Tag Archives: environment

Watching you Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau;

You will recall that at your book launch in Park Royal you graciously autographed below my comment ‘Watching You!

An autumn of sheer delight over your victory, boosted by a blossoming ’SunnyWays’ atmosphere across the land culminated in Canada’s strong and confident performance at COP21 where you and your team were instrumental in persuading the world of the imperative to hold global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5oC above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Bravo! Elizabeth May was over the moon!

The letdown began during Spring Break with Cabinet’s nonchalant approval of Woodfibre LNG despite very strong opposition by the people of Howe Sound and in the face of outright rejection by every local government in the region. That was an unexpected kick in the face.

June brought the deeply contentious NEB approval of the Kinder Morgan Expansion. Your TMX Ministerial Panel, hastily assembled as a means of damage control, suffered blatant conflict of interest, professed no mandate but to listen, appeared listless and disinterested, was toothless, and achieved little if anything useful except, perhaps, furtherance of your agenda.

Over the summer I have been watching you with mounting unease as a flurry of MP-organized ‘Democracy Talks’ across BC gave every indication of having been rigged to distract our attention from the stark realities and colossal environmental risks posed by major fossil fuel-to-tidewater projects, aimed instead at softening us up for cabinet approval of one or more projects by year’s end.

As a British Columbian and retired mariner who lived through the 1964 bunker fuel spill in Howe Sound, I cannot overstate my concern regarding the risk of massively expanding diluted bitumen tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea. Reaction time, heavy tides, bad weather and human fallibility militate against significant spill recovery. Brave promises of a World Class oil spill clean-up capability become meaningless when dilbit sinks (according to a US National Academy of Sciences finding which was disallowed from evidence by the NEB).

Dilbit is exceedingly noxious stuff. A big spill near Vancouver could be catastrophic for the marine environment and precipitate a major health crisis across the Lower Mainland. Trans Mountain’s own experts have calculated a 10% probability of a dilbit spill of 8.25 million litres or more during a 50 year operating cycle. That’s 3000 times the size of the Marathassa spill (of mere fuel oil) in English Bay last year that caused so much fuss.

The Kinder Morgan expansion is incompatible with Canada meeting even our admittedly weak global climate commitment, yet the word is out that you are determined to approve an oil tanker project and Kinder Morgan is the favourite. Will you count that as a science-based decision?

What happened to your promise to overhaul the pipeline approval process? When are you going to step up and assume the climate action leadership role we saw in you? Most importantly, what will happen to our grandchildren if we fail to take the climate action so urgently needed right now?

Your father’s infamous middle finger salute to BC will be seen as nothing compared to your own hypocrisy if you, our climate savvy Prime Minister, – you, a grandson of Vancouver’s North Shore, – break faith with us who worked so hard, and with such good reason, to see you elected.

I beseech you, Prime Minister: do not approve Kinder Morgan Expansion!

Social licence not granted. British Columbia will not forget.

Watching You!


Roger Sweeny, Cdr RCN ret.



Kindling the wonder of nature in children

by Lillian Ireland

Presentation to the Surrey Teachers’ Association Convention 2016: “Changing Our Ways: Weaving Threads of Truth and Reconciliation Throughout Our Practice”

As children, Rob and I spent a lot of time outside. It was normal to spend most of our leisure time outdoors. We didn’t watch much TV back then. Television shows were black and white. We had 2 stations and the programs weren’t always available. Times were different. Playing outside was the norm for most North American children.

Nowadays children spend the bulk of their time indoors. A recent survey showed that prison inmates in the UK spend more time outdoors per day than the average child. By law prisoners must have 60 minutes per day outdoors in their prison complex for their mental health. Even here in Canada, many children spend less time outdoors than that. Where are we as a society that so many children would rather be indoors with their screens than outdoors?

Sure, society has changed. Some parents fear for their children being outside. Most schools promote screen usage. Many parents schedule activity programmes for their children in the afternoons while other parents “programme” their children to spend their afterschool time indoors frequently with a screen as a companion/babysitter, thinking this is healthy and safe. Let’s see where this goes…

Rob recently handed in his old flip phone and settled on a smart phone. Notice it’s labeled SMART phone. SMART implies intelligence. Scripted on the front of his new phone were the words LIFETIME COMPANION.  LIFETIME COMPANION implies permanent friend. Put them together – SMART LIFETIME COMPANION. Rob tried to get the words off the front of his phone but couldn’t. He needed to go to a telephone technician who spent considerable time removing those words from his new telephone screen!

