Tag Archives: climate change

A Climate Professional Tries to Mow the Lawn

I don’t know how all of you feel about carbon, but let me tell you, when you work in climate change, carbon guilt is real.

I very rarely fly anywhere (maybe 2x in the last ten years), bought a very fuel-efficient car and live as close to work as I can, walk when I can, purchase renewable energy for my home at an additional cost (Canadian readers, ask me if you’d like more info on that), read a truly alarming number of climate books and articles, etc. etc., and still it feels like it’s never enough.

And scientifically, it isn’t.

Mind: I am not about to tell anyone else what to do about their carbon guilt, or even that you ought to feel carbon guilt. All I am saying is that I feel a lot of it, myself, and do my best to manage it.

This is the context in which I bought my first lawn mower when we moved into our home six years ago.

It’s a big lawn. It’s a 1965 suburban corner lot for a side-split detached house. It takes 45 minutes on a good day when the grass hasn’t grown much.

And we live in a time where spending ungodly amounts of energy creating an environment were weeds thrive* yet are not legally allowed to grow and where you are required to grow a plant that sprints upwards at the mere thought of rain yet must be kept below 8″ (eg. grass) or fines will follow. I truly think future civilizations are going to look back at by-laws about lawn maintenance and think we were the stupidest people ever. We’re worried about peak oil and petro-states and climate change and energy costs and fossil fuel consumption, and yet we have actual laws that necessitate people to spend rising amounts of money on increasingly scarce energy with disastrous environmental and social outcomes to give our real estate a regular hair cut. There are wildfires burning out of control all over the world, spurred in great part by climate change, but is there a single municipality thinking, you know what? Grass could be a great carbon sink and all of those gas mowers are not helping. Maybe we should loosen the noose a bit.

Nope.

So here I am, a single mother with limited time and a lot of carbon guilt, legally required to keep the grass growing but not more than 8″ tall, and determined not to use any fossil fuels in the pursuit of this.

In the six years since I’ve moved in I’ve owned THREE battery-powered lawn mowers.

Do you know how much a climate-friendly tool has to suck before I’ll hate it?

It has to suck a lot, Dear Readers. Let me tell you how much.

First Mower

Black-and-decker plug-in. It worked for a few months, then wouldn’t start. At this point it was still under warranty, so I brought it in. It was the charging cable. It took weeks, in which my lawn continued to grow, and I received some warning letters from the local by-law office. Thank you, neighbours!

It worked again for a few months, and then stopped. Now out of warranty, so I had to pay for the new charging cable myself. This time, I also hired someone to mow the lawn while it was being repaired so I wouldn’t get a fine.

Then it worked again for a few months.

And stopped.

Nuts to this, I thought. It’s cheaper just to buy a new mower.

(This model is no longer for sale. I can’t imagine why.)

Second Mower

Ryobi, where the battery charges indoors and the machine folds up so you can store it in a shed. It has a five-year warranty. This should be better, thought I.

91 days later, one day after the Home Depot return period, the mower would no longer start.

Home Depot wouldn’t take it back, and Ryobi told me that even though the machine was obviously defective (91 days!) I had no recourse but the warranty. There is no service email address on their website; the service contact form doesn’t work; and the folks answering the service phone line are obviously told not to say or do anything that might incur any sort of obligation. There was no way to take it up the ladder.

The service company is 40 minutes from my house and only open during business hours and on Saturday mornings. Grumbling, I brought it in.

Repair guy tells me he sees this with Ryobi mowers all the time. Several weeks later, I have it back. Several weeks in which I have once again been paying someone to mow the lawn so I don’t get a ticket. It is, by this time, late in the south Ontario mowing season, so I mow the lawn once or twice and put the machine away for the winter.

In the spring, it won’t start.

Again.

I take it back to the service centre.

And, knowing that calling, emailing and filling out forms on their website are useless, I resort to twitter.

This is going to get expensive for you, if I have to take this in to have it repaired twice a year, was the essence of it. You would have been better off allowing me to return or exchange the mower when I first called.

And I kept it up. Politely. They shared with me an email address–that doesn’t exist anywhere on their website; you can check–to get resolution. I emailed, and waited. No response. Tweeted again. This went on for a while, and then finally someone from the company wrote back.

We can send you a new mower, they said.

Great, I replied; but what is the warranty on it? I didn’t trust the machines at this point and thought I was most likely to end up with a dud, and no receipt for getting it repaired.

No reply.

