Tag Archives: psychology

Looking for Hope in a Hopeless World

by Jim Stephenson

Earth Day Sermon 2017, Unitarian Church of Vancouver

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

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

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

How bad are things?

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

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

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

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

There is no rational basis for denying global warming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We may not be so rational ourselves

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

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

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

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

What Makes Us Happy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Difference is the essence of humanity

by Jill Schroder

“Difference is the essence of humanity”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Basic Decent Goodness

by Jill Schroder

Remembering “basic decent goodness” is turning out to be a big help for me in my ongoing struggle with the turmoil, both inside myself and that which I perceive in the world. Sound convoluted? Only sort of! Here’s a compendium of short notes in support of this approach.

Pablo Casals puts it this way: “Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he/she listens to it and acts son it, he/she is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk.” It’s a whole lot easier to talk with each other if we assume that everyone has some positive values and motivations, even if they are very different from ours.

The Suzuki Elders are planning a forum for all generations, especially elders and youth, along these very lines – exploring how we can find areas of common ground, finding ways to say YES, even when there are significant disagreements.

Matthieu Ricard wrote a book called Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World. Mike and I have been moved to tears by some of the anecdotes and information. Ricard talks about the “banality of goodness”; he writes “We have to recognize that if we look at the vast majority of the behaviour of 7 billion human beings most of the time … we behave in benevolent, decent, kind, polite and … cooperative ways.”  Just think of how many drivers stop to let a pedestrian cross even when there is no one behind them for blocks — at least in Canada. Just because they want to be kind. There are so many ordinary, indeed banal, examples that come easily to mind. And this is not even counting the ways many of us come forward to offer help when there are real disasters. Basic decent goodness, indeed.

Rick Hanson, meditator, neuropsychologist, author of many books including Just One Thing, suggests in his most recent post that we “choose to love”, basically train ourselves in the art. Start by deliberately bringing warmheartedness to people who are easy to feel loving towards, and move on to adding those who are not. This is a deeply transformative practice, one that would serve us well right now.

A beloved Canadian writer Stuart McLean, who just died, at 68, is recognized this way. Stuart “always emphasized that the world is a good place, full of good people, trying to do their best. He believed in people’s extraordinary capacity for love and generosity. And he had faith in our ability to work together for the common good. He was, in other words, firmly committed to celebrating the positive, joyful and funny side of life. Stuart assured us that even in difficult times, we can find things to be grateful for and ways to laugh.” It would be a fitting memorial to Stuart for us to us to try hard to do just that! Basic decent goodness again.

This approach sets aside the unresolvable question of the existence of Evil and of whether there are inherently evil people. At one level, believing in widespread basic decent goodness is a choice which affects us inside and out. This choice applies and matters, quite emphatically, in the face of despotic, chaotic, or otherwise disastrous regimes, actions or situations.

I’d like to end on a related but different note, one which is on the bright side. Here’s an except from Thirty Thousand Days. I call it Treasure the Pleasures.

“That evening, as I watched the sunset’s pinwheels of apricot and mauve slowly explode into red ribbons, I thought: ‘it probably doesn’t matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply, are excessively curious about nature, are too open to experience, enjoy a nonstop expense of the senses in an effort to know life intimately and lovingly. It probably doesn’t matter if, while trying to be modest and eager watchers of life’s many spectacles, we sometimes look clumsy or get dirty or ask stupid questions or reveal our ignorance or say the wrong thing or light up with wonder like the children we all are. It probably doesn’t matter if a passerby sees us dipping a finger into the moist pouches of dozens of lady’s slippers to find out what bugs tend to fall into them, and thinks us a bit eccentric. Or a neighbor, fetching her mail, sees us standing in the cold with our own letters in one hand and a seismically red autumn leaf in the other, its color hitting our sense like a blow from a stun gun, as we stand with a huge grin, too paralyzed by the intricately veined gaudiness of the leaf to move. ”

And finally, treasure the incredible photographs in Brightside.

WOW, eh?

