Tag Archives: spirituality

First Nations and pipelines

by Karl Perrin

Abridged from a sermon delivered May 21, 2017, to the Unitarian Church of Vancouver

Chief Seattle once said: “This we know. The earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the earth. All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

We are meeting today on the unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation.  Unceded: what does that mean? Never conquered? Never sold? Never given away? So are we guests? Perhaps we are guests of guests, of our 2- and 4-legged relations, our finned and winged cousins, the lords and ladies of the deep, the whales who inhabit this home. We owe a debt of gratitude to all our relations. Thank you.

In “A Native Hill” farmer and poet Wendell Berry wrote:

“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world. . . .

We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . . .  

For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.

On that very theme I take you back to 2004 when I had an insight into the spiritual rebirth of Coastal First Nations. I recall an exhibition at the UBC Museum of Anthropology entitled The Abstract Edge featuring Haida artist Robert Davidson. He had a new collection which used the Haida alphabet of shapes, myths and heraldry but which he had deconstructed and reimagined with a 21st century global sensibility.

Some pieces of his new collection featured an old shape with a new meaning. The tri-negative or tri-neg was traditionally used as a three pointed filler in negative space, i.e. the background, to add fluidity to the form lines and to simply frame the foreground. Robert Davidson’s innovation was to take the tri-neg shape and, through colour and position, turn it into foreground, i.e. into positive space instead of negative space.

At that point I had a revelation. I realized that just as Robert Davidson had demonstrated with his tri-neg space filler that foreground and background were interchangeable, so too were our cultural perceptions of the First Nations. Based on our cultural history we colonizers had seen the so-called wilderness – the heathen, dark pagan forest – as negative space. We thought it empty, devoid of Christian civilization, devoid of Europe, which was the only reality which made any sense to our collective wisdom. And the denizens of this emptiness were to us simply negative people lacking our blessings and the salvation of our Bible. We settlers saw them as un-settled.

But as First Nations broadcaster Candy Palmater has taught me: “We were not “settlers”; when we arrived this place was already settled. We didn’t settle anything!” Likewise, whenever I see old Haida representations of white men they look ridiculous. Not intentionally ridiculous, but the hats and beards seem odd as if they were copied but not understood. We were in fact lacking Haida culture. We were the negative space; we were the devoid and lacking savages.

Everyone had the same view of Captain George Vancouver on the deck of the HMS Discovery, whether it was the First Mate, a Musqueam warrior looking up to the ship’s deck, or a random eagle circling overhead. But what did the view mean to each? Captain? Devil? Friend? Foe? Disgusting? Maybe delicious? The visual information was the same, but the meaning was completely different.

As we know today only 40% of our vision is what is actually out there, the remaining 60% is what we expect to see. That’s why we have optical illusions – our biased brains just insist that our eyes must be wrong until proven otherwise. Usually we just categorize what doesn’t make sense as simply “wrong” and what does make sense as obviously “right”. Whether something is wrong or right is determined by our culture, our language, our fashion, popular history and mythology, our religion, and sometimes by what is called our “slow thinking”. Evidence and logic together make up our weltanschauung or worldview. And worldviews don’t appreciate tinkering or correction, e.g. creationist vs. evolutionary worldviews.

What does any of this have to do with the Kinder Morgan pipeline? It all depends on how you look at it. Does another oil pipeline mean development and jobs, or does it primarily mean tar sands exploitation, more corporate colonization, plundering our common ground, killing our Mother Earth bit by bit by bit? It all depends on how you look at it, your weltanschauung.

I won’t review here the litany of smallpox, addiction, residential school cultural genocide, and social fragmentation which has maimed First Nations since George Vancouver first appeared on the horizon. I do want to point out the prevailing, cumulative, corporate colonialism represented by the industrialization of Burrard Inlet, the Fraser River and the Salish Sea. Where was the “free, prior, and informed consent” to pollute this unceded native land? Where was the respect for the Tsleil Waututh clam beds and the Musqueam fisheries? Where is the invitation from First Nations to dredge Burrard Inlet for huge dilbit tankers?

As we approach the 150th Anniversary of Confederation we can remember what Tsleil-Waututh Chief Dan George said 50 years ago at the 1967 Canadian Centenary: “When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority”

What did John A. MacDonald, our first prime minister, say about Indians in 1879?  “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

My goal in terms of stopping the Kinder Morgan (Trans-Mountain) pipeline expansion project is to speak truth to power. The Unitarian fourth principle encourages free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the seventh principle is to respect the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part. My goal is to fulfill my vow to my son and to his generation that I will do EVERYTHING in my power to prevent his premature death due to global warming.

So, take courage my friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage, for deep down there is another truth: You are not alone.

Seeking a spiritual foundation for an environmental renaissance in these trying times

by Stan Hirst

I have occasionally heard some of the Suzuki Elders refer to our group as a Unitarian/Anglican conglomerate. It’s meant as a flattering reference, although statistically its not quite true. A mental rundown of the sombre faces around the Council table indicates that neither group is in the majority and the combined number makes up just half the total Council membership. The remainder of the Council membership seeks formal spiritual attachment through a wider range of channels.

