Marriage Act ruled unconstitutional. (I cried–happy tears.) Wendy Davis’s astonishing performance to defeat proposed Texas legislation to limit abortions. (I cheered.) And President Obama yesterday finally publicly moving on the power the courts gave him to use the EPA to limit GHG emissions by deeming them pollutants. (I fell over. No, just kidding; I only wobbled slightly.)

None of these were enough, at least not for anyone I know. Too many states still do not allow gay marriage, so overturning DOMA is a partial (albeit significant) victory at best. One piece of anti-choice legislation was overturned, but only one, with far too many waiting in the wings and not enough Wendy Davises to go around. And President Obama’s proposed actions to reduce GHG emissions, while long overdue and certainly meaningful, are nowhere near sufficient.  Still, it was a day with a lot to celebrate for a lot of people, and it’s important to grab those partial victories where you can and wring every bit of good you can get out of them.

Limitations on emissions from coal power plants; quotas for renewable energy produced on crown lands and defense installations; a promise to re-engage with international negotiations–it’s all good. It’s not enough, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing, and “better than nothing” is a first important step to “now we’re getting somewhere.” And of course, given the Harper government’s continued stated assertions, repeated on their official climate change website, that we really have no choice but to proceed in lock-step with the US on climate change initiatives …

…well…

… how long do you think it’ll take? A few days? Maybe a week? Surely Harper is cooking up something to restore something of our tarnished international reputation on this issue and create some meaningful policies supporting renewable energy production and emissions standards for coal power plants. In fact, let’s check with the favoured newspaper of the Canadian neo-conservative elite, the Financial Post:

“Along with the president’s speech, the White House issued a wordy 21-page document titled “The President’s Climate Action Plan” plus a colourful fear-mongering, school-friendly graphic that made exaggerated claims about U.S. weather, storms and droughts.” (The heat gets to Obama’s head, FP, June 26 2013)

On the front page, no less, supported by so many nonsensical and easily-disproved assertions that if the FP were  a horse this lame, we’d shoot it: Obama wasn’t hot because the 33C weather was typical for June! (Washington DC average high in June is 28C.) Arsenic is toxic but carbon is essential to life and therefore any comparison is just unscientific and wrong! (Lots of things are safe in small quantities but toxic in larger amounts–like arsenic, actually. Also, even the Green Earth Society gave up the “carbon is life” line back in the 1980s.)

So who wants to take bets on how long it will take before the Tories start back-tracking on “aligning with the US on climate” so they can continue to do nothing and promote tar sands around the world?*

I’ve often wondered if opponents of climate change action have a back-up planet they’re planning to emigrate to when this one is no longer habitable. Unfortunately, if they do, it’s not a plan I’m privy to and I’m not expecting they’ll save Frances a seat on the shuttle, so I’m going to keep trying to save this one.

