Category Archives: Recent Posts

Burnt Memories

by Graham Rawlings

Listening to the distress surrounding the people who have been unfortunate enough to need to be evacuated from their homes during the recent wildfires in British Columbia evokes memories in my own life where fire has been a factor. Those memories are not only visual but also include the smells and sounds which are stored away to take me back to those earlier occasions. Some are frightening, some sad, and some traumatic.

My family was caught in the Black Tuesday bush fires in Hobart, Tasmania in 1967, a tragedy that claimed 64 lives as it swept through the suburbs of the city and beyond. It was fast, devastating and had long term repercussions on people and the community in general. Hobart is dominated by Mount Wellington to the west and the slopes overlook the Derwent estuary to the east. Over the years residential development had occurred on the picturesque slopes particularly where sea views were to be had. The dominant trees were eucalypts. Within five hours not only were those lives lost but 7,000 people were left homeless, 900 were injured and 80,000 head of stock were also lost. The fire jumped from crown to crown with frightening speed as the trees caught fire explosively. Miraculously our house did not catch fire despite the proximity of high trees, yet neighbours lost theirs. I was out of town in the north of the island during the worst of the blaze but my wife and children were evacuated to the beach a kilometre away and huddled there under blankets as red-hot cinders rained down on them. Fortuitously in the late afternoon the wind changed direction and the fire was redirected back on its path but the main damage had been done by then.

My recollection is not only of the smoke but the pervasive smell of burnt wood, a smell that would come back to me long afterwards but also reawaken earlier memories of another event many years previously. Others write of the silence as people counted their losses and looked towards an uncertain future as the fire moved on. That silence was not long lived however as the chain saws burst into activity with damaged trees being felled and owners enlarging their properties hopefully to minimize future risks from fires in the regrowth.

Yet that smell of burnt wood reawakened another earlier smell in my memory, that was in 1944 when the village in which I was brought up some 20 miles north of London, UK, was on the line of incendiary bombs dropped en route from the Thames to the De Havilland aircraft manufacturing plant in Hatfield. Walking to school took me past the smouldering ruins of our local grocery store bombed just the night before and that smell of burnt wood was never to be forgotten. A frightening experience.

Another but different fire was in a totally different environment. I was responsible for a large camp established in the bush in southern Nepal for the investigation of a potentially large engineering project. For logistical reasons it was set up close to a village on the trail from Tibet in the north to the Terai and India to the south. This linear village had houses and shops strung out along the road. There was a constant hive of activity with porters bringing goods from the north and buying, selling, cooking, and sleeping on the street at various times of the day and especially during the heat of the pre-monsoon season. Long chains of sheep and goats meandered along the road, their keepers scouring the woods to cut vegetation to feed the animals. Workers from the village acted as labourers for our camp and drilling operations.

In the middle of one night I was awakened by flames shooting some ten metres up into the air in the centre of the village. Two houses were on fire from a cooking incident gone awry. The villagers were in a panic and nobody seemed to know how to prevent the whole village from burning down. Water was available only in very limited quantities. A group from our camp who hastily rose from their beds to see the dilemma realized that the only solution was to create a fire break by tearing down some houses. This proved to be successful and after several hours the village was saved. Only as morning light broke could we see the devastation and impact on the village. Those villagers whose houses were lost were able to move into our compound and be fed for several days as they were able to rebuild, a remarkably quick process using the local materials to hand. There were very different burning smells here as one might expect, not the smells of the eucalypts in Hobart, or the cedars and firs of BC, but of the amalgam of cooking smells and burnt belongings.

These fire events will always be connected in so many ways in my memory. I thought that they had largely been forgotten but the sounds and smells bring back those memories in a very vivid way. Every event is different as the two most recent events in western Canada at Fort McMurray, and now in the Cariboo, demonstrate. However, one thing that they all have in common is the wonderful way that people come together to fight fires and then help put the communities back together again.

 

 

How to Have Enlightenment, Power (and Money) with Resilience Stories

Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

by Dan Kingsbury

1.

It’s quite strange to be here on this planet with you, don’t you think? I consider it equally strange that, as much as I know about our world, I can never really know you or any other person for that matter. Yet we can relate and have a connection. Rather than the proverbial “us and them” I can change the way I think about things I know, change the meaning to what I think about you/them, or more precisely, transform you by how I know you. With that food for the soul in mind and with these stories I’ll share the real return, the beauty and time, and where to find it to begin each day.

