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Climate-change fatigue: May the end come soon

September 14, 2011

I am climate-change fatigued.

Seriously.

So, yesterday yet another ominous report was published:
Europe’s oceans changing at unprecedented rate

The day before we heard that:
Earth’s Coral Reefs May Be Wiped Out Entirely By The End Of The Century

A few days before we were told that:
Arctic ice set to match all-time record low – Satellite measurements reveal that volumes have fallen consistently over past 30 years

And the week before:
Scientist left speechless as vast glacier turns to water

These articles were all published within the last two weeks – but it’s not as if they are new news.

For several years there have been numerous reports predicting the scenario ahead:

  • sea-level rise affecting coastal communities;
  • ocean acidification destroying coral reefs as well as numerous other species that we depend upon for food;
  • accelerated melting of glaciers and ice caps;
  • extreme weather events – flooding, tornadoes, droughts, heat waves – many of which are likely attributable to climate change;
  • and more…

And then of course there was that letter written nearly 20 years ago, addressed to humanity and signed by 1700 of the world’s top scientists, warning us that “If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

We have all this knowledge, and we’ve had it for some time now. Those warnings of nearly two decades ago are coming true – with many of the predicted changes startling the scientists, because they are happening even more quickly than had been foreseen.

But what I don’t get is how we can hear all this, yet not take action. I have talked to several of my friends about it: they know how concerned I am about the future of our planet, and for all life on the planet. (Obviously, the planet itself will be fine, continuing to hurtle through space with or without us. It is our knowing destruction of the lives upon it, including our own, that disturbs me).

And a lot of what I get back from people is that they don’t like to think about such unpleasant things.

Well, as Noam Chomsky wrote last week, “The existence of flat earthers does not change the fact that, uncontroversially, the earth is not flat.” (Chomsky stated this in a different context, writing on a different subject – but the quote applies equally well here).

Pretending that these grave changes to our planet are not happening: going on with our daily “normal” lives; looking on the bright side; and choosing not to think about climate change and what we need to do about it (or, more precisely, what we should have done about it a few decades ago) is not going to make it go away.

I can’t help but be the kind of person who wants to be informed about things. As I have written here before, sometimes I wish I didn’t know the things I know. But I think it is my responsibility to know. And I also think that, if I see something bad that is going to happen, that I can prevent, it is my duty to take action to prevent that thing. For there is no point in having the knowledge if you are not going to use it. We have a responsibility to take action. (Even more so, if you have kids who you claim to love).

But really, I am just tired of it all now. We have set our path. Climate scientists know what is coming, and how the momentum of our society (still, even today, pushing for economic growth as if it will be the saviour of all things!) is probably too great to change now. It’s already happening – and there is a part of me that just wants the rest to come quickly, get it over with, so I can stop reading about it.

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
Rush, from their song Freewill

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Every grain of rice

August 31, 2011

People are often to surprised to find out that I am not a vegetarian. “But you love animals so much, Jackie!” they explain.

Yes. But I love plants, too.

<–[Garden harvest a couple days ago]

I’ve been the self-proclaimed founder (and so far sole member) of the RSPCP* for years – on th lookout for withered, mistreated plants at supermarkets and reporting to the produce manager that their plants outside need watering, or rescuing (and occasionally confiscating) abused plants from my friends.

To me, it’s not so much about animals vs. plants. I eat both. It’s about not being disrespectful of their lives: ensuring them good quality of life while they are alive, and not being wasteful with them.

I do eat meat. But I am very careful about where I source it from. I avoid anything that is industrially raised. Anyone who claims to be an animal-lover, yet will eat standard that supermarket chicken or beef packed on a styrofoam tray is living a lie. Sorry – get informed, and live consistently with what you say. Either that, or stop claiming to be an animal-lover.

So I will eat deer or seal or wild duck – animals that I know had a good and natural life until, literally, the final seconds. (Not to mention are not pumped full of hormones or antibiotics that are bad for both me and the environment).

[Watch it, Bambi. Just cuz I grow my own veggies – doesn’t mean I’m a vegetarian!]

I eat some small-farm raised chicken, turkey, beef or lamb – but I always try to source small-scale local producers, where I can be sure that the animals truly did have a reasonably good quality of life.