Where are we and what are we allowing as a society? How do we want our children to be raised?

  • Medical data states that today’s children are the first generation in global history not to live as long as their parents.
  • 2016 data states that 424 million people have diabetes. Diabetes and obesity out of control globally.
  • There is now the concern of myopia, known as near-sightedness. This eye disorder has hit a new ceiling. About 93% of all 20 year old males living in South Korea currently have myopia! This current disability is more serious than previous forms of myopia impairment. The reason for this is because the children’s eyes didn’t develop properly. Much of their time was spent indoors in front of a screen. Their eyes didn’t have the long distance viewing opportunities nor enough natural light to develop properly. In young children, when the window of time for optimum eye development is gone, it’s gone. This new endemic tragedy is slowly being recognized in other countries.
  • New legislation in Taiwan states that parents can be charged with child abuse if they allow their children to spend excessive time in front of a screen.
  • The prestigious Sydney Grammar School in Australia, which had schooled 3 of its earlier prime ministers, recently banned screens from their regular teaching in classrooms.

The world is slowly recognizing the serious cost of too much time with screens indoors. In Canada, we too place strong emphasis on academics, and we are also realising the serious price of too little time outdoors. But, many of us in Canada are addicted to our screens. Most of us feel completely lost without our phones!

Remember SMART (phone) LIFETIME COMPANION (phone)? Well, phones aren’t friends and they are not SMART!

How can we encourage children to disengage from the tech world and reengage with outdoors? If we can’t, how do we expect our children to do that?

Eight years ago I used a computer, like most of us, for facts and information, as a diversion when I had a small block of free time, and connecting with others. I’m sure you can add to the list of “why” you enjoy the internet: games, connections, news, etc. I decided to try to walk in the footsteps of an uncle. I tried to have a life without a computer or screen. I actually went into withdrawal and couldn’t believe it. Still, I stuck with my decision to get “unhooked”, even though I was very frustrated thinking some of my social life would evaporate. But I stuck it out for a year. After a few weeks of yearning to get back on my computer, the feeling went away and I lived without the internet for a year. Looking back, it certainly taught me a few things. I could take control of it, rather than technology controlling me.

The relative I was trying to emulate was an uncle, a 75 year old Albertan farmer who not only manages 70 head of cattle singlehandedly plus grain crops on several quarters of land. He’s also the local president of an organization which helps farmers whose land has been contaminated by the oil industry. There are many multi-million dollar lawsuits pending against the industry in Alberta, and he helps bring support and awareness to the farmers and their families. He does all this without a computer. How he does it is amazing! His focus hasn’t been lost or dribbled away by hours of time spent in front of a screen. And he actually lives in relative peace since he spends much of his time outdoors.

I saw that I had been addicted to my screen. And I also see it in children and their parents today.

Today’s screen activities are built to entice and hook. Game designers look for ways to make their games more interesting so as to increase the amount of time people will spend playing them. Games are designed to be just difficult enough to be truly challenging, while allowing players to achieve small accomplishments that compel them to keep playing. In that respect, the design of screen games is similar to the design of gambling casinos which allow players to have small “wins” that entice them to keep playing. Some of the hooks which coerce us into playing are:

  • A high score (wow! look at my score!).
  • Beating the game (beating the computer, yeah! I’m smart, I beat the computer. Now, can I do it again?).
  • Role playing – forms an emotional attachment to the character and the story, which makes it that much harder to stop playing.
  • Discovery – where a good part of the game is spent exploring imaginary worlds. The thrill of discovery, even of places that don’t really exist, can be extremely compelling. Game designers know that discovery is a necessary element in human development.
  • Relationships – these built during some games give children and adults virtual relationships or communities where, for some, these communities become the place where they’re most accepted, which naturally draws them back again and again.
  • Power and control – the sophistication built into many games is intended to give the player ultimate power and control. Yet many players struggle to differentiate between the virtual and the real world, especially when much of their day is steeped and spent in the virtual world of games.
  • Some very popular games purposely do not end. An example of a highly successfully addictive game is Minecraft. The game never ends. In nearly everything we do in life, we have a need for closure, but this game purposely doesn’t have closure, so children (and adults) are continually striving, building, etc. until hours have passed without a sense of completion.