“And someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don’t you want that?” (Obama, June 26, 2013)

~~~~~

*Geeky analysis section: Part of any environmental assessment of any size is determing the scope of the project to be assessed. In my former jobs, it wasn’t unusual for an environmental assessment to focus on, say, just a bridge over a river (when the bridge was being built as part of a road to support a new mine or forestry project) or a sign (when the sign was a small part of an overall new building project) or fence (when the fence was part of a runway expansion). If the bridge, sign or fence is all that you are legally required to evaluate, then the scope of the assessment does not include the mine, logging operation, new building or runway expansion; which means that the environmental impacts are negligible and the project is all but certain to be approved. Obama’s comments in the speech yesterday on Keystone and the tar sands left this question wide open on the proposed pipeline: whether the pipeline “contributes significantly to carbon pollution” will of course depend on whether the tar sands are ruled in or out of scope for the assessment. If the tar sands are out of scope for the pipeline, then the assessment will for all intents and purposes be identical to a sewer or water pipe, and the project will be approved. So, key for the Harper government’s efforts in getting the pipeline approved will be to continue their “the tar sands will be developed whether this pipeline is built or not” message. It’s boloney, of course; if you don’t have a logging road then you don’t have a forestry operation, and if you don’t have a pipeline then you don’t have an oil operation.

The other certainty is a continued push on all the not-nothing they want us to believe they are already doing. Just remember, whenever you see those fancy stats the Tories like to pull out of a hat about their climate initiatives: a) most of the reduction numbers they quote are what we might achieve if all policies are implemented in full–i.e., we’re not there yet and there’s no guarantee we ever will be, and b) to the extent those numbers reflect actual current emissions, almost all of them are due to municipal and provincial GHG reduction initiatives that the federal government either did not assist with or actively tried to derail.

Review: Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology
Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that should be read in the spring.

Unfortunately, I first picked it up in the fall, and found the first fifty pages a tough slog. Where was the evidence, the statistics, the science? There is none, of course; this is a book of moral and environmental philosophy, and more of the felt-truth flavour than the chain-of-logic variety.

I had much better luck with it when I picked it up after a full day of hiking and gardening, with the dirt still under my fingernails and the songs of birds in my ears. Well, of course–the earth is alive, and we are connected to it, and we should remember that we too are animals and part of the world. And it doesn’t need any evidence. It’s self-evident.

“there’s a tacit sense that we’d better not let our awareness come too close to our creaturely sensations, that we’d best keep our arguments girded with statistics and our thoughts buttressed with abstractions, lest we succumb to an overwhelming grief–a heartache born of our organism’s instinctive empathy with the living land and its cascading losses.” (p. 7)

That hurdle overcome, I polished the book off lickety-split.

Abram’s central argument (if you can call it that, when it consists largely of appeals to the reader’s empathy and personal experience) is that we, too, are animals; and, being animals, we ought not to think of ourselves as or act as if we are separate from the rest of nature. Go outside; pay attention; listen to things, because everything has a voice, and talk to them too, because they are listening to you. You may not find his argument convincing in a typical linear logic sense, but it is beautifully stated and deeply felt, and it’s hard to see how taking ourselves off of the evolutionary pedestal and resituating ourselves with the rest of creation could possibly lead to any harm.

“Perhaps the broad sphere, itself, needed our forgetfulness. Perhaps some new power was waiting to be born on the planet, and our species was called upon to incubate this power in the dark cocoon of our solitude. Ours enses dulled, our attenntion lost to the world, we created, in our inward turning, a quiet cave wherein a new layer of Earth could first shape itself and come to life. But surely it’s time now to hatch this new stratum, to waken our senses from their screen-dazzled swoon, and so to offer this power back to the more-than-human terrain. The cascading extinctions of other species make evident that the time is long past ripe. The abrupt loss of rain forests and coral reefs, the choking of wetlands, the poisons leaching into the soils, and the toxins spreading in our muscles compel us to awaken from our long oblivion, to cough up the difficult magic that’s been growing within us, swelling us with pride even as the land disintegrates all around us. Surely we’ve cut ourselves off for long enough–time, now, to open our minds outward, returning to the biosphere that wide intelligence we’d thought was ours alone. … Sentience was never our private possession.” (p. 129)

OK, the language may be a little overwrought from time to time. Also, Abrams really likes the word “cascading.” But as a book to bring you back into your senses, as a living creature in a living world, it’s hard to beat.

View all my reviews