Send us your address, they said.

Great, here it is, I replied; but what is the warranty on it? How does that work?

We’ve mailed you the new machine, they said.

Wonderful, I replied, and thank you, but what is the warranty on it? What do I do it if it breaks?

There is a full warranty, they replied.

Third Mower

The new mower is fancier than the first one, which is a nice touch: it’s self-propelled.

Not so nice?

It worked once.

I mowed the lawn with it once.

I mowed with it once, folded it up to put it in the shed, and the very next time I brought it out, it wouldn’t. I tried it with two fully charged batteries (I checked them in compatible devices–no problem) and two keys.

Email: Hey. I just went to use the mower for the second time, and it wouldn’t start. Same issue I had with the first one. Honestly you guys really need to address this problem in your machines. In the meantime, I’m going to need a receipt or something to take it to the service centre.

No response. Ten days pass.

On twitter: Hello. I emailed the service person I’ve been talking to. The replacement mower is broken and I need paperwork to bring it to the service centre.

THEY BLOCKED ME.

Dear Readers, I can’t say if my experiences with the actual machines is typical or not. Maybe I have the only two fragile, persnickety, battery-powered lawn mowers ever manufactured by Ryobi. It’s possible.

But I leave it to you to determine for yourselves if anything about this scenario reflects how you would want a company to respond in the case of defective products.

A service contact form on the website that doesn’t work–an email address only given out in case of twitter complaints–beleaguered service call centre staff who aren’t allowed to help people who call in or forward complaints on to management–and then when someone’s twitter complaints makes you look bad in public, providing them with a replacement machine and no warranty paperwork.  And then when the replacement machine has the same issue the first one did, blocking them.

On the plus side, I’d already brought the first Ryobi mower in for servicing, so it is working. For how long, who knows?

