Before the Flood

 

A version of this review was first printed in the King Sentinel newspaper, October 19, 2017

***

“If you consider the vastness of this universe, this Planet Earth is just a small boat. If this boat is sinking, then I think we will all have to sink together.” 

Ban KI-moon, former Secretary General of the United Nations

 

This somber message was delivered to a rapt audience of King and Caledon citizens in King’s magnificent Country Day School Performing Arts Centre. The occasion was a viewing of Leo DiCaprio’s film Before the Flood presented by National Geographic on Wednesday evening, October 11, 2017. A partnership consisting of the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust, the Arts Society of King, and the Country Day School brought the movie and Chris Ballard, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, together to learn and to dialogue.

The movie opens with a story and a painting that hung on the wall of Leo’s childhood bedroom. It was titled “Before the Flood” by Dutch Renaissance master Heironymous Bosch. The original was on three hinged oak panels that closed to reveal an unusual outer painting of Earth as a single globe, an amazing intuitive feat when you consider that Magellan had yet to complete his first circumnavigation of the planet. The three inner panels depict the innocence of the Garden of Eden, the Seven Deadly Sins of humankind, and the wasteland that follows our overindulgence and consumption.

The film expands on that theme as DiCaprio takes us on a journey of celebration and degradation. We see the magnificence of this gift of life called Planet Earth and then we bear witness to the squandering of resources that our very selfish species has inflicted on all of the other systems with which we share this Home Planet.

This journey is inter-spliced with clips of DiCaprio speaking with Ban Ki-moon and taking the podium at the United Nations as their UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change. He also meets with Pope Francis when the Earth Encyclical was enacted, and talks with President Obama in the heady days of environmental hope following the world’s commitment to the Paris Accord.

The movie is a cautionary tale, much like the British TV series “Black Mirror” is to the dangers of the electronic drugs of cell phones and flat screens. Before the Flood shows us the garden of Eden that we inherited and what we have done with it in a few short millennium. Will we descend into social chaos as the many without food, water, health care and shelter turn their anger towards the 1% who seemingly have it all? And like the ancient Romans that didn’t get it until the Barbarians really were at the gates, will we realize too late that we could have turned the tide?

The hardest part to watch, of course, is the build towards a positive ending with the hope of the Paris Accord being signed by united nations equally concerned about the impacts of accelerating climate change on their countries and the global commons. There was real hope seen in the sincere conversations between DiCaprio and John Kerry and Barack Obama, and in the innocent cry to cast your vote for a secure future.

But as the film concluded, the audience sat in silence, and in the depressed knowledge that the U.S. had just elected a science illiterate as President, who then appointed climate change deniers to head the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA. A President who withdrew his country from the Paris Accord, quickly began to dismantle every environmental security advance made over the last decades, and reinstated the glory that was coal to the US economy – a fossil fool for the fossil fuel industry.

Of course, the film is not without its critics either. One of the most poignant segments is when DiCaprio tours Indonesia and meets displaced peoples and animals from the areas that have been deforested. Deforested so that they can grow lucrative plantations of African palm oil trees that provide the palm oil that saturates almost every one of our processed foods. However, it turns out that a lot of the financing for DiCaprio’s movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street” came via palm oil profits from an Indonesian investment group linked to their Prime Minister, prompting cries of hypocrisy and asking DiCaprio to step down from his UN role.

However, for the purposes of raising sensibilities for this move night, those details were kept from the audience. Instead, at the end of the film, the audience got to turn their angst towards our newly appointed Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Chris Ballard. MP Ballard had already fielded pre-film questions from the audience and some very intelligent questions from Grade 11 and 12 Country Day students that left him responding, “Look, I’ve only been on this job for ten weeks. I promise to get back to you.” And to be fair, Chris Ballard’s portfolio is huge. As an educator and journalist, it has taken me 25 years to come close to understanding the science and anti-science surrounding accelerating climate change and its impacts, so we should be more than willing to give Chris a few more weeks.

