Monthly Archives: June 2013

All in it together willy- nilly

by Roger Sweeny

From a newsletter to parishioners of St. Francis-in-the-Wood Anglican Church, West Vancouver, B.C., June 2013


During Pentecost and now, as we ponder the Trinity, the message has been about opening our hearts to receive the Spirit of Truth, the unseen one who will walk with us, live in us, inspire us to become all we can be, to act not just for self but for others too, and to be ever respectful of all living things including Mother Earth.

A snatch of monologue from a 60-year old radio show, “Dragnet” comes to mind. That was the programme where they told us “Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”  canmore-flooding1And then “Knock, knock.  Yes?  My name is Friday. I’m a cop. Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts.

My Canadian College Dictionary defines a fact as ‘something that actually exists; a reality; a truth’.  The following are my thoughts on a looming reality we wish we hadn’t heard about. It can no longer be put behind us, and the more we try to ignore the facts, the more difficult it becomes to confront them. Call me an alarmist old grump if you like. Yes, guilty. Yet something compels me to speak out – to give a ‘heads up’ to what’s coming at us – because if I don’t I shall never forgive my inaction.

The fact is – I’m deeply concerned that Mum’s not well. I mean our Earth Mum – Gaia. Her lungs are congested, temperature elevated, her breathing laboured, she sweats a lot and is becoming very moody. It’s a case of Elder abuse.

To underscore my concerns, here in point form are a handful of facts that I have gleaned from quite a few well respected sources. Taken together they paint a sobering picture of what Mother Earth almost certainly has in store for our successors. They will not thank us.

ATMOSPHERIC CO2:co2_trend_mlo

Analysis of core samples from 600,000 years down in the Greenland ice cap shows that the concentration of the greenhouse gas CO2 in the atmosphere ranged between 180 and 280 parts per million (ppm)up until the industrial age. Since then, and particularly since 1950, it has risen dramatically. It reached 400 ppm on 9 May 2013 at the Mauna Loa monitoring station in Hawaii which measures global mean CO2 concentrations. A growing number of environmental scientists hold that a CO2 concentration greater than 350 ppm is incompatible with life on Earth, and that we must get it back below that level as soon as possible.


The consensus among climate scientists at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference was that, in order to avoid a chain reaction of climate-related natural disasters, average future global (surface and ocean) temperature increases should be held to less than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.  In fact, that is about all they agreed on. 201101-201112The average temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees over pre-industrial levels, and is projected to rise close to another full degree due to heat- trapping greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. A report issued by the World Bank last year confirmed the world is on track for a 4 degree C temperature increase by 2100. Even a 2 degree rise is viewed by world renowned ex- NASA scientist James Hansen as a recipe for long term disaster.

Some argue there has been a pause in surface warming since 1998. Not so. NASA confirms that the observed temperature data, corrected for periods of volcanic activity (which cools), occurrences of El Nino (which warms) and La Nina (which cools), variations in solar activity and natural weather variations clearly show that human-induced global warming has continued to increase in line with projections over the past 16 years.

ARCTIC ICE MELT:2012_8$largeimg202_Aug_2012_121200637

The volume of Arctic sea ice in the summer of 1979 was measured at about 17,000 cubic kilometres. Last summer it was about 3,000 cubic kilometres. At this rate of melting, the Arctic could be ice-free by summer 2015. The Greenland ice cap is currently losing volume at the rate of 100 cubic kilometres per year. The West Antarctic ice cap, which contains 2.2 million cubic kilometres of ice, is warming three times faster than the rest of the world.

Scientists calculate a 2 degree increase would melt enough ice to raise global ocean levels by between 7.5 and 9 metres.


U.S. environmentalist and author Bill McKibben lays out in his new filmDo the Math” what must be done to prevent a runaway environmental calamity.

  • To have an 80% chance of keeping the rise in global temperature below 2 degrees the world economy can release only 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2050.
  • Known global reserves of coal, oil and natural gas contain 2795 gigatons of CO2.
  • At current rates of fuel production and growth, the 565 gigatons allowance could be used up in just 16 years (i.e. by 2028).

