Category Archives: Seeking Clarity

A green perspective

by Stan Hirst

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post attempts to provide these additional perspectives.

Incorporation of ecological intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incorporation of ethics

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

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

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

Incorporation of environmental rights

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

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

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

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

Characteristics of a green perspective

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

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

 

February Gloom

by Stan Hirst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Of Priuses and pick-up trucks

By Bob Worcester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Pick a Mantra

by Jill Schroder

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions and then not keeping them, what if we decided to pick a mantra? The current issue of Future Crunch, my favorite good news publication and source of much valuable and encouraging information, suggests just that: Pick a Mantra.

They suggest choosing one word that resonates for you, and making it your focus for the year – a guide, a touchstone, something to return to.  For a number of reasons the editors chose Optimism.  Not blind, or pollyanna optimism, but realistic, compassionate, courageous optimism. When I thought about picking a mantra what came to mind for me and for the year ahead was Simplify.

I love the ring of it, the flavour, the effect on my body when I feel into what that could mean for me and how it could manifest in my life.  And this is especially nice, even startling, because not that long ago Simplify meant ‘give up’, ‘stop doing’, ‘slow down…’  it felt like a lot of “shoulds” being laid on me — with all the fun taken away!  That’s a bit of an exaggeration but if I had been asked to pick a mantra five years ago, it would definitely not have been this one.

Why Simplify?  What does it mean, where does it reside, how does it resonate? First of all, I’d like to cull.…in many areas of my life.  I love passing on, getting rid of, consolidating, organizing.  It’s always easy.  For example, take the things I really like but never use.  Simplify would be a helpful, gentle guide when I get down to it: clothes, files, family pictures, stuff in general.

Then there’s my schedule, activities, use of time. Simplify would help me assess, with compassion and kindness, what really matters… day to day, and on through the year – activism, food, exercise, contribution, mind-body-spirit balance…

Plastic Pollution is the new focus of the Green Team in my building.  We are trying raise awareness, and encourage people to face this huge problem – reducing the amount of plastic that we use, especially single use. Have a look at A Plastic Voyage, a depressing yet inspiring documentary made by the daughter of a resident in our building. Simplify would help me, help us all, take a closer look at our consumer choices.  Little things done often by us all add up to a significant difference.

And then this biggie arrived today, Salient Facts and Actions regarding climate change.  In a nutshell it comes down to Fly less, Drive less, Eat less meat (especially beef). We could add, Buy Less (new stuff in particular).

Pick a Mantra.  Mine is Simplify.  I feel light (a little heavy too, if I’m wholly honest, but mostly light) and heartened.  Like starting a new adventure.  I feel my shoulders relax, my breathing slow, space opening up, right now, in the moment.

What might be a helpful mantra for you in 2018?

 

 

Dear Premier Notley

It is our pleasure as British Columbians to welcome you to Vancouver this coming week. We understand you have come to our fair city to address the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade on the merits of the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline project.

We must apologize for our weather; it is a bit dark and damp at the moment. That’s Vancouver in November for you. Mind you, better to visit now than too far into the future when it is likely to be positively stormy from the effects of this annoying climate change that is going around. It would have been warmer and drier had you popped over during the summer, but then again that was a tad too hot and dry. From all the smoke that drifted over your way from B.C. this past July and August you wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that 2017 brought us the largest total area burnt in a fire season in recorded history, the largest number of total evacuees in a fire season, and the largest single fire ever recorded in British Columbia. To say nothing of the costs incurred, which will be borne by the B.C. taxpayer. That’s jolly old climate change for you.

Now we are certain that the fine people down at Canada Place will give you a rousingly warm welcome and an enthusiastic response when you tout the many economic advantages of shoving yet more Alberta crude down the KM pipeline. After all, that’s what they know best – trade, jobs and profits.

