Monthly Archives: February 2018

Never Give Up

Never Give UpNever Give Up has a strong ring. It’s full of courage, determination, perseverance…

Never Give Up need not be callous, hard-hearted, without compassionate, rigid, or inflexible.  It gives us guidance on our journey, can offer advice when we’re flagging, help us remember the bigger picture, remind ourselves that we’re in this for the long haul and, most importantly perhaps, that we’re in this together, through thick and thin.

In the aftermath of the most recent school massacre in Parkland, Florida, I read about the dedicated activist for whom the school was named – Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

I became further inspired by the students from Parkland, now standing up, showing up, speaking out, loudly and clearly, and who are now, as I write this, in Tallahassee speaking to legislators about stopping gun violence.

Here just two clips:

Douglas, who challenged the political and business establishment of her day, would be proud of the students’ courageous efforts to galvanize a movement for gun control, which now includes a nationwide walkout by students and teachers scheduled for April 20.”

and

“Be a nuisance where it counts,” Douglas once said. “Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics—but never give up.”

Never Give UpI quote another of my heros, Howard Zinn. His final point in his essay On Getting Along is  “Don’t look for a moment of total triumph. See it as an ongoing struggle, with victories and defeats, but in the long run the consciousness of people growing. So you need patience, persistence, and need to understand that even when you don’t “win” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that you have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile.”  

Never Give Up, and enjoy the ride!

 

A green perspective

by Stan Hirst

Introduction

In a blog posted on this site earlier in the month, Elder Bob Worcester proposed a new view of the world, termed the ‘green perspective’. The prime purpose of this view is to provide a framework for mitigating the present worldwide vitriolic conflicts between the world’s “globalists” and “localists”.

“Globalists” are broadly considered to include the urban elites who support world-wide integration of communications, commerce and transportation, while “localists” are groups who are sceptical about moves from traditions, homes and families to so-called “new world orders” and their associated clash of cultures.

Between global and local perspectives are ‘ecological’ views which imply that everything has its role and place. While globalists see local perspectives as limited and narrow, they forget that the global is made up of a mosaic of local conditions, each of which emerged from the particular circumstances of that region. Locals, on the other hand, discount cosmopolitans as being out of touch with the day-to-day realities of lived experience.

The green perspective is not just the middle ground between two extremes, it can be a radical position beyond either extreme; something outside the lines of the conventional. The green perspective should dive deeper into the imagination to find things unseen. It can derive much from nature which provides a deep, rich model of how the world works, and from spiritual traditions which claim that by “seeing through the glass darkly” more depth may be revealed.

The conflict between the two viewpoints is exemplified by carbon extraction (in the form of oil, coal, natural gas, etc.) and its combustion, creating the very real possibility of local impacts from spills and contamination, and global threats to climate and planetary ecosystems from carbon dioxide and methane emissions. These impacts will affect virtually every person on the planet in some way, and the negative effects will be handed on to succeeding generations.

Locals are mollified by global capitalists who appear to value environmental quality (at least in their own backyards), who also have children and grandchildren who they want to see live happy and productive lives but who also seem quite ready to sidestep the obvious implications of negative global impacts and focus instead on the materialistic benefits – jobs and money.

Thus far the conceptualization of a ‘green perspective’ has been based only on consideration of the prevailing toxic dialogue around the environment and the extent of human exploitation of global resources and ecosystems. Missing from the discussion so far are ethics and spirituality, a deeper appreciation of global ecosystems, and concern for environmental rights and freedoms.

This post attempts to provide these additional perspectives.

Incorporation of ecological intelligence

Differences and/or shortcomings in perception have huge consequences for the way in which we manage the planet. It is suggested that the green perspective would be amplified by inclusion of liberal doses of ecological intelligence, described by its inventor Daniel Goleman as an understanding of ecosystems lending the capacity to learn from experience and to deal effectively with the environment.

Current human use and consumption of natural resources far exceeds Earth’s long-term carrying capacity. At the same time, modern society has lost touch with the sensibility crucial to our survival as a species. As Goleman expresses it – our collective mind harbours blind spots that disconnect our everyday activities from the crises those activities cause in natural systems.