Simply put, fossil fuel reserves are five times as great as the world can afford to burn. To avoid calamity we must leave 80% of it in the ground.


So there are just a few facts, but the implications for Canada are huge. So is the incentive to push for a non- fossil fuel economy without delay. As Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund expressed it: “If we don’t act now, future generations will be toasted, roasted, grilled and fried. “  So what are we waiting for?  We are all in this together.

May this be the start of a wider discussion at St. Francis.

Gratitude: What, Why and How

by Karl Perrin

Sermon delivered to the Beacon Unitarian Church, Coquitlam, B.C., April 2013

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes (Marcel Proust).

Denali National Park in autumn, Alaska, USA, North AmericaThe key event in 1993 for me was Clayoquot Sound and the now famous anti-logging protests. It was also the year I read Al Gore’s book Earth in the Balance. Al Gore called our society “dysfunctional” in the face of threats like runaway climate change and wasteful consumption. The message was clear. If we continued with business as usual civilization would collapse by 2050.

My son Ben will be 66 in 2050. I made a vow to him that I would do everything in my power to prevent such a collapse. Everything in my power. Then in 2030, when I’m 85, I can stand before him and say “I did my best.”

Back then I asked myself how I could be effective and not burn out. I took two steps towards answering that question. Firstly, I joined the Environment Committee of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver where I could balance cold science with the warmth of community, art and spirit. Secondly, I sought to learn about gratitude by practicing Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects as a committed environmental activist.

Joanna Macy had honed her teachings and methods to empower people to respond with truth and creativity to the overwhelming social and ecological crises facing our planet in the years before the end of the Cold war when the threat of a nuclear holocause was very real and fear was rampant. Today we face a different kind of challenge but one which is every bit as theatening to our civilizations – climate change driven by the unfettered rush to find, exploit and burn the Earth’s fossil fuel resources.

Joanna Macy describes four stages in the empowerment process. The first is gratitude, the second is honouring our pain for the world. Because gratitude is empathic it generates what Thich Nhat Hanh calls inter-being. Inter-being helps us see our individual joys and sorrows in the context of community joys, sorrows and community resources.

The third stage is seeing with new eyes. Macy writes “In the third stage, we step further into the perceptual shift that recognizes our pain for the world as a healthy expression of our belonging to life”. Seeing with new eyes reveals the wider web of resources available to us through our rootedness within a deeper, ecological self. It draws on insights from holistic science and ancient spiritual wisdom as well as from our creative imaginations. Above all, it opens us to a new view of possibility and a new understanding of our power to make a difference.

The fourth and final stage – going forth – involves clarifying our vision of how we can act for the healing of our world by identifying practical steps that move our vision forward. We eventually find ourselves returning to gratitude and so the cycle repeats, this time at a deeper level. In fact, a daily practice of written gratitude makes us so happy, so healthy, so grateful that we want to heal what can be healed. We want to serve and express our gratitude through well grounded generosity.

What is gratitude? Robert Emmons, psychologist at the University of California, has spent his life researching the subject. He encourages us to see that for which are grateful as a gift. These gifts are all around us, and the practice of gratitude simply helps us to see them and accept them as gifts.

Emmons tells us that gratitude comes in two stages – firstly, the acknowledgement of goodness and, secondly, recognizing that the source of this goodness lies at least partially outside oneself. He goes on to explain that gratitude has to do with happiness. Happiness, in turn, comes from three things – circumstances, genetics and intentional activities. Cultivating gratitude fits into the happiness equation by being an intentional activity that can be practiced and that has been shown to increase happiness levels. Emmons has, in fact, conducted randomized controlled trials to test and prove this hypothesis.