Unfortunately, this whole thing about “certified organic” has become big industry. Once animals are being raised on large industrial farms, organic or not, their quality of life is sacrificed. They are herded around in buildings, they are not permitted to graze on real plants, they live in their own shit. I don’t want to know that animals are being forced to live such horrible lives for my meals.

And “certified organic” has kind of lost its meaning anyway – industry has a lobbyists who push for products and chemicals that would surprise many people to find that they are permitted in the so-called organic products they buy. Here’s ine example – of Anheuser-Busch pushing the USDA to allow them to make so-called “organic beer” from hops grown with chemical fertilizers and sprayed with pesticides!

To me, it is not the act of killing an animal for food that is wrong. It is that the animal lead a pathetic, unhappy, and often tortured life up to that final moment. And the same goes for plants.

The other aspect of respecting our food sources – the plants and animals that die for us – is reducing waste. Here in North America, the average person throws out 110 kg of food per year. (Source: Wikipedia) That is nearly a pound of food wasted a day! Add to that the amount of food wasted in the production and retail stages, and we are talking a total of 650 kg of food wasted per person each year. That is not only disrespectful – it is stupid.

I think that one reason that I do respect plant lives every bit as much as animal lives is that I am a gardener. I nurture my little tomatoes, my lettuces, my beans, from seed. I treat them well – both so they will have good quality life, and also so they will produce well for me in return.

My greatest eye-opener, though, has come from my attempts to grow rice here on Vancouver Island. I did actually manage to produce 19 grains… although, when I planted them this spring, only three of them turned out have a real rice kernel in them.

<–[My rice plants, grown on the outer coast of Vancouver Island!, about to seed.]

But rice is something most of us think of as cheap bulk food – along the lines of pasta. We don’t see rice plants here, and it is easy to forget that rice is a seed: every grain of rice has the potential to become a plant that, itself, will produce another handful of rice. Now, I am careful to scoop every grain of rice out of the pot, to eat every grain of rice in my bowl, so that none of that potential ends up in the garbage.

Because, to me, it’s about respect.

*Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants

Optimism is better than despair

August 24, 2011

As a teenager, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I found out I would have to go to university for seven years to become a vet. That amount of time seemed unfathomable for me at age 17. So it is somewhat humorous that I ended up spending nine years at university studying rocks instead!

On one level, I am really happy that I have such a strong Earth Sciences background. But I find, more and more, that I wish I didn’t know the things I know. Especially regarding the future of our planet and the future of our species. Last week I talked about our planet, this piece of rock whirling its way through space. It’s been doing that for several billion years now – and it will continue to do that.

But it’s quite possible that, within a few decades or a century, it will be doing that without us… or at least without most of us.

The problem with having this scientific knowledge, this understanding of the magnitude and scale of earth processes (e.g. how long it takes for something as big as a planet to heat up or to reverse that heating; how significant a degree or two of warming is when you consider how much energy that represents when that degree of temperature is an average over the planet – in other words, a huge addition of energy) is that it makes it hard to feel optimistic. Because my outlook on what we are doing, where we are taking ourselves, is too grounded in fact. In reality.

I think a lot about this idea of optimism. Often, I feel like optimism is an evil thing. We can feel optimistic that someone will find a solution, or that technology will save us, or that the Lord will intervene. But by feeling that optimism, it gets us off the hook: instead of realizing where we are headed, instead of doing something to prevent that bad outcome, we can just look on the bright side, have faith that it will all be OK, and go about our merry business.

I remember feeling this way when I worked on an adventure race in Chile. I was in charge of safety for the kayaking sections of the race. To me, that meant that my job was to foresee what could go wrong, in advance of it ever happening, and taking the actions to prevent it from happening. To think of all of the “what-ifs”. What if someone broke their paddle – do we have spare paddles on the compulsory gear list? What if the teams are far apart and a strong wind comes up and tips several kayaks at once – do we have enough support boats to effect all the rescues? My Chilean colleagues accused me of being a pessimist. “Just think positive,” they admonished. “Pray that the wind doesn’t come up.”

But I wasn’t being pessimist. I was just looking ahead, being realistic. These things happen in Patagonia: the wind does come up, and the water is very cold. We are an intelligent species. (So they say). One thing that we humans can do is look ahead and see where things are going, and take action to influence that course.

