Category Archives: Personal Reflections

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.

 

Coping with a changing world

[global, change, psychology, pessimism, optimism, attitude]

by Stan Hirst

I spent an hour or two idling along the Ambleside sea-wall this past week. Ships at anchor in a placed bay, azure blue sky overhead with the proverbial scudding white clouds, a pair of bald eagles fishing just off-shore (one fish from 30 dives, and I thought I was a lousy angler). It was the sort of scene that people would pay money to come to. Come to think of it, they do.

So why, I pondered, did I keep obsessing about negative things? Like the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Upper Levels just a few hundred meters from where I sat. Like the burgeoning numbers of people on the once idyllic seawall, detracting from my perception of communal quality with their milling and thronging, pushing and shoving, babbling in incomprehensible languages.

It’s a matter of simple psychology I have recently learned from the Great Fount of Wisdom (sometimes known as the internet). Apparently we humans are mentally and neurologically structured to be a gloomy lot.

Consider this – a British newspaper recently surveyed the U.K. population and found that 70% of Britons think the world is getting worse. Only 5% think it is improving. Now compare this view with Bill Gates’ 2017 report to the World Economic Forum:

  • poliomyelitis has almost been eradicated as a scourge of children across the globe (because of the incredible efficacy of the polio vaccine and the concerted efforts of national governments to get people inoculated;
  • some 122 million children’s lives have been saved over the last 20 years. Since 1990 the number of children dying before their 5th birthday has been cut from 12 million down to less than 6 million by investments in community health in developing countries;
  • some 300 million women in the world’s 69 poorest countries used birth control in 2016 — a jump of 30 million from 2012. Contraceptive use, one of the most effective methods for breaking the poverty cycle and ensuring economic and social empowerment of women, is higher than it’s ever been.

I see two lessons from this. One is that a viewpoint depends very much on where you’re sitting. My carping about BMW’s on the Upper Levels is a world away from a Bangladeshi family’s satisfaction in not seeing their children afflicted by some awful poverty-induced condition. Second is the now –established truth that people are predisposed to think that things are worse than they actually are, and to overestimate the likelihood of calamity.

Why do we do this? One reason is that positive gains are typically measured by data, which most people abhor, despite their pathological attachment to smartphones and other digital devices. People typically rely on the recollection of examples to assess whether something is better or worse than before. On top of that, we are hard-wired in our befuddled brains to remember the bad things rather than the good ones. Ask an Albertan farmer whether wheat prices are more likely to increase or decrease next year. Chances are very high he will say “decrease” because he is apprehensive about that. The true answer is that there is almost an equal chance of an increase or a decrease (check Stats Canada).

Our modern media emphasize the negatives because they garner more attention and therefore sell better. When is the last time you read a news headline proclaiming that “609,000 aircraft land successfully in Canada“? That’s a true statement (again, check Stats Canada). Compare that to the 2013 Vancouver headline “Fatal B.C. Plane Crash Blamed on Pilot’s Loss of Control” which, I would hazard a guess, thousands of Vancouverites would easily recall.

Pessimism has unfortunate political consequences. Voters who think things were better in the past are more likely to demand that governments turn back the clock. The best example is in the U.S. where polling statistics revealed that a whopping 80% of Donald Trump’s supporters thought life has grown worse in the past 50 years. We are all now living with the regrettable political outfall from that sentiment. Amongst Britons who voted to leave the European Union, 60% believed that most children were destined to be worse off than their parents. Those who voted against Brexit tended to believe the exact opposite.

Although its sometimes difficult to countenance from public behaviour, it seems that people are growing smarter. In the early ’90s James R. Flynn examined IQ test scores for different populations over the preceding 60 years and discovered that they increased from one generation to the next for all of the countries for which data existed. This “Flynn Effect” is attributed to better nutrition over the years, to the spread of education, and possibly to improvements in environmental quality, e.g. the removal of lead from gasoline. BUT, a closer look at Flynn’s findings show that IQ scores increased only for the problem-solving portion of the intelligence tests. They remained pretty much constant for verbal intelligence.

Steven Pinker, the Canadian-born Harvard professor of psychology, holds that humankind is now experiencing a “moral Flynn Effect”. As people grow more adept at abstract thought they find it easier to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes. He believes this is one reason why society has grown more tolerant. It may seem counterintuitive to state this, considering the daily TV offerings of racial and religious violence in the U.S. and Europe, but the world is actually safer than it used to be. Globally, wars are smaller and less frequent than they were a generation ago. Statistics show that we all overestimate how much terrorism there actually is. The average European is ten times more likely to die by falling down the stairs than to be killed by a terrorist. Analysts with nothing better to do tell us that children’s nursery rhymes are 11 times more violent than television programmes aired in prime time.