Imagine a still mountain lake reflecting its shoreline to the sky; as above, as below. In the mirrored image off the lake you might, maybe for the first time, have an “awakening” when you notice the trees appear taller towards the midpoint of the lake’s reflection, showing you directly the curve of your home planet against the skyline. And much more because you are here, observing this view! And these thoughts and words are the memory of it I use to deal with the mystery of it – we are all somehow a part of all this! The reality is there is no fixed world “out there”. This world is in constant change and it appears that there is no getting out alive. And it also appears that there no purpose to evolution without us.

The natural environment is what has been worked out by hundreds of millions of years of evolution from which we emerged only about 2 million years ago. We became conscious of who we are, with a past and a future, only in the last 70,000 years. And that’s the problem – we have a past that is poorly remembered. We’ve already forgotten that we’ve only been writing our stories for 5,500 years, .03% of the time we’ve been hunting and gathering. So, if we are so privileged why is it that we have a future that we all know is far from certain?

Fortunately, we’re primates and we can mass together like no other animal mostly because we have an imagination, a certain fiction or relative reality that we can share. Similarly, because we can and do change the way we think about things, things can and do change. This is because whatever you think about expands. It’s up to you. Surprisingly simple, isn’t it?

During this speedy-time we call a life time, a time when we are all going around the sun at the same speed, in the same moment, it’s endlessly fascinating how each of us experiences time so differently, hardly free and equal. But we’re missing the sum of the whole life journey for all that we are doing with the day-to-day of our busy lives, typically having no time to experience the “being-ness” in the landscape, mostly because we are so fascinated to a fault with its working parts, i.e. us. Unfortunately, we don’t reflect well off a lake and we don’t see ourselves in the lake’s image and so we think we’re separate, and landscape is just something we cross to get to the other side. Of course, when we do so we also miss the opportunity for a rather profound relationship with our landscape.

We are more than the individual self. We are our collective self, we are Homo sapiens. And we are The Breaking Wave (Song) and all we absolutely have is this moment in time. Time is speeding up for us humans; we live fast but we all come from a childhood full of imagination. Even if you don’t have any imagination now, you did have when you were a kid – and that is so important to know, to access. This is because imagination is a useful resource to being resilient with your life time, to being alive in a world threatened by humans, by who we are, makers of war and carbon-based climate change. This means that with imagination and even if you don’t like your “story” or what it might be doing to destroy the natural world around you that sustains you, then you can change your “story.” It’s easy, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3… Plus, all you need is love.

2.

There is a new story available now that I’m invested in, it is out there and it is another connection, another part of the inter-connection of life, of “being.” Imagine that this new connection or new relationship with another “being” is your landscape or your environment seen differently, seen with imagination and awakened eyes. No matter where you are you can connect to “it,” it’s presence can easily be felt at both sunrise and sunset with the light. This is where the mystery and magic is, with the light unfolding into the darkness, layer by layer, to bring on a new day or to ebb out its presence again at the twilight hour. There is no judgement, nothing you can’t be with and there is no suffering in this light. Rather quite the opposite in fact, and yet it is not an apposing force, this realm of darkness is merely something the light grows into or from, not unlike a seed in the soil. There is a need for both before any thoughts can be had (thank goodness!).

I am talking here about the primacy of the landscape on our blue dot planet we call Earth, and the infinity of the Universe that is nourishing and sustaining us on this landscape. Imagine the landscape as a “being,” one that we can relate to as we enter every day when we leave our house and go from place to place, to work or school. For most of us this is “dead time,” a time experienced between your house and wherever. The opportunity is to imagine you are entering a landscape whose sense of time is different from yours, much longer in years than is humanly possible to know, and yet it has a certain presence that is revealed somehow in its “being,” it’s kin to the soul.