But we really feel that you could be doing so much more with your valuable time here in southern B.C. You could be talking about the issues surrounding your pipeline that really matter with the local folks. Those would be the people most responsible for the current less-than-enthusiastic attitude towards Kinder Morgan in our fair city.

  • Like the Tseil-Waututh Nation who have lived directly across the Inlet from the Westridge Terminal for at least three millennia. The first things they now see in the morning and the last things at night are the loading platforms, the massive oil storage tanks and the endless stream of oil tankers coming in and going out.
  • Like the people who live in Westridge and on the slope of Burnaby Mountain who any day now could face fire and holocaust when the inevitable happens.
  • Like the hundreds of thousands of people who live in Vancouver (the 3rd most liveable city in the world according to The Economist) and who would have to contend with Aframax tankers crossing Burrard Inlet and English Bay as part of the daily scene, knowing that when the inevitable dilbit spills occur, not more than half can ever be recovered using the best available technologies.

However, we do realize that you are very busy these days and do not really have the time to dally in our fair city to have all the above conversations. So we would like to pose just one question to you as you dash by on your way to Canada Place. Our question is this:

You have proudly stated that Alberta’s plan on climate change is the cornerstone of Canada’s own climate initiative under the 2015 COP21 UN Climate Change agreement. You state further that Alberta’s contribution is to be based on a carbon tax, a cap on oil sands emissions, and a phase-out of coal-fired electricity in the province. We are with you one hundred percent on this. But how on earth does this square with the Kinder Morgan expansion, which will lead to the combustion of an additional 590,000 barrels of bitumen per day somewhere in Asia and the rest of world?

Yours truly,

Suzuki Elders

 

 

Turning the wheel – reflections on the season

by Jill Schroder

Turning the wheel of the seasons, we soon come to Hallowe’en, full of tricks and treats for some. This time is also widely honoured as Samhain, All Saints Day, and an opportunity to remember the dead, and supposedly a time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest. Acknowledging the seasons and their transition markers helps me to sink into to feeling, to notice the flavours, and take meaning from the moments as they flow by.

Apropos thin veils, the living and dead, here is a provocative article in the Huffington Post: “Are You Living Your Eulogy or Your Resume?” Good question, that! The article is an invitation to explore our priorities and how we spend our minutes, hours and days. At some point we will no longer be living our lives… we’ll be gone. That’s the one sure thing. So now, while we’re still here, still alive, we still have the opportunity to reflect on the question.

Turning the wheel, indeed. A useful way to frame it: am I living my “to do list” – scrambling around hectically and electronically, forgetting to breathe, fitting in one more e-mail, or even signing one more petition for a good cause – before we (actually I, because I’m talking about myself here!) dash off to an activity, or move on to another item on the list. Or am I truly living my life — being here, attending to what nourishes me, ‘taking in the good‘ (as Rick Hanson recommends), tuning in to the larger context, the deeper holding, what’s beyond the body, the personal…

Here’s a short and sweet, helpful and transformative three-part practice I’ve just come across.

  1. Take a few belly breaths. Deep ones.
  2. Let your muscles melt… drop the shoulders, let go of all the contractions. Just do it.
  3. Calm your mind… maybe use a favorite mantra, or whatever helps to create space. Just for a while.

I’ve been amazed at how this seems to literally change the chemistry in my body.

As I get ready to head out on a bike ride, I remind myself to take 20 to 30 seconds to really feel into some of the magical moments in a day: the sound of the burbling fountain near my desk, the colour of the fall leaves, a stranger’s smile, the good feeling after a big workout, a hug from lover or friend or grandchild.

Don’t rush, or even move, on to the next moment, but savour this one, let it resonate. Wow! It feels like all kinds of veils thin when I do this, and I become more alive. Turning the wheel consciously.

May these thoughts help you find your own ways to live your Eulogy, not your Resume. May your days be blessed, rich, full, aware. May we see clearly, look far. Let us help each other find ways to live now as we would like to have done when we’re no longer here!

 

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