What I normally hear is something like, “LOL, just get a gas mower!” Please don’t. I am completely opposed to burning any kind of fossil fuel in the pursuit of anything as trivial as grass length. A better indictment of the values of 21st century North America than “sure we’re running out of gas and oil and yes the planet is on fire and definitely we’re losing biodiversity and pollinators and of course energy is increasingly expensive and all of this is awful and terrible and we care so! much! But we’re still going to pass laws to require you to spend ever more money on fossil fuels to destroy your property’s biodiversity while contributing to the climate emergency. Here’s your fine.”  It is actually a hill I’m prepared to die on, and would be prepared to pay a whole lot of fines to make a point. Though of course I’d rather not.

~~~~~

*All of the plants defined as weeds for the purposes of early 21st century lawn maintenance are what’s known in ecology as colonizers: they have a need for lots of sun and lots of space, can’t tolerate shade, and can grow like the dickens. They do very well in clearcuts, after fires or rocklides or other natural events that clear out the tree canopy and competition, and they really really love lawns. If you really want to get rid of weeds, what you need to grow are trees–lots of them–because weeds hate shade.

Group Think: When Two Heads are Worse than One (Science and Sewing, in one post at last!)

It’s my untested belief that expertise in any technical field will result in a near-total loss of respect for journalism.

I know it did for me. The more I learned about climate change, the biodiversity crisis, environmental regulations, and renewable energy, the more I realized that newspaper articles reflected reality only by chance, in passing. More often, an ill-equipped person with good writing skills and no critical thinking ability would write a piece far outside of their education and background by interviewing a bunch of people who claimed to be experts, without evaluating their credentials. We get climate change pieces giving equal weight to well-respected international climate experts and oil-funded PR hacks, pieces on renewable energy with well-reasoned arguments by scientists quoting the best available information and fruit-loop arguments by naturopaths who wouldn’t recognize a herz if it came up and hit them on the head.

And you end up with a voting public almost completely muddled on key issues because they’ve come to the completely totally 100% incontrovertibly WRONG conclusion that there are two sides.

Of course people are entitled to their opinions. I am legally well within my rights to believe that Mars is peopled by winged skeletons who worship Lily Allen. But the legal right to hold an opinion is not the same, and can’t be the same, as the attitude that reality is then required to bend to accommodate that opinion. No matter what I believe, Mars is in fact NOT peopled by winged skeletons who worship Lily Allen, or by anything at all. The experts are right and I am just plain wrong. (Or I would be, if I held that opinion.)

This set of science experiments sheds some light on the psychology of our inherent tendency to give equal weight to two contrary opinions, even when one comes from an expert and the other does not. Fortunately, for those of you who have no intention of purchasing the article for the low-low price of $10, you can also read this fun summation in the Washington Post.

This went on for 256 intervals, so the two individuals got to know each other quite well — and to know one another’s accuracy and skill quite well. Thus, if one member of the group was better than the other, both would pretty clearly notice. And a rational decision, you might think, would be for the less accurate group member to begin to favor the views of the more accurate one — and for the accurate one to favor his or her own assessments.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, report the study authors, “the worse members of each dyad underweighted their partner’s opinion (i.e., assigned less weight to their partner’s opinion than recommended by the optimal model), whereas the better members of each dyad overweighted their partner’s opinion.” Or to put it more bluntly, individuals tended to act “as if they were as good or as bad as their partner” — even when they quite obviously weren’t.

The researchers tried several variations on the experiment, and this “equality bias” didn’t go away. In one case, a “running score” reminded both members of the pair who was faring better (and who worse) at identifying the target — just in case it wasn’t obvious enough already. In another case, the task became much more difficult for one group member than the other, leading to a bigger gap in scores — accentuating differences in performance. And finally, in a third variant, actual money was offered for getting it right.

None of this did away with the “equality bias.”

The research psychologists attribute this to our need to belong to groups and get along with people. It seems that need outweighs any practical consideration, a good deal of the time, including when money is on the line. Fascinating, right? People who are right and know they’re right defer to people they know are wrong in order to get along and maintain group dynamics, even when it costs them to do so.

When it comes to climate change, this is a serious problem.

Aside: Climate change is a real thing that is really happening and is a complete and total catastrophe. There is no debate on this point in any credible scientific circle. If you think that there is, I’m so sorry, but you’ve been had.

/aside

We end up not moving forward with policy solutions because we keep acting like the actual experts and the paid non-expert hacks share some kind of equivalence when they patently don’t.

But–and I’m sure I’m not the only person thinking this–it’s present in every community, including the SBC.

Ah! See? I told you I’d come around to it.

People act as if the opinions and contributions of experts and amateurs are equivalent when they are not.

Thankfully, the fates of human civilization and a minimum of 30% of animal and plant species do not rest on this fact. The worst that happens in most cases is that a person walks around for a good long time in a garment that looks like utter shit and feels really fabulous about it. On a scale of worldwide catastrophe, it doesn’t even rank.

On the other hand, as this science makes pretty clear, an entire generation of sewers are being educated largely by internet celebrities who are too incompetent even to understand how incompetent they are. It’s not a catastrophe, no, but it is a crying shame. And as predicted by the social psychologists, if anyone ever speaks up to point out that some of them are experts and other are, well … not …, they are pilloried as Mean Girls, jelluz haterz, and bullies.

Aside 2: Yep, I count myself in the group of people sometimes wandering happily about in a garment that on later reflection was not up to snuff. It happens. We’re all human. I won’t melt if someone points it out, though tact is always preferred. It doesn’t count as “bravery” to “put yourself out there” if you feel entitled to nothing but praise; and if you’re going to present your work in public you need to be prepared for public criticism.

/aside

So it’s not the end of the world, no, but it’s a detriment to all of us. The people getting the money, in many cases, haven’t earned it; the people with valuable skills to share don’t have the platform to do so; we keep acting as if everyone’s equal when they’re not to be Nice and keep everyone happy, even though not everyone is happy; there are entire boiling lava rivers of resentment and bitterness flowing right under all the green meadows we’re so happily skipping over (in our badly-pressed culottes and boxy tops with peter pan collars, no less). It’s weird. Can’t we, as an online culture, agree that it’s not a violation of the Geneva Convention if someone points out that a hem is crooked or a print isn’t matched? Does it matter if it’s not “nice”? Don’t we all benefit from increased honesty and openness? Do any of us actually expect to be perfect, or need to be treated as if we are perfect in order to function day to day? If you really don’t want people to point out how you fucked up, is it so much to ask that you acknowledge it yourself, then? Hey look at this horrible side seam–I really fucked up!

That went off on a bit of a tangent. Pardon me. Let’s drag it back on track:

The Equality Bias! It makes everything worse while we smile and pretend nothing’s wrong. Fight it!

Review: Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science

Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science
Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first 25% of the book did nothing for me. It was a very dry recitation of the climate facts I already know, in graphic novel format. If you’re the kind of person who gets most of your climate news from the newspaper, this section may be more informative or interesting for you. But at the 25% mark I put it down and almost didn’t pick it up again. I had no real interest in reading 500 pages of climate science presented as speech bubbles on pictures.

I’m glad I did pick it up again, though (under pressure of a library returns deadline). Once the book gets into the author’s own struggles with and reactions to that climate science, it developed more narrative push. There’s still an awful lot of climate science–and interviews with experts in various political and social fields about the implications of that science for our reactions and in the 21st century–but there is also a story of his own acceptance of that information and the meaning it has for his own life, and how he reacts to it.

I don’t agree with everything that he or his experts say, but it was credible and well-informed and thoroughly researched, and I enjoyed it. I even learned something new! which is not a given for me at this point with a climate book.

That being: Did You Know that even if the nuclear industry developed to its fullest extent, the total possible reduction it could make to global carbon emissions is around 6%? Not the silver bullet it’s proclaimed to be. Interesting, no?

The art is exceptional, and there’s a lot of visual metaphor and meaning packed into his choice of imagery.

Anyway. If you are interested in the climate change issue, want to be more informed about it, and find climate change science books too dry or dense to read, this is probably an excellent choice. I’d highly recommend it.

View all my reviews

The Next Blazer, Eventually, While Analyzing the Walking Dead

I found myself in possession of more free time and less money in February than is typically the case, which I decided was the perfect excuse to figure out my next blazer, the Vogue 8333 Claire Schaeffer pattern.

After the difficulties of working with fusible interfacing on the poly-wool blue blazer I made in the fall, I decided to go whole-hog and go the hair-canvas/pad-stitching/tailoring route. This meant many, many hours parked on my butt with a needle in my hand, and how better to spend it than feeding a new netflix addiction?

Now: I cannot in any way watch horror and I have not been able to since I was in elementary school. I know that for most people it goes the other way round, but I aged out of my ability to tolerate violence and now if I see someone bleeding and in pain on a screen, large or small, I will probably have to get up and leave the room, or at least shut my eyes and try not to listen. This is precisely why I’ve never watched the Walking Dead before (that, and the fact that I would have had to pay for it, but the blood-and-guts is the big reason), but the villain in the last season of Farscape is pissing me off so much* that I can’t finish watching it and I wanted a new show to occupy my eyeballs during workouts and hand-sewing sessions. So the Walking Dead it is.

(Pro Tip: Do not watch the Walking Dead while holding a fresh hot cup of tea in your hand, unless you want to end up wearing the fresh hot cup of tea and mopping it off the table and floor.)

Now, I am an inveterate environmentalist with a long, long history of hugging trees and espousing the virtues of various squiggly critters, and that may (almost certainly did) colour my perceptions of, well … just about everything. But. That first long weekend watching The Walking Dead non-stop convinced me that the show is a thinly-veiled metaphor for environmental collapse.

(Shocking! I know!)

I’m in good company on the metaphor bit: The Walking Dead has been analyzed as a metaphor for just about anything people don’t like, from gun control to Obama’s America (I mean, seriously. People. You may not like Obama but you are not living in a post-apocalyptic landscape of zombies and disintegrating infrastructure). But every one of those think pieces (and there are a lot of them) admitted that the metaphor broke down on one or two key points.

But environmental collapse? It works pretty damned near perfectly.

For one thing, consider that over the past several decades, we’ve been obsessed with apocalypse. The number of apocalyptic television shows, movies and books has been increasing every decade, regardless of who is in the White House or whether government spending is going up or down. We’re very good at covering them up with just about anything but environmental collapse–alien invasions, robot insurrection, massive flu epidemics, nuclear warfare, and now zombies–but we are as a society spending more and more of our time entertaining ourselves with stories about the end of the world. I’ve made this point before, but in the 1960s, science fiction was about the golden age that technology and American Values were going to unleash on the entire universe, likely populated with savages who needed a good ray gun or teleporter.  The idea of coming out with something like that now–would you watch it? Could you now suspend your disbelief on something so optimistic?

Zombies, though, make a particularly good foil for anyone who wants to think about environmental collapse without consciously thinking about environmental collapse. Think about it: zombies are the past eating the future. The dead rise up and consume their young, in zombie stories quite literally. In the environmental stories that surround us every day, our past is constantly consuming our present–the industrial revolution devouring the climate, our forests, the oceans, the collapse of all of the world’s major fisheries, the coral reefs, and so on–and we are in turn becoming the present that is devouring the future mostly through failing to grapple with it all.

I’m not suggesting that this was a conscious decision on the part of the comic book writer or the show’s creators. But I do think that these stories, of what has been done to our present by our ancestors, and what we in turn are doing to our descendants, make a very fertile ground for zombie apocalypse stories to grow in.

I would also like to lodge a formal complaint that, for the love of god, where are they getting all this gasoline from? Why are they still driving around in cars? They live in a warm climate–hasn’t a single one of them thought to steal a bicycle?

Meanwhile, back on the blazer:

I’ve been using a combination of the V8333 couture instructions, the Craftsy class on classic blazer tailoring, stuff I’ve found in various sewing books, and chocolate. I made up two muslins (one full, one half) to check the fit and it was a bit of a bear, though starting with a princess seam is the way to go if you know you’ll be doing significant adjustments to the bust. The fabric on the real version is a wool tweed I picked up at King Textiles in the fall.

Dear Readers, Behold My Mistakes:

Ouch.
Ouch.

The Craftsy class suggested using muslin for underlining, whereas the pattern suggests silk organza. The Craftsy class also self-drafted the underlining pattern pieces for the shoulders and back, and they cover just the top area, whereas the Vogue pattern has the all of the main pieces underlined, including the sleeves. And–Vogue! I’m looking at you!–the pattern layout shows the underlining pieces laid out on the straight grain, and the first third of the instructions cover the underlining pieces and fusing them to the main fabric, and then buried as a “couture tip” a third of the way through the instructions they mention maybe cutting out the underlining pieces on the bias. Not funny, Vogue. Not funny at all.

Anyway, I used muslin because it was what I had, and I cut it on the straight grain because … that was what the instructions said to do. And I’m thinking that may have been Mistake #1, because I know I underlined the pieces properly, and yet this is what the back looks like. Which if that’s not stretched out wool (or shrunken underlining) I don’t know what is.

There is seam ripping in my future, I can just tell.

Otherwise it’s gone pretty well. My pad-stitching is a thing of beauty, or more like a thingless, because you can’t see it.

Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh?
Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh? Please ignore thready bits–they will be removed before it’s done. Also, that’s not top-stitching at the edges, it’s basting, and it’s all going to be removed.

It fits well.

The collar and lapel are joined in this weird backwards way I’ve never seen before.  I’ll cover that in a future post.

I added in the shoulder reinforcement as suggested in the Craftsy class.

Taming the corners of the lapels and collars followed V8333. I tamed the corners or the lapels etc. as suggested in the V8333 instructions, and it worked pretty well too.

Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!
Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!

