Category Archives: Developing Resilience

Back to the future, kids

by Stan Hirst

Permit me to introduce the apples of my eye – my grandkids.

They’re Canadians, so naturally there is one boy and one girl. I use the term ‘Canadians’ somewhat collectively, since a quick review of their family trees shows ancestors from 10 known genetic ancestries. Plus, there is a bit of Neanderthal in there as well, according to DNA analysis.

They do well at school. They can play the piano, ride bicycles, swim, cross-country ski, play soccer, fiddle with anything that has dials, knobs and switches or goes beep, and they frequently aggravate their parents. Totally normal, well-balanced kids. Take after their grandfather in every respect, except for the piano bit. I’m proud of them.

But I am deeply concerned for them. Not as kids, mind you. They’re well supervised, guided and taught. No, my concerns are for them as the grown-ups which they one day will be, and for the situation in which they will find themselves in as they enter maturity and have to fend for their own children in this rapidly changing world of ours.

What will their world look like? I don’t own a crystal ball, but Big Think, an internet portal set up in 2007 to cogitate and debate on such things, has ventured a variety of prognostications which at least give me a good impression of whither goest my kith and kin.

By mid-century there will likely be 9 billion people on our planet, consuming ever more resources and leading ever more technologically complex lives. According to the futurists the majority of these people will live in urban areas and will have a significantly higher average age than people of today. My unfortunate middle-aged grand-kids and their offspring will, figuratively speaking, be immersed in a great sea of cranky old elders like me. Nothing new for them then, just more of the same. I’m betting that medical science, despite its ever-accelerating rate of discovery and innovation, will not have eliminated ageing and its unwanted attendant afflictions such as mental illness.

The kids are tech savvy now (8-year-olds with their own e-mail addresses!?), so as adults they will merge seamlessly with the pervasive and highly interconnected networks of the future. They and their children will spend their whole existence immersed in overlain and interacting smart grids running every detail of their lives. Their homes and they themselves, via their Apple 1105’s, will be multi-linked to energy, information and resource distribution systems which will provide their every need and requirement. Well, almost every need – they’ll still have to open their own boxes of Choco Pops.

Their work environments will be similarly completely multi-linked. There are drones zooming around the countryside now delivering parcels, so a few decades hence will almost certainly see offices and industrial plants linked worldwide on a real-time basis. Grandson engineer in Calgary, he of Lego renown, will design a supermod skyscraper, transmit a few million specs to a company in Guangzhou who will set up the production contract and eventually build the modular monstrosity in Kyrgyzstan.

Granddaughter neurosurgeon, who as a 6-year old once expressed the concern that “people don’t have very good brains” will sit in her plush (pink?) workspace in Vancouver, surrounded by consoles and sensors which watch her hands and eyes. On the monitor she will see, in crystal-clear resolution, the shaved head of her tranquilized patient in Mombasa, Kenya, 15,000km away. She will also see the many electronic instruments and strobes positioned around her patient, all of which are controlled by the switches, buttons and mice on the console in Vancouver. In 6 minutes she will scan the patient’s brain, detect the lesion, analyze it, transmit the diagnosis to the resident surgeon in the Mombasa hospital, bombard it remotely with iomega waves, check the patient’s responses, transmit a report to the printer in the hospital admin office in Mombasa, wave goodbye to the theatre staff, and sign off. All in a day’s work.

My grandkids might be well equipped for the future, but I can’t say the same for the country I’m leaving behind for them. The Canada we know now is already a land of extremes, from freezing cold to searing heat, from drenching rain to parched drought. We all know what climate variation is like now, but the change forecasts from climate scientists suggest that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

It will certainly be warmer by mid-century – a country summer average of about 20C higher. Wetter too, by an average about 5%. However, averages are statistical devices to summarize large amounts of data and can be misleading. Climate change will feed into Canada’s already considerable natural variability and won’t do anything to smooth the fluctuations out. In effect, the likelihood of droughts or more wet periods in whatever region my kids choose to live will certainly be quite different to what they now know.

The additional rain is unlikely to fall as gentle spring showers, much more likely as great flooding downpours or winter rains that drain away before they can nourish crops. In Saskatchewan where the other grandparents in the family tree once resided and farmed, the amount of water that falls as snow has already declined by 50 per cent. The number of multi-day rains has increased by the same amount. These trends will very likely continue, but ironically prairie crops will not benefit from the longer growing seasons because the precipitation gains will be offset by higher temperatures and higher evaporation.

The mild winters will allow mountain pine beetles to survive and infest forests in western Canada, killing trees and turning parched and overheated trees into tinder boxes. Wildfire seasons already begin weeks before they used to. In the Northwest Territories, where temperatures are climbing at a rate faster than almost anywhere on earth, the 2014 fire season set a record of 3.4 million hectares of scorched forest. In the earlier part of 2017, B.C. experienced its worst-ever wildfire season, with 894,491 hectares burned by 1029 recorded fires at a cost of $316 million. It’s a tad mind-numbing to project such figures to the time when the next generations have to deal with, and pay for, the ongoing consequences of climate change caused by their grandparents.