As a crusty old Elder maybe I should just belt up and put up. Of course things change continually. Careers die, so do loved ones and relationships. Children show up and grow up. Positive changes need adaptation just as much as negative ones.

We don’t seem to notice or pay much attention to small or expected changes; it’s when we are caught off-guard that we react negatively. The best response might be to firmly convince ourselves that millions of changes are going to happen in life – some good, some not so good, so we should just roll with it. Even Einstein said it – “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”.

Elders know that life can be difficult to navigate in our ever faster-moving society. The only real survival tool we may have is to learn at our own pace and to deal with the changes going on around us. I hear the younger generation counselling me to chill out and go with the flow. That’s probably the most comfortable way to deal with the future, so I’ll do it.

 

How I Do Love Oceans!

by Jill Schroder

Thursday June 8, 2017 was World Oceans Day. It seemed a perfect time to remember and appreciate my deep, early, nourishing, ongoing and rich love and experiences of the ocean.

One of my most precious memories is when, as a very young kid, my dad took me “out past the breakers” – the white breaking part of the waves. We were at Point O’ Woods, a family oriented community on the Atlantic Ocean, that is deeply connected to my love of oceans. It was palpable, and literal, that my dad had my back, that he was there as support and protection. Together we could go out into the big, wide world and have adventures. My dad passed on to me his deep and lasting love and respect for the ocean: then and there.

Apropos big adventures, another living memory was the day my brother Jim and I (then in our thirties) went out into the huge waves after a storm had raged. The waves were smooth and gorgeous. It looked like it would be so thrilling to ride those waves and feel their power. Well, it was thrilling but it was also very cold. And once out there, I was so scared, and getting colder by the minute, that I might not have made it back to shore again without Jim’s help. But we did it, and afterwards it was a great satisfaction to have experienced the ocean in this mode.

Other sweet recollections: doing the mile swim with the Flotsam and Jetsam Club; standing and letting the ocean sink me deeper and deeper into the sand; building sand castles, digging tunnels and seeing the water fill them up… and so much more. Take a few moments to watch these lovely minute meditations of the waves on my beloved Fire Island.

I just learned that it was Canada that made the original proposal for World Oceans Day in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The day has been unofficially celebrated every June 8 since then, and, in 2008, the United Nations officially recognized it. Since then, World Oceans Day has been coordinated internationally by The Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network. These organizations say it has greater success and global participation each year.

So … why a World Oceans Day? Here’s a really good reason: it goes back to Sylvia Earle, who is a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence and perhaps the world’s most recognized living oceanographer. Among other things, Earle says: “I think of the ocean as the blue heart of the planet.” And she says, “We, too, are sea creatures.” And there is the fact that seen from up and above, the world really is mostly blue! Check out this cool animation where Earle urges us to think about how much we depend on the oceans, and to protect them from pollution and overfishing.

 

 

First Nations and pipelines

by Karl Perrin

Abridged from a sermon delivered May 21, 2017, to the Unitarian Church of Vancouver

Chief Seattle once said: “This we know. The earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the earth. All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

We are meeting today on the unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation.  Unceded: what does that mean? Never conquered? Never sold? Never given away? So are we guests? Perhaps we are guests of guests, of our 2- and 4-legged relations, our finned and winged cousins, the lords and ladies of the deep, the whales who inhabit this home. We owe a debt of gratitude to all our relations. Thank you.

In “A Native Hill” farmer and poet Wendell Berry wrote:

“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world. . . .

We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . . .  

For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.

On that very theme I take you back to 2004 when I had an insight into the spiritual rebirth of Coastal First Nations. I recall an exhibition at the UBC Museum of Anthropology entitled The Abstract Edge featuring Haida artist Robert Davidson. He had a new collection which used the Haida alphabet of shapes, myths and heraldry but which he had deconstructed and reimagined with a 21st century global sensibility.

Some pieces of his new collection featured an old shape with a new meaning. The tri-negative or tri-neg was traditionally used as a three pointed filler in negative space, i.e. the background, to add fluidity to the form lines and to simply frame the foreground. Robert Davidson’s innovation was to take the tri-neg shape and, through colour and position, turn it into foreground, i.e. into positive space instead of negative space.