Some people are more prone to addictions through games or otherwise. Children with short attention spans, those who spend little time with family or friends, and those who feel like outcasts or tend toward sensation-seeking are more easily drawn into game addictions because the games fill a hole and satisfy needs that aren’t met elsewhere.

Another factor that’s concerning is that violence in games is rewarded. In some army and sniper games, the players go up a level or gain power depending on how many players they kill. They are rewarded for eliminating other players. This gives a profound false sense of power and control.

Passively watching violence on TV is already bad enough, whereas in many computer games the child is committing the violence themselves. This type of active participation affects a child’s thought patterns. If played often enough, games like this distort a child’s perception of reality and violence, causing serious changes in their thinking, their behavior and their need to control. It’s not surprising to see that children’s behavior often becomes more hostile after playing.

In addition to psychological addiction, it’s now believed that there may be a physiological element to addictive game playing. Researchers at Hammersmith Hospital in London conducted a study in 2005 which found that dopamine levels in player’s brains doubled while they were playing. Dopamine is a mood-regulating hormone associated with feelings of pleasure. The findings of this study indicated that gaming could actually be chemically addictive. Though the debate continues as to whether gaming addiction is a diagnosable disorder, the behavior undeniably exists. The combination of intentional programming by designers and the predisposition some people have to addictive behavior means this is a real issue that educators and parents need to be aware of, need to address and take action to prevent.

Lastly, how many of you have heard of Nutella? Everybody, right? One jar is sold globally every 2.5 seconds. What’s the connection? Sugar! Sugar is addictive, cocoa is addictive, Nutella is addictive! Believe it or not, one of the most popular games on the market today includes Nutella in the game.

Within the past month two young children we know got the book Swampy’s Lovely Book which is all about Minecraft. Innocent enough, but on the inside front and back covers are pictures of over 300 small cakes! There’s also a 4 page recipe for children to make a cake. The recipe calls for a total of 5½ cups of sugar plus a jar of jam. Yes, 5½ cups of sugar for 1 cake! The Minecraft book strongly promotes sugar. There’s even a math graph in the book which says “The more cake you eat, the greater your level of happiness!” This book is geared towards young elementary aged children and sold through the Scholastic Book sales in many BC schools for fundraising.img03

Two years ago we visited a young boy in Vancouver Children’s Hospital. He was admitted because of serious behavioural challenges. When we arrived at the hospital , he was sitting on the floor crying and pleading with the nurses for Nutella. He was begging for “his Nutella.” We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. He was seriously addicted to Nutella and going through withdrawal. He was also addicted to screen games, especially Minecraft.

When he was at home getting him off the computer was extremely difficult. At home he ruled the family, and he was just 10. The pediatric psychiatrist told his parents that he was to stay away from all screens and off all sugar. The doctor was very concerned about his future, predicting that if he didn’t have a complete and immediate change in his life, he would spend much of his older life in jail. His addictions to games, their violence and sugar had completely changed his personality and his brain chemistry. His addictions were destroying any potential of a healthy future, so a major change had to happen for his sake and the sake of his family. This young 10 year-old boy is a close relative.

Safety is near the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This boy would do anything to control his environment, which is what he “had to learn to do” in many of the games he played. He couldn’t differentiate between virtual and real life. Many of the games do not have scripted, assigned rules, so you learn “how” to play “as” you play, which reinforces the inherent addictive structures of the games. It reinforces the “need” to keep playing. There was little distinction between his real and virtual worlds.

This sadly is common for many children who are exposed to screen games from a young age. When they are young, their brains can’t differentiate between the need to be safe and the need to control. Because his brain was so changed from what he “played” in the games and his addiction to Nutella, he was suffering many severe behavioural challenges and could not continue regular school. He’s now in a special boarding school with children who have similar severe problems. Rules are clear and strict, and there is no sugar nor screens of any kind. It’s back to the basics. The students are weaned away from their debilitating need to control everything and everybody around them. Authority lies unquestionably with the staff. The first 3 days of each term are spent living outdoors, hiking long distances and learning to connect and rely on others. They form real relationships in the real world, not virtual relationships where control is paramount.

Even though we shared our concerns with his parents for several years, they never thought it would come to this. Many parents don’t have or make the time to sit with their children to see what they are playing, assuming it’s all safe, since other children are playing the same games. Many parents are also burned out from arguing with their children and give in, not realizing the connection nor how the addiction was brought about in the first place.