 

Smile! You’ll be glad you did.

by Jill Schroder

I often feel like there is not much to smile about these days. I am doing what I can to manage my emotions, I respond rather than react. I try to hold a compassionate and caring vision rather than slip into fear, anger or helplessness.

I have just received a post from the DailyOm.com that suggests a smile. In my inbox this morning I discovered this: “If you’re having a good time, notify your face!” I smiled, actually laughed out loud, when I read it 🙂

It is well established that when we laugh, or even just smile, a whole range of neurological connections and associations are set loose in our minds and bodies that are nothing but healthy and which have a startling number of benefits. Let the smile sink in. Really feel and enjoy the moment. Savour the flavour! This deepens the good and takes it down to a cellular level.

Another vital piece of information is that we don’t have to have a reason to smile or laugh. Even if we don’t feel cheery we can smile anyway. It can actually become a practice – just smile for the heck of it; just laugh because it occurs to you, the benefits are the same. There is now such a thing as laughing yoga practice, even a laughter university!

One could say we are living in dark times. I have two offerings to help us through at this juncture. One is from my dear brother, a scientist and arealist. When he talks about hope, I like to listen. He says:

Here is my only real rational vision for how this can work out well! In the vernacular its called “unexpected consequences”, but the rigorous (provable) basis is in non-linear dynamics (= “chaos theory”). With complex systems composed of certain types of interactions – as the world certainly is – we know for certain that discrete actions in the present cause consequences that are entirely unpredictable in the future.

Even an action which seems certain to move something one way can surprisingly quickly turn it exactly the opposite way. This we know. This is always a mixed blessing, I hasten to add, since it also means that any of the things that we do that we think are good and will help, may not do so. As we have seen in the last year or two!

The emergence of Donald Trump can be seen as such a path. The response, however, is also hopeful, and is that a good and the only solution to controlling a trajectory in complex nonlinear dynamics is constant correction, and adjustments tend to keep trying to push things in the right direction. One can call it Adaptive Management. We are in one of these moments now, for sure!

The other is something I wrote last year, soon after the election. It was a reminder to myself and others that a lot is going on right now, and a great deal of it is heartwarming, encouraging, and downright thrilling! Another smile 🙂

“Even after the recent election, and in this dark time of our history as a species, this time of exploitation and greed, of great dying out and killing off, of excessive consumption and shameful waste, we can help ourselves and each other to remember the countless and deeply encouraging signs of compassion, sanity and balance — innumerable shifts toward more sustainable ways of being and making our way forward.

May these signs and actions swell to a tidal wave of change for the benefit of all beings, a veritable coming of the light. Let us all be part of this vital coming in any and all ways we can. I take courage and heart from Howard Zinn’s essay, On Getting Along. Bless him and all of those of us working to make the world a better place in ways large and small. ”

In closing, it is important to remember the interconnectedness of everything with everything. Our thoughts, intentions, actions, have a vibrational effect on the whole world. It really matters what we tell ourselves, including our face 🙂

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity. BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.

 

 

Ancestors of the Future – Our Role in a Climate-Changed World

by Anneliese Schultz

An Earth Sunday 2016 homily given at the Vancouver Unitarian Church

Yes. We are a part of the interdependent web of all existence. Yes. We are destroying it.

That shocking juxtaposition of blessing and dishonour, gratitude and anger is probably the closest I can come to describing where I was left when the state of our planet truly hit me nine years ago.

I say ‘hit me’ rather than ‘became clear to me’ because it was like a blow. I (like all of us?) seem not to take blows well. I wanted to deny it, forget it, turn away, run from the guilt and cross to the other side of the road. And so I got very very busy or else became dull with lack of hope or overwhelmed to the point of incapacity. Madly reading and cutting out every ‘green’ article I saw, I ended up with binders and boxes and a hodgepodge of clippings, and thus I became overwhelmed. I gave up on the environmental bulletin board in my church hall, then censured myself for that neglect, then ended up losing both the impetus to complete the church’s energy audit and any hold I had on being the environmental steward. I was trying to dodge the realization of where we have brought creation, but it was getting at me through not-wanting-to-know, and in so doing it was causing me what felt like craters and sinkholes, hairline fractures of fear, despair and grief. This was not a fun place to live.

