Earth Days 2017 … in the beginning

The year was 1969. I was in my second year of teaching in Canada when an American environmentalist named John McConnell proposed a global holiday to celebrate peace, justice and the integrity of creation. It was named, simply, Earth Day.  In October, 1969, at the National UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, McConnell announced his intention to organize a worldwide awareness campaign to honour the diversity of life on Earth.

The organizers selected March 21, the vernal equinox, the return of the light and a renewal of life in our little corner of the Northern Hemisphere. That day, in the city of San Francisco, McConnell made the first Earth Day Proclamation about the need to preserve, conserve, and renew the threatened ecosystems upon which all life on Earth depends.

Those were heady days for the emerging environmental movement in North America. Acid rain, oil spills, topsoil erosion, groundwater depletion, contamination of the oceans, and air pollution dominated the headlines. The passion for change was thick in the air as we demanded social justice, nuclear disarmament, and environmental literacy. They truly were the days of peace, love, and groovy. I missed Woodstock, but my Grade Five class added their voices to that first Earth Day Proclamation, still celebrated today on March 21 by the United Nations.

At the same time that McConnell was organizing, a young American law student named Denis Hayes was conscripted by Senator Gaylord Nelson to organize the first Earth Day marches in the United States on April 22 to coordinate with Arbor Day.

“The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.” It succeeded beyond his expectations, Millions joined in celebratory marches across the U.S.A. and Canada, my class included, to demand an end to unsustainable exponential economic growth.

It was the beginning of massive arbor day tree plantings, garbage-less lunch campaigns, recycling programs, and resource conservation projects from classrooms to business offices.

In June 1970 McConnell created the Earth Day Proclamation for worldwide use and awareness. The Earth Day Proclamation declared the principles and responsibilities the signers undertook to care for the Earth. It was signed by 36 world leaders, including UN Secretary General U Thant, Margaret Mead, John Gardner and others. The last signature by Mikhail Gorbachev was added in 2000.

Earth Day indeed had increased environmental awareness in America, and in December 2, 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. On April 22, 1990, the 20th anniversary of Arbor Earth Day, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in celebrations.

Few remember though, that it was the partnership of John F. Kennedy and Rachel Carson that tilled the soil that would become our Earth Days. When Kennedy championed Silent Spring and defended Carson against the rage of the chemical industry, it began to stir an awareness across North America that it was time to get informed, stand up and speak out for the defense of our Home Planet. In 1963, Congress passed the Clean Air Act to deal with cross-border pollution from the Ohio valley into the Great Lakes and Canada. The war on acid rain had begun in earnest, and Big Coal was not happy.

On, November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Barely six months later, on April 14, 1964, Rachel Carson died of cancer. The seeds of our modern environmental awareness had been planted and they germinated in 1970 with our two Earth Day celebrations. Perhaps these two days are as much a tribute to Kennedy and Carson as to Earth. They serve as a constant reminder that greater love hath no one than this.

These Earth Days should remind us of the sacrifices made by women and men  around the world, like the legendary Gaura Devi of India’s Chipko (tree-hugging) movement, or Wangari Maathai of Kenya sowing seeds of hope across Africa, or Lois Gibbs of Niagara Falls, New York, who exposed the toxic wastes of the Love Canal, or Jacques Cousteau (France) and Sam Labudde (U.S.A.) and Rob Stewart (Canada) who fought for the sanctity of our ocean ecosystems, or Jeton Anjain of the Marshall Islands, sick to death with cancer, fighting to expose the dangers of nuclear waste and nuclear war.

This is what our Earth Days are about. It’s a lot more than planting one little sapling that may not make it through the summer, but looks good in a political photo-op with smiling children. It’s about speaking truth to power. It’s about campaigning for the security of the EPA, the same EPA that brought us the Clean Air Act and is now threatened with castration by Donald Trump and Scott Pruit. It’s about making certain that Kevin O’Leary never becomes a candidate for political leadership in Canada. It’s about standing up to hate speech and hateful actions that bring fear and division into our lives and thoughts. It’s about supporting the building of sustainable communities, of learning how to live elegantly with less, of realizing at last that, as E.F. Schumacher tried to teach us years ago, that “Small is Beautiful” in home and national budgets.

