The Environment is Everything

Several years ago I was asked to define the term “environment” for a new geography textbook titled: Geonexus. So I kept it as simple as possible and wrote: “The environment is everything that surrounds us, everything with which we interact, everything that we are. In short, everything.”

The textbook, published by Thompson/Nelson in 2003 was intended for high school Canadian and World Issues classes. One major section of that textbook dealt with “manufacturing consent” and “the role of the media” in presenting diverse perspectives dealing with the realities of our geopolitical landscape. Another dealt with political and corporate forces controlling the media for purposes of propaganda and suppressing dissent.

If, at any time in our history, we need to go back to school and thoroughly read and discuss the many critical questions posed in that textbook, it is now.

In one of my last columns, I highlighted the concern we should all have about the appointment of Scott Pruit to the role of the U.S.A.’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while Donald was trumpeting the glory of “clean coal”.

If we are truly the environment, then everything that we breathe, eat, and drink, produced from that environment that surrounds us and with which we interact, becomes us. When we breathe in polluted air, when we eat foods with little nutritional value, when we drink contaminated groundwater, it becomes us. And we become sick.

However, beyond the natural environment in which we live, there is the social environment which we create. If we live with passion and compassion, if we care for others, if we share our vast resources, if we respect our home planet, then we live in a place of balance. If we recognize that all of our economy is based on our ecology, then we become wise stewards. The environment in which we live becomes a peaceful and loving place.

On the other hand, if we allow bigotry and prejudice to permeate our perceptions of anything that is different from us, we open up a door to hate and create an environment that is toxic.  If we rape and pillage our planet, and rape and pillage our peoples, the social environment becomes a terror-filled and sorrowful place.

So, as much as I am deeply concerned about the impacts of accelerating climate change and the lack of political and corporate will to do anything significant about it, I am just as concerned at this point in history about the health of the social environment. The connection? When you have the “so-called” president of the United States of America refer to clean coal, you need to know that he is a liar.

There is no such thing as “clean coal” and never has been. We have hard coal and soft coal and coal in between, none of which is clean. What is scientific fact, something which seems to escape our Republican politicians to the south. It is true that hard coal burns with less effluent than soft coal that contains more Sulphur. We have technology that allows hard coal to be burned in power generation plants that are equipped with sophisticated scrubbers that remove the sulphuric acid … which then goes … where?

The whole reason that China is so on board with climate change protocols right now is that they are dealing with the health issues of having burned soft high sulphur coal in their power plants for years. When I worked with Dr. William Fyfe, then Dean of Science at Western University, and Chair of the international Geosphere/Biosphere program, he told me about a trip he had recently made to China.

“Skid,” he said, “at every doorway in my hotel corridor, there was a spittoon. Everyone had to spit up all the time because every time we took a breath, we were breathing in sulphuric acid.”

My older son recently worked as a teacher in Taiwan, and he said there were days that he couldn’t go outside, when his students were confined indoors, when you wanted a can of clean bottled air to breathe because the air pollution blowing in from China was so thick you could taste it. This is life on Earth now.

The connections are very clear. If we have politicians who are environmentally illiterate, who ignore mainstream science, and who base their decisions on corporate power and profits, we can expect our natural environment to continue to deteriorate to a point of overshoot. It is a simple biological principal.

When the consumers consume and degrade more than the natural systems of the planet can replenish, we overshoot our limits and suffer a catastrophic population collapse.  Understand that the reason why the war in Syria was accelerating climate change. Shifting rainfall and temperature patterns altered the growing seasons and resulted in drought and crop failures. Starving peoples moved from the rural areas into the cities on mass. When you put enough disenfranchised, hungry people into an overcrowded social environment, chaos and rebellion ensue.

It happened in the Fertile Crescent when Mesopotamia’s irrigated fields turned to salt and the crops failed. It happened in France during the French Revolution. It happened in Egypt during the Arab Spring.  And it is going to happen again. If you put enough hungry, angry, disenfranchised people together in a crowded space, you are going to have a revolution and it won’t be pretty.

The only way a society can prevent this is to ensure that their population is treated with equity and justice. If you work hard, you get to keep a bigger piece of the pie. But everyone gets a place at the table, everyone gets adequate shelter, everyone gets a chance at a good education, and everyone gets appropriate medical care.

If we treat the natural environment with care and work towards a respectful social environment, we may just pass on a healthy home planet for generations to come. If not … well, as we sow, so shall we reap.