At that point I had a revelation. I realized that just as Robert Davidson had demonstrated with his tri-neg space filler that foreground and background were interchangeable, so too were our cultural perceptions of the First Nations. Based on our cultural history we colonizers had seen the so-called wilderness – the heathen, dark pagan forest – as negative space. We thought it empty, devoid of Christian civilization, devoid of Europe, which was the only reality which made any sense to our collective wisdom. And the denizens of this emptiness were to us simply negative people lacking our blessings and the salvation of our Bible. We settlers saw them as un-settled.

But as First Nations broadcaster Candy Palmater has taught me: “We were not “settlers”; when we arrived this place was already settled. We didn’t settle anything!” Likewise, whenever I see old Haida representations of white men they look ridiculous. Not intentionally ridiculous, but the hats and beards seem odd as if they were copied but not understood. We were in fact lacking Haida culture. We were the negative space; we were the devoid and lacking savages.

Everyone had the same view of Captain George Vancouver on the deck of the HMS Discovery, whether it was the First Mate, a Musqueam warrior looking up to the ship’s deck, or a random eagle circling overhead. But what did the view mean to each? Captain? Devil? Friend? Foe? Disgusting? Maybe delicious? The visual information was the same, but the meaning was completely different.

As we know today only 40% of our vision is what is actually out there, the remaining 60% is what we expect to see. That’s why we have optical illusions – our biased brains just insist that our eyes must be wrong until proven otherwise. Usually we just categorize what doesn’t make sense as simply “wrong” and what does make sense as obviously “right”. Whether something is wrong or right is determined by our culture, our language, our fashion, popular history and mythology, our religion, and sometimes by what is called our “slow thinking”. Evidence and logic together make up our weltanschauung or worldview. And worldviews don’t appreciate tinkering or correction, e.g. creationist vs. evolutionary worldviews.

What does any of this have to do with the Kinder Morgan pipeline? It all depends on how you look at it. Does another oil pipeline mean development and jobs, or does it primarily mean tar sands exploitation, more corporate colonization, plundering our common ground, killing our Mother Earth bit by bit by bit? It all depends on how you look at it, your weltanschauung.

I won’t review here the litany of smallpox, addiction, residential school cultural genocide, and social fragmentation which has maimed First Nations since George Vancouver first appeared on the horizon. I do want to point out the prevailing, cumulative, corporate colonialism represented by the industrialization of Burrard Inlet, the Fraser River and the Salish Sea. Where was the “free, prior, and informed consent” to pollute this unceded native land? Where was the respect for the Tsleil Waututh clam beds and the Musqueam fisheries? Where is the invitation from First Nations to dredge Burrard Inlet for huge dilbit tankers?

As we approach the 150th Anniversary of Confederation we can remember what Tsleil-Waututh Chief Dan George said 50 years ago at the 1967 Canadian Centenary: “When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority”

What did John A. MacDonald, our first prime minister, say about Indians in 1879?  “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

My goal in terms of stopping the Kinder Morgan (Trans-Mountain) pipeline expansion project is to speak truth to power. The Unitarian fourth principle encourages free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the seventh principle is to respect the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part. My goal is to fulfill my vow to my son and to his generation that I will do EVERYTHING in my power to prevent his premature death due to global warming.

So, take courage my friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage, for deep down there is another truth: You are not alone.

Looking for Hope in a Hopeless World

by Jim Stephenson

Earth Day Sermon 2017, Unitarian Church of Vancouver

Earthly prospects seem less hopeful in 2017 than on previous Earth Days. The window of opportunity for an orderly transition off fossil fuels is rapidly closing, and recent election results offer little promise of timely action. The whole idea that our species has and uses rational decision making is now questionable. In the face of this, how does one find hope and live a life based on purpose, morality, and optimism?

Since the first Earth Day in 1970 environmental movements around the world have had many successes and many failures.

Ten years ago my friend Rex Weyler gave the Earth Day sermon from this pulpit. Things were still cautiously optimistic 10 years ago. Today, however, things have changed. A proposed budget reduction of 30% for the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. is but one of the many symptoms. The problems are not limited to what’s going on in the US; recall the recent reactions in Canada to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s suggestion of an eventual phase out of the oil sands.

How bad are things?

It’s been known for some time that the sooner humans started reducing their CO2 emissions the easier and less costly it would be to reduce the risk of global warming. One estimate was it would require only a 3% per year reduction if we started in 2005. Starting in 2015, on the other hand, would take a 6% per year reduction, while waiting another 10 years until 2025 would require a 15% per year reduction. This increasing cost of waiting is what we refer to as the closing window of opportunity.