Nor, sadly, will the earth be if we refuse to change. Not fun, not healthy, quite possibly not even viable for man or beast. From the cliff edge of this thought, where does one go?

Backing away from the edge in 2007 I started to understand the imperative of taking some kind of action, of weaving my concern into both my life and my careers. ‘But I teach Italian. How the heck is that going to work?’ Incrementally. Soon all my courses were Green Italian, with students surprised to receive eco-points for their bus passes or reusable mugs, with field trips to the UBC Farm linking up to food security, eventually with essays pulling in Italy’s Slow Food movement, and group presentations on Wall-E or The Road (or the most innovative – Pocahontas puppet show in Italian!).

In 2008 I started working on a young adult novel set in 2022 in a climate-ravaged BC – post-carbon, dystopian, apocalyptic. I was going with Ursula LeGuin’s term – Future History.

The personal life-change part? I’d seen all the lists: CFL light bulbs, reusable water bottle, Energy Star appliances, use the car less, unplug the electronics, buy local. But something about the ‘10 Green Choices’ thing isn’t working for me. Where’s the buy-in?

And then I realized that climate change (= climate chaos = climate refugees) is just a bigger picture of one of my concerns – homelessness.

Sustainability, I realized, is considering the impacts of our every choice upon our earthly home. It is asking ourselves whether we will leave it in a livable state, whether there will be a home, for our children and grandchildren here and our brothers and sisters elsewhere, everywhere.

We all know that more than one type of response to homelessness is essential:

  • the political response of addressing the issue,
  • the personal response of letting ourselves be affected by the people affected, and
  • the principled response of acting from our compassion, acting with love.

How, I wondered, does this apply to the environment? Fast forward to today. Slowly, at our behest, governments have started to address the issue. Sufficiently or not? We will see what translates to action.

But the jury is definitely out on our personal actions. We’ve all made a few changes, but it’s often as if we make them almost mechanically, reluctantly, without in fact letting ourselves be affected by the people who are affected. We modify our lives as though we’re in an It’s Easy to be Green commercial rather than transforming things from the heart outward and by placing justice and equity as the cornerstones.

Failing to care about climate change is a failure to love,” says Christian and climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe. Perhaps the opposite is true as well. Failing to love is a failure to factor into our daily choices a concern for those whose desert or island lives are being destroyed by our status quo, and is in turn a failure to make any changes that will actually ensure anyone’s survival.

This neglect is stranger still when one realizes that the people now affected are not only figuratively but literally our very own selves. They are the poor on our streets or on the streets of New Orleans. Right now the first American climate refugees are about to be resettled from Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana. South Florida will likely be next, as will be our children as they move into their teens or twenties. Then to follow will be the ‘others’ (who are not really other) in drought-stricken Somalia or fire-ravaged Greece or California, or who live on low-lying Pacific islands or in a no-Man’s-land of climate change exodus. After them will surely follow our Vancouver and Calgary grandchildren, our Somalian and Ugandan and Syrian grandchildren). If we continue to live as we have been living, they may all be skipping and hopscotching toward a tragically insurmountable brick wall, one undeniably of our making.

Why does this not galvanize us? Where, how and why are we so disconnected from the state of emergency we have wrought within Creation? We are blessed with reason, memory and skills. How did we come to the decision not to use these gifts to save what has already been placed in our safekeeping? Maybe we are back to that place of crossing to the other side of the road. ‘I don’t want to feel guilty!’ I do not want to inspire feelings of guilt, in fact let me state right here that I feel compassion for you, for us in this place of needful and perhaps unwelcome change.

It’s true, to some extent, that we didn’t know once what we were doing to the earth by paving over and gearing up, by upsizing meals and manufacturing houses and electronics and cars and vacations-by-air; by wanting and wasting; by seeking comfort in the external. But we know now. And still there seems to be no guilt, no benefit to blame, no use to shame, no time for them.