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

 

 

Fake News and “so-called” Climate Change

“Once more into the breech, dear friends. Once more.” William Shakespeare, Henry V

It seems like at least once a year my editor asks for an update on the accelerating climate change file. So once more we present the latest in scientific consensus from NASA, NOAA, the Hadley Centre for Climate Science and (the now un-muzzled) Environment Canada. This is NOT fake news.

2016 was the warmest year on record, month for month, of any year in the history of weather record keeping. Period. This is often hard to fathom if you are now digging out in the Maritimes from the Atlantic coast to the B.C. coast. Keep in mind, however, that we are but a tiny corner of this vast planet.

In Australia they are suffering through record heat waves. In India the temperatures are nudging 40ºC. The Arctic sea ice enters 2017 at a record low extent. The open warm waters of the oceans, and the open warm waters of the Great Lakes, when hit with a wave of cold Arctic air produce massive snowstorms.

So, shoveling all that snow this year was proof of accelerating climate change, just as obvious as cooking an egg on the sidewalks in Hay, New South Wales, Australia where the temperature reached 47.5ºC this week.

This is a time when the 97% of practicing, published and peer reviewed climate change scientists who agree that accelerating climate change is real news, need to be embraced by political and business leaders. This is when we need to come together as a planet to find ways to mitigate the impacts of this very real accelerating climate change.

That it was why it was so unsettling on the morning of February 18, 2017 to wake up to the news that the so-called President of the Disunited States of America had just confirmed the appointment of Scott Pruit as the new Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Remember that name and hope it doesn’t go down in infamy. Scott Pruit was the former Attorney General of the fossil fuel energy rich state of Oklahoma. As such, he sued the EPA 13 times by the last count for trying to regulate his energy lobbyists. The far right fundamentalist conservatives love him because he supports religious freedom (as long as you are white and Christian), is against gay marriage, women’s rights to choose, mortgage settlements, the Affordable Care Act, and environmental regulations.

One of his most memorable moves was to vote against the Clean Power and Water Act. And now, as Director of the EPA, he has vowed to gut the Environmental Regulations that it took thirty years and a lot of hard science to develop.

Keep in mind, Scott comes by these opinions easily. His campaigns are funded, after all, by the oil, gas, and coal industries based in Oklahoma. These include the big players like Kinder Morgan, the Koch brothers, Devon, and XTO (Exxon Mobil). There is also, to our chagrin, a big Canadian connection with enthusiastic support from our companies like Syncrude, Talisman Energy, Husky, and Suncor.

Scott Pruit is a climate change denier, although in the hearings to confirm his Directorship of the EPA he did state: “Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”

Sorry Scott, but to let the 3% of deniers and skeptics who disagree with the 97% of legitimate climate change scientists  get equal airtime is like letting Kevin O’Leary into the hen house. We know the fight is fixed, and the lobbying power of big business and industry can no longer be allowed to contaminate what is left of our clean air, water and soil.

Keep a very close eye on his proposed deregulations. Remember back to the days of Acid Rain? Back in the sixties and early seventies it was the big canary in the coal mine. The sulphuric acid laden clouds blowing north through the coal country of the Ohio valley was dropping its effluent on Ontario and Quebec with devastating effects on the Canadian Shield watersheds. Our ancient granite provided no buffering defense against the acid onslaught and we watched fish-rich lakes die. It took three decades of relentless environmental regulation and rehabilitation to bring them back to life.

Thanks to Silent Spring and the mass marches of the first Earth Days, we got the EPA’s Clean Air Act and the clouds of acid rain slowly abated. Now, Scott Pruit and his so-called president would like to roll that all back. Dig, drill, and burn baby, burn. If it’s good for business and industry and job creation it must be good. Wildlife and wild spaces be damned.

There is a very intelligent magazine published in the U.S. called Harpers. The most recent February 2017 issue contains an excellent article titled: “Trump – a Resister’s Guide” worth the price of admission alone.  But it also contains a single page, published every issue, called “Harper’s Index,” a collection of random statistics from real, legitimate sources.

When I used to do my conference presentations on environmental issues and resolutions, I took quotes from the Index to warm up the audience. The index is full of those marvelous trivia facts with which you can razzle and dazzle your friends at parties.

Here are a few that should be repeated:

% by which the global wildlife population has declined since 1970: 58%

Number of floors by which the Trump World Tower’s advertised height exceeds its actual height: 19

Rank of corrupt government officials among American’s greatest fears: 1

Rank of climate change among American’s greatest fears: 17

And to conclude, a sobering quote from the Nazi past to the  Trump present:

“If you tell a big lie and you tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Adolfus Hitler

****

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fact Checking in the Age of Alternative Truths

George Orwell’s 1984 has surged to #1 on Amazon’s book list following the lies, obfuscations, and alternative realities uttered by the 45th President of the United States of America and repeated by his White House Press Secretary.