Practicing gratitude, either by writing in a journal or directly to a person or divine presence to whom one is grateful, is neither trivial nor easy. Gratitude is firstly the acknowledgment of goodness in one’s life and secondly the recognition that the source of this goodness lies at least partially outside the self. The object of gratitude is thus other-directed; one can be grateful to other people, to God, to animals, but never to oneself. Gratitude implies humility—a recognition that we could not be who we are or where we are in life without the contribution of others.

Gratitude requires the acknowledgement of our indebtedness to others. Although not a comfortable feeling, we really are indebted to others – for peace, for our comfortable lives, for our longevity, our food, for hot running water, for everything. Without others our lives would be intolerable. When we perceive that our cup runneth over we want to give and we want to serve. When we feel grace flowing into us and gratitude flowing out, we create a pathway for all emotions and we become patient with bad feelings. We trust that feelings will come and go like cycles of dark and light. When connected, when grounded in gratitude, our hearts soften. We stop pushing against suffering, we relax and we become useful.

It may be a blow to our ego to discover that we are not so independent after all. But gratitude strengthens our interdependent selves. We exist more, not less, when we let go and accept that we are only a part of the interdependent web of all existence. True humility allows us to see that planetary survival is not only on our shoulders, not only up to us “geniuses”.

All species have a survival instinct and they can teach us, inspire us and work for our survival. Joanna Macy teaches that we can rest, we can relax in the great hammock of all species’ survival instinct. We have many allies and we can be grateful for that. We have to be humble enough to be deeply aware and deeply grateful that we really are all connected.

[First posted June 18th 2013]

Elders (still) in search of a cause

Stan Hirst writes :-MK-BV1

Just three years ago in this blog we reflected on our origins.  We had originally come together as a small group of seniors in the B.C. Lower Mainland, appalled at the deteriorating state of our planet, and seeking some way to help in the repair and restoration. We lamented the disappearance of the once unfilled spaces of our youth under masses of disposed and industrial wastes, sprawling cities and mega-housed suburbs. We deplored avoidable environmental disasters such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and impending disasters such as trans-provincial oil pipelines carrying bitumen to our ecologically fragile coast. We were apprehensive of the massive ecological global impacts starting to become evident as greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles, homes and industries added incessantly to the Earth’s climatic carbon load. We chafed at the lack of environmental awareness on the part of our national and international politicians who seemed unable or unwilling to take on the difficult tasks of grappling with the real issues.

As we wrote then, it was a realization of what we were losing that brought us as elders together in the first place. The David Suzuki Foundation offered us a home and some friendly words of advice, but told us we would have to make our own way and sort it all out for ourselves. So we sit talking, preaching and harrumphing, as elders are wont to do. We write the odd declaration to tell the world that things are in a great mess and that we don’t like it. We debate structure and function and constitutions. What we really need to do, but have so far taken only baby steps to implement, is actually remedying the situation.

Phillip Hewett writes –PICS Patricia and David, Feb 2013

Who gave us the right to call ourselves Elders?  The short answer is that it was David Suzuki — that’s why his name is in our title.  In his words:  “When we started the David Suzuki Foundation one of the first things we did was to ask a group of elders to come and be a Council of Elders for the Foundation.  My idea was that it would be like the role of elders in indigenous communities.”  He had already described that role at some length in a book he co-authored in the same period.

Perhaps the key sentences are those in which he says of this approach: “It tends to honor as its most esteemed elders those individuals who have experienced a profound and compassionate reconciliation of outer- and inner-directed knowledge, rather than virtually anyone who has made material achievement or simply survived to chronological old age.  It tends to reveal a profound sense of empathy and kinship with other forms of life, rather than a sense of separateness from them or superiority over them… it tends to view the proper human relationship with nature as a continuous dialogue ( that is, a two-way, horizontal communication between Homo sapiens and other elements of the cosmos) rather than as a monologue (a one-way vertical imperative).  Within Native worldviews, the parts and processes of the universe are, to varying degrees, holy; to science, they can only be secular.”

