Tag Archives: Elder perspective

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.

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

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

by Peggy Olive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

The Elders’ Declaration

by Stan Hirst

Some things are worth repeating.  Like walking the Lynn Creek canyon on the North Shore in early winter when the grey rain keeps everybody else indoors. Like watching the flocks of band-tailed pigeons make their annual brief sojourn to my neighbourhood to guzzle whatever they can find in the greenbelt trees. Like pilfering another piece of my wife’s blueberry cobbler.  All quality things.

Here’s another.  While cleaning up my sorely overloaded hard drive I came across a set of drafts compiled by the SE Executive Committee more than six years ago.  One of them was an Elders’ Declaration.

Over the ensuing years we have done our collective best to honour the principles embedded in that declaration. We haven’t always succeeded in meeting our own high goals. I rather doubt we ever expected to, but we’ve certainly had an honest go at it.

As I said, some things are worth repeating, and this declaration  is one of them.

 

grafik-6We are the elders of this great planet Earth, the only planetary home we know and will ever know. Before our fellow sojourners on this planet, we affirm our deepest commitment to protect and preserve the earth and its ecosystems and to share them with all future generations.

In our time we have witnessed astonishing developments in engineering, medicine, transportation and telecommunications. When we first ventured forth into this world much of the technology that is now taken for granted had yet to be invented. Our lives have benefitted immensely in health and material comforts and in membership in a strengthening global community. But we remember too the horror of wars that inflamed the world and the great economic depressions that inflicted massive global hardship. We know that there is no guarantee that these will not occur again.

When we first trod the earth as humans, our numbers were only a third of what they are today, and only a quarter of what they will be when our grandchildren one day assume the role of elders. When we set out, vast areas of the planet – much of its tropical and boreal forests, the ocean depths, the coral reefs and the great savannas – were pristine and undeveloped. Within the space of a lifetime, ecosystems and species have succumbed to our economic demands. The air, water and soil have become dumping grounds for our toxic wastes. Conflicts over water and food supplies are now a growing threat to our most vulnerable societies and to world peace.

We have forgotten that, as biological beings, our very survival and well-being are completely dependent on nature that gives us clean air, clean water, clean food from soil, and clean energy from the sun.  We have to acknowledge that without these fundamental things, we can only sicken and die. We have come to the realization that all species on Earth are our kin and are related to us through a common evolutionary history. In an unparalleled act of generosity, our earthly relatives have continued to cleanse, replenish and create our most fundamental needs. We now see that economic activities that benefit the few while shrinking the inheritance of the many are wrong. Environmental degradation has severely eroded our priceless natural capital and will continue to do so until we desist and come to the realization that truly sustainable development has to account fully for all ecological and social costs. We are but one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase.

As elders, we declare that we cannot stand idly by and witness the desecration of our planetary home, its biosphere and all its creatures that provide our life essentials and our companionship. We realize that we have lost our way, our sense of home and our feeling of belonging to the rest of Creation. We know that this does not bode well for our children, their children, and all the generations that will follow us.

Therefore, we commit to doing our part to prevent further catastrophic environmental harm. We will take all necessary actions to minimize future climate change.  We will work to preserve habitats for endangered and threatened species. We will advocate for sustainable practices individually and in our communities, based on values of fairness, justice, and compassion for all. We believe that we can make a difference and we urge others to join us in our efforts.

We call on all governments to bring about binding international, national and local accords to sustain the intricate web of ecological relationships on our planet. We call on our leaders and fellow citizens to respect the earth’s diversity and ecosystems, and to seek peaceful paths to sustainable economies.

grafik-5

 

 

What do Elders think?

by Stan Hirst

What’s the problem?

The Suzuki Elders began life way back in 1996 as The Council of Elders of the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). Over the past 19 years the group has morphed into the present-day Association of Suzuki Elders (SE) and has expanded and matured in terms of scope, ambition and membership.

Membership has expanded over the years to over 100 as interested elders across the country and even beyond Canada’s borders have been attracted by the philosophy and goals of the SE. Membership has been predictably weighted towards Vancouver and the B.C. Lower Mainland because of the proximity of the DSF and its strong support to the Elders. Currently about 60% of members reside in the Greater Vancouver area.