Ecological intelligence supports the ability to categorize and recognize patterns in the natural world – ecological, geological and climatic. Humans have been doing this for centuries, but the global extent of human-induced change now requires that ecological intelligence be extended to the planetary level. Moreover, our other levels of intelligence – social and emotional – enable us to take other people’s perspectives, assimilate these and feel genuine empathy.

The sheer efficiency and widespread prevalence of modern technologies have severely blunted the survival skills of billions of individuals on the planet. Modern economies require and encourage specialized expertise, which in turn depends on other specialists for tasks in another field. However, while many excel in narrow specialized fields, we all depend on the skills of others – farmers, software engineers, nutritionists, mechanics – to make life work for us. Modern society now falls short in having the abilities, the attunement to the natural world, and the custom of passing on of local wisdom to new generations to find ways of living in harmony with our patch of the planet.

Our collective ability to perceive significant global issues has been rendered ineffective. Our attention has been drawn, slowly and reluctantly, to symptoms like the slow rising of global sea levels or the pesticide-induced demise of our bee populations. We have no sensors for other indicators and little insight into natural disruptions. Our otherwise impressive neural systems are ill-designed to warn us of the ways that our activities are impacting our own planetary niche. We have to acquire new sensitivities to a growing range of threats and learn what to do about them. In other words, we need to sharpen our ecological intelligence.

Adequate development of ecological intelligence requires a vast store of knowledge, too much for any one individual. While intelligence has traditionally been a characteristic of individuals, the environmental abilities we now need in order to survive must necessarily be collective.

Large organizations already make good use of distributed intelligence. Goleman cites the examples of hospitals where technicians, nurses, administrators and specialist physicians coordinate their skills to provide appropriate care to patients. Another example is that of modern commercial enterprises in which sales, marketing, finance, and strategic planning each represent unique expertise yet operate together to provide coordinated, shared understanding and implementation.

Incorporation of ethics

Nearly 70 years ago the conservationist Aldo Leopold published a series of essays under the title of A Sand County Almanac in which he proposed adoption of a land ethic. Leopold, a naturalist by choice and a forester by training, considered that Old Testament religion had played a major role in environmental deterioration in twentieth century America through its Abrahamic concept of land as a commodity. That meant that the non-aboriginal relationship to land was basically economic, entailing privileges but no obligations.

Leopold proposed a “Land Ethic” which expanded the definition of “community” to include not only humans, but all of the other parts of the Earth, as well – soils, water, plants, and animals. In the lexicon of the late 19th century all these ecosystem components were conventionally lumped under the term “land”. Leopold’s revolutionary concept of land was in fact “a community to which people belonged”, thus entailing use with love and respect.

The land ethic has been a significant contribution to conservation in North America, and the concepts are embedded in many state and federal resource management policies. One reason it is popular with mainstream environmentalism is that it does not require huge sacrifices of human interests, but instead seeks to strike a balance between human needs and interests and a healthy and biotically diverse natural environment. It also permits framing of global land as a commons, to be governed on a global scale based on international cooperation and conservation.

Incorporation of environmental rights

As fundamental as the right to food, shelter or freedom from discrimination is the right of all members of society to live in a safe physical environment in which the continued diversity of non-human life is also ensured. This can be promoted by promoting stronger environmental laws and better enforcement of existing laws through the framework of the green perspective.

The right to a healthy environment is widely recognized in international law and enjoyed as a constitutional protection in over 100 countries, but not in Canada (the Canadian Constitution makes no mention of the environment). Ironically, environmental rights and responsibilities have been a cornerstone of indigenous legal systems in Canada for millennia. The right is currently recognized in five provinces and territories (Quebec, Ontario, Yukon, NWT, and Nunavut), and has been tabled in draft legislative form in B.C.

The formulation of rights is a legal mechanism for creating or shifting the balance between competing interests. Such a right residing in each Canadian would provide the courts with direction in, for example, determining the strength of the individual Canadian’s claim for environmental health in cases where it competed with the right of another individual or corporation to develop property. An environmental bill of rights is also seen as a mechanism for removing obstacles which currently prevent individuals and public interest groups from participating in the environmental decision-making process and litigating issues of environmental degradation.

The David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot movement is a national grassroots campaign seeking country-wide implementation of environmental rights. To date more than 110,000 people across Canada have participated at various levels, and 160 municipalities have passed resolutions in support of legislation. The end goal is the amendment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include the right to a healthy environment.