Earth Days are a celebration of participatory democracy, honouring the responsibility of a people to protect their families, their communities, their environment. A wise mentor once told me, “You know, we have no rights without responsibilities first. I do not have the right to clean water unless I make sure I’m not putting any pollutants into the global watershed. I don’t have the right to breathe clean air if I leave my SUV idling to defrost the winter cold, or air condition away the summer heat.”

Like the bumper sticker says, “A good planet these days is hard to find.”  Let’s try our best to leave this one in good shape for generations of living things yet to come. Happy Earth Days.

***

Skid Crease is an accredited member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, an author, and a lifelong educator currently living in Caledon, Ontario.

 

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The Lyin’ King

 

Remember that most wonderful Disney movie, The Lion King? Like most people who saw it for the first time, the opening scene is embedded in our memories – spectacular animation, soul stirring music, and a noble parent child relationship. The tragic ending of that bond hooked us until the end of the movie as we waited for jungle justice and the triumph of good over evil.

Fast forward to 2017. We have a new ruler on the throne to the south of us, but he is more like Uncle Scar than Simba. He will be known in our new remake as “The Lyin’ King”, his queen will be played by beautiful Russian sleeper agent Melanija Knavs, and his fallen pride will include Sean Spicer, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruit, Betsy DeVos and Mike Flynn.

It’s a perfect cast for the American Horror Story currently unfolding on every news channel on our black mirrors. Of course, the starring role of the Lyin’ King will be voiced by The Donald. The voices of an all-star supporting cast of hyena idiots to slobber all over His Majesty will feature Steve Bannon, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Bill O’Reilly. Their hyena bitches will be played by Kellyanne Conway, Scottie Nell Hughes, Katrina Pierson, and Amarosa Manigault.

It’s a tragic comedy that all, well at least 40% of Americans can enjoy while enjoying a big bowl of extra butter popcorn and a case of Coors without having to worry about changing channels with a .38 Special.

Oh, and the role of Rafiki was going to be voiced by Bernie Sanders, but no one was listening to his wisdom.

***

Skid Crease

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Terrific, Tremendous, Teleprompter Trump

Someone, possibly James Vicary, advised The Donald in the skills of subliminal advertising. Someone, perhaps Lucifer, illuminated The Donald to the art of alliteration. Someone, most probably his McCarthy era lawyer, Roy Marcus Cohn, taught The Donald to lie until he won.

Consider the name Trump. We all know what a trump card does in a euchre game … it wins! Consider the sounds of the words tremendous and terrific. If you are The Donald, your ego just has to love those “t” and “r” sounds. Why was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the only other politician mentioned by name in “so-called” president Trump’s recent address to Congress?

Two reasons. First, associate yourself closely with the most popular politician in the world and maybe some of that world class veneer will rub off on you; and secondly, his name begins with “Tr”, a consonant blend that is like the music of the heavenly choir to The Donald’s ears.

In reality, however, while Trudeau is truly tremendous and terrific without a script, The Donald is terrible and tragic unless he is using a teleprompter.

It astonished me that much of the mainstream media began to praise the presidential poise of The Donald after he read a speechwriter’s script from a teleprompter. Suddenly the man who spent years groping women, denying President Obama’s birthright, denying accelerating climate change, making huge profits on the housing crisis, discriminating against racial and religious groups different from his hedonistic white male cult, and not paying his income taxes, is pronounced by the mainstream media as “PRESIDENTIAL” after one tightly scripted performance. That’s just terrible and tragic.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Ronald Reagan, elevated to the status of a saint in the Republican Party, was a grade B actor who read the lines put in front of him for eight years. Interesting to note that Reagan’s last movie role was as gangster Jack Browning in the movie “The Killers”. Trump is just beginning his role as one. Be very careful for what you wish, America. When the chickens come home to roost, it might not be so terrific or tremendous anymore.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

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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

 

 

 

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Trump and the Rise of Hate

You know, there are just some times when I hate being right.

Several months ago I predicted that the far right wing of the North American population would rise triumphantly in the wake of the extremist rhetoric of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

This would not rouse the wisest and most humane of our elders to lead their communities. Rather it would inspire the bigoted and ill-informed to scurry from the ditches and strut their ignorance loudly in public. These are the followers of populist demagogues whose uneducated opinions are largely formed by the bogus untruth websites and big boys locker room talk that provided the fodder for a narcissistic megalomaniac to become President in the U.S.A.

So, when I dropped by a local family restaurant to pick up my youngest son’s weekend breakfast treat and saw a group of men, who always sit at the same table pontificating their views on the world, I couldn’t resist joining in on their conversation.