Imagine how the landscape transforms from granite and ice into a subjective holder of interconnectedness and nature. It’s landscape that tells you to be mindful and present, not to be “on time,” but rather to relate to time as either in-or-out of presence within the sanctity of the moment. Changing time opens up, “awakens” is another way of “knowing.” This is one of the reasons why travel is so popular, it changes time. Knowing this, you would probably like to be spending more time with your landscape’s “being,” traveling or not. It’s easy and you don’t have to go far, the landscape’s presence can be accessed through the power of prayer or meditation. You can access it and bring it within to hold a place of quite and stillness, like the environment or landscape can do for you when you are “out there” – if you let it in. If you know how to listen to the silence and be with stillness, you can literally transcend time for the beauty in the moment, and eventually you come to learn that this too shall pass, and that’s OK.

3.

The point of this story is to bring the “out there,” the being-ness of the landscape and its presence inward, “in there” so that it becomes a place to come from and go to when you go about the busyness of your day whatever the activity (maybe even investing, it doesn’t really matter). That’s my resilience story, an imagined partner whose language is silence and solitude, not desolation lost, cynicism, resignation, anxiety or depression. Within the landscape, wherever you live, it’s a question of beauty, if you can see it. If you can “awaken,” or transform your use of meaning and patterns to see it.

This is an invocation to extend your relationship to your home environment, this is an invitation to have an ancient conversation with your landscape beyond your usual sense of time, to fetch the spray of “being” found between the stone and ocean. Won’t you be there beside me? It calls us home. “The warm glow of a campfire, a cool drink from a mountain stream, this is what makes me wise” (Dad’s Song) in a land (Where the Mountains Meet the Sea); these are examples of songs about our Pacific NW landscape, or place, or connection, and they touch my heart.

4.

If the landscape is a memory and a story then it has a certain reality, a being-ness on a different time scale than our own, and once seen it is as useful as the lighthouse to restoring confidence to the navigator getting tossed around by a busy life. Landscape is useful too, like a song’s offering, towards restoring what’s unseen, but not unknown in who we are. Consider for a moment what climate change brings along with the loss of the sea ice, the loss of the way of life that is maybe 12,000 thousand years old for the Inuit people of today. And then, consider the importance of the restorative narrative, a story that articulates the resilience that their landscape holds for them, and that their daylight brings to them… and then consider the hopelessness and despair seen in Inuit young people’s suicide as their way of life is literally melting around them (https://vimeo.com/109830144).

Holding the blood in the snow and the Arctic glow is part of the resiliency in the needed restorative narrative held in both landscape and song. Captured in the preceding 2-minute video an Inuit Elder says how important it is “for our young people to know where they come from,” or have a “place” or landscape or natural environment to come from, or go to. This Inuit throat singer (https://vimeo.com/109709510) knows her voice is most at home in this bleak landscape, “out there” where the outlook is far from certain. Our singer holds on, it seems, sensing “the being” in the landscape, in nature, and all that “it” represents as she renews with restorative resolve what comes with the daylight, the melting sea ice, in her lament song, at least the Daylight Remains. Bringing-in the possibility of taking-in the silence and solitude “out there,” taking-in the “being-ness” of the landscape and using it in our time of climate change is a resilient narrative. Using your imagination to garner connection to our environment “out there” and as a “being” that you relate to is key. Choosing to relate to it for human evolution to survive is wise. Is it time for the love tribe, Homo empathicus or Homo deitus to arrive?

5.

It follows then that, as an inspired and responsible Elder, I aligned my choices for investment to on those companies supporting a sustainable future and to those businesses that are keeping us all connected and/or fed. Of course, a 21% infusion of value would all by itself be thought of as resilient, particularly if that return is in money or gold.

Is it more than that, my one-year return on my life time? I mean, we all make meaning of a 21% return, but it doesn’t mean anything unless we agree or disagree on what it is that creates a shared relative reality. This is the imaginary construct of money, beauty and time and stories like environmentalism or evolution. I use it to hook your mind to show you the mystery behind my resilience story, how I get beauty and time, environmentalism and evolution, with or without the money and endless fascinations. That said, the mystery is in how I got there, which presumes I’m here!