~~~~~

*the villain in the last season of Farscape is a woman who defeats the good guys with some scent gland in her boobs that turns them into bumbling, hormonal, ragingly lustful idiots. Say it with me now: That’s Sexist! As well as boring and gross. And it just made me lose all interest in seeing where the show ended up.

an incredibly long and depressing explanation for Hibernation 2014’s replacement

Hibernation 2014 fixed a lot of things.

No, scratch that: Hibernation 2014 gave me some space while time fixed a lot of things. Like the creepy ex, losing my job, finding the new one, the thyroid thing, and adapting to all of Frances’s new health gizmos and routines, for starters.

But there’s one thing Hibernation 2014 will never and can never address, and that’s climate change. I don’t mean that it can’t solve it–though it can’t, and please spare me the speeches about how making your own stuff is good for the environment, usually it’s not–I mean that it can’t really help me cope with it, in a permanent way.

You know that feeling that comes over you when you visit a historic battleground, or the site of a massacre or tragedy? How the blood that was spilled somehow hangs in the air; you can feel it, or shadows of it, around you? Well, being well-schooled in climate change and trying to do something with your life to solve it makes the whole world feel like that. Of course there are the environmental catastrophes that underlie every step we take; the forests that have already disappeared, the passenger pigeons that should be in the air, the charismatic megafauna that were wiped out before the europeans ever set foot here in Canada. But there is also the knowledge of the catastrophes to come, the knowledge that everything you could possibly do for the rest of your life will not be enough to keep even a small part of it from dying.

And yes it is technically possible for some super-scientist to come along with a miracle technology sometime in the next thirty years and save us from ourselves. Just like it is technically possible for a doctor to come along with a miracle drug and save a cancer patient in palliative care. But it is awfully unlikely.