This conversation is, of course, underlain with FEAR. Fear can be just as useless as blame and all the rest, but through its connection with anger and in its transmutation through Love, fear can become righteous indignation and that can serve us well. We have seen the proof of that right here in Canada with recent political changes. We have the right to ask our new government for more change, but only if we are fulfilling our own personal responsibility to also make those big changes in our own lives. Let us think of it as Principled Action.

It really is a matter of rethinking and revising our lives. The active step-by-step process of deeply and earnestly caring for our earth and for each other is hugely exciting when we start to feel its momentum. One change links to another and then another and connects gracefully with a larger action which others, we find, are doing too! Suddenly it is like vinegar spreading through oil, like puzzle pieces becoming a picture – fascinating, satisfying and, in this case, life-saving.

Let’s turn back, just for a moment, to the not-really-wanting-to-know syndrome. Its human, understandable. Here in the First World we don’t like the concept of sacrifice. Is something really a sacrifice? Each of us chooses whether to perceive something fearful – be it our work, raising a child, changing any habits that are harming us or the world – as a sacrifice when we could, instead, choose to embrace it as a commitment or indeed a sacred trust.

Katherine Hayhoe writes “Those nations most vulnerable to climate change are the very nations whose inhabitants already suffer from malnutrition, food shortages, water scarcity and disease. Climate change is deepening the chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots” across the globe.” So therefore relating the state of the earth back to our responses to homelessness, the connection becomes clearer with every boatload, with every planeload of refugees. There is violence and politics, yes, but underlying this can be found lands and communities destabilized by climate change. So here we are back at that third response to homelessness―principled action – as opposed to an Entitlement To Which We Do Not Actually Hold Title.

We are at the Eleventh Hour. If the lifestyles and behaviours that this entitlement has fostered in everyone, from toddlers to 90-year-olds, are not reined in immediately there will be nothing left for our children and grandchildren, be it food or water or a livable planet. I emphasize reined in. We are called to step up to something we would rather (to be honest) sidestep. If it makes it any easier then call it simplifying your lifestyle, although it is much more. It is pure social justice; it decides the future.

This all sounds like a heck of a lot of bad news. Once, as I was writing my climate change lecture, a 5-year-old neighbour wandered over with a tiny plant pot. “Look! There’s a little thing!” she said. Sure enough the unknown seed she had planted days before was sprouting. Ah, there’s the hope!

What about my personal changes over the last 9 years? Did I end up doing anything?

First it was a compost bin and a tiny garden. Then beef was off the menu. Then followed a rain barrel and selling the car. As I read about air travel being the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions, I stopped flying for good.  Of necessity I discovered the Coast Starlight and California Zephyr, and have never before found such tranquility and inspiration in my travels. But I need to do much more―downsizing from a 2-bedroom townhouse into a tiny home is going to be the big one.

There is another puzzle piece, another place for action – story and art. Speaking at a 2008 conference on Faith and the Environment, then-Premier Gordon Campbell said “To be able to say that we saved and preserved and put to brilliant use every bit of this extraordinary [UBC] Farm of ours” would be a story worth billions. For sure there were Green Italian students marching in the Farm Trek that indeed saved it the next year. “Evviva la Fattoria!” And the thriving Farm is indeed a wonderful story and reality.

Back in the classroom I had my students writing a no-holds-barred wish list for their future (all the stuff they have learned to want be damned): everything from career to home furnishings to vehicle to number of kids. Then we talked about climate change and the butterfly effect and basically ‘justice, equity & compassion’. That wish list, revisioned as a reality check, led to their Azioni Verdi, 3 Green Actions written about in Italian. I overheard some interesting conversations:

“Wow, I was going to have 4 or 5 kids like in our family. Now I’m thinking 1, but then…”

“Hey, I’m an only child. Nothing wrong with that.”

“I always just figured 2 cars when I get married, but I mean really… my wife’s just going to have to share mine!”