Ecology, Economy, and Ego

When spotted owls were threatened with extinction, we cried and passed laws. When whales were threatened with extinction, we screamed and wrote international treaties. Now, when polar bears are going extinct, we rage.*

But when bumblebees threaten extinction on us we panic.

Why?

Because what’s big, ultimately, is expendable. It’s what’s very very small that matters, ecologically speaking; our world belongs to the bugs, the worms, and mold. We are visitors only, and while we like to look down on the rest of the planet because it could never have been Shakespeare (as if you or I were ever capable of being Shakespeare either–but I digress), the fact is, Shakespeare could never have been, could never have breathed nor eaten nor grown, without the bacteria, decomposers, insects, and photosynthesizers that made it all possible. Not to mention all of the, you know, actors and set designers and stuff.

Polar bears are very cool, don’t get me wrong, I want to live in a world with polar bears. But if polar bears were to go extinct tomorrow, their ecosystems would hobble along until a new status quo establishes itself. Whereas if plankton disappear (and they might), every aquatic ecosystem on earth is toast.

I went down to Occupy Toronto at St. James Park last Saturday, just as they were setting up the tents and tarps. A sign reading “Abandon Greed, Kindness is Worthwhile” greeted me and stuck a goofy grin on my face that stayed all afternoon. People were smiling, friendly, laughing, playing guitars and singing in a rainy 10C. Two mics let people give short speeches to the crowds, and the diversity of speakers and opinions was heartening and lovely. Buy local! Find the love within! Let go of fear! Do God’s work and help the poor! Tax corporations! Remember we are already on occupied land; native rights are important too! Health care for all! Forgive student debts! Build wind and solar! Solve climate change! Stop pollution! Racism kills! Listen to my hip-hop song about the revolution! There’s flouride in the water! Stop buying crap!

Disorganized, yes, but my activist heart sings because all of these conversations ARE related and important and we’ve needed these disparate communities to sit down and talk to each other about how they’re related and how to fix it for at least fifty years. The same system that gives banks millions of dollars for depriving average folks of education and a home, while doing nothing to help those average people, is the same system that gives corporations inalienable rights to destroy the atmosphere and climate upon which human civilization depends. The same mechanisms that send some kids to Harvard and Yale send other kids to the army or jail. That 1% on top doesn’t just depend on corrupt government (but hey, it doesn’t hurt); it also depends on sexism, racism, environmental degradation and externalities, cheap foreign labour and globalization, debt slavery, fossil fuels, and, yes, the internalized terror that keeps most of us from doing more than making a largely futile x on a piece of paper every four or five years. (“Why don’t you just vote!” the columnists scold. “Has it occured to you that we’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked out particularly well!” we reply.) It’s all related. No meaningful solutions will come until all sides have come together and discussed the common sources of their problems.

Regardless:

As with ecology, so with the economy: the big need the small. The charismatic carnivores of the economic system–billionaires, millionaires, banks, and in a global sense much of the first world–intimately rely on and cannot function without the producers and decomposers–mothers, teachers, janitors, manufacturers of clothing, farmers, plumbers, etc. The charismatic carnivores have done a pretty good job of convincing the rest of us that we need them–their money, their ‘jobs,’ their ‘investments,’ their continued presence gracing our lucky countries–but nothing could be further from the truth. They need us.

If every CEO on earth vanished tomorrow, how would it affect your life? Now imagine a world tomorrow without waste collectors, truck drivers and electricians. Our society could not function. The 2009 garbage strike in Toronto brought the city to its knees.

Generally speaking, your contribution to society is in inverse relationhip to the size of your paycheque. If, as a mother, your paycheque is $0, congratulations: you are truly indispensable and will, as a partial reward, spend your lifetime hearing about how your personal choice should in no way affect anyone else’s tax share and, by the way, please keep the brats out of any restaurant where you order at a table from a menu.

Every so often, literal charismatic carnivores wipe out the underpinnings of their own species by devouring their prey to near extirpation. The prey population collapses, then the predator population collapses, then both rebound, and balance is restored. Again, as with ecology, so with the economy: every so often the charismatic carnivores devour the underpinnings of their prosperity by pushing the working class to the point of collapse; but human beings, being human, generally respond by fighting back and swiping a few fangs from the carnivores’ mouths. And you get slave revolts. Class warfare. The civil rights movement. Feminism. The anarchist rebellion in Spain. The Magna Carta. The American Revolution. The Arab Spring. You get Occupy Wall Street and its many, many derivatives. Whenever the very small (economically speaking) remember that the rich need us, but we don’t need them.**

Just like bears need bumblebees, but bumblebees could manage just fine without the bears.