Since our presentation in May 2016 several other parents have told us similar stories of their own young children or children they know who have also needed specialized intervention, including hospitalization due to their addictions to screen games and sugar.

Over the years, I have provided childcare for various aged children in different communities. There isn’t a home I go into where there’s not a bottle of Nutella sitting in or on the cupboard. One bright young child whom I’ve supported refuses anything but Nutella sandwiches for breakfast. The addiction is already evident. And – the favourite game is (you guessed it) Minecraft!

I remember one Friday talking about the family’s upcoming weekend and all the excitement leading up to it. I was expecting to hear about a special event, maybe seeing someone special, a trip, etc. but found out it was an all-day Minecraft marathon. Was I surprised? Yes, but maybe I shouldn’t have been!

In the home, do you think I was going to buckle and allow screen activities when we were together? No way! We locked horns, but I realized if there was any hope for helping, I had to stick to my resolve which I did. We read books, did homework and played child-appropriate games together. It took several months to encourage outside play at a nearby park. When there was final agreement to going there, was I grateful! The parents saw what pleasure it brought their child, so they began having family outings there. That breakthrough made my year! All it took was outside eyes to see what was going on and dogged grit to help move the child beyond the compulsiveness of screen games.

Our country isn’t the only one that has this dilemma. Remember, 1 jar of Nutella is sold every 2.5 seconds globally and Minecraft uses Nutella as a reward in the game. And, as of 2014, Minecraft was the third most popular game of all time.

Where are we going as a society and how can we responsibly raise children in this techno-addicted, sugar-addicted world? The answer lies in looking outside – literally!

Rob and I spend much of our lives enjoying time outdoors. All seasons! One favorite memory was camping above the Arctic Circle 10 years ago. The power of nature was nearly overwhelming as the storm bellowed around our tent. The wind was like a freight train pounding in a way we had never experienced before, it was awesome! We couldn’t hear each other’s voices even though we were inches from each other’s face! It was an amazing experience!

Memories like that linger and elicit awe. Yes, we were awestruck! Awe has a special place in human experience! Awe is a special emotion which reinforces intelligence which, unfortunately, game designers capitalize on.

We need to work extra hard to share with children the awe-inspiring attractions of real life. The natural world is full of them.

Today, how can we get children to become passionate about nature? If we are passionate, our students will see that and it will rub off on them. We, as educators and parents have both the privilege and the responsibility to make this connection for them. What we care about rubs off on our students. If this new generation feels connected to nature, they’ll respect it. Rob and I witness the tide turning, and so can you with your students. We don’t take it lightly. We consider it a privilege to walk alongside children as we point out small yet significant things to them.

Recently, at an elementary school, I was waiting for a young student after school. She was playing with a few classmates in the field but said she was bored. I seized the opportunity and showed her and her friends the new growth on one of the trees: the color, the texture and the incredible scent. They were amazed! They spent the next 1/2 hour with new eyes, looking at and playing under the trees. The next day, they ran to the trees and looked again, pulling some of the new growth off wanting to plant it. By pointing small things out to them about the trees, they felt a connection. All we need to do is show some type of a link to nature either with our senses or with facts. As educators and/or parents, we can go beyond example and actually design activities which help children connect with nature.

Indigenous people historically know our intrinsic connection with nature and its sacredness. What we have learned from them, we are honoured to share with you. The Dene, who we met in the north, hug completely opposite than we do here in the south. Most of us, when we hug, hug from our right side to the right side of the other person. The Dene hug on the left. After a few bumped noses, I asked why they hugged on the left side. They said when one hugs, it’s done heart to heart. They also understand the importance of seasons and respect how life is affected by our eternal connection to nature.

Sadly, many of today’s children and adults think differently and don’t feel their inherent connection to the outdoors. But, by sharing true yet unusual facts about animals and nature with children, they become intrigued and fascinated. Many adults are fascinated as well. We engage children with unusual facts which we ourselves find truly awesome.

When Rob and I began studying animals and their behaviours, we were spellbound and continue to be and hope you are too. For example, some hares run much faster than a moose can. Hares can run up to 70 km per hour, whereas moose run about 50 km per hour. Both rabbit and coyote mothers pull hairs from their chests to pad the area where their young will be born. One ladybug can lay up to 1000 eggs in a lifetime and they also turn over and play dead when they’re scared. Female sea otters carry their young on their chest for many months as they travel around the ocean. They hold paws when they’re sleeping. They also have small pouches of skin in both armpits and usually keep a small rock in their left armpit to use as a tool for breaking clams open. A bald eagle can dive between 200 km and 300 km per hour. It can spot a rabbit 2 miles away. When it’s flying, if a feather drops from its left wing, a feather will automatically drop from its right wing to keep it balanced in flight.