Their final essay was ‘Il Mio Piano Verde’, ‘My Greenprint for the Future’.

Se non abbiamo un pianeta, abbiamo niente!” “If we don’t have a planet, we have nothing.”

“I finally got my parents to turn off all the electronics!”

“After 25 years at home, I can’t wait to move out! Thinking about the environment in my lifestyle will be good for the earth plus it’ll also save me money.”

‘I’m going to….ride my bike to work….take much shorter showers…..make my own lunch….be a responsible consumer….create a relaxing Earth Hour without electricity every week for myself.”

Anyone starting to wonder where this is going? Yes, of course there’s homework. Same parameters: no low-hanging fruit like turn the lights out or remember to turn the computer off.  New-to-you actions: one to do with food. Push your boundaries.

There are pointers: think first to all those who are impacted by your actions. Make them a part of you. Then go into yourself. What small things do you love? What do you do best? Who are you really? From there, build your actions:

  • gardening in community,
  • a family project – making our diet earth-friendly,
  • teaching someone to knit or sew or preserve,
  • bringing your wisdom to Suzuki Elders,
  • creating climate art,
  • doing guerrilla gardening & seed bombing,
  • no more straws and disposable cups,
  • checking out the Soaring Eagle Nature School or http://www.greentechexchange.ca or slow money or becoming a citizen scientist or the thought of Exquisite Sufficiency,
  • calculating that footprint & majorly reducing it,
  • meeting with each other to talk through the despair and the hope,
  • staying here on this Blessed Coast to explore and safeguard the beauty of where we live.…

The possibilities are as varied as we are. The constant is that it is incumbent upon us all to embrace them now. Joy is in your changes! Write them up and paper your walls here with them. Ramp it up. Stick with them. Add more.

Let yourself be guided. Guy Dauncey, author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and the just-published novel Journey to the Future, proposes that instead of the law of attraction, which is about getting, we practice the law of guidance. How perfect, for guidance is unlimited and always there, waiting only on our welcome.

The more we accept the reality of climate crisis and strive for coherence of principles and impeccability in our actions, the more of a chance our next generation has for a livable future. As Rhea Wolf says, “Our responsibility is not to be taken lightly, for we are, simply and critically, the future’s ancestors.

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Anneliese Schultz is a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee and a former Bread Loaf Scholar. In 2011-12 she was named one of six University of British Columbia Sustainability Teaching & Learning Fellows. She recently retired from teaching ‘Green Italian’ in order to write full-time.

 

I was lost

Keynote Speech – Richmond Earth Day Youth Summit 2016

by Jay MatsushibaJayMatsushiba

I was lost.

Life got tougher and all I seemed to hear was more and more bad news. This bombardment of pessimism…

Coral reefs will be gone by 2050, climate change is destroying our communities, hundreds and thousands of species going extinct and, most of all, we will not be able to live on a happy planet. These problems kept growing and growing in my mind, becoming these unscalable mountains each day. As those cliffs towered over me, I ran.

I tried to run from those doubts but it seemed like the further I ran the louder and closer those doubts became. I spiralled down and down and further down, and as I ran I left a few important things behind as well.

I disappeared from what I had felt passionate about with environmental sustainability, unable to deal with the helplessness I felt, and I honestly didn’t know if I still believed in the movement. I really needed a moment away from it all, to try to escape this downward spiral. To make those doubts just shut up for once.

So what do you do when you need that moment? Many of us like to take a walk, and that’s what I did. My friend, being the candlelight in that darkness, organized a backpacking trip to hike the famous Juan de Fuca trail on Vancouver Island. She invited me along with a few other friends.

Together, this group of five teenagers was going to take on this adventure. This was the first time many of us had gone backpacking. I’d gone camping plenty of times before but backpacking? That was new to me.

Another first for us was being totally on our own. No parents, no guides; we had only our own limited skills, abilities and mental fortitude to make it through. That was terrifying, but also incredibly empowering.