Some significant drags on the level of communication between SE members, on one hand, and between members and the Vancouver-based Executive on the other, have gradually emerged over the years. One appears to be simple geography which hinders the preferred medium of communication – face-to-face contact. The other may be a reluctance on the part of many members to embrace modern communications technology such as Facebook and Google Groups. There may be other factors responsible, but the net result is that at present more than 60% of the membership is essentially silent.

For an Association which charges no membership fees and for which members’ inputs are the life-blood of its existence, this is a serious problem. It has been discussed many times at Council and Working Group levels, but remains an issue to be resolved.

The process

The idea of simply asking members for their views and opinions on whatever subject they deemed to be contextually important came to me a few months ago. I admit I was influenced by recalling the approach used by my local colleagues in Asia and Africa years ago when we sought the opinions and approval of local villagers for proposed projects within their traditional areas. No lectures, no Power Point, no clipboards or lengthy questionnaires – just simple conversation. We tried to steer the conversation towards relevant issues (not always successfully), but eventually we came away knowing more than we did when we started out.

Time and resources prevented me from chatting to every SE member over the farm gate, so I did the next best thing – I e-mailed all the members and invited their responses to a few open questions:

  • describing themselves and their views on their relation to the environment and sustainability;
  • saying where they saw themselves, their families and communities heading in the next decades;
  • naming significant areas, concerns or problems which the Suzuki Elders should be addressing; and
  • telling how the Suzuki Elders could best use their skills in achieving its goals.

The results

Members’ responses to the survey were not exactly earth-shattering. Fifteen Elders out of a canvassed total of 105 responded to the questions.

What to make of an 87% non-response rate on the part of my fellow Elders? It’s a little like The curious case of the dog that did not bark. Just as in that epic tale, there could be several reasons for the reticence of the Elders to engage in electronic conversation but, alas, I lack the mental acuity of a Sherlock Homes to interpret the hidden meanings in non-answers.

The high number of non-respondents makes the responses from those good people who did use their precious time to tell me what they thought all the more valuable. It’s the quality of the replies that matter here, not the quantity.

Because the answers to the various questions were quite open-ended (as intentionally set out in the request sent out), the information provided by the respondents is not to be crunched or statistically manipulated in any way. Each member’s response contains valuable insights into Elder feelings and attitudes. There are some commonalities in the responses, e.g. many of the 15 respondents cited climate change as something they considered very important, but many respondents also had unique concerns or interests. Both sets of issues – common and unique – contain valuable lessons for consideration by the Suzuki Elder executive and working groups.

All the information from the survey are shown below, edited for brevity and for occasional duplication. I favoured comments which addressed the open questions.

So…. please read on.

Who are we?

  • I’m a retired journalist.
  • I’m a 76 year old widower whose heart is in the right place (I think) with regard to things environmental.
  • I am retired, living on a small farm in Ladysmith with my wife. We drive a fully electric car, have solar panels on our house and produce about 6 large garbage bags of trash per year (yes, per year).
  • I am a semi-retired ecologist working on biochar production and use as a carbon neutral energy source for low income families.
  • I am from Pune, India. I am 67, healthy, active, a graduate in Mechanical Engineering and Business Management, and with over 45 years experience in high tech manufacturing and marketing.
  • I am a full-time writer and singer. My book Becoming Intimate with the Earth is a guide to healing our relationship with our planetary home. I also give workshops based on that book.
  • I was on the founding team of Bowen in Transition, and believe that the Transition Town network is a model of positive change that we could support.
  • I am a retired teacher of 31 years who has lived, worked or travelled in every province and territory in Canada.
  • I guess you could call me an environmental strategist, a big picture- and long term thinker. I am also a coach, group facilitator, discussion leader, and interested in the development of consciousness.

What motivates us?