This is a dynamic that will be seen more frequently across the country in coming decades – financial benefits for some and devastating losses for others. A warmer climate and longer growing season may benefit crops such as corn, soybeans, forage and horticultural crops in eastern Canada, but the same climatic pattern could be calamitous for southern regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where food production already takes place in a semi-arid climate.

Western Canada may still look a lot like the country that the kids’ pioneering forefathers called home, but the ecological boundaries will shift. By 2050 extensive areas of the boreal forest’s southern fringe will have converted to prairie. Drought-prone spruce will be lost first, followed by pines and then aspen, to be replaced by prairie grassland. There will no more glaciers in the Rocky Mountains and in the coastal ranges.

Along the Pacific coast fishery catches will decline by an estimated 4 – 10% by 2050. Wild Pacific salmon hauls are calculated to drop by an estimated 20-30%. Not all the prognostications are negative – west coast fishermen can expect more pacific sardines and clams. Over on the Atlantic side catches are expected to increase, but fishermen will have to sail further north to find them. Commercial fisheries could also open in an ice-free Arctic Ocean with catches of turbot, Arctic cod and Arctic char. It has yet to be estimated if these fisheries will be sustainable in the long-term.

Some climate change forecasters see many positives in Canada’s future. Melting ice in the Arctic will open up shipping routes in the Arctic Ocean, significantly reducing the time and cost of international trade. Changing ecological conditions could bring more fish into the Arctic Ocean and into the northern reaches of the Pacific and Atlantic. The implications are that global trade in and out of Canada could triple, while the economic value of the planet’s oceans could to trillions of dollars.

Canada currently has access to more than 20 percent of the world’s freshwater reserves – a resource that will be more valuable than gold over coming decades. Climate change will impact those reserves by eliminating glaciers and altering precipitation but, compared to the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and the southwestern USA, we’ll still have an advantage. The challenge will be defending our fresh water from others, especially the Americans.

Countries that are already struggling economically are going to be severely pummeled in the next decades. Drought may set off more civil wars in Africa. Entire cities and regions of the Middle East might become too physically hot to survive in. National income declines of 80 to 90% compared to growth scenarios without climate change could become common across the developing world.

Canada – the true North strong and free – has always been an open country in all senses of the word. It has been especially welcoming to immigrants, as the kids’ own family trees attest. It will become even more attractive to outsiders a few decades from now. A lot of these immigrants will come from south of the border as Americans are driven from their homes by flooded coasts, storm-ravaged cities and deluged or drought-stricken prairies. Some U.S. immigrants may seek alternatives to an increasingly violent and erratic governmental system in their own country.

Other waves of immigrants will show up in Canadian cities from Asia, Africa and the middle East as the internecine strife and wars so prevalent now in those areas becomes worse with burgeoning populations and diminishing water and agricultural land resources. Huge waves of future immigrants and refugees will certainly strain the tolerance for which Canada is so famous. As regions and countries across the planet collapse, millions of refugees and other migrants will head north. Future governments will inevitably attempt to admit only the most skilled or in-need migrants; the country’s population could swell to 100 million people as a result. The most likely situation is that many migrants will be turned away, and Canada’s land borders could become militarized with drones and gunboats patrolling our shores.

I frankly doubt my grandkids will wind up as fishermen, foresters or firefighters, so will heavy rains, severe droughts, burgeoning bark beetles and burning forests make any difference to them? Without any doubt – a resounding yes. Everything is connected, especially when the ecosystem components and resources undergoing the changes are the lifeblood and economic underpinnings of their society. There are very few items in the list of resources they will need or seek out in their future that will not, in some way, be impacted by climate and population changes. Just as now, and even if they’re living in some super condo in some or other supercity, their essential food supplies derived from land-based agricultural crops and farmed livestock, or from marine-based fisheries and seafood sources, or from freshwater-sourced crops and fisheries, will always be totally dependent on favourable climates and on adequate supplies of fresh water.

Am I justified in being concerned for my grandkids as they go into the future? Its hard not to be concerned, that’s what you sign up for when you become a grandfather. Need I be concerned? Surprisingly, I don’t really think so. They are being given love, support, encouragement, education and motivation in spades now. I think they will be as prepared as any for the changed world they will inherit.

There is one more factor in their favour – those 10 ancestries buried in their DNA. In the murky entwining of their genetic heritage are Dutch, English and Asian ancestors who journeyed centuries ago in rickety sailboats from the far reaches of the world to Africa to establish homes, farm the land, and dig for diamonds. Their ancestry includes grannies and granddads from central Europe and Scandinavia who hauled themselves halfway around the world to establish farms and entrench their families on pristine Canadian prairies.

So will the kids make it in the new world coming?

Hell, yes.

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 the things I know, change the meaning to what I think about you/them, or more precisely, I can 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 is 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 that 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 this realm of darkness is not an apposing force and 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 the 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 experienced 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.

 

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.

Difference is the essence of humanity

by Jill Schroder

“Difference is the essence of humanity”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Climate change and emotional resilience: seeking clarity

by Stan Hirst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now if I only knew what that actually meant.

 

 

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