~~~~~

* Please note that all of these species are still facing extinction. We’ve been enormously unsuccessful at rescuing our victims.

**Not a plea for the extinction of the rich, just for a little mutual perspective and humility.

Thanksgiving

This has been a good couple of weeks to be a leftie, eh?

Occupy Wall Street just keeps growing–and I wish them much luck and the donation of several outdoor heaters, because I’m sure it’s getting cold in NYC at night. Watching the march and the protests online Wednesday evening (you really don’t need cable for anything important) was amazing.

I tried to explain to Frances what was going on, and why they were angry, and how it all happened (“Well, see, some people at the banks did some really bad things and it got the whole economy in trouble–the “economy” is all of the things that people buy and sell put together–so the banks were fine but regular people lost their homes and jobs and a lot of them in America don’t have the money for food and medicine any more. So they are all getting together so they can talk to the government about changing it, because they are very angry and very scared”). She stared at them for a while, and asked, “Why are they all yelling? It’s making a lot of noise,” and then sat down with her stuffed brown squirrel toy and tried to explain to him why some squirrels hate black squirrels, and why they shouldn’t.

“Squirrel racism,” I said. “Yes,” she replied.

“Did they talk to the government yet?” she asked me later. “Did they win?”

“Umm, not quite yet. They’ve been out there for a few weeks already and will probably be out there for a while longer.”

The green movements have signed on, the labour unions are joining in–this is good stuff. Rumours are going around that the White House may actually not allow the Keystone pipeline after all–this after Transcanada has already started mowing up endangered habitats in preparation, for which they are being sued.

You can just picture me madly waving my little green flag over in the corner, cheering.

Meanwhile, in Canada–the Tories aren’t getting the Ontario majority they’d banked on just six months ago. I’m writing this on Thursday, before any of the results are in, so I’m being cocky but:

Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I’ve wanted to do work that would make the world a better place. Now, when I was five, I wanted to follow in the family tradition and be a missionary–this does not work as well when you’ve left the Church.

I went to University for Environment and Resource studies, never really expecting it to lead to a job that earned more than $20k/year (remember this was 1994), but I didn’t care. I was prepared to be broke pretty much forever if only I could make a difference on issues I cared about. That I graduated and found work that paid relatively well (not fabulous, but when your expectations are poverty-level it takes little to exceed them) surprised no one more than me–but the work itself was uninspiring. The whole system seemed set up to prevent the kind of meaningful changes we all knew needed to be made: environmental assessments focus on trivial projects over those with real impacts, so I spent my time writing screening reports for bridge repairs over drainage ditches or posting signs or building fences; government silos and committee culture mean it takes years to come to the slightest bit of agreement on anything, by which time there’s an election and a new government and you start over from scratch; too much consulting work is focused on how to mitigate a project rather than evaluate whether or not it should proceed. It’s disheartening.

A few years ago, I cracked into freelance journalism by writing articles about renewable energy–solar and wind. I dug deep into the academic literature, as I had access to academic libraries at the time; I interviewed the experts and activists on both sides; I read reports and checked their footnotes and references back through three or four levels to figure out exactly what was said by who when based on what evidence; and concluded that anti-renewable sentiment was based on a large steaming pile of crap. For the articles I wrote, I was paid the princely sum of $50. Freelance journalism does not pay well, at least not in Canada, not when you’re starting out–but it wasn’t about the money.

Then the Liberals passed the Green Energy Act, the FIT program started, and I saw a job posting for a management position working on renewable energy approvals–and I jumped at it, and here I am. Living in my lovely small town with my daughter who is as happy as I’ve ever seen her, doing work every day that makes the world better, cooler, safer for my daughter. I even get paid more than $20k/year to do it, though it was a pay cut from the government job. (Worth it, too.) Then the provincial Tories turned wind energy into a political football and we got kicked around for a year for votes, and wondered what would happen on October 7 if they cancelled the GEA and FIT program as promised with all those big leads they had in the polls….

But here we are. The program is safe, for now, and I get to keep working hard every day to make the world a meaningfully better place.

So thank you, Ontario. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will be spending this Thanksgiving weekend feeling very grateful indeed–because what I have, right now, is all I ever really wanted.

Planet Moving for beginners

2011 is the year for climate activism (knock wood–so far): the Keystone Pipeline protests at the White House, Climate Reality last week, Moving Planet this weekend, a Keystone Pipeline action in Ottawa on Monday, all in September. Chances are you missed the White House bit and won’t be making it down to NYC for Occupy Wall Street, nor will you be busing it up to Ottawa to camp out on Parliament Hill and tell Stephen Harper what an idiot he is.

(Definition of Idiot: repeatedly states he has no intention of doing anything about preserving the planet we live on because the soils, oceans, atmosphere and climate underlying our civilization are not significant, but as soon as Europe’s economy falters and a recession looms he jumps in with both feet. This, Dear Readers, is like fussing with the arrangement of the photos on your mantelpiece while your house burns down around you.)

I digress. Chances are, you are not traveling for climate activism.

But lucky you, you don’t have to!

For the very laziest among you, log on to the Climate Reality project and watch the highlights videos from the comfort of your den or living room. At the very least, watch Doubt & the concluding New York City highlights. That’ll take all of 15 minutes of your time.

For the less lazy, Moving Planet is this Saturday, aka tomorrow, and climate change events will be held all over the world. I know of several within a one-hour drive of my house including rallies, bike rides, fairs and clean energy exhibitions. It might be–I fear to even whisper it–fun.