  • I care deeply about what we are doing in our industrialized culture because of our destructive ways, overconsumption, pollution, fossil fuel dependence and flawed democracies, BUT I’m excited by the many creative and courageous ways individuals and groups are standing up, joining together and stopping the juggernaut.
  • I think we have to as a society get serious about reducing our footprint on the earth, and especially what we spew into the atmosphere. To do that I think we have to reorient our society and our economy towards sustainability, not using up resources we cannot replace.
  • My lifestyle is modest and I think careful with regard to environmental impacts, responsible purchases etc. I am pleased that similar values have been passed down to my two sons who have similar concerns and hopefully they are also being passed down to my 8-year old grandson. I consider this chain of thinking and lifestyle to be essential if we are to have any chance of controlling the increasing degradation. However if this cannot be done within the family for whatever reasons then there remains the opportunity for the Elders to fill the gap.
  • The greater participation of youth in the recent election provides some hope and the inclusion of wider healthy Canadian views at the Paris Conference is a step in the right direction.
  • It is hoped that it can be shown to the world that actions to reduce/minimize climate change can not only be beneficial but cost-effective
  • There are $15 billion worth of industrial projects gearing up for the small narrow fjord of Howe Sound, a continuation of an extractive ideology that has existed here since the fur trade. Our colonial attitude supports these projects, some of them in First Nations’ territories
  • Since joining the Suzuki Elders, I’ve come to understand how and why the planet came to be in crisis and what lies in store if we, as a species, fail to change direction. I see decades or even centuries of uncomfortable transition looming ahead.
  • I am more and more concerned about the environmental impacts of our western way of life, its unsustainability and the implications for social justice, equality and the well-being of women and girls.
  • Two issues that concern me currently are the refugee crisis and global warming, and I think that they will affect each other.

What frustrates us?

  • Its not an easy task when the multinationals call so many of the shots and governments become beholden to them.
  • Until the social and economic effects of climate change become abundantly apparent I don’t think that the world will really move. The current mass movements (due to war, lack of food, water and jobs) from the Middle East and Africa are only the beginning and we don’t seem to know what to do about it.
  • I have attended interest groups to find a more positive outlook, but it doesn’t work for me. Over the last few years I have tended to become more of an observer as we continue to continue.
  • I am not technically knowledgeable enough to judge the possibility of proposed schemes for slowing the process [of climate change, of environmental degradation].
  • I’m somewhat confused about the organization. As a newcomer it is very difficult to know where I ‘fit’ or how I can contribute. It seems a somewhat closed circle or circles with a small number doing most of the work.
  • I have no idea how the Elders could best make use of my skills. I feel very disconnected from this entity.

Where do we see ourselves headed in the next decades?

The optimists:
  • Although I’m eventually headed towards the grave, my children will most likely continue to be Canadians, working to sustain themselves, being socially responsible and living in B.C.
  • I have had successes, both individually and in small groups, with building community and resilience, emergency preparedness, and improving food security.
  • There are numerous organizations, in addition to the Suzuki Elders, which offer opportunities for involvement, personal work, and helping others do the same. Examples include Village Vancouver, local Green Teams, Leadnow, and the Leap Manifesto groups.
  • I see the last few years of my life dedicated to doing my part in making this world a better place for Canadians to live in. I see myself doing presentations in many communities and in many provinces and territories. My priorities are my family, friends, community, and society in general.
  • I am in the final quarter of my life, at a time when I am looking far forward to the next generations of humanity and seeing that if we don’t change dramatically and quickly there will be immense suffering, not only for my family, community and country but for the whole world.
The pessimists:
  • My feelings about our future are quite negative. Climate change concerns me the most.
  • We understood climate change was a real possibility since the early 1970’s, and yet we have done our best as a society to continue on our carbon consuming ways. I would be really surprised if we can turn this around, but as a biologist I’m not sure we should. It’s just another blip in the story of this old Earth.
  • Looking far forward to the next generations of humanity I see that if we don’t change dramatically and quickly there will be immense suffering, not only for my family, community and country but for the whole world.
The pragmatists:
  • What we need most is a change in consciousness, a broader way of seeing the world as one unit, each of our choices influencing all the rest. This is the work I am interested in doing and the contribution I think I can make with the time I have.
  • The Limits to Growth [updated 2005] reminds us that we all see the world’s problems differently. “In general the larger the space and the longer the time associated with a problem, the smaller the number of people who are actually concerned with its solution.”

We are strong advocates for change

  • The [recent] Canadian election was very important for me. We have to pressure the new government very hard to ensure that Canada can still pull back from the precipice towards which the previous government had us teetering. This requires massive, collective and immediate actions on multiple fronts. Now is not the time for philosophical debates, conversations about definitions and nuances, and more studies and reports. We must all act in our many different ways, and all must help.

What future pathways shall we follow?

  • Many of us subscribe to the conclusions of the world’s intellectual leadership as set out in The Limits to Growth [updated 2005] and elsewhere .

–   It is possible to alter growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future.

–   The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his individual human potential.