I’m still doing what I do. You know, I pay for bullfrog power and I drive as little as possible and I recycle and use reusable bags and I haven’t been on an airplane since 2010. I use the library for books whenever I can. I work in renewable energy, and boy, I’d love it if I were working harder in renewable energy. But I still live a mostly-typical north american existence on top of a mountain of stuff I don’t really need, and the climate (speaking in purely scientific terms) would be better off without me (and you).

I think this may be why I have been so obsessed with apocalyptic fiction for the last few years. BattleStar Galactica can be read as a climate fable pretty easily. And there’s the Last Policeman trilogy, Station Eleven, the Hunger Games, The Girl with All the Gifts, Area X, The Clockwork Century, Drowned Cities, Spin, the Windup Girl–it goes on. Even though I recognize that this is a failure on my part to engage with the reality of the situation and, where this obsession is shared by the culture at large, a failure on all of our parts to engage with the reality of the situation. This is no virus. It is no alien or robot invasion. It isn’t zombies. It is no asteroid. It is us, all us, all of us. We are the gun, the bullet, the victim, and the hand that pulled the trigger. It’s just us, living our lives in the world we inherited, finding it easier to hold on to what we have now and let tomorrow take care of itself. Even though it can’t.

Do you remember how all of the science fiction in the 1960s was all sparkly spaceships, personal jet backpacks, robot servants? Star Trek and the Jetsons.  And now all of our science fiction is the End of Everything. Zombies and asteroids and brittle intergalactic totalitarian empires. Killer androids and deathly viruses. I think we all know, deep down, even those of us who can’t admit it out loud. And I think we are all scared.

So in a not insignificant way, Hibernation 2014 was a way to hide from all of that. And chances are, sewing and making things will remain a way for me to continue hiding from all of that. Oh hey, don’t get me wrong; I’ve always loved making things. But that’s the reason it’s so therapeutic, you see: I love it. And it is totally unconnected with the end of the world.

Anyway, I am going to rename Hibernation 2014 ‘burrow & sing’ for the time being. It is just as unconnected with sewing and making as Hibernation 2014 was, but without the now-outdated year reference, and with the added benefit of being a line from a Dennis Lee poem called hang- that pretty well describes how I feel. (Google Books has Testament, the book it’s from, if you’re interested, and hang- is on page 34.) Yes, it’s pretentious and obscure, I know. But I really love Dennis Lee’s environmental poems, so if nothing else, I’ll get that little reminder every time I post.

I could just call it sewing. Yep. But I don’t want to. So there. Plus, it’s not always going to be sewing, per se.

I had a lot of hope right up until about 2012. I knew it was 20 years too late to actually fix it, but first I thought that Copenhagen might actually get us to a climate deal that would get us somewhere and stave off the worst of it, and then when that fell through, I thought that there were enough smaller initiatives like the Green Energy Act and municipal plans to make some kind of difference. But our emissions keep climbing, and we keep having international climate negotiations which consist of poorer and developing nations screaming for help and first-world countries (particularly Canada) snubbing them, and the ice keeps melting and species are going extinct and it’s not even that no one seems to care, but that the people who care the most are the deniers and are working tooth and nail on the coat-tails of significant funding from fossil fuel companies to make sure that nothing changes. Our likely continuum of outcomes at this point is from catastrophe to a Canfield Oceans mass extinction event. It’s not like coming to terms with the death of a loved one, where there is one loved one and the rest of the world carries on; it’s the death of all loved ones, human and not-human, and when I’m not busy living the life I know is contributing to all of that, I need to hide out from it all in a burrow of fabric and thread.

Review: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

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This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Naomi’s political lens is so focused that it’s blinding. This is less a book about climate change than it is about why climate change is now the perfect excuse to do everything she’s always wanted to do anyway (eg. scrap globalization, redistribute wealth), which is fine, but she ignores any contrary evidence. For example, she has a brief section on the brief flourishing and untimely death of Ontario’s green energy economy, which she blames 100% on the WTO’s decision on domestic content. The waffling and delays of government regulators on applications, the constant changes in direction, and the dead-set-contrarian politics of the mostly rural ridings where wind energy projects were to be sited were completely overlooked, but as anyone who actually went through the process can tell you, the domestic content reg change was the least of any developer’s worries, and came after years and years of frustrations brought about by the public sector.