The natural world around us is rich with wonder. We have showed children how to make bird calls out of grass. Students ran up to us afterwards wanting to know exactly how it was done. Many children yearn to have some connection with nature and we, as parents and educators, can help them build that connection. Even principals remembered making bird calls out of grass as children, but hadn’t seen anyone doing it for years.

We ask you, as educators to spend time outdoors and encourage children to do the same. We’ve been impressed with a few teachers who plan some of their class time outside in the playground, simply going outside and paying attention to what’s there with their students.

Nature teaches us that some things can be controlled whereas other things can’t. Children don’t have to be in charge. Kids don’t need to shoot or build or exterminate in order to have control. In nature, cooperation and communication are essential for survival. Basic life skills and time for reflection are important.

By spending time outside, people realize they are capable of thriving in multiple environments, without the trappings of TV, screen games and other distractions. They learn to appreciate what is simple, what is complex, and what is real.

The David Suzuki Foundation has a challenge program for all Canadians. It’s called the 30×30 Challenge. It encourages us to spend just 30 minutes outside each day for 30 days. Remember, this is only ½ of what prisoners in the United Kingdom are mandated to do for their best mental health.

Rob and I encourage each of you to reconnect with nature by spending half an hour outdoors each day where you see, smell, feel, hear, touch and sense what’s actually there. As we ourselves reengage with the outdoors, this will rub off on our students and they too can appreciate the beauty, the awe and the healing power of nature. We hope they will grow to be healthy, caring citizens who love nature and are committed to protect it.



Memories of a Northern Life

by Paul Strome

Paul2I am an optimistic, energetic, 65 year old, retired teacher of 31 years who has lived, worked, or travelled in EVERY province and territory in Canada. I have been an environmentalist all my life thanks to my Mom and Dad who educated all our family about the seven grandfather teachings: respect, love, humility, wisdom, bravery, truth, and honesty.

Our family lived along the east coast of James Bay in a small community called Fort George (Chisasibi) from 1941-1955 while Dad was a Hudson Bay factory post manager and my Mom was the regional nurse. The community was composed mainly of Cree with a few Inuit and some non-natives. When we moved to Winnipeg in 1955 my parents continued to teach the three of us boys critical morals and ethics that have served us well throughout our lives.

Environmental issues have always been discussed around the dinner table. Much later in life, when I worked for the DEWline (Distant Early Warning Line) I witnessed numerous environmental breaches involving every kind of lubricant, antifreeze, aviation fuel and hazardous chemical used in it’s operation that you can think of. A few short years later, when Dewline sites were closed because they were deemed unnecessary, those stockpiles of drums, buried heavy equipment and other hazardous materials were dug up, contained properly, loaded onto ships and sent south for appropriate hazardous material disposal which cost the U.S. government at least $360 million and hundreds of man years.

When I worked at Nanisivik Mines Ltd. at the north tip of Baffin Island 26 miles down the road from Arctic Bay, I was part of the solution regarding the handling of hazardous materials that were shipped south. There had been numerous small mountains of contaminated chemicals such as ammonium nitrate, copper sulphate and lime that had been spilled all over the tundra right above a local water source. The really great part of my job was to identify, collect, label, package and then ship them south to be processed appropriately. I was able to get the entire outside storage area cleaned up. Empty drums were organized as a base for heavy parts so that the snow of winter wouldn’t bury them. We were able to ship thirty or more sealift containers south to be dealt with appropriately, no matter what they were filled with.

I was also, however, witness to a tailings lake that is still there and is lethal for anything that enters the lake. Why was it never cleaned up? The managers of the mine could have reversed the flow of the tailings pipes and run a pipeline 3 miles downhill to the seaside port at the fjord where the ships pulled right up to the shore. The tailings could have been loaded onto ships and taken south for proper processing, but they weren’t.

