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

 

 

 

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

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