Thus the establishment of the Council of Elders (later renamed to the Suzuki Elders) on this model was intended as a holistic counter-balance to the science- based work of the Foundation.  We did spend some time in working to express a spiritual world-view to motivate efforts towards a sustainable future for our planet. We drew up a motion to the Foundation’s Board which said “Ethical concerns and spiritual insights … can sustain practical endeavours when other motivations cannot stand up to the disappointments and frustrations inseparable from work to restore ecological integrity. ‘Burnout’ is a perennial problem that can only be avoided by this deeply rooted spiritual awareness.” This was presented to the Board and approved, but never adequately followed up.  It remains unfinished business.  In particular, we made only half-hearted attempts at dialogue with aboriginal elders on this theme, on which there could obviously be a basis for concerted action.

In summary, what we need is not to stop calling ourselves Elders but to do more to deserve that title!

Marks McAvity writes –

We are entering a brave new world with a new kind of elder culture. If the community does not call us, then we do indeed call ourselves. We have grown up too much with false humility. We do have wisdom. Are we one hundred percent wise? Of course not. Are we conceited? I don’t think so. We simply have something to say. As one First Nations elder once said – it is elders that SPEAK- and we are pretty good at that.  I believe that, some day, people will listen. It will be an elder version of these “square” revolts around the world, but without the violence.

What is it that transforms us?

by Diana Ellis


An opening address to a concert in Vancouver, B.C. presented June 1 2013, Gaia: Singing the Sacred Web, by the North Shore Unitarian Church Choir and Guests, Alison Nixon Conductor.

What is it that transforms us? What moves us from one place of believing to another? What makes us even imagine that such a move is necessary, and possible? What constitutes a call to action – and what action? What inspires us to continue once we have begun. For me, these questions underpin the concert we are about to listen to.

Transformation begins inside ourselves, usually in numerous steps. Here is one story. Watch for its steps.

Some years ago, at age 64, with life circumstances changing, and after 35 years of work on social justice and women’s issues, I was wondering what was next – you know – that niggle that comes at various times in our lives “Is there something else?” Then in 2009 my church, the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, brought David Suzuki to speak as part of our 100th anniversary celebrations. It was a beautiful May evening. The setting sun shone into our warm wooded sanctuary, a huge photograph of earth – as seen from space — hung at the front. And David, with his iconic voice and gestures, spoke eloquently of the environmental issues and task at hand – the shift in attitude required to make positive environmental change. I remember thinking – “he is speaking to me” – and, without meaning to sound dramatic, I left that night wondering if I had heard a call. I read all the environmental books I could find. One was Canadian award-winning journalist Alanna Mitchell’s book: Seasick – The Global Ocean in Crisis. She ends her stunning reveal of that crisis (just at the point I was about to close the book in hopelessness) by talking about what any of us can do about it. She spoke of the transformation that needs to happen for personal action to occur. Affirming that transformation is possible, and always begin with ourselves, she says.  “We need to strip ourselves down psychologically and figure out what we stand for. What is the story about the world that makes sense to us emotionally? What is it that we believe? What are we here for? Once we know that – we can start to ask the right questions, including “What’s missing in my story?” Answering that question leads to a course of (personal) action.

Aha – maybe I was hearing a call – to shift issues – to learn anew. I marked that page! After more months of investigating environmental groups, attending conferences and reading, I happened upon news of an Elders and Environment Forum sponsored by the Suzuki Elders’ Council. I knew I was meant to go, I did, was inspired, and everything fell into place. Now, as a Suzuki Elder involved in mentoring, motivating and supporting elders and youngers in dialogue and action about the environment, a sense of right relationship has come to me, along with some great opportunities to work with others for change. I tell you that story as an example of questioning, hearing, and responding to a call. All of you will have such stories in your lives.

Again, that message: “What story about the world makes sense to us emotionally? What do we believe? What are we here for? Know that – in order to ask the right questions, including “What’s missing in my story?” Then move on it.