She spends a great deal of time criticizing anyone else whose political perspectives change how they perceive climate science and solutions, but is much, much worse herself in this book. No information penetrates unless it conforms with her pre-existing beliefs. But the global carbon cycle is not sentient. It doesn’t care how carbon emissions are reduced; it doesn’t even care if they are reduced at all. It does not vote and has no political preferences. WE do; and so it’s up to us to make some decisions about if and how we’re going to turn things around. It should be a mark of deep shame to any thinking citizen in a democratic society that authoritarian China is pulling so far ahead in the transition to a renewable economy.

The flaws with This Changes Everything can be boiled down to two, major, fundamental issues:

1. She acts as if the private and public spheres were diametric and opposed, rather than almost entirely overlapping. A person who works all day in a corporation then goes home and becomes a voter and consumer. People move back and forth between the private and public sector in terms of employment all the time. We are not talking about two different species–the private, evil homo sapiens determined to ruin the earth at a profit and the loving, public homo sapiens trying desperately to save it. It’s all just people.

2. The public sphere is as complicit in this as the private sphere. The reason we do not have a healthy, thriving renewable energy sector in Ontario right now is because the people of Ontario didn’t want it. They had it, and then put the politicians of the province under so much pressure to gut it that eventually they did to save their mandate. The moratorium on offshore wind projects in Ontario is a perfect example: two (small) corporations were all set to do the assessment work necessary to figure out if their Lake Ontario projects would work or not, but the government made offshore projects in Ontario illegal because the voters in Scarborough demanded it.

This is a terrible book on climate change. You’d be better off reading almost anything else on the subject.

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happy poetry month

Because it’s the one I have with me, and because it’s been stuck in my head for six months. Like a musical earworm, it demands to be spread … er, shared:

Here, in this little Bay
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
I sit me down.

For want of me the world’s course will not fail;
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.

(Coventry Patmore, Magna est Veritas)

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

I promise that future poems shared this month will not be quite so despairing. Look on the bright side: last week, this poem was the introduction to a whole post about those last three lines.

Review: Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship

(What happened? Summer. Also, home laptop broke. New laptop working, but would not connect to network. None of these things facilitate blogging.  Hiking and gardening are more fun anyway, yes?)
Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship by Franke James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am the first person to mark this book as “read” on Goodreads. I find that a little depressing … but I’m happy to be the first to tell you why you should read this fabulous book:

1. The art. Franke’s illustrations and visual essays are always striking, quirky, and to the point.

2. The number of essays included. If, like me, you’ve been following her work for the past few years, this is a great way to have several of the back-story essays (including “Dear Prime Minister,” “Fat Cat Canada” and “What Can One Person Do?”) as well as the “Banned on the Hill” essay that chronicles her attempted censorship by the fine folks the Department of International Affairs.

3. The information and the stories. It’s infuriating that this is happening in Canada, but since it is, it’s better to know about it than not. And it is wonderful to have people like Franke James so determinedly bringing that message to so many different audiences

There were at least a dozen pages I wanted to rip out and frame. Instead I might scan, print and frame them (solely for personal use of course).

If you care about climate change and the obstructionist position Canada has taken both internationally and domestically on this issue, you will want to read this book. When you’re done, share it widely.

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Review: The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture

The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture
The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture by Mary Pipher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did.

What environmentalist has not at least sometimes felt the way that Mary Pipher did when she set out to write this book? It can be devastating: every day you set out to fight something, and most of the time you lose; when you win, the wins are often temporary and lost again in the future. Climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, all continue to worsen, while society as a whole remains willfully unaware, determined to shop its way to salvation. Each of those problems has the potential to collapse human society and even end the human habitability of planet earth; combined, they are terrifying, and yet very few people seem to be terrified. For people working, either professionally or on the side, in the environmental field, the combination can be psychologically debilitating.

So what a wonderful idea, to write a book from a therapist’s perspective, on how not to become unhinged and to maintain one’s ability to work productively.

Except that Mary Pipher is not qualified to write this book. Her environmental activism began in 2010, and she is unable to consider the humanity of her opponents.

I admire her body of work and have read most of her books, including Writing to Change the World, which was phenomenal. I understand and respect that she has a lifetime of activism behind her on many issues. But environmental activism and specifically climate change activism are different in some key ways that she does not discuss or admit to, the key difference being that the loved Other is constantly dying, and this may cause the death of everything. And with all due respect, those of us who have been working on this for more than three years have already gone through the process she describes–more than once. What will she do when all of the work she pours into this comes back again and again as worth nothing or less than nothing? When she fails, not once, but dozens of times–will she keep getting up and finding solace in continuing to work and building a community? Maybe. But I’d find it a lot more convincing if she either had that experience herself, or had talked to those of us who had.