5245580362_fd53512e6dI first arrived in Gjoa Haven, NWT in 1979 when the population was about 500 souls. Of these 480 were Inuit and the rest were non-native. I taught for three years in Kekertak Ilihakvik (Island School) and I taught the Adult Education Program for two years. While I lived in Gjoa Haven I travelled extensively across the land; I interviewed numerous elders with a translator; I was an active member of the NWT Hunters and Trappers Association, and I planned, supervised, and executed an exchange trip with Simcoe, Ontario. I still stay in contact with numerous Inuit and non-Inuit in Gjoa Haven. The whole area became part of the Territory of Nunavut on April 1, 1999.

My wife, oldest daughter and I moved south to Rankin Inlet in 1984 where both my wife and I taught in the Maani Uluyuk Ilihakvik. In 1986 I transferred and taught at the Kitikmeot Regional Education Center while my wife continued to teach in the elementary school. I taught technological studies, science, mathematics and English during the week, but spent as much time as possible out on the land or on the water hunting, fishing and exploring. I have always been amazed and impressed at the attitude of Inuit regarding environmental issues. They were intelligent and foresighted enough to ensure their land was returned to it’s original state prior to the Dewline site ever being built by including a clause to that effect in the original legal agreement. No matter what school I taught in, I was the Outdoor Education staff representative as well as the staff sponsor for the Environment Council and the Outers’ Club staff representative. I was the person who organized the canoe trips, hiking, climbing and rappelling, dog sledding and outdoor education training sessions.

dogsWhen I moved south from Rankin Inlet to Milton, Ontario, I searched for three or four months for an appropriate dog sled provider. I eventually found Chocpaw Expeditions which is owned by Paul and Margaret Reid of South River, Ontario. For the next 13 years I organized dog sledding trips for teachers, students, family and friends with Chocpaw, and was never disappointed in the quality, professionalism and friendliness that all of their staff exhibited. My views on dog sledding and outdoor education were captured in this blog, posted in 2010. They agree in large measure with more recent published studies, e.g. How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway.

I have been absolutely blessed to have others in my life who share the same heart and are willing to risk almost everything to make our adventures happen. My Dad and Mom laid the groundwork for most of my feelings regarding the outdoors and my values about accepting of others. They took me camping from the earliest days I can remember. Dad showed me a kazillion things; the most practical was how to make fuzz sticks to light a fire easily. Mom showed me how to make bannock with raisins. Dad taught me how to fish, which meant I was able to teach my daughter Erika how to fish later on in life. She caught her very first fish when we were in Yukon, Alaska, NWT, and British Columbia in 2000.

Spending a week on the tundra on Montreal Island south of Gjoa Haven, hunting and fishing with our wives for a week and living out of tents bathed in 24 hours of sunshine was another emotional high. As the staff sponsor of The Woodlands School’s Outers’ Club I organized the training and the hike up Mount Washington that was a life changing event for all the staff, parents, and students who participated.

Kayaking down the Horton River in the NWT with six other environmentalists/ adventurers/explorers for two weeks enabled us to watch baby Peregrine Falcons, a silverback male Grizzly bear eating berries on the riverbank, muskoxen grazing on the tundra, and a female Grizzly with her two cubs within a hundred yards of us. We had seen many caribou on this trip but nothing surprised us more than the caribou that walked right into our camp on the afternoon prior to our pickup. We gave thanks to the animal for giving up it’s life to feed us and I gifted tobacco in it’s honour. We had an amazing stew and steaks that evening and fed the wolves with the remains.

I attended and participated in many Inuit drum dances which I absolutely loved. drum dancingWomen would arrive in their amoutiks, kamiks and caribou clothing. The older women would gather together in one area away from the door so they could support each other when it was their turn to sing. I experienced a shamanic spiritual connection every time I was part of a traditional Inuit drum dance, and traces of the feeling always lasted for days. That’s one absolutely amazing thing that happens whenever I have participated in spiritual ceremony – a fire keeper at sweat lodges, drum dances, or pipe ceremony – the profound, heartfelt emotions run deep and true.

When an old arctic explorer friend of mine asked me to join them to hike the Chilkoot Trail with my two daughters it only took me nanoseconds to respond in the affirmative. My girls were 14 years old and they had been involved in many of my hiking, canoeing, climbing and rappelling trips, so they knew what to expect, for the most part. What they weren’t ready for was the 7 days of driving, 14 hours a day in order to get to Skagway, Alaska from Milton, Ontario.

They overcame all the immense challenges they faced; ended up in the best physical and emotional shape they ever had been until then, and made everyone else in the group immensely proud. Erika caught her first fish on this trip. The bond between Allie and Erika grew because of the month we spent together. They got to see and help out with the First Nations and Inuit celebration in Moosehide which is a few miles downriver of Dawson City.