Well here is the inconvenient truth:

As to the number of people who watched the inauguration of the 45th President on television, from the Nielsen TV Ratings for most watched inaugurations :

1. 41,000,000, Ronald Regan, 1981

2. 37,800,000, Barack Obama, 2009

3. 34,100,000, Jimmy Carter, 1977

4. 32,000,000, Richard Nixon, 1973

5. 30,600,000, Donald Trump, 2017

…oops, looks like He Who Must Not Be Named couldn’t even beat Jimmy Carter, let alone best that Unborn in America previous President.

The same holds true for millions of illegal voters that cost #45 the popular vote. No research or data that proves any massive illegal voting. The Bush administration in 2005 discovered only 13 convictions for voter fraud occurred that year. Loyola Law School Professor J. Levitt’s team researched voter fraud between 2000 and 2014. There were only 31 incidents out of more than 1 billion ballots cast during that period.

31 out of 1,000,000,000.  Really.

He Who Should Never Have Been Elected has a big problem with both mathematics and English if he thinks that constitutes anything deserving of the adjective “massive”. The only thing massive about this is the size of THE LIE and the amount of money American taxpayers will pay for untruthing it.

The same holds true for torture. Waterboarding is torture. Period.

The same holds true for climate change. No chance of a Chinese socialist plot here, unless the climate scientists at NASA, NOAA, Environment Canada, Hadley Center for Climate Science, and 98% of the published, peer reviewed, and practicing climate scientists are wrong.

And the chances of that are about the same as the 45th President of the United States of America accepting and telling the truth.

Big Brother is living in an alternative reality of his own misogynistic megalomaniacal making. This is exactly why the Constitution of the United States has the Second Amendment. Not so that schoolchildren can be shot by mentally disturbed loners, but so that citizens committed to their democracy can rise up collectively against an illegitimate and dictatorial government and restore their freedoms.

It’s very difficult to have an intelligent adult conversation with a spoiled child. Big Brother needs a long time out.

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon

Fact Checked by Econexus

 

The Pattern Which Connects – Part One

My wife now calls me “The Phoenix” but my older son prefers “The Revenant” … in either case, it’s good to be back from the dead. It’s also good to be able to contribute again to my community as a writer and storyteller. It’s sort of like that challenge in “Saving Private Ryan” – you’ve been given a second chance at life, now earn it.

crystal ballI remember asking my father when I was a child, “Dad, how do you become a good person?” HIs answer became my raison’d’etre as an educator:  “Son, hang out with wise people, read what wise people write, listen to what wise people say, practice what wise people do, and then one day you too may become wise.” It takes some of us longer than others.

In my long and slow healing process, I began to reread some of my early influences and finally came to understand a few of them. One of those wise people was the incredible anthropologist, Gregory Bateson. His “Mind and Nature” and “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” were huge influences in my quest to become a wise teacher. From him, I learned that a wise teacher asks questions that demand far more than simple yes or no answers; instead, they demand a depth of thought and reflection and inquiry.

Gregory Bateson first articulated the idea that human ideas and communities are connected by a process similar to the natural selection process found in evolution. Why do some ideas resonate throughout history and others become extinct? He asked:“The pattern which connects. Why do schools teach almost nothing about the pattern which connects? …What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you? And all the six of us to the amoeba in one direction and to the back-ward schitzophrenic in another?”

His daughter, after his death, produced a wonderful memorial film by the more grammatically correct title, “The Pattern That Connects.” I’ll stick with the original.

So, what connects me to you to songbirds and pesticides in Central and South America to Rachel Carson and a Silent Spring to an Inuit mother in the Arctic who can’t feed her child with breast milk because it contains too many toxic chemicals grasshoppered up from the “developed” world?

What is the pattern which connects my best buddy in Eureka, California and my lawyer in Toronto, Ontario to all older men with prostate problems, to an ancient African tea made from Pygeum africanum, to a quest for the “Origins of Spirituality” by members of the Fairlawn United Church.

And now I understand. The pattern which connects all of human interaction is simply that quest for the answers to the age old questions of; “Who are we?”, “From where did we come?”, and “To where are we going?” The first human child that could articulate asked these questions over a million years ago. Gaugin asked the same questions reflecting on the meaning of his existence while painting in Tahiti. The ideas that survive are the ones that keep us thinking and wondering and surviving and developing as humans.