Some are more hopeful. James Hansen, regarded as the father (or now perhaps grandfather) of the effort to recognize and stop global warming, was the first to testify before the US Congress about the problem. Hansen has a new plan calling for a 6% per year reduction in CO2 emissions starting in 2021 which, his calculations show, would keep us below a 2o C rise in global mean temperature, and perhaps even closer to 1.5oC. Why does his plan not start until 2021? That’s after the next US presidential election.

Regardless of which estimates are correct, there is a window and it is closing. Whether we can solve the problem with a 6% reduction rate or we really need a 10% reduction, the fact remains that in our world today emissions are still increasing.

We’ve known about the problem for quite a while. The basic science of climate change due to CO2 emissions was known in the 1800’s, demonstrated in the 1950’s, and reported to President Lyndon Johnson as far back as 1965. It was with the testimony of James Hansen before a congressional hearing on June 23, 1988 that global warming finally received international awareness. Hansen spoke of a “99% confidence” in “a real warming trend” linked to human activity. If humanity had acted on that warning at the time our prospects would have been much brighter at a lower cost. But instead many of our leaders either denied the facts on global warming outright, or simply expressed concern but took little action.

There is no rational basis for denying global warming

What is logically required to reject the science of global warming? One has to reject either (1) that humans, through burning fossil fuels and deforestation have emitted gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere and oceans, or (2) that the measured buildup of this CO2 does not produce a greenhouse effect and warm the earth.

Have humans emitted CO2? We actually have a year-by-year accounting of human CO2 emissions. Between 1850 and 2007 emissions totalled 384 gigatons from fossil fuels and 160 gigatons from land-use changes. Of the fossil fuel emissions, 48% came from coal, 36% from oil, 13% from natural gas, 2% from cement production, and 1% from flaring. Of the total emissions 54% were absorbed by the oceans and soil, and the rest stayed in the atmosphere to raise the CO2 concentration from 280 ppm to 390 ppm by 2007. By 2016 mean global CO2 concentration had reached 405.1 ppm.

Does higher atmospheric carbon dioxide create warming? To me the most persuasive evidence of the effect of CO2 on the greenhouse effect is how the CO2 concentration is measured. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been monitored daily at the top of Mona Loa in Hawaii since Charles Keeling started these measurements in 1953. To measure CO2 concentration, you pass an air sample through a tube with glass windows on each side. Through the windows, you shine infrared light radiation (like that radiated from the earth’s surface). You can precisely measure how much of the infrared light passes through and how much is absorbed by the CO2. If CO2 gas in the atmosphere didn’t absorb infrared light radiation, this measurement simply wouldn’t work. And yet, it’s been precisely calibrated under laboratory conditions.

Despite the closing window and the continuing denial we shouldn’t give up hope

First – we probably still have time to avoid the worst consequences as reflected in Jim Hansen’s latest plan.

Second – it is possible for political inaction to quickly change.

Think back to 1983 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in accordance with Reagan’s guidelines, stopped all research on ozone depletion. On September 16, 1987, (just four years later, while Reagan was still president), 24 countries including the US, Japan, Canada and EEC nations signed the Montreal Protocol, pledging to phase out production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) . One reason for the quick turn-around was that there was a ready technical fix in the form of an alternate, less damaging chemical (hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)) to replace CFCs. Another factor was that a giant hole in the ozone had been discovered over Antarctica and it showed up on NASA satellite images. World citizens responded to the disturbing visual and factual evidence.

Third – a lot of good things are happening. Click here to learn why 2016 was a good year for humanity on a number of fronts.

But: humanity is behaving irrationally when it comes to global warming

Stopping global warming has never been a question of whether it was possible to do so, or even if it could be accomplished without unreasonable sacrifice of our modern lifestyle. It’s always been a question of whether humanity would recognize the science and organize internationally to make it happen. That is seemingly easy for a species which has developed modern medicine, transportation and communications. Perhaps its not so easy given the results of recent elections. Today it’s an election in France.

The failure to act on global warming has called into question the whole concept of humans being rational and having the ability to use foresight. As rational humanist Unitarian Universalists it seems so straightforward to recognize a problem, analyze options, and then implement a solution. It’s hard to understand how so many, particularly those in power, can deny the problem and reject any solution offered. What can they be thinking?

One plausible answer is related to the free-market dogma and a preference for reducing the role of government which has gained such ascendancy in some countries in recent decades. Addressing climate change requires greater government action, more regulation, and more government involvement in the market. Think carbon taxes to correct price signals, regulation of emissions, and promotion of green energy over fossil fuels. Is it any wonder that those opposed to increased government action will be tempted to deny a problem whose solution requires more government action?