Imagine that you are the place where the Universe is conscious of itself. When doing so, how important is how I made 21% last year anyway? Consider that we are all separated by our minds, our biographies, and that we are more than the stories we keep, we are a part of what the landscape provides. We are also our ability to know, we are the knower and if we know this then we can be the observer too, and not stuck in the drama of our lives and times. Of course, this takes some imagination, keeping your imagination active is a resilient characteristic. Giving names to places like fields and mountains personalizes them, creates a story in the landscape, deepens relationship. First Nations people have a relationship expressed with “All My Relations” such that they use personal pronouns for animals so that, for example, when coming upon a set of new tracks in the forest one might ask, “I wonder who (not what) it was that goes there.” They see land and the animals as part of who they are, different, not separate. Imagine that!

6.

We choose other things to learn from and be with, we don’t usually give ourselves time with our landscape. Yet, your environment gives you rhythm, stillness and some sense of solitude. All you need to see its beauty is to look. There is an invitation to look and use. Use it to go within and start your day with your landscape by being in peace and living in ease. This is metaphorically a place where you have never been wounded (yet, it’s not that you haven’t experience pain and suffering and illness) and somehow “it” let’s you know or feel as if you are seen or have come home. Imagine that! It’s a resilience story, it has beauty in it and if it finds you, and you like it, it will grow on you and become your resilient story too.

Now you know how my resilience story helped me make money last year, I invested in the sustainability of the environment and the connection of people. Along my way I found my return in my interdependence with landscape and with others.

Now go lose yourself in your own landscape and comment in the comments section if you want to know the specifics on how I made 21% last year in the stock market, or if it really matters, or……?

Enough said.

 

Water: a frame of reference

[water, resources, commodities, public attitudes]
by Stan Hirst

CBC television recently replayed a 2016 interview between Peter Mansbridge and David Suzuki. The event was part of a series leading up to David’s 80th birthday.

At one point in the wide-ranging discussions David recounted a meeting he had once had with an oil company executive who travelled from Edmonton to meet with him. David had specifically requested that the visitor drop his CEO mantle and engage in discussion on a man-to-man basis. He recalled that the CEO was not comfortable with this arrangement. David also recollected that in the discussion he had followed his well-used argument that resources such as water and air are used by everyone, that everyone is reliant on these same resources, and that conservation was everybody’s responsibility. That was apparently not what the CEO wanted to hear. As David recollected, the fellow eventually left the meeting after refusing to shake hands.

The issue brought up in this interview segment is one that has much significance for the way in which we live and in which we govern ourselves. The essential question raised here is why so many people cannot or will not acknowledge their basic dependence on resources such as water and air which are so often under siege from development and mismanagement? Perhaps it’s better phrased as – why aren’t they simply more interested?

One reason I suggest is that many people don’t relate to resources such as water in its natural form. For them water for drinking is something that comes out of a faucet at the flick of a wrist or is contained in a clear plastic bottle with buttercups on the label. Much of the air we all inhale daily has been passed through an air-con filter before we city slickers even encounter it. We all do this, not just CEO’s.

However, to the CEO of an oil company water is an important component of industrial processes which take resources in their raw form and refine them into products or concoctions which can be shipped, piped and sold. Extracting, cleaning, purifying, storing and spewing out the gunk they don’t want all incur costs which are summarized as line items in an expenditure account. Those accounting entries are all that most CEOs ever see and so they become the de facto identifiers for the resource, be they water, widgets or people. Something like headstones in a graveyard.

Why is this important? Because it changes the frame of reference between the resource and ourselves. On one hand, we casually accept that water is the key to life on the planet, in fact in the whole universe. We are not too surprised to hear that countries in the Middle East and Africa are a hair trigger away from going to war to secure their water supplies. Water is our predominant resource in Canada in many forms – fresh, marine, snow and ice. Now we’ve chosen to commodify it, deliver it in big blue demi-johns, and put it into plastic bottles to stock on supermarket shelves with Coca Cola.

Why would we do a thing like that? Cory Mintz of the Globe & Mail succinctly spells out the reasons for Canadians:

– because it’s a fashion statement

– because it’s forbidden

– because public access is limited

– because we fear tap water

– and, for 150 First Nations across Canada with no access to natural clean water sources, because it’s a necessity.