The realities of energy production – and Ontario can be quite proud that we have no more coal fired power plants – was one of the things that Ballard touched upon, acknowledging the anger that many Ontarians were feeling over high electricity rates. He also explained that part of that increase was due to the fact that the government had to replace thousands of kilometers of aging infrastructure, including the basic wires, that previous governments had simply passed on to the new kids at Queen’s Park.

The Minister tried to calm the audience’s fears about accelerating climate change impact by telling them some good news – that human related CO2 emissions had stabilized. However, he forgot to mention that the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were continuing to rise, possibly because the natural ocean sinks were saturated. Besides fielding questions, Minister Ballard also got a lecture from renowned climate scientist Hans Martin – probably the smartest guy in the room when it comes to understanding accelerating climate change. Yes Chris, a lot to learn, and no time to waste.

This event was a classic in partnership planning between the King City, Country Day School, the Arts Society of King (ASK), and the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust (ORMLT) whose MC, Susan Walmer, was an articulate host. As a special guest speaker, Chris Ballard did a fine job of handling questions as honestly and as completely as he could. Steve Pellegrini, Mayor of King City, was gracious and brief in his welcome to guests, and Mr. John Liggett, Head of School for Country Day School, gave a warm greeting and a strong endorsement to the role that “grumpy scientists” play in our modern world, acknowledging that he preferred hard science to analogies and stories.

Interesting, that meteorological and climate change scientists at Environment Canada contacted me to translate their hard science into analogies and stories that the public could understand. As Albert Einstein once said:

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

We’re going to need both if we are going to get through the next flood safely.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

Please follow and like us:

When did you meet your Harvey Weinstein?

We have all met the Harvey Weinsteins at work and play. Sometimes we wonder if we may have crossed the line between friendly banter between men and women into the darker realm of predatory behaviour.  Fortunately, I ended up having to say more “No” than “Yes” to advances from female colleagues.

However, my “mentor”, now disavowed and dead, who guided me into a wonderful career in Outdoor Education in the North York Board from 1968 until its devolvement into the TDSB, was anything but the “gentleman” he pretended to be.

With gifts of outdoor education trips and bottles of white wine, he attempted to seduce many unsuspecting and trusting women into sexual encounters. I became aware of this when women he had approached came to me for protection. Which I gave. But no one wanted me to follow up with the abuses. And I felt at the time that, because I was not the woman being accosted, that it was not my position to report the bad behaviour of my superior.

Wrong. I should have called it out then. So dead and buried you may be now, but I hope you are burning in hell for your abuses of power. It is why I didn’t go to your funeral, why I gave no eulogy, why I piss on your grave.

Not yours outdoors,

Skid, retired Program Leader Outdoor Education, North York Board of Education

Please follow and like us:

Apocalypse Rising

When a storm is coming, there are usually warning signs. A drop in temperature,  a shift in the wind, a greenish tinge to the sky, and a feeling in the backs of our necks that something big and nasty is coming. If we are aware, we will have been watching the warning signs building, have prepared ourselves for the storm, stocked up on supplies, and taken shelter.

There are equally warning signs when the collapse of civil society is about to happen. In Syria over the past decade, it occurred when thousands of  people moved from the drought stricken countryside  into the cities and exploded in a civil war. In Europe it happened with the rise of the far right and their fear of “the others” as expressed in their anti-immigration rantings.

In Venezuela it happened in an instant with the sudden rise of a brutal dictatorship. In North Korea, it built slowly over fifty years from narcissistic bombast to nuclear bombs. But the signs are all there: a big storm is coming.

In the United States of America, it is more than obvious in the tragi-comedy playing out daily on The Trump Show. But the irrational tweets and rally rants from a misogynistic, megalomaniac, white supremacist President are only the tip of the iceberg. More frightening are the cheers of support and chants of fanaticism coming from flag waving crowds of “the base”, the deplorables who enable this emperor who wears no clothes to rule over what was becoming one of the greatest democracies in the world.