As I look ahead, though, with all of this bloody Earth Sciences knowledge that I hold, I find it hard to be optimistic. In fact, for the past few years I have felt that this knowledge, which forces me to be a realist, has also turned me into a pessimist.

In fact, until this week, I thought that I held out no hope at all.

But on Monday, Jack Layton, the man who epitomized hope and optimism, died. I am surprised – no, shocked – that for two days I have been in tears over a man, a politician no less!, who I never met, who I never once saw in public.

And I realize that I must still have some hope left in me. I would not be crying if I had already given up.

Jack gave hope to our whole country – even to a realistic pessimistic cynic like me. It is so sad, so very very sad, that we will never know what he would have accomplished in these coming years, these years that he should have had, as Leader of the Opposition.

Jack Layton’s last words to Canadians have been oft-repeated these last two days, but they are worth repeating:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

This rock, hurtling through space

August 17, 2011

Perseid meteor showerImage by Darren Kirby, used via CC license.

We’re nearing the end of the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaked this past weekend. I caught a few glimpses of it on Saturday night, soaking in my friends’ hot tub after an all-day trail run – but the viewing this year wasn’t as good as usual, on account of the nearly full moon brightening the sky.

Meteor showers are really meaningful to me. It is really easy in our day-to-day life, driving around or sitting in front of our computers, to forget that we are miraculously stuck onto Read more…

This is the power you have

August 12, 2011

This past Monday, I forgot about garbage day (again). When I heard the truck rumbling down the street, I ran into the kitchen, grabbed my garbage bag, and prepared to run down to the street in my bathrobe (again).

But I looked at the garbage bag. There was little over a fistful of garbage in it.

This is how much garbage I produced this week! I have been putting a lot of effort into reducing the amount of garbage I produce – but even so, I actually surprised myself!

Yes, it definitely takes extra time to not produce garbage. Just like it takes time to undertake other initiatives that are good for our environment, such as walking or riding a bike rather than driving. I am not saying that it doesn’t take time. It takes time.

But honestly, I am tired of hearing people tell me how busy their lives are, and how they just don’t have the time in their busy days to cook real food rather than heating up something from a package, or walk (or make their kids walk) instead of zipping around in their cars. Many of those people can talk about TV shows that Read more…

Paying attention to the little things

August 3, 2011

One thing that gardening does is make you pay attention to the little things. You have to, or you won’t keep your plants alive. You notice that a few of your baby lettuces have been disappearing each night, so you know to go out after dinner and get the slug that’s been at work there. Or you notice that the broccoli leaves are laced with holes, and you know to look on the undersides for a green caterpillar.

garden with scarlet runner beansThese scarlet runner beans are not mine. But I took this photo today. It’s a garden that I bike past often on my training rides. Yesterday, I noticed that their plants are loaded with beans, whereas mine are still just flowering. So I came back home to look more closely at mine.

And what I saw was numerous dead-end stems. What should happen is that, as each flower is pollinated, the red petals fall off and a bean pod grows there. But where my beans should be, there is nothing. The stem dead-ends. So my beans are not pollinating.

And that, of course, made me think about the bees. We’ve all heard about the Read more…

Perceived danger: What should you REALLY be afraid of?

July 27, 2011

I spend a lot of time in the wilderness alone: kayaking, hiking, mountain-biking, trail-running. Sometimes I am out for just a few hours. My longest solo trips have been over a week, often not seeing anyone for many days at a time.

And so many people seem impressed by how “brave” I am. And that is so not true! I fear for my life a lot of the time. Just not when I am out there, in the wilderness. Honestly, out there is where I feel safest.

But this common reaction makes me reflect on what fear is. Or, more accurately, what leads to a perception of danger. Many of my girlfriends here in Port Alberni won’t go running on trails alone because they are afraid of “something” happening: a fall, a bear encounter. Yet they will go on long road-bike rides, 40 or 80 or even 100 km (my sporty girlfriends here are pretty impressive, I must say!)

I do rides like that too. But it’s doing road rides like that, with cars hurtling past – sometimes only inches away from my body – that makes me experience legitimate fear. Not being alone in the wilderness.

It seems to me that many people’s fear Read more…