However the pages of this site attest to the fact that spirituality is a deep-rooted facet of the Elders’ group. Karl Perrin has written “…..my faith, my long term spiritual discipline, is in seeking truth and offering service.” Don Marshall makes a case for spirituality as a part of building resilience to the psycho-social impacts of climate disruption. Guest contributors Sally Bingham and Anneliese Schultz  write eloquently of the strength of spiritual traditions and communities in supporting our ongoing efforts to care for Creation. Paul Strome writes of the importance of his spiritual connections to Inuit communities in the North. A review of Pope Francisencyclical Laudato Si published just 16 months ago on the website has to date attracted 2500 readers.

Apart from personal convictions, why should we be concerned at all over spirituality and its role in the activities and future of the Suzuki Elders? For one thing we need perhaps to draw on spiritual convictions to highlight the growing importance of connecting personal, social and political transformations in the public realm.

It is rapidly becoming evident that the world is changing very rapidly and not at all for the better. Global climate change has become the norm along with all its consequences – deterioration of terrestrial, freshwater and marine resources, widespread social unrest, political instability and economic imbalances. The world’s existing and emerging challenges seem to be so complex, contested, interrelated, urgent and exacting that technocratic and technological solutions are unlikely to be enough. They often seem to compound problems, not reduce them.

Canada, and especially British Columbia, have policies and procedures in place to try and manage and ameliorate the conflicts of exploitation and extraction. Planning and assessment guidelines, environmental and social assessment requirements, and mandatory consultation procedures have been in place for close to half a century. Most of them have been adapted and upgraded with experience over the years, yet major conflicts between proponents and opponents continue to be the norm. Oil and gas pipelines, marine transportation of fossil fuels, hard rock mining, hydroelectric dams and marine aquaculture, all commonly deemed indispensable to a modern economy, are prime conflict zones. Why?

One major issue continues to be the deep and sometimes widening divide between, on one hand, corporate interests and their political supporters who drive resource exploitation and economic enhancement and, on the other hand, communities and groups who stand to benefit economically from such activities but who also bear the burgeoning environmental and social costs and losses.

There is a growing sense that more importance be attached to spirituality as a source of motivation, meaning and creativity. A revised understanding of human nature and our relationship to the earth and its bounties would help us reconceive the nature and value of spiritual perspectives, practices and experiences.

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in the U.K. speaks of the unfortunate fetishisation of economic growth as a panacea and global competition as the only game in town. Some in the political sphere point out that citizens need to be the subjects of social change, not just the objects. Spiritual perspectives play a role in shaping and expressing the roots and values of democratic culture. They deepen the vision and lend structure and texture to human development and maturation. The overarching societal role of spirituality should be to serve as a counterweight to purely utilitarian thinking.

Many of the world’s environmental conflict zones already have ‘spiritual’ elements. They are a key pillar of First Nations’ defence of their territories and resources against the inroads of fossil fuel and other extractive exploitation from outsiders. Non-native society by comparison seems unprepared or unwilling to acknowledge a spiritual dimension, and is unwilling or not equipped to seek common ground at such a fundamental level.

Spirituality is ambiguously inclusive by its nature and cannot be easily defined, but at heart it is about the fact that it is we who are alive at all, rather than our personality or status. It’s about our “ground” rather than our “place” in the world. It is possible and valuable to give spirituality improved intellectual grounding and greater cultural and political salience. The primary spiritual injunction is to know what you are as fully and deeply as possible.

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.

 

 

Response to the election

by Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham

guest-blog-sealIn light of last night’s election results, Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) has a more important role to play than ever before. We can’t afford to backslide on our hard won victories: the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, cleaner automobiles. Our work may have just gotten harder, but we are not giving up. There is far too much at stake.

IPL is rooted in theology -answering God’s call to be the stewards of Creation and to love each other. Our focus for 16 years has been protecting the climate while recognizing the injustice and inequality of who and where harm is experienced. We believe that climate change is a critical global challenge and we are committed to meeting that challenge by advocating to limit carbon emissions, energy efficiency and transitioning to a clean energy economy. We believe that fossil fuels belong in the ground. The IPL campaign is not politically motivated, but rather motivated by moral responsibility. Therefore we will continue to work for the things we believe will protect the climate and the future of the planet.

In these times of doubt and confusion, we can draw on the strength of our spiritual traditions and our communities, our ongoing efforts to care for Creation, and on our long history of “bending the arc toward justice.” We encourage you to talk with each other, be with each other, and above all, do not despair. Let any despair quickly turn to positive action. This election was in no way a repudiation of the science and urgency of global warming. It doesn’t change the fact that a majority of Americans, of both major parties and all religions, understand that global warming is happening and that our country should be a leader in building the clean energy economy of the future. Our job is to make sure that the new Congress and new administration understand that people of faith care deeply about being good stewards of Creation. We all breathe the same air. We all want a better world for our children and future generations. We all want to revitalize our communities. The faith community and IPL will have a critical role to play. We will continue to build bridges, and speak to people of all political persuasions from the perspective of shared values. We will act locally, and continue to win local victories. We will find ways to cut pollution and protect the health of our communities, as we always have. The transition to a clean energy economy has begun, and it won’t be stopped by an election. Working together with faith, we will succeed.

 

The Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham is President of Interfaith Power & Light, San Francisco, U.S.A., a coalition of Episcopal congregations set up to educate people of faith about the moral and ethical mandate to address global warming.  Further information is available at their website http://www.interfaithpowerandlight.org.

This blog reproduced with permission.

 

 

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.

 

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