I count myself as fairly lazy most of the time (fact: I do not own a hairdryer, mostly because I see no point in burning coal to get my hair to dry faster when it’ll dry on its own anyway, but also, it saves me a heap of time every morning and I’d much rather sleep), but even so, I’m hoping to get out to the Hamilton Moving Planet rally tomorrow afternoon.

Near IS the New Far (or: I Told You So)

bloodroot

I became very afraid last weekend about the potential apocalypse. There I was, going about my regular business, when I saw this giant yellow flaming ball in the sky. Then I remembered that it was something called the sun, and usually heralded a good day to spend outside. I obliged.

Mostly this consisted of yard work–lawn mowing, hedge trimming, and weed pulling–speaking of which, do not, for the love of god, plant a garden of ground-climbing roses. They grow like weeds, take over the lawn and the sidewalk, and it is impossible to weed them without skinning your forearms. I’ve decided more or less officially to let half of the backyard grow in wild and leave it unmowed, and claim this is for the good of the neighbourhood birds and rabbits. You can judge the honestly of this claim for yourself. At any rate, it does make my life a bit easier.

But mostly–Dear Readers, I went to the forest. And it was green! There were things growing. Pretty things, just like spring had actually begun and winter was really truly over. Just in time for summer, in fact, as June starts this week, but whatever. There were trout lilies, trilliums, and the Royal Botanical Gardens’ magnolia glade in full bloom. Yellow warblers and red-winged blackbirds, green and leopard and tree frogs, cacophonies of spring peepers at dusk.

It was, in every way, perfect, except that Frances was at her Dad’s house all weekend so I didn’t get to see her geeking out over all the cool frogs.

It was also, in every way, a perfect illustration of the central thesis of Richard Louv’s recent The Nature Principle, which extends the argument of his prior Last Child in the Woods to society at large, and about time. His point? That you, your longevity, your mood, your relationships, your physical strength, your family, your neighbourhood, your community, the world at large, and the non-human world as well, all stand to benefit from a reconnection between us and our green kin and neighbours. An important book that deserves to be widely read and will almost certainly be ignored in favour of Apple’s latest profit statements, it made me dizzyingly happy. I read it in snippets between long stretches outside and felt both smugly self-righteous and determined to spend that much more time outdoors. Even in winter (perish the thought) since apparently winter walks provide just as much benefit as summer walks do, only people don’t enjoy them as much.

Bummer. I’ve lost my excuse to stay inside in January.