When 96% of practicing climate change scientists say we’ve accelerated the natural process to catastrophic levels, and the President of the United States appoints climate change deniers to head up the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, a really big storm is coming.

When crowds of chanting Nazis are given a free pass, and opponents of racial inequality are ridiculed and insulted in public, and the mothers of every NFL player who took a knee are called a bitch by the President of the United States, a storm is coming.

When a Stanley Cup winning hockey team thinks it is an honour to accept an invitation to the Trump White House, not only is it confirmation of how serious brain damage concussions are in the NHL, it is proof positive that a storm is coming. That’s right, Sid the Kid, not a lot of white hockey stars getting swept up and shot by police in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Wake up boys, a storm is coming.

When Ball Boy and Rocket Man start trading insults about how they are going to destroy each other’s countries with nuclear bombs, you had better believe that a storm is coming and the rest of us are all downwind and downstream of the chaos that will follow. So, just like Winston Churchill read the warning signs and tried to warn England and Europe about the rise of the Third Reich, take it from an old storyteller. You might want to get  ready for a reallly, big nasty storm.

****

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

Please follow and like us:

Nobody’s Perfect

I’ll admit it. I am prejudiced, judgemental, and tend to sarcasm when I’m waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to speed. I was reminded of this when an article I recently wrote (Caledon Councillors Get Crackin) got widely circulated, causing some audiences to wet themselves with laughter, and others not to appreciate the evicerating humour.

My Dad had a great expression: “Let the person who has not screwed up cast the first snide remark,” … his down-to-earth take on the glass house and stone throwers lesson. My Mom, on the other hand, always went for the jugular, with a lighting speed judgment of good or evil.

I suppose this dichotomy lives in most of us, the constant strain between the light and dark of our characters, For example, when a speeding driver cuts me off, my first reaction is to pursue and get the licence; my wife, on the other hand always counters my sword of justice balloon by saying something like, “Gee, Skid maybe he’s rushing to the hospital to help his sick child.” Deflated, I slow down and take a breath.

However, for some things, I have drawn my line in the sand and picked my hill upon which to die. I am allergic to stupidity and will fight it at every appearance of its “Burn The Witch”  cattle call whenever I hear it. To be perfectly clear, there is a distinct difference between ignorance and stupidity. An ignorant person is simply unaware of the background to a situation and can be taught. A stupid person has been given the opportunity to learn and chooses to ignore that opportunity: the don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up mentality.

I also admit that I am prejudiced against misogynistic race supremacists and nationalists, the KKK, Nazis, and totalitarian dictators. Sorry, but the “good people on all sides” argument  doesn’t fly with the Khmer Rouge, or the Roman Catholic Spanish Inquisitors, or the architects of Canada’s residential school system, or the racists that marched through the streets of Charlottesville. Or the rat packs of stupid white men who daily pontificate their love of the alt-right perspective in coffee shops across this country.

Yes, I will be judgemental here. Your opinion is only valid if formed from valid information – otherwise garbage in, garbage out. Climate Change is real, there is no link between vaccines and autism, there is more danger of radiation from cell phones than cell towers, and Evolution is NOT a theory. The problem in getting to these valid conclusions is that there is a plethora of fake news sites and fake degreed professors who will try to panic you into believing otherwise.

So, I continue to teach and to write and to try my best to bring light into the darkness. Be warned, if I find someone beating up on a woman or child, violating the norms of social justice, denying civil rights, or generally being an inconsiderate, disrespectful, antisocial jerk, the sword of justice will be in my right hand and I won’t bother to ask if you might really, deep down inside, be like one of those good people from Charlottesville who marched proudly chanting ” Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us!”

Sorry, if it chants like a Nazi, and it marches like a Nazi, it’s a Nazi. It may look like a whining old man in a restaurant, or a skinhead with a swastike tattoo, or a well-dressed politician but the mentality is still the same and deserves no place in our civil society. Silence in this case, is not golden – it is consent.

They drew a line in the sand at Vimy Ridge, they drew a line on the beaches of Normandy, Time to draw a line in the communities of Canada.

***

Skid Crease,

Caledon

 

Please follow and like us:

Caledon Councillors Get Cracking

To paraphrase Shakespeare and with apologies to Hamlet, I call upon Caledon Town Council to “Avenge this fowl and most unnatural by-law!”

Or perhaps. “To lay eggs, or not to lay eggs? That is the question.”

Alright, I may have been cooped up over my keyboard for too long, but this ongoing debate seems to be “full of sound and feathers, signifying nothing.”

Well, the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak. On Tuesday, August 28, 2017, Caledon Councillors held a lengthy, confusing, and, at times, heated debate on the pressing issue of the right to lay eggs. Specifically, why does Caledon, a boastfully glorious rural area, not permit its citizens to have backyard chickens?

It is absolutely unnatural indeed for a rural municipality like Caledon to be dithering about whether residents should be allowed to keep backyard chickens. There are plenty of successful case studies elsewhere in Ontario. Kingston, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, Newmarket, and Guelph have all allowed backyard hens, although each municipality has slightly different rules. Urbane Brampton seems to be dealing with backyard chickens, and Toronto is wisely running a pilot project to see if it flies. So, why not Caledon?

The debate on Tuesday was very revealing. Most Councillors were trying to find a reasonable middle ground, looking to the Town staff for more details. However, there was also some disturbing misinformation and incomplete information coming from two councillors.

To save them total embarrassment I will refer to the two councillors in question only as Chicken Little and Henny Penny. Chicken Little is of course famous for “The sky is falling!” false alarm that threw the entire barnyard into a tizzy. In this case it is the threat of avian flu spreading from tiny backyard coops into the large factory chicken farms of Caledon. And, Foghorn Leghorn forbid, what if families started producing their own healthy egg supply. Why, all those huge factory chicken farms could go out of business!

Henny Penny had earlier clucked about her fears of death by salmonella poisoning. Oh, the horror! The Horror! And to the astonishment of every intelligent hen in the flock, Henny Penny added that it seemed a lot of fuss to go through this by-law process because the hens would only lay eggs for two years anyway. Hold the hollandaise!

When I started at the Mono Cliffs Outdoor Education Centre in 1986, we had a small agricultural program with a herd of Highland Cattle, and a coop of chickens. My favourite job was to gather the eggs in the morning. Some went to our kitchen, some to staff, some to friends. I got to know those Bantams and Rhode Island Reds and Guinea Fowl very well, and those girls laid eggs steadily from 1986 until I left in 1995. Sure, they slowed down in winter, and as they got older, but they had clean nesting boxes, a big run, the best of feed and lots of love from the over 20,000 students and teachers who visited our Centre over my tenure. And not a single case of avian flu or salmonella poisoning.

Of course, we washed our hands and cleaned our boots after every visit. That is exactly what the Centre for Disease Control recommends, along with not kissing your chickens on the beak, or rolling in their feces, and other common sense tips like that. So, both Chicken Little’s falling sky and Henny Penny’s egg production news were not eggsactly accurate.

When Foghorn Leghorn, the rooster responsible for the flock, asked for the names of the chickens in the flock who had been giving Henny Penny her information, she squawked, “No.” That really ruffled my feathers. So much for transparency.

I am going now to get my own protest flock from Frey Nurseries in St. Jacobs. I am naming my Golden Comets (also known as Golden Buffs, or red sex-links) after three women from Canada’s Famous Five: Nellie McCluck, Henrietta Eggwards, and Irene Plucky. The by-law officers will have to pry that organic free-range produce from my cold, dead fingers! I will not surrender their right to bear eggs.

The cluck stops here!

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

Please follow and like us: