Monthly Archives: March 2017

Seeking a spiritual foundation for an environmental renaissance in these trying times

by Stan Hirst

I have occasionally heard some of the Suzuki Elders refer to our group as a Unitarian/Anglican conglomerate. It’s meant as a flattering reference, although statistically its not quite true. A mental rundown of the sombre faces around the Council table indicates that neither group is in the majority and the combined number makes up just half the total Council membership. The remainder of the Council membership seeks formal spiritual attachment through a wider range of channels.

However the pages of this site attest to the fact that spirituality is a deep-rooted facet of the Elders’ group. Karl Perrin has written “…..my faith, my long term spiritual discipline, is in seeking truth and offering service.” Don Marshall makes a case for spirituality as a part of building resilience to the psycho-social impacts of climate disruption. Guest contributors Sally Bingham and Anneliese Schultz  write eloquently of the strength of spiritual traditions and communities in supporting our ongoing efforts to care for Creation. Paul Strome writes of the importance of his spiritual connections to Inuit communities in the North. A review of Pope Francisencyclical Laudato Si published just 16 months ago on the website has to date attracted 2500 readers.

Apart from personal convictions, why should we be concerned at all over spirituality and its role in the activities and future of the Suzuki Elders? For one thing we need perhaps to draw on spiritual convictions to highlight the growing importance of connecting personal, social and political transformations in the public realm.

It is rapidly becoming evident that the world is changing very rapidly and not at all for the better. Global climate change has become the norm along with all its consequences – deterioration of terrestrial, freshwater and marine resources, widespread social unrest, political instability and economic imbalances. The world’s existing and emerging challenges seem to be so complex, contested, interrelated, urgent and exacting that technocratic and technological solutions are unlikely to be enough. They often seem to compound problems, not reduce them.

Canada, and especially British Columbia, have policies and procedures in place to try and manage and ameliorate the conflicts of exploitation and extraction. Planning and assessment guidelines, environmental and social assessment requirements, and mandatory consultation procedures have been in place for close to half a century. Most of them have been adapted and upgraded with experience over the years, yet major conflicts between proponents and opponents continue to be the norm. Oil and gas pipelines, marine transportation of fossil fuels, hard rock mining, hydroelectric dams and marine aquaculture, all commonly deemed indispensable to a modern economy, are prime conflict zones. Why?

One major issue continues to be the deep and sometimes widening divide between, on one hand, corporate interests and their political supporters who drive resource exploitation and economic enhancement and, on the other hand, communities and groups who stand to benefit economically from such activities but who also bear the burgeoning environmental and social costs and losses.

There is a growing sense that more importance be attached to spirituality as a source of motivation, meaning and creativity. A revised understanding of human nature and our relationship to the earth and its bounties would help us reconceive the nature and value of spiritual perspectives, practices and experiences.

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in the U.K. speaks of the unfortunate fetishisation of economic growth as a panacea and global competition as the only game in town. Some in the political sphere point out that citizens need to be the subjects of social change, not just the objects. Spiritual perspectives play a role in shaping and expressing the roots and values of democratic culture. They deepen the vision and lend structure and texture to human development and maturation. The overarching societal role of spirituality should be to serve as a counterweight to purely utilitarian thinking.

Many of the world’s environmental conflict zones already have ‘spiritual’ elements. They are a key pillar of First Nations’ defence of their territories and resources against the inroads of fossil fuel and other extractive exploitation from outsiders. Non-native society by comparison seems unprepared or unwilling to acknowledge a spiritual dimension, and is unwilling or not equipped to seek common ground at such a fundamental level.

Spirituality is ambiguously inclusive by its nature and cannot be easily defined, but at heart it is about the fact that it is we who are alive at all, rather than our personality or status. It’s about our “ground” rather than our “place” in the world. It is possible and valuable to give spirituality improved intellectual grounding and greater cultural and political salience. The primary spiritual injunction is to know what you are as fully and deeply as possible.

Difference is the essence of humanity

by Jill Schroder

“Difference is the essence of humanity”.

This quote from John Hume seems to me an appropriate thing to remember on International Women’s Day. Hume carries on, “Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein likes a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”

What a soothing balm this message offers in the face of the xenophobic, misogynistic, hate and judgement-filled atmosphere of the current political arena. Difference is the essence of humanity. I feel my heart open and grow soft, as I reflect on the Syrian family we took into our home just over a year ago, on how they knew absolutely no English, but in a year have learned the language, and gained training and skills and are now contributing to the community and country. Difference and diversity go together like, what? Peace and good government?

John Kennedy writes, “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.“

Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, in 1800: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Ah, if only!

I like this one from Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

My husband has recently been enjoying a kaleidoscope as a toy, joy, and metaphor. I look through the viewer and see the multicoloured pieces. On the one hand they are distinct and separate, but they blend together, overlap, criss-cross, to create a truly beautiful, unique and unified image… When I turn the kaleidoscope ever so slightly there is a whole new arrangement of separate pieces, joining to make a remarkable, colourful whole. Cool metaphor for life, for diversity, for difference: the essence of humanity, eh?

As I go out about my day today, International Women’s Day, I will take this in my heart, the warmth, the unexpected challenges, the pleasures and opportunities for growth and connection that come when I respect and celebrate difference as the essence of humanity. I notice how different it is when I intentionally take this view, how differently I see people, how it affects my heart and my mind, what I see, and how I feel – on the bus, the sidewalk, in my building.

Churchill said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Know it and love it!

 

Climate change and emotional resilience: seeking clarity

by Stan Hirst

Resilience has become the buzzword of the 21st century, and its rapid rise to prominence in the media has taken some of us by surprise.  It’s a common enough term in the English language, but it has been applied to a wide number of subjects and themes, possibly not always with the same exact meaning. It is used in physics, ecology, engineering, urban development, military science, psychology and a few other areas, possibly not always with the exact same nuancing or intentions.

Now we have a more recent usage, one which is being promoted by our own Suzuki Elders in relation to global climate change – emotional resilience.  The Elders have defined emotional resilience as “keeping the ability, both personal and communal, to deal with the psychological and social trauma that comes from seeming to lose ground“.

Elder vanity discourages me from admitting I’m not clear on what this actually means, but I’m reasonably sure that I have allies within the Elder ranks when I say that we need some discussion on the concept. This post is my humble attempt at unpicking the concept.

Since I’m old and wise (that’s the definition of an Elder!) a first traditional step might be to turn to a dictionary definition of resilience.  It states resilience to be  “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness“.  Alternately it is said to be “the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity“.  That gives us a glimmer of meaning but precious little understanding of the relevance to emotions.

In my own discipline  – ecology – the concept of resilience has been under progressive study for nearly a half-century. Ecologists accept the definition of ecological resilience to be “the capacity of ecosystems to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly“.  Note that ecological resilience typically refers to an entire community or ecosystem.

A common example given for ecological resilience is a mature coniferous forest with stands of several tree species plus understory layers of shrubs, grasses and herbs, the forest occupied by populations of mammals, birds and herptiles. The forest persists for decades in a more or less “stable” state.  Inevitably along comes a forest fire or a major storm or a pest outbreak which destroys huge proportions of  the tree cover, disrupts the shrub and herbaceous layers, exposes the soils to desiccation, erosion and run-off, and kills off a significant portion of the faunal populations. The forest as we knew it is essentially either destroyed or severely disrupted.  However, many of the basic ecological functions such as plant succession, photosynthesis, water retention, energy flow and reproduction remain intact. If left to its own devices the forest will, over decades, regenerate and regain its community structure and functions. Wildlife populations will return.  The whole system might not become be an exact replica of what it was, but we’ll likely accept whatever can be retrieved.

Human sciences have taken on the concept. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes resilience in regard to the individual as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, and other significant sources of stress”. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.  A similar concept is applied to whole communities, towns, cities, agricultural systems, etc. by planners, sociologists and engineers.

The APA points out that resilience in people is ‘ordinary’, not ‘extraordinary’. People have commonly demonstrated resilience, an oft-cited example being the individual and social responses to the 11 September  2001 terrorist attacks in the USA.  Resilience does not mean the non-experience of difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common sequels to major adversity or trauma.  The road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

Psychological studies show that the primary factor in [emotional] resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.  Specific factors that have been linked to resilience include:

  • capacity to make realistic plans and to take steps to carry them out;
  • a positive view of self and confidence in personal strengths and abilities;
  • skills in communication and problem solving; and
  • capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

The science of psychology has laid out some clear strategies for building personal resilience. Developing resilience is seen as a personal journey. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not necessarily work for others. Various strategies need to be invoked. However, as spelled out by the APA, there seem to be common procedures that work for many:

  •    Make connections.
  •    Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
  •    Accept that change is a part of living.
  •    Move toward your goals.
  •    Take decisive actions.
  •    Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
  •    Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  •    Keep things in perspective.
  •    Maintain a hopeful outlook.
  •    Take care of yourself.

I can see how this all links in to emotional resilience in individuals and in communities, but it remains unclear to me it links to climate change, either globally or regionally.

We need to remind ourselves that climate change is not the same as a change in the weather, although the two may look the same to an uninformed observer over a short period of time. The difference is that climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over an extended period of time (decades, centuries, aeons). Its still going to  rain along the west coast, it will still be cold in Alberta in the winter, and we will still have dry spells in the Interior; its the frequency, timing, onset, duration and/or severity of all these familiar weather patterns that will change.

Will prolonged winter storms, summer droughts and frequent blowdowns affect me emotionally? You bet they will.  What will I do about it?  Shake my fist at the Westridge Terminal across the inlet? Throw tomatoes at D.J. Trump’s smirking face on the TV screen? I’ll do it but I don’t expect much in return. I will need to be emotionally resilient.

Now if I only knew what that actually meant.

 

 

Buying Local, Sustainable, Ethical Meat

by Julia Smith

Blue Sky Ranch, Merritt, B.C. 

Seems like everyone is selling “local, sustainable, ethical” meat these days. It’s big business and even companies like Walmart and McDonald’s are cashing in on consumer demand for products that are produced using methods that take issues like animal welfare and the environment into consideration. There are all kinds of certification and labelling systems designed, in theory, to bridge the gap between production methods and consumer knowledge. But, for all these efforts, the waters just seem to be getting muddier and muddier, and increasingly words like “local”, “sustainable” and “ethical” are being diluted to the point where they don’t mean much any more.

One hopeful thing I’ve noticed is that, in general, farmers are quite forthcoming and trustworthy when it comes to communicating about their practices. The problem seems to be with the middle man and their inevitable team of sales people, marketers and spin doctors. So if you are a consumer who cares where your food comes from and wants to make responsible choices that reflect your values, here are a few pointers.

Find the Farmer

I’m in a unique position being both a consumer and a farmer which has allowed me to realize that you simply cannot believe everything people tell you, especially if they are not the farmer. I see meat that I know was produced using conventional methods being marketed as “grass-fed”,” natural”, “organic”, “sustainable”, “ethical” every day. That’s the bad news. The good news is that farmers will generally tell you the truth. So before you buy from a retailer, restaurant, etc., find out where they get their meat.

A lot of places get their meat from a distributor, so you may have to go through a second level of screening at this point before you can get the name of the actual farm. Most distributors source from a number of different farms that employ a wide range of standards and practices and it can be difficult or impossible to pin down from where the meat you are interested in purchasing really came from. In that case, you should assume that your meat is coming from the farm that has the lowest standards because they tend to produce much higher quantities than the smaller farms with higher standards.

Ask the Farmer Questions

In this golden age of technology, getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth can be as easy as typing the name of the farm into your smartphone. Many farms have extensive web sites that can answer most of the questions you are asking. If you can’t find the answers you are looking for online, contact the farm directly. Here are some good questions to ask.

  1. Do the animals get to go outside? 
    If the answer is “yes,” ask for more information about how and when and what the outdoor conditions are like. A tiny door in the end of a giant barn that is sometimes open and leads to a small concrete pad might not be what you had in mind.
  2. How much space do the animals have?
    This should be a fairly straightforward math problem. Take the size of the enclosure and divide it by the number of animals in the enclosure.
  3. Are the animals physically altered in any way?
    Practices such as de-beaking & toe-clipping birds and tail-docking of pigs are often employed in situations where large numbers of animals are housed together in a small space.
  4. What do they eat?
    “Grass-fed” doesn’t mean that the animals didn’t spend the last 4 months of their lives consuming huge quantities of grain in a feed lot. “Organic” doesn’t mean local ( and remember that “local” is only useful as a geographic reference). Commercial feed comes with a huge footprint so a general rule should be – the less commercial feed the animals eat, the better.
  5. Any “Hidden” Confinement Systems?
    Remember to look at ALL parts of the system. Are calves removed from their mothers shortly after birth and confined in tiny pens alone? Are mother pigs kept in gestation crates? How are the hens who laid the eggs that hatched into chickens that ultimately become meat or egg laying birds raised? Are the cattle pictured on a web site in open grassy meadows sent to a crowded feed lot for finishing?

A Word About Third Party Certification

If the farm participates in any kind of certification process, research that certification. You might find that what passes for “animal welfare” in some of these systems, is not in line with your personal values.

This post reproduced with permission.