Characteristics of a green perspective

The characteristics of a green perspective can now be summarised as follows.

  • Seeking a broad picture that encompasses all viewpoints.
  • Open-ended.
  • Recognizing that positions affect people and there may be multiple sides to an issue.
  • Recognizing that being in the majority on an issue is not a reassurance that it is wise.
  • Knowing when an acceptable course of action can be a middle ground between two extremes, or possibly even a position outside the lines of the conventional.
  • Welcoming spiritual traditions being brought in to reveal depth to the perspective.
  • Defining a strong ethical framework for planning, approving and implementing.
  • Recognizing the right to a healthy environment as a cornerstone of any plans and actions involving individuals, communities and ecosystems.
  • Responsible understanding of ecosystems and their functioning lending the capacity to learn from experience and to be proactive in environmental management.

 

February Gloom

by Stan Hirst

Even though February was the shortest month of the year, sometimes it seemed like the longest -J.D. Robb

From my perspective on a dark and gloomy Vancouver North Shore being assailed by interminable chilly rain February absolutely seems like the longest month. And the whole world seems dark and gloomy. Environment Canada says we have just had the fifth wettest January on record. The trend is set.

Its actually a most appropriate backdrop from which to consider the world situation right now.  Its depressing and made more so by the unfettered barrage of negative news delivered non-stop from a multitude of TV talking heads and contained within rain-sodden pages of the daily papers.

News commentators view the US presidential decision to transfer the American embassy to Jerusalem as a strategic and political move. However, to many Christian evangelicals (who make up 26% of the U.S population) Jerusalem is of special significance. It is tied into the concept of the rapture — a time when, according to evangelical tradition, believing Christians will be suddenly and unexpectedly “raptured” up to heaven before the events that presage the end of the world. In most accounts of the rapture, believers go straight to heaven while nonbelievers are left behind to undergo a period of political chaos and personal torment.

Are we living in some kind of “end time” now?  Theatrics aside, we are definitely living in a highly altered world of rapidly and visibly changing climate, massive disruption of terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems, and burgeoning  and shifting human populations. Its not just that so many of the basic physical, ecological, social and political parameters have changed and now approach breaking points.  The thought that we are at some kind of breaking point has now become a point of focus.

Its hugely ironic that we now sit in this situation while at the same time being in possession of more scientific knowledge and technology than at any point in the whole history of our Earth.  There is more computing power in the laptop in front of me than there was in the whole IBM mainframe computer I timidly used just a half-century ago.  We know what is on the other side of the moon, we have closeup imagery of the surface of Mars, we can dissect and manipulate strands of DNA to produce new forms of life.  But we can’t stop ourselves from destroying the very foundations of the global ecological system that gave us life in the first place.  The ridiculousness is all too much for an eldering brain to embrace.

In his book Cosmos and Psyche, Richard Tarnas addresses this very question.  He believes that we are fundamentally unable to comprehend the greater perspective.  As a global society we suffer from a profound metaphysical disorientation and groundlessness.  Something essential is  missing, and it is tempting for many to think it might be on the spiritual level.

Pope Francis, 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, took a brave chance at responding to this type of global challenge back in 2015 and produced his 2nd encyclical Laudato Si. This emphasized connectedness and the need for global action, both socially and politically. The document has been read by millions worldwide but seems to have become more of a polemic than a mode of genuine transition to something better.

Ken Wilber, the creator of Integral Theory (or The Theory of Everything), provides another type of framework for (the attempt at) the understanding of what is going on with our planet and ourselves.  Often difficult to understand, at least to this Elder brain, the theory postulates four levels of universal consciousness, coded ‘red’, ‘amber’, ‘orange’ and ‘green’.

The world was once at the red level (egocentric, self-referential, instinctual), followed by amber (ethnocentric, authoritarian, pre-modern) and lately at the orange level (world-centric, rational, individualistic, modern). Apparently back in the sixties we started to move onto the green level (world centered, pluralistic, post-modern)

Wilber postulates that, somewhere along the way, Green  began to wander off course, increasingly caught in some internal contradictions that were inherent in its worldview from the start (e.g. maybe there are no such things as the widely supposed universal truth and universal values in the first place).