We celebrated for four days with Navaho, Inuit, Inuvialuit, Dene, Sioux, Tlingit, Tutchone, non-natives, Niskas, and others and in the 24 hour daylight. It was truly a novel and amazing experience. The three of us volunteered our time in some way or other for the set up, operation, and take down of this very special celebration that happens only every two years. We got to know some VERY special people, listened to First Nations stories and many drum dances, played many new games and participated with people from many new tribes.

Emotions and the environment: its the consequences that matter.

by Stan Hirst

This past week the Suzuki Elders held a salon on environmental leadership and the emotional impact of a changing world . We mulled over no less than sixteen emotions and their internal dynamics of causation and possible benefits. We shared anecdotes of how emotions affected ourselves and our personal feelings.

I came away from the Salon with a vague feeling we had missed something important. It dawned on me only many hours later what it was. We had neglected to give due consideration to the importance of the consequences of our emotions over climate disruption.

Whether we intend it or not, all emotions engender some of form of consequence, either for the emoter or for those at whom the emotion may be directed. Evolution has seen to it that we are all attuned to some degree to the emotions of others. Reactions are often sympathetic as with grief, worry, anxiety and similar emotions, but they could be antagonistic. Images of people expressing worry, sadness or grief over personal loss almost always cause a reaction in me, even though I may have no idea who the distressed are and, in fact, I may be simply viewing their images on television. Some of us men have a finely honed skill of situation avoidance when social emotions are on the rise.

Why are consequences of emotions so important? Here is one example of why. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, has built a widespread reputation as someone who deplores the inequities and unfairness of the American capitalistic system. She has channelled her anger into political action and has become an iconic figure of considerable influence. She has been touted as a possible U.S. presidential contender. On the other hand, Ted Kaczynski was an accomplished mathematician from Illinois and was born in the same era as Warren. He expressed similar revulsion over American-led capitalism, but he chose to express his anger by becoming the Unabomber and killing three people and maiming another 23. Same emotion, different consequences.

Emotions are complicated, and so are their consequences. People experience many feelings, often contradictory, when reacting to something as important and complicated as climate change, and the consequences of their emotions are not always predictable or entirely rational. A lot of us feel guilty about climate change. We Elders participate in propagating the message about individual responsibility for climate change. We urge our fellow citizens to reduce their carbon footprint. We lecture the youth on reducing, reusing and recycling. All good stuff, but might it make our fellow citizens feel guilty that they aren’t doing their moral duty and are consuming more than their fair share? A few of us are given to intoning that all shall suffer the consequences of these moral lapses. We deserve droughts, ice storms and rising seas because of our wanton, consumptive ways. Perhaps we do.

Our emotions, although common and understandable, may not always be rational or productive. Few of us show any inclination to act alone and renounce the non-sustainable conveniences and consumption that modern life offers. We need to remind ourselves that we constructed the present system with modernity and convenience in mind. Our homes are often far away from our work sites because we expect to be able to drive to and fro. Many of our cities were built in regions with high summer temperatures. That reflects in part our conviction that we expect to be productive throughout hot, humid summers because we expect to have air conditioning.

Emotions such as fear and guilt (about climate change) are unavoidable and very human but are highly likely to have counter-productive consequences. To avoid the discomfort of experiencing the guilt emotion we may avoid thinking about climate change and what life will be like for our children and grandchildren. We blame ourselves, yet often overlook the failure of our leaders.

If I had to prioritize emotions around climate change on the basis of importance, I would choose anger. It seems much more rational than guilt and potentially more productive if one considers the consequences of getting angry. Nothing fuels determination for change as much as getting thoroughly ticked off by someone or some situation. There is a sense of diffuse anger at the unfairness of the global situation. We didn’t ask for it but it is the world we inherited.

But anger is easily misunderstood. It often leads to violence but need not and should not. That seems counterproductive. Lama Surya Das observes that learning to understand the causal chain of anger’s arising as well as its undesirable and destructive outflows of anger and its malicious cousin hatred can help strengthen the will to intelligently control it. Recognizing the positive sides of anger and perceiving what is wrong in situations, including injustice and unfairness, helps moderate our blind reactivity to it and allows us to generate constructive responses.

A lot easier said than done, but worth considering.