At any rate: on the assumption that any readers of my little blog are likely to be pro-green and well-disposed to the occasional out-of-doors afternoon, pick it up. You will have to imagine how it thrilled me to see and read “Near is the New Far,” seeing as it’s only what I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen for the past ten years, which isn’t many people, except now I can add “and Richard Louv agrees with me, so there!”

~~~~~

I want to write more here, and soon, and not just because Louv filled my head with a lot of green ideas, either. I miss it. But between coordinating field visits for frog-counting and debating the merits of various methods of ensuring soil visibility for archaeological surveys, writing Natural Heritage pieces for Heritage Toronto, raising a daughter, maintaining a house, reading, sewing, running, and sleeping a couple times a week, this has been the one thing that gets dropped. That should change, soon.

If you see me here again in June, then it has changed. Otherwise, not so much.

New Year’s Resolution

And I make no apologies

Hey, I have an idea: this year, let’s save the world.

Oh I know, we’ve promised to before, but this time, let’s really do it.

Let’s get off our comfortable asses and decide to put real money and effort into climate change.

Let’s get that using  a tonne of metal and litres of gasoline to ferry one person and their shopping bags around for maximum personal convenience is a historical accident, not an inalienable human right. Let’s  start doing stuff ourselves again, like walking to the store, opening cans, sweeping floors, and shoveling snow. Let’s start using calories, not coal.

Let’s realize that a hundred years ago, people lived happy and fulfilling lives with three outfits, two pairs of shoes, no televisions or computers or cell phones, in a 1000-square foot house without a garage. The rest of this stuff we keep stuffing our lives with is fun and it triggers all kinds of happy chemicals in our heads, but those chemicals are fleeting and then we are left with the debt and the environmental burden. Let’s distinguish needs from wants, and learn how to say no to ourselves. We are not toddlers. We will not die from the  disappointment nor throw temper tantrums at the mall.

Let’s believe that a growth economy is not the only way to prosperity for all, that it doesn’t work on a finite planet and we may as well begin figuring out how to wind it down now, before it crashes into the twin walls of the Laws of Physics and biospheric collapse.

Let’s save the world! Let’s prioritize our health, our savings, our time, our happiness and, yes, our environment over the GDP and our personal acquisition scorecard.

Sound good? Who’s with me? For a New Year’s Resolution it’s hard to beat.

Excellent! Now that we’ve got that settled….

I only have one New Year’s Resolution for myself this year, and it’s goofy and saccharine and not specifically environmental, so you don’t get to read it here. But you could probably guess that I absolutely intend to get some wind energy projects built this year.

Is it 2011 already?

Light in the distance

It is. If the calendar tells the truth, it is about 2.5% of the way through 2011, no less, and I’m just getting around to saying hello. (Hello, 2011!)

2010 was a great year for me and my family, and an interesting year for the environment in Ontario. My daughter and I moved to a lovely little town where I got a great job doing exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do, and if anyone ever tells you that your job is unrelated to your happiness and you can learn to be happy with any old job if you only have the right attitude, don’t believe them. Then, punch them in the nose. Yes, some people can, but some people can walk tightropes slung between hundred-story office towers, and we’re not all expected to follow in those footsteps, are we?

My daughter is going to a lovely school with a teacher she adores and has a bunch of wonderful friends who live on her street, which is pretty much seven-year-old nirvana. We have a two-minute walk to her school and I have a fifteen-minute walk to my office, and getting rid of the commute has made a huge difference, too. Plus, I walk to work through a park.

You’re jealous, and that’s ok. Did I mention the little grocery store that sells local, organic food, or the local, organic butcher, both a five-minute walk from my office? No? I’ll stop. 2010 was a really good year for us.

It was more of a mixed blessing for the environment in Ontario, at least from the perspective of this project manager in wind energy. Plus: We have a Green Energy Act and there are proposed wind projects all over the province! Minus: if Tim Hudak’s conservatives are elected this fall, they may stay “proposed” indefinitely if he fills a pre-election promise to can FIT and put a moratorium on wind.* Plus: The GEA’s regulations are getting better and the process is coming into focus. Minus: That didn’t happen until late fall 2010, which isn’t so great for planning field work and getting the process complete in time for the Commercial Operation Date deadlines. Plus: David Miller in Toronto put a $0.05 fee on plastic bags, which had a dramatic impact on their consumption. Minus: Rob Ford was elected, and he’s promising to scrap it. Plus: Ontario actually shut down four coal generators–the first jurisdiction in North America and one of the first in the world to be able to do so, partially as a result of new green energy construction.

Apparently Ontario’s coal shut-down is the largest climate-change mitigation project in North America. Eat your heart out, California.

More narrowly for wind energy, 2010 was a year of tremendous growth as the Ontario Power Authority approved 1530 contracts under the Feet-In Tariff program.** If they all go ahead, that would make 1530 MW of new wind generation, equivalent to >3 of Ontario’s coal generating stations. It thrills me to be involved in that.

More in line with the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” is 2011’s election and its potential to change, upset, or derail all of those wind projects. Here’s hoping Hudak is just pandering for votes with a promise he has no intention of delivering on–I’m not sure how he could, anyway–or even better, that he loses. The end of the world, Dear Readers, is no time to be aiming for the Lowest Common Denominator and promising negligible tax breaks in exchange for a future of ecological and economic ruin.

Not that that’s ever stopped anyone before. See: Easter Island.

Working in the environmental field does not often give one grounds for cheery optimism. Most often, one is trying to squeeze lemonade from rotting limes: “Hey, so Copenhagen didn’t work out. We still have a few years left to mitigate climate change to the point where only millions people will die this century from climate change. We can do it!” This year–though we are still very much in rotting-limes-t0-lemonade territory–I felt optimistic about environmental progress and my role in it for the first time in many, many years. We are actually building enough renewable energy to shut down coal. It can be done. And I can help do it.

And so can you, by knowing enough not to be duped by cynical politicians who will tell you that it can’t.

~~~

*Note: Those bulldozed municipalities were, in the main, quite happy for the province to take over that decision-making function when they passed the GEA because the municipalities wanted to approve the wind farms but politically it was too difficult. They may be making a lot of noise now about how unfair it is, mostly to appease their constituents, but I’m not sure they actually want the authority back.

** 58 of which are for wind, and 10 of which I am managing under REA. Good god.