This brings me to the point I feared when I started penning this piece in the first place. I really don’t know how to end on a positive note.

Certainly, the world will continue to unravel the complexities of our existence, from the very, very large (think deep space and black holes) to the very small (snippets of DNA being coerced to do magical things). New ideas will come and go, hopefully some will leave a residue behind. The kids will grow up and hopefully be much better at this existence business than we Elders.

But I fear the wars, greed, interminable bickering, and upsurges of horrible diseases and ecological afflictions will also go on.  Why will the search for the magic bullet not continue to be an utterly futile quest?

It has stopped raining. I’m going out to clean the gutters.

 

Of Priuses and pick-up trucks

By Bob Worcester

The world seems caught in a conflict between “globalists”, the urban elites who welcome and support the world-wide integration of communications, commerce and transportation, and “localists” who view with suspicion the move from traditions, home and family to the “new world order” and its chaotic clash of cultures.

One is tempted to call this a conflict between the hillbillies and the city slickers, but perhaps a ‘red’ and ‘blue’ viewpoint is a less loaded classification. Jim Hoggan’s timely book I’m Right and You’re an Idiot identifies the toxic quality of these conflicts and recommends that understanding is a prerequisite for constructive conversations.

I would like to suggest that between the red and the blue view of the world is a green perspective that, like old 3-D glasses, provides more depth and clarity than that found in most current discussion of this new world we are moving into.

Polarization is not new to politics since often one is either “with us” or “against us” on any number of issues such as Peace Site C, the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, or trophy hunting. Of course there are always grey areas but that spectrum still often ranges from black to white. ‘Green’ adds colour to the discourse.

Between the global and the local perspective is an ‘ecological’ view which implies that everything has its role and place. This may sound like a wishy-washy perspective but it is not. Globalists see local perspectives as too limited and narrow yet the global is made up of a mosaic of local conditions, each of which emerged from the particular circumstances of that region. Locals discount the cosmopolitans as out of touch with the day-to-day realities of lived experience.

It is not surprising that groups polarize around their particular issues – jobs, growth or limits. What is unfortunate is that environmentalists often contribute to that polarization unnecessarily. As Hoggan suggests, “you’re wrong” quickly degenerates into “you’re evil!” The ‘green’ viewpoint steps back to find the bigger picture that puts both red and blue in perspective.

That, of course, is more easily said than done. Construction of the Peace Site C dam may very well bring jobs and prosperity to many people in the region while displacing others. It may allow Albertans to close down their fossil fueled electrical utilities but still encourage fracking. First Nations do not always agree among themselves on what is in their best interests and may resent that “city slickers” get to call the shots. It is easy to see how anger and resentment emerge regardless of the outcome. The green perspective may not avoid conflict but it can, at least, appreciate that their positions affect people and there may be three or more sides to an issue.

There are legitimate concerns to be addressed and not papered over as “deplorable.” The green perspective will recognize that being in the majority on an issue is not a reassurance that it is wise. Popular causes are notoriously fickle and “all movements go too far” according to Bertrand Russell. The green perspective is not just the middle ground between two extremes, it can be a radical position beyond either extreme – something outside the lines of the conventional. The green perspective dives deeper into the imagination to find things unseen – “your young people shall see visions, and your old people shall dream dreams.” Here is where a ‘green’ vision can go further. If egotists can become tribalists and globalists can become ecologically-minded, then what can ‘green’ become?

Nature provides a deep, rich model of how the world works, but perhaps that view too is limited. Spiritual traditions claim that now we “see through the glass darkly” and that more depth may be revealed. If the old movie goggles with red and blue lenses converted hazy images on the screen into three dimensions then maybe ‘green’ with ultraviolet lenses can give us even more dimensions. Our ‘cosmological’ understanding keeps astonishing us with quantum possibilities of multi-verses and dark matter. Ecological understanding may yet give way to something cosmological that we have yet to imagine.

For now, it would seem that the “wisdom of the elders” is to see the world with new eyes, perhaps even the eyes of a child. Biologists tell us that evolution is random, chaotic and no particular outcome is more natural than another, yet we feel that some outcomes are better, truer, more beautiful than others. Let us trust that feeling and look into the greening future with hope, imagination and grit.