Detachment between ourselves and the ecosystems within which we dwell presents a mounting and potentially fatal flaw in our modern belief system. Our actions lack consequences.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise pointless hyper-consumption: it smothers feeling. It is also the effect of constant bombardment by advertising and marketing. The media engineers seek to replace our attachments to people and places with attachments to objects. The next round of advertising then kicks in, aiming to attach us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. However, even if we could somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

As I sat and pecked these words on my creaky keyboard, the TV in the corner flickered with images of Irma battering Miami and the Florida coast. Lots of water there: 5-metre high surges of the noble liquid taking out cars, seawalls and sailboats; horizontal rain dousing through empty streets. Water in plastic bottles too. On the shelves of the darkened convenience store in the back of the gas station.

It’s not as bad as it looks (but is it much worse than it seems?)

[global change, climate change, understanding, pessimism, optimism, attitude]

by Peggy Olive

In the wee hours of the morning, I listened to a replay of one of CBC’s  thought-provoking programs called Ideas. A career diplomat, Paul Heinbecker, was invited to discuss The Challenge of Peace. Among other positions, Heinbecker served as Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, Ambassador to Germany, and Minister of Political Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. He also headed the Canadian delegation to the climate change negotiations in Kyoto.

According to Heinbecker, the real challenge is our inadequate understanding of the world we live in. “Thanks to social media, we are bathed in doom and gloom…an endless repetition of the same terrible stories. It is not surprising that people think that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and quickly.”

He goes on to say, “In fact, the reverse is actually true. We are living in a golden age.” Canadians, and the world more generally, have never been richer, healthier, as well-educated, as well-connected, or as safe as we are now.

On hearing this good news, I felt considerable relief, but also some nagging scepticism. Could this be true? Are we really in a golden age (aside from those of us who are golden-agers)? I went to an informative source to answer this question: Our World in Data. This site is hosted by Max Roser, an Oxford economist who says, “Once you turn to statistics, it gets much harder to have a pessimistic story.”

I extracted some numbers from the hundreds of graphs on his site to emphasize the changes that have occurred over my lifetime. Heinbecker is right; living conditions across the globe have greatly improved since I was born. Had I presented the statistics for Canada, a smaller but similar trend would be seen.

So why my scepticism? I noticed that most of the graphs on Our World in Data showed an upward trend as if  this wonderful state of affairs could continue forever. We would live longer, under better conditions, become more educated, and have more abundant food, and all this would be possible as our population climbed above 11 billion.

Continued growth on a planet with finite resources isn’t possible. We will run out of raw materials eventually. Our soils and fresh water reserves are already being depleted and we continue to overload Earth’s atmosphere with greenhouse gasses that will change our climate for centuries.

Many see this happening in some distant future, and Roser’s graphs confirm that our living conditions have never been better. Even our fears of war and disaster, often exacerbated by the climate crisis, are overblown when compared to the risks of heart disease, cancer, and road traffic accidents. It would appear that we’re worrying needlessly, at least about some things. Paul Kennedy, the host of Ideas, commented briefly on the role media has played in promoting doom and gloom messages, but as Max Roser says, no one listens to the news to hear that nothing bad has happened today.

I don’t  believe that we are ambulance chasers hungry for disturbing news, or alternatively, that the world situation is anywhere near as rosy as these data might lead us to believe. Oddly, Max Roser’s own research is concerned with rising income inequality which is not good news, and does Heinbecker realize that all Golden Ages come to an end? The original Golden Age of Greece lasted only 200 years.

This left me wondering if the positive global trends in our living conditions are part of the reason we are failing to act quickly on climate change. Living in a sustainable way on this planet will be difficult if we see ourselves as better off today than a few decades ago and we expect this situation to continue. Yet there are obvious signs that the gravy train, driven largely by fossil fuels and greed, is at an end. When we recognize that there is only so much track left ahead of us, it is vital that we slow down before it runs out.

Yes, we are very fortunate to have experienced a Golden Age, but we must also recognize that this age is now in decline and it is past time to apply the brakes.

 

Wildfires and climate change: seeking the facts through the haze

by Stan Hirst

Living under smoky skies every day is an uncommon experience for Vancouverites. The TV spectacle of thousands of people having to evacuate their homes and ranches in the interior of British Columbia as threatening forest fires advance is not so unfamiliar. Just one year ago we watched over 88,000 people leaving their homes in Fort McMurray as wildfires swept through nearly 600,000 hectares in northern Alberta. This year nearly 500,000 hectares have burned within B.C., 75% of those in the Cariboo region and another 25% around Kamloops.