Shyamali – homage to a friend

by Archana Datta

ShyamaliEarlier this year the Youth and Literary Activities Sub-Committee of the Lower Mainland Bengali Cultural Society in Vancouver held its monthly gathering at which we hosted a young guest speaker from the Global Alliance of Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

He addressed a full house of 21 parents and children, and spoke eloquently to us on the environmental issues surrounding GAIA’s vision of a just, toxic-free world without incineration. GAIA mobilizes grassroots action against the spread of incinerators and other end-of-pipe waste technologies, helps build a movement for environmental justice, local green economies and for creative zero waste solutions. Our young speaker touched on the practical alternatives to incineration and what can be achieved through workshops at community and municipal levels, as well as individual and group efforts. He stated that being aware about the environment is the first thing one can do for one’s self, and then taking it further one step at a time. Whatever one does, it is important to always remember things in a bigger context as they affect life

I watched the reactions of the children and the parents alike. They asked questions on the challenges, what they could personally do, and how they could take the first steps. Our speaker made an obvious impression on the mixed audience. That was important for our small committee, so I let go a few items of our agenda and let the question-and-answer session proceed up to the end. All the while I watched the speaker fondly and intently, because he was the son of my dear, late friend Shyamali, and I have known Ananda since he was about 9 years old.

Shyamali was the daughter of an eminent Bengali artist, sculptor and educator from Dehradoon, India. Motherless at a very early age, Shyamali grew up with her grandmother in Shantiniketan, 160 km north of Kolkata. Shantiniketan (“home of peace”) was originally an ashram built by Debendranath Tagore, the father of India’s renowned poet Rabindranath Tagore. Today Shantiniketan is popularly known as a university town where anyone, irrespective of caste and creed, can come and spend time meditating on the one Supreme God. Shyamali grew up in nature, which had a profound influence on her.

She was an artist, activist and a mother. In the early 70’s she went to central America with her architect husband and their very young son. In the mid 70’s they came to Vancouver. She was a very social person and introduced herself to me when I was a new arrival in the city. From the first day I knew she was different to anyone else to whom I was introduced in the Bengali community.

Shyamali was a keen observer of what was going on in the world beyond her four walls, and a lot was indeed going on. She participated in public meetings, forums, artists guilds and rallies against nuclear armaments, war and the irradiation of food crops. She joined the artists’ guild and lived in a tent on Jericho Beach for a period. She was jailed in the U.S for protesting nuclear armament proliferation.

Her young son Ananda was always with her, but there was friction. On one side there was the tumultuous period in the USA with its effects on Shyamali, and on the other side there was an affluent life style. It was considered not to be healthy for the child’s soul, so Ananda was sent to an elite residential school in Ooty, situated in the mountainous Nilgiri Hills in southern India. Shyamali was not happy with this arrangement. By attending public lectures, rallies, forums and workshops with speakers the likes of Margaret Mead, Helen Caldicott, James Douglass and David Suzuki, she realized she needed to go back to her home base if she really cared for Shantiniketan and her son. She went back to India and brought her son to Shantiniketan where he finished high school.

As long as she lived, she did whatever she could do to protest against whatever she thought was wrong and she sided with whatever was right for people, for the soil, for the air, and for the water. Once in Shantiniketan she protested against a vintage car rally, arguing that the already polluted air of Shantiniketan should not be subjected to a few rich elitists’ pleasure. The organizers did not pay her any attention. She had much conviction and was a believer in non-violence as a great tool, so on the day of rally she just quietly laid herself down on the dusty road in front of the starting line and stayed there in a matter-of-fact way without any publicity and media attention. The rally could not take place. In all her artistic works, be it in a painting, in her story-telling with her home-made puppets or in her origami, she was one with nature.

She was a very gentle soul, yet uncompromising for the causes she thought were right – a tough but extremely loving role model for any child. According to Indian custom, once the body is done with living, it is incinerated. Shyamali wanted to be alive and remain part of living nature. Today her mortal body is buried under the soil in a village close to her beloved Shantiniketan. She chose that particular village because it did not discriminate against people of different religions, castes, creeds or social positions.

After he completed high school, Ananda came to live in Vancouver with his father. Since arriving here, he has never worked for any corporation, company or organization other than environmentally dedicated ones. Growing up during his formative years in Shantiniketan, with its particular social and physical environments, he realized what his mother had tried to instill in him throughout her life, namely that life is precious, not only for a privileged few, and that a healthy life is a right for every living being.

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