–   Humanity has the capacity for adaptation which will be essential regardless of how well we manage in this century.

–   There is evidence of social adjustment to our changing times. The Millennial Generation buy fewer homes or cars, delay having children, and invest more in education. The sharing economy, with its underpinning culture of reciprocity, is growing rapidly.

–   Many countries are moving to sustainable energy sources.

  • The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that it’s possible to make money in a way that is not destructive, that promotes more social justice and more understanding and lessens the suffering that exists all around us. He believes this can only happen if we fall in love with our planet and see ourselves as part of it, a message promoted so well by David Suzuki who tells us, “We are the air… we are the environment… When we damage the environment, we damage ourselves.”
  • The greater participation of youth in the recent Canadian election provides hope, and the inclusion of wider healthy Canadian views at the Paris Conference is a step in the right direction.

Are we effective in using our combined skill sets to meet our goals?

Maybe……
  • I am best in assisting others communicate their messages and in facilitating the work of members of the organization.
  • My skills are researching, writing, singing, planting fruit trees, and presenting workshops.
  • I am part of the Education and Community Outreach group and feel like this is a good fit; working on Food Security, and Resilience.
  • We could best use our skills to achieve our goals by getting into the schools – working with the environmental and outdoor education clubs, courses, associations, etc.
  • I think we are on the right track dealing with a number of issues related to sustainability, not only opposing non-sustainable projects but also promoting psychological resilience, work with youth, education of ourselves and the public, and general support for the David Suzuki Foundation.
  • What we need most is a change in consciousness, a broader way of seeing the world as one unit, each of our choices influencing all the rest. This is the work I am interested in doing and the contribution I think I can make with the time I have.
Or maybe not
  • I was shocked to learn that there are only some 100 Suzuki Elder members – I would have thought there should be at least 500,000, given there are 5 million Canadians over 65 as of 2011 and 60% of Canadians are reported to believe climate change is real and human activity is an exacerbating cause.
  • This survey seems so old-fashioned and inadequate. [A better approach] would have been some kind of engagement process where the participants themselves could create the recommendations and where the outcome would be a result of the interdependencies and connections that a group of people can generate, rather than all these single responses that some person has to read and through their own very personal lenses and biases extract what they think is important.
  • [This survey] could have been done online or using other media rather than assuming that it has to be in person.

What are we missing?

  • The major challenge facing our world is the one that no one is willing to discuss: over-population. It does not matter much about climate change, pollution, loss of habitat, etc as long as we continue to increase the world population. We are not going to survive. No other species can grow indefinitely, but humans seem to believe they can.
  • I would like the Suzuki Elders to focus on educating the public in opposing international trade agreements such as the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These proposed agreements would put international trade in the hands of the multi-national corporations, especially the CEOs.
  • I believe the Elders should get MUCH better at collaborating with others, at various levels. We should also harness the potential of technology more effectively.
  • I wonder about putting more emphasis on human connection in small groups of face-to-face dialogue. Consciousness development is an inside-out activity and can be most powerful in direct interaction.
  • As a newcomer to the Suzuki Elders it is very difficult to know where I fit or how I can contribute. It seems a somewhat closed circle or circles, with a small number doing most of the work.
  • Using the label ‘Suzuki Elders’ is not as effective in communicating to people around the world who we are as ‘David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) Elders.’ The Suzuki name immediately brings to mind motor bikes and cars, not a renowned environmentalist from Canada. As ‘DSF Elders’ we will be able to connect and communicate better, encouraging people to learn more about the views and work of the David Suzuki Foundation.
  • Those living outside the lower Mainland could contribute to the Suzuki Elder blog and report on local meetings or rallies. Our website could include materials for hosting local meetings on specific topics (the “What Moves Me” youth discussion handout is a specific example).
  • An important role for all of us is to fight public indifference and drive home the message that we need to do what we can. Showing up, standing up, and supporting policy for change to a more sustainable and equitable society are something we can all do.
  • We could best use our skills by joining and presenting at conferences like the Council of Outdoor Educators Association (COEO) or the Science Teachers Association of Ontario (STAO).
  • We tend generally to preach to the converted.

What’s the next step?

  • The specific concerns raised by Elders responding to this survey and itemized variously above will be laid before the Suzuki Elder Council for review and action.
  • Relevant items brought up by respondents will be referred to the various Working Groups for their information and action.