Here are a few threads of consideration for you:-

The planet will go on without us. The planet is not there for us, it is not our servant. Nature is not our saviour, not our mother, not a partner with whom we can make a pact or covenant. Personalizing nature, making nature human, with a specific gender, can be a dangerous thing. It allows us to think of nature as “other – something “out there?” – something we can change, fix, control, and own.

Sixty five years ago, conservationist Aldo Leopold, in his great and quiet work: A Sand County Almanac, wrote: “Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man…that land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”

So, instead of anthropomorphizing the planet – earth – nature, as a person, as a woman, think instead of James Lovelock’s premise of the planet as a living system, always adapting and changing. We humans are part of that system, not outside it. As the David Suzuki Foundation’s Declaration of Interdependence says, “we humans are but one of thirty million species weaving the thin layer of life enveloping the world.” David Suzuki says emphatically to anyone who will listen, “We ARE the earth, through the plants and animals that nourish us, we ARE the rains and the oceans that flow through our veins….we are human animals related to all other life as descendants of the firstborn cell.”

Here’s another thread. We also know from reading the records of geology, geography, meteorology ,paleontology, that climate change has been with us always. What we now see is the direct involvement of our human hand, knowingly and unknowingly, in the climate change upon us at this time. As thinking beings, we have the consciousness to take responsibility for our actions – and as moral beings we have the conscience to know we need to be with each other, working together, as we move through these times.

American scientist Dr. Susanne Moser, writes a chapter in the Handbook of Environmental Leadership entitled “Getting Real About It: Meeting the psychological and social demands of a world in distress.” I find her analysis useful in thinking about that conscience work. She says “The public and elected leaders do not yet grasp the seriousness and urgency of the situation or, in the absence of not knowing what to do, choose to focus on more pleasant topics.” (Or, as we well know from our recent election campaign, people get stuck in the dichotomy of environment versus the economy.)  She says “It is in this world that some have chosen to be environmental leaders. And what is asked of these leaders? To be steward, shepherd, arbiter, crisis manager, grief counselor, future builder?”

“It is all of these,” she goes on, “and to do this complex and spiritual work future leaders need not to just be experts in climate change or a particular environmental field, but be capable of holding that which is happening to and in our world—to mentor, guide and assist people in processing enormous losses, human distress, constant crises, and the seemingly endless need to remain engaged in the task of maintaining, restoring and rebuilding, despite all setbacks, a viable planet – the only place the human species can call home. And, while holding that vision, leaders must resist their own, and help others avoid – the knee-jerk response of ideological hardening, defensiveness and blame.” This is compelling, deep, exciting…and BIG work!

I don’t know about you, but I have to say that in the midst of this, there are moments when I find myself saying “This is as much reality as I can handle today.” I turn off the radio, TV, computer. I close the book and the newspaper.

Any of us, involved in the transformative work of change, needs from time to time to take the space to reflect, to regenerate. Music provides such a space – music can transform, inspire, sustain and call to act. And so – here we are, together, tonight. To bridge us into this evening of musical reflection and regeneration, I share these words from Wendell Berry:

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake up in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives will be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

References cited

Leopold, Aldo, A Sand County Almanac, Oxford University Press, 1949.

Mitchell, Alanna, Sea Sick – The Global Ocean in Crisis, McClelland & Stewart, 2009.

Moser, Susanne, Let’s Get Real About It: Meeting the Psychological and Social Demands of a World in Distress, from Environmental Leadership: A Reference Handbook, Gallagher, Deborah (Ed.), Sage Publications 2012. A pre-publication version of the chapter can be found and downloaded from Ms. Moser’s website – Follow the publication link.

The Wendell Berry quote is Meditation #483 found in Unitarian Universalist Association Hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, Beacon Press, 1993.

For information on The Gaia Hypothesis and the many publications of James Lovelock, go to

What Is Gaia? Text by James Lovelock and‎.

The Declaration of Interdependence was written for the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Find it, in many languages, at

For information about the Suzuki Elders, check their website at,com/site/eldersdsf/ or just Google “eldersdsf” .