If we’re going to understand and respond to this irrational behavior, we should turn to psychology

Jonathan Haidt is a psychology researcher who has scientifically studied how people arrive at their values. He has published a number of books and given some TED talks, which I highly recommend. Some of his research has examined the differences in values of liberals and conservatives.

Haidt has identified five foundations of morality: Preventing Harm, Ensuring Fairness, Loyalty, Respect for Authority, and Purity or Sanctity. Everyone on the spectrum agrees about Harm and Fairness, but only conservatives value Loyalty, Respect for Authority, and Purity/Sanctity. Liberals are 2-channel, Conservatives are 5-channel.

Sometimes the difference is what we apply the value to. The political right may be criticized for its moralizing about sex, yet the political left moralizes about the purity of food.

Liberals speak for the weak and oppressed. They want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos. Conservatives speak for institutions and traditions. They want order, even at a cost to those at the bottom. Haidt postulates that righteous minds were “designed” to unite us into teams, divide us against other teams, and blind us to the truth.

We may not be so rational ourselves

What we want is a passionate commitment to the whole truth. Unitarian Universalists pride ourselves on possessing this commitment. But do we practice it?

James Hansen, in a recent address to the Vancouver Institute, suggested that speaking truth to power these days is pretty much a one-way street. He views nuclear power as playing an important role in the carbon-free economy. He thinks of the typical environmentalist opposition to 2nd and 3rd generation nuclear energy as “religious dogma”. Many of my Unitarian friends seem more willing to have an objective discussion of religion than of nuclear energy. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima: these were all shocks to our emotional systems which make rational analyses and discussions of nuclear power difficult for us.

There were various nuclear reactor designs proposed 30 years ago. While molten sodium and molten metal designs have some obvious advantages, boiling water reactors were chosen, apparently due to the US preference for this design in nuclear submarines. The safer designs shut themselves down if they overheat, produce much less and easier-to-manage waste, are less susceptible to proliferation and fuel theft, and would not require any additional uranium mining for more than 2 centuries. Bill Clinton shut down research into these designs under pressure from environmentalists.

Nuclear power might not be chosen in an unbiased, rational analysis, but it seems to me that it was not rationally considered by most environmentalists. Now Germany, the poster child of green energy, has closed its nuclear plants and replaced some of that capacity with coal, which has led to increasing CO2 emissions.

What Makes Us Happy?

Besides exploring the increasing divide between the political left and right, Jonathan Haidt has written a book titled The Happiness Hypothesis in which he examines the factors leading to greater happiness. One finding is that each person appears to have a happiness set-point. Some people tend to be happier than others independent of circumstances. He regards those with a high happiness set point as winners of the genetic lottery. While good or bad fortune may temporarily change one’s level of happiness, over time we return to our set points. If one person wins the lottery and another is paralyzed in an auto accident, within a year both will be back at their happiness set point.

The second main conclusion in The Happiness Hypothesis is that happiness comes from social connections with friends and family more that from material possessions. This is the wisdom we all seem to know rationally but keep forgetting as we pursue material success and go shopping. This point is relevant for preventing global warming, because the sources of true happiness are low carbon activities, while travel, shopping and status seeking, which do not lead to true happiness, are carbon intensive. We’re destroying the environment for all the wrong reasons.

So, where does this leave us in our hopeless world?

First – it’s probably not too late, but it will be before too long. So, this is a great time to work for a solution. If it is too late and we are destined for run-away global warming, we will need the teachings of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on the 5 stages of grief. In the meantime, we should follow the guidance of Joanna Macy. In her book Active Hope she is adamant that we should be realistic about how dire the situation is, but not allow despair to be incapacitating. Joanna Macy’s four-part spiral of the Work That Reconnects includes coming from gratitude, honoring our pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and going forth.

Second – the enemy is not evil. They’re different, but they’re as rational as we are. Which isn’t saying much. If we’re going to stop global warming, they will have to be brought on board. Marveling at their stupidity isn’t a very effective way of getting them on board. We actually have to befriend them, respect them, and understand and acknowledge their concerns about loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity. We may well have to consider the purity of both sex and food. No one wants to destroy the future of their grandchildren, not even conservatives. This may be our most urgent need for befriending the “other”.

Third – we need to enhance our happiness by living simpler, more sustainable lives with lower carbon footprints. You will be happier, whether or not your simple lifestyle filled with meaningful human interaction leads to a successful world-wide effort to save our environment.

 

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