We need to keep the conversation going

  • Dialogue between and within the Elder membership is the basic tool we have to progress towards our goals.
  • We all prefer personal face-to-face communication and, wherever possible, that’s the approach we employ – in individual conversations, in working group meetings, in council meetings, in seminars and the like.
  • We may not have started out there but we’re now very much in the technological age where information speeds around the world at the speed of light. The communication tools are there for us to employ to our full advantage.
  • We invite all Elders to carry on the conversation.

–   Check the many items on our website and use the Leave a Comment link attached every post on the blog to add to the opinions expressed there.

–   Consider participating in the Suzuki Elders Google Group which is an online bulletin board where Elders can express and exchange news and opinions. If you’re not yet a member of the Group contact the moderator at this link and request a sign-up.

–   Contact us directly at this link to ask a question, to clarify something or just to express your opinion.

 

 

Changing with the times

by Stan Hirst

Try this simple word association game with your friends or family members. It will take less than a minute. Give them a word and ask them to respond immediately with whatever word that first comes into their minds. Give them about six or seven random words in quick succession and then throw in the word “elder”.

I’ve tried this about a dozen times with various people and the responses to the last word have included ‘grey’, ‘old’, ‘berry’, ‘younger’ and ‘discount’. The words I haven’t yet heard are ‘wise’, ‘wisdom’, ‘authority’ or any similar positive descriptors normally attached to elders in novels and learned papers.

Many times in the recent past I’ve voiced the opinion that we western elders have lost our standing as a repository of knowledge, skills, advice and suchlike. We have lost our wisdom. Source of knowledge? Not any more, the youngsters have the internet for that. Come to think of it, so do I. Elders as a source of intelligent and wise decision-making? Nah, we’ve now got the popular press, the electronic media and the blogosphere for that. Who needs to ask an elder?

Our European-dominated society tends not to vest authority in individuals based on their age. Today we have CEOs of major corporations in their early thirties, we have national leaders in their early forties, we have young people leading the way in community actions. Our culture has become youth-oriented, thanks to lifestyles and social media.

If you have a half-hour to spare (or waste), check the commercials during the evening news on any major U.S. television network. The first fifteen minutes are dominated by flashy commercials for mobile phones, glitzy cars and starch-rich snacks being gulped down by young, beautiful people. The second fifteen minutes gives us commercials for cutting-edge remedies for erectile dysfunction (no pun intended) and other senile ailments, all projected by grinning old people desperately trying to look like younger people.

Some might say, cynically, that we’re getting our just desserts for what we contributed to the world in our younger days. Much of the neat glitzy stuff in use today was invented and developed by today’s elders in their younger days. The list includes the TV remote control, the microwave oven, birth-control pills, jet airliners, cordless tools, industrial robots, communications satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and the light-emitting diode.

Have we all now morphed into zombies? Have we become denser and less responsible with time? I think not.

Some of us have become a little foggy with age, but that’s not the point. I suggest that, apart from a little arthritis and occasional deafness, the big change hasn’t been with us as much as its been with the world. Remember the lines of the song sung by John Lennon back in 1980: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

I would suggest that a key issue for elders here is that the world has changed under us as we progressed. Like Neo in the film The Matrix, we’re waking up to the true extent of the challenges we humans face at this point in history. Some call this an “Oh shit!” moment.

Now what do we do? How can we enjoy life on a day-to-day basis in light of what we are beginning to understand about the truly terrifying collective disasters and challenges headed our way?

An ecotherapist of note who has commented succinctly on this is California-based Linda Buzzell. She refers to a “waking-up syndrome” in which we explore the stages we go through as the reality of the rapidly-worsening environmental situation creeps through the fog pervading our awareness.

Linda points out that [most] humans cannot cope with this degree of change alone, and that very few emerging problems can be solved by individuals. Whole communities, on the other hand, can come together to care for one another in challenging times.

However, each of us has to think through the issue for ourselves (if we’re to be ‘Elderly’ about it), and Linda has some timely advice on how to approach this more effectively.

1. Reconnect with the sacred in nature.
2. Breathe deeply and settle into just this one moment on just this particular day.
3. Be part of the solution, even if in tiny ways.
4. Take a media vacation.
5. Take a permaculture design course.
6. Read books by wise people who are wide-awake.
7. Form a circle of community members to discuss these books.

 

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