It was probably inevitable that the conversation would switch easily to global climate change and its connection to the wildfire blight. For many people and most Suzuki Elders the link between wildfires and climate change is taken as a given. The linkage is now commonly quoted in the press, in current literature and in conversations. The same theme of wildfires becoming ever more frequent as the world warms appears often in the media for western Canada, the western U.S.A., Australia, Portugal and parts of Africa, South America and Asia.

Yet the sceptics remain unmoved and say so through social media. “Fires have always been a feature of forests and rangelands in North America” they say. They point to history books abounding with descriptions of massive fires, some deliberately set, but many linked to natural causes, especially lightning.

It’s not uncommon to find fire scars in centuries-old trees such as sequoias and western junipers across western North America. Studies of lake sediments have found wood charcoal layers which can be dated back for thousands of years. Early researchers attributed these historic fires to lightning strikes, but studies in the past few decades indicate that they may also have resulted from deliberate burning by aboriginals to keep forests free of undergrowth and small trees.

The specific question is not whether wildfires are a natural feature of North American forests or not, but whether global climate change is prompting an increase in wildfires. By being overly simplistic about the two parts of the equation (climate change and fire) we could obscure the underlying linkages between the two and possibly mistake the causalities.

I find it helpful to break the subject matter into simpler relationships (dissecting the argument always helps in winning arguments anyway).

First, the question of a changing climate. This is the easy part; the answers are unequivocally yes. Temperature trends summarized by Environment Canada for the period 1948 through 2012 show statistically highly significant rises across most of Canada. Mean increases range from 0.5 to 3oC, with the highest numbers occurring in the arctic and subarctic regions. Mean ambient temperatures in the Pacific region of B.C. rose 0.7 oC over the same period and 1.2oC in the mountainous areas of southern B.C.

There are also statistically significant changes in geophysical and ecological parameters which are driven by ambient temperatures:

  • longer growing seasons, more heat waves and fewer cold spells, thawing permafrost;
  • earlier river ice break-up;
  • increase in precipitation over large parts of Canada;
  • more snowfall in the northwest Arctic;
  • earlier spring runoff and the earlier budding of trees.

Indigenous people of the Arctic are no longer able to predict the weather as accurately as their forefathers did (cited by the Society for Ecological Restoration).

Have wildfires increased significantly in B.C. over the same period? This brings us to the realization that fires can be measured by more than one parameter, i.e. the frequency with which they occur, the area which is burned over, the costs of fire damage, suppression and management, etc. Any, all or none could be linked to climate change.

Three measures of wildfire activity in B.C. are available from the B.C. government website. These are all shown below for the twelve most recent years.

 

The broad conclusions from these data are that while the annual frequency of wildfires across B.C. has dropped by roughly one-half over little more than a decade, the areal extent of wildfires for the same period has increased six-fold and the associated costs of dealing with the fires has increased twelve-fold.

These results are very similar to those reported in the western U.S. for recent years. University researchers and federal and state forest agencies in California have linked the occurrence of more widespread, bigger, longer-lasting wildfires to higher ambient temperatures and less or later snowfall. They have also indicted past practices of aggressively preventing fires as having had the perverse effect of creating much more fuel within forests themselves to feed future wildfires. The average California wildfire in the 2000s was double the size and burned twice as long as the average fire in the 1990s. Escalating fire-associated costs have also been linked to higher levels of damage as more homes are built on picturesque hillsides and mountains and other areas prone to wildfire.

A recently published study from the University of Idaho has neatly linked wildfires in western forests to human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change. The research group has quantitatively examined the statistical relationship between the essential requirements for wildfires (fuel availability, fuel aridity, etc.) to climate variables such as ambient temperature and vapour pressure which are changed by human activities such as increased greenhouse gas emissions.

The university research group concluded that for the period 2000–2015 climate change contributed to 75% more forested area across the western U.S. experiencing high fire-season fuel aridity. It also added an average of nine additional days per year of very high fire potential. Anthropogenic climate changes were calculated to have accounted for ∼55% of observed increases in forest fire fuel aridity from 1979 to 2015 across western US forests.

Hopefully this all adds a little more fuel to the fire in a quest to hasten meaningful climate action in B.C. and the rest of the reasonable world.

 

 

 

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.

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