We had to hike 8 hours on the first day to get to our planned campsite. No big deal, right? We were all fit, young individuals and we thought it’d be just be a healthy challenge. In hindsight we probably should have realized that hiking 20 km of the “Most Difficult” section was going to be tough.

The first two hours of the trail were gorgeous, as we hiked along the beach. The magnificent Pacific Ocean to our left, as far as the eye could see, lined by gorgeous red cedars on our right. We were beginning to feel pretty good about this trip.

But as soon as our spirits seemed to rise, the beach trail ran out. We were instead greeted by a wall of towering evergreen trees. In a gap stood a sign, tilted on an angle, which read “Juan de Fuca Trail è

Greeting us there was, I swear, a cliff. This incredibly steep trail disappeared into the forest, and we needed to drag ourselves and our over-packed bags over this hill.

As we lugged our way up one of the first things we noticed was the dust. People on the trail ahead of us would kick up the dust with every step, leaving it for us in the back to breathe in and having it build up in our eyes, noses and throats. When it was my turn at the front I found it impossible to avoid kicking up dust as well – the fine silt seemed to cover absolutely everything.

Finding water was not as easy as expected either. Many of the streams and creeks that flowed between the hills had dried up. The few that remained weren’t exactly easy to get to. One stream was 2 or 3 metres underneath the bridge that crossed the ravine, and we needed to refill our bottles. So I tumbled down the side of the ravine and ended up absolutely caked in mud.

But both of these challenges paled in comparison to what tested us the most.

The Hills. It seemed like they would never end. We fought the heat, dehydration and dust as we climbed hill after hill. Every hill just lead to another, and every one we climbed seemed taller than the last. Our thighs burned, our calves trembled, and it got to the point where our legs literally stopped working, and started collapsing underneath the weight of ourselves and our bags. Yet at this point we were still hours from our campsite. What we planned to hike in 6 hours, dragged on into almost 10, and I did not think we could finish that trail.

Eventually, on one of our many water breaks, one of us said to the others “I can’t go any further, I can’t do it. You guys can go ahead without me and I’ll catch up.

And at that moment, without any of us speaking a word, we stood up and unpacked his bag. We took some his load, his food, his tent, and repacked it all into our own so that he could keep going. So that we could keep going. Even though all of us were exhausted, in pain, and with legs that barely worked, we still were willing to carry more so that we could finish the trail together.

And finish the trail we did. Finally, as daylight was running out, we made it to our beach camp-site. I swear that view was the most beautiful scene that I have ever seen, with the sun disappearing into the Pacific Ocean.

As we sat around the camp-fire, and enjoyed our instant mashed potatoes, I reflected on what I had learned that day.

  1. Even if things are incredibly difficult, you are capable of far more than you ever expected. Each and every single one of us has the incredible power and strength of the human spirit, and it’s just a matter of finding that strength inside yourself.
  2. There are people out there who will be the candlelight in the dark, and they’ll give you the light you need to escape. Its just up to us to say yes.
  3. You will find friends that will take this journey with you and willing help you out to take some of that load off your shoulders when you need it.

So, look around you right now. Do you see this room full of hundreds of people? We’re all in this together and each of you has the unimaginable potential to make a difference in your own life and in the lives of others. Look around you – these are the people that are willing to carry some of your load, to help you through. And you’ll be around to help carry theirs when you have the strength.

As I fell asleep on the Juan de Fuca Trial to the sound of the waves crashing, I realized the most important lesson of all. We don’t have to run or turn away. We’re not helpless, we’re not useless and we’re certainly not hopeless. We have the capability to make our environment and this world a better place, and I believe in you. No matter how loud those doubts get, you can do it. And if you can’t alone, then together we will.

Thank you.


Jay Matsushiba is a 12th grade student attending Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C. He is currently the co-chair of the Churchill Environment Club and the Vancouver Youth Sustainability Network, working to provide other youth opportunities to be involved in their passions in environmental sustainability. Jay volunteers at the Vancouver Aquarium educating visitors, maintaining habitats and helping rehabilitate rescued marine animals.

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