The other issue, the dehumanization of the proponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline, is particularly ironic as she spent a large part of Writing to Change the World arguing how important it is not to do that. As a result, she comes off as less of a climate activist and more of a NIMBY, determined to keep the Keystone Pipeline away from Nebraska but otherwise content to keep her climate activism to reusable shopping bags and CFL lightbulbs.

As someone who has been in the environmental field since highschool (I helped start my highschool’s environmental club), who has studied it and worked in it full-time ever since, it is impossible to overstate how enormously frustrating this is. Every landscape is special to the people who live there. Every one has some feature or service that makes it unique and important and worthy of conservation. No project is perfect or without impact. There is no such thing as a “perfect” location for any project; just ones that are good enough, and ones that aren’t.

Having been on the receiving end of the kinds of character assassinations that she engages in (in my case for wind energy projects), I can state categorically that it has no positive outcome whatsoever to speak or write of people that way. Whoever produced the Keystone XL Environmental Impact Statement, and without regard to the quality of their work or the accuracy of their conclusions, they are almost certainly good people trying to do what they believe is the right thing. To characterize them as corrupt evil-doers trying to buy off Nebraska politicians goes far beyond “unhelpful.”

There is some good material here to those new to climate activism–say, post the Copenhagen debacle–in terms of how to cope and keep working. For anyone who has been through more than a few rounds on this one, this is not the book for you. I wish Pipher had sat on this for a few years and written it with the benefit of more hindsight and perspective, after having had some conversations with her enemies, and after having talked to climate activists who have had to cope with these emotions over decades. How great it would have been to hear Bill McKibben’s thoughts on this, or Hansen’s. I very much suspect that by 2020, Pipher will feel the same way.

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Failing Better is Still Failing

Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner released the annual update report on provincial progress on greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is, we are not failing as badly as we were. Our greenhouse gas emissions are falling provincially, largely due to decommissioning coal electricity plants.

GreenhouseGasEmissions_Prov_EN

The bad news is, we are still failing. We are still above our 2014 target of 166 Mt, and considerably above the 2020 target of 150 Mt, with no clear plan in place for how we intend to bridge that gap. In fact, the ECO is predicting that GHG emissions will rise as the nuclear plants are refurbished and the electricity demand gap is met by natural gas. As well, while we have done an excellent, back-patting-worthy job of reducing emissions over the past approximately 10 years, forecasts past 2020 predict a rise in GHG emissions to 190 Mt by 2030.

You can practically hear the poor guy banging his head on his desk in frustration in the report.

It’s brief and well-written, so I’d encourage everyone to take a look and see where we are, and where we’re headed. A few key points:

  • Road transportation, and particularly private vehicles, are the largest source of emissions in the province (58 & 45 Mt respectively). In order to meet GHG targets, we must fund public transit, including the Big Move proposed by Metrolinx. I’ll add this, though it shouldn’t need to be said: Nothing is free, and we’ll either pay for this now through increased transit funding or later through climate change adaptation costs, and any half-qualified economist will tell you that the future costs of dealing with climate change make that $470/household/year Big Move projection (already offset by congestion savings of $1600/household/year) look like a fruit fly on an elephant. Just get over it, and pay up.
  • Industry emits 49.6 Mt. Ontario has been putting out policy papers on establishing an Ontario cap-and-trade system to bring that number down and put a price on carbon for four years now. It is time to move beyond policy papers, and actually put something into action.
  • Buildings emit 31.7 Mt–a high number, but one that has remained about the same while the total number of buildings continues to rise. The ECO attributes this to the 2006 Ontario Building Code, which explicitly considers greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of “the most progressive in North America.”

To put it in context:

per_capita_emissions

Ontario produces fewer Mt/person than most Canadian provinces–which is good, but in a global context still makes this one of the most wasteful places to live. And our emissions are on the right track. We are one of the few provinces who have had declining emissions, which is great. But boy, are we ever still producing a lot of greenhouse gases.

We are one of the few provinces who have had declining emissions, which is great. But boy, are we ever still producing a lot of greenhouse gases.

The atmosphere refuses to be pragmatic. It’s a geological and chemical process that will react to inputs, regardless of how desirable the outcomes are or how politically feasible the solutions may be. It will not negotiate with us. Or in other words, while we are improving, and that’s good, we are still failing by a wide margin. We can and we should do better.