I admit I committed the sin of stereotyping when I first checked them out: good old boys club, maybe high school education; they read the Sun newspaper mainly to ogle the Sunshine Girl, vote Conservative, watch Fox news, listen to right wing radio talk shows, and think Donald Trump is the Second Coming. I wanted to be wrong.

But then one of the men began a long sermon on the glory that was Donald Trump and the horror that was Barack Obama. I had no idea, until I listened to his holy words, that Obama was responsible for every disaster from hurricanes to floods to the financial crisis that pre-dated his presidency. Nor had I realized the extent of the horrible scandals that Barack and Michelle hid away during their eight years in the White House.

The youngest man tried to explain that the U.S. economy was on the upswing, like employment figures and growth expectations, but he just couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The older man was in that zone where, as my mother used to say, “Don’t confuse me with facts; my mind is made up!”

Now, this elder couldn’t name any legitimate sources for his opinions, but that didn’t stop him from believing in nonsense and passing it on. The earth is flat, the sun revolves around us, and the planet is only 6000 years old. And Donald Trump sits next to the right hand of God.

On later visits to the same restaurant I heard other members of the group, on three separate occasions, threaten that they would love to get any Liberal leader from the Premier to the Prime Minister in their “crosshairs” and take them out. When I called those threats in to the local OPP. I was told the men had freedom of speech, and if I hadn’t seen a weapon, there was nothing the police could do. I was incredulous. If a child at a school even verbally threatens another child, the police come to the school. But apparently you can threaten to shoot the Prime Minister of Canada without consequence.

So, I took down all of their license plates and submitted a full written report asking the police to check gun ownership records. Then I decided to write a column, The Ignorance of the Elders, in one of our local papers. .

Well, I must have touched a nerve, because weeks later, when I walked into that same restaurant, one of the group accosted me, shouting out my name. There he was, waving a copy of the paper in which my Ignorance of the Elders article had just been published. In front of a line-up of parents and children. he unleashed a string of defamatory epithets and curse words that had no place in a family restaurant. After threatening me with “This isn’t over yet!” he stormed out of the restaurant. I called that slanderous incident in to the police as well.

After that incident, and reflecting on the horror of the Quebec City mosque massacre, the perpetrator of which was reportedly inspired by Donald Trump’s Islamophobia, and then the subsequent vandalism of a mosque in Montreal, I decided to write this column.

As children we are taught to respect our elders. Their years on Earth have supposedly given them insights into life. They made all the mistakes that the passion of youth demands, learned from those mistakes, and grew in wisdom and vision. At least, that is what the best of our elders bring to their communities. Unfortunately, we have unleashed the exact opposite.

The rise of hate and extreme far right political ideology that has been encouraged in recent months by the rise of Trumpism in the U.S.A had come home to roost our own community. It is here now, alive and well and loud.

Imagine members of your religious community murdered while praying in their Church, their place of worship smashed and defiled. Imagine for just a moment that we had to comfort our children every Sunday before we went to Church not to be afraid of being shot or bombed. Imagine that we had to assure them that they wouldn’t be bullied or beaten up at school because of the colour of their skin or their religious beliefs or their sexual orientation. Imagine that we didn’t have to protect our loved ones from being taunted or told to leave the country because of the clothing they wear.

I think we need to all remember that scene in the movie “A Time to Kill” when the defense lawyer describes in graphic detail the brutal beating and rape and attempted murder of a little black girl. Then he looks at the jury and says, “Now, imagine that she is white.”

The jury responds with Hollywood shock and the avenging father is acquitted. In real life we should also be responding to this rise in hate incidents with shock and horror. Our community should be standing up for the inclusion, social justice, and diversity that has taken our young nation one hundred and  fifty years to embrace.

Meanwhile, south of the border, The New York City Police Department reported in January that there has been a 115% rise in hate crimes since the election of Donald Trump. It is as if his ascendency has given permission for the far right to take it from venting in the coffee shops and bars and Tweets, to taking it to the streets. It’s like they’ve been given permission to hate openly. And the only defense against that is to call it out, stand tall against it, and never accept this extremism as a new normal.

I feel like I’m back in the sixties again, marching for civil rights, and environmental security, and nuclear disarmament. The greatest danger facing humanity is not social injustice or accelerating climate change or a nuclear winter. It is the ignorance of the elders who may lead us there.

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon

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