And the human patterns which connect are inextricably linked to all of the ecological connections from which life continues to evolve. Understand the patterns, and we begin to understand our place in the universe. Then we become humble in the knowledge that some of the answers to those great questions are beyond human comprehension, but the quest for those answers may just be the purpose of human existence.

*****

… to be continued … in Part Two: What is the pattern which connects Dr. Heather J. Ross and her cardiac team in Toronto to a remote community in Nunavut to space travel to tribal warfare in the Congo to cell phones. What connects me to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa (father) to the Niger Delta to prehistoric plants to the Ogoni people to Royal Dutch Shell, to my grade seven students to my choice of gasoline, to the recent passing of Ken Wiwa (son)? Life and death on Planet Earth …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WORTH REPEATING: Only Children Hunt for Sport

I first wrote this post several years ago in reponse to a Ducks Unlimited challenge. The furor created over Walter James Palmer’s poaching of Cecil the Lion motivated me to republish it here: Nothing has changed.

*****

HuntingTrophiesAfter a recent post, I was asked if I were anti-hunting, and my answer was a clear, “NO.” I will ensure that my soon-to-be teenager is skilled in marksmanship with both gun and bow and arrow, and knows how to fish with rod and net. I will ensure that hunter safety trainlng is part of his curriculum for the twenty-first century. I will teach him that if he ever needs to take the life of an animal for food, that he will do it quickly, skillfully and respectfully. But under no circumstances do I support trophy hunting. Big boys with big guns and bigger egos.

For over a million years the hominids that eventually came to be known as homo sapiens were hunter gatherers, so you could safely say that there are some pretty basic skills hard wired into our DNA. The agricultural aspects of our existence didn’t apppear until about 10,000 years ago after the last Ice Age had significantly melted back to the poles.

in what we know of our human history, generally women and children were small game hunters and gatherers of every seed, nut, fruit, and edible leaf that they could find. They basically kept the community alive – not much has changed for women. The men appear to have been the chest pounders and the hunters of larger prey. Given our primate chain of development, protein was a highly valued resource and we worked hard to get it. We became so good at it that post ice age hunters crossing from northern Asia into North America are thought to have been partially responsible for the extinction of several large ungulates.

The toys that children were given in those days were toys that would teach them basic hunting skills through play – the wooden spear, the sling shot, the small bow and arrow, the knife. In those days you had to get pretty close to your prey to kill it. You had to know the habits and habitat of that animal thoroughly. You had to know where the heart and lungs pumped so your shot would make a clean kill. You and the animals knew each other very well. Consider the skill necessary to get within 10m of a deer for a clean shot with bow and arrow. Some of my greatest outdoor nature skills were learned from real hunters and trappers who had an absolutely intimate knowledge and respect for their environment, and only ever took what they needed off the land and water.

I still remember receiving my first rifle from my father, one I used very effectively to clear an infestation of groundhogs from a cattle field on his farm near Cobourg – my dad taught me how to skin and clean them – my first real lessons in anatomy and how to avoid those nasty scent glands that could spoil your stew. (I learned later that the groundhogs not only had seniority, but an invaluable role in the food chain and energy cycle – I stopped hunting them). I still remember my first fishing rod and “the big trip” every spring to Inverlochy Lodge with “the men” to fish for the  mighty northern pike. Everything we caught, we ate. Nothing got stuffed and mounted.

I hunt with a computer now, feeding my family with a whole different set of skills. But when the machine breaks down, and I need to feed my family from the land and water once again, I know exactly how to do it skillfully and respectfully.

On a trip with my students to the North West Territories several years ago, we were out on the tundra with our Inuit hosts, preparing the tradional snack of tea and pilot biscuits, when one of the hunters jumped on his snowmobile and headed over a ridge. We heard the sharp crack of a fifle shot, and he was back in minutes with a caribou slung over his komatiq. He knelt by the caribou’s head for a moment saying something in Inuktituk, then skillfully removed the skin, rolled it up and put it on the sled, butchered the caribou on the spot, and we had lunch – abolutely one of the best teaching moments of my long career. My big city students for the first time saw that direct connection to the land and their food source. They learned later that the hunter had whispered a thank you to the caribou for presenting itself so that the hunter could feed us, his family.

But trophy hunters, that’s a whole different class of human. So called sport hunting is a huge global industry – just check out all the things you can buy at Pro Bass. But using a laser guided scope and a high powered rifle to kill an animal 300 m away, remove only the head for a wall trophy, and call it sport is ludicrous in the extreme and deserves a good Gary Larson cartoon. End of discussion.

Real adults hunt to feed their families. Only children hunt for sport.

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon