Sunday, September 28, 2014

And the Enemy is Us ...

I am often in the lumber yard at my part-time job. I love it there: the physical labour, the view of the North Shore mountains, and the dragon flies that dance by in dramatic tango-like pauses. But what really excites me are the trains on the other side of the fence. Massive bulwarks of steel and iron driven by stone-faced engineers. Impossible to stop with an abrupt will their impassioned visages seem to say: travel at your peril, this track is ours. 

But then they do stop. Although it’s a slow glide to zero, the coupler slack rebounds with archetypical horror, of battling titans and havoc wrecking gods. It is the sound of bridges collapsing, a landslide of heavy metal burying a town of iron. The noise fills the air with echoes that reverberate for miles.

The first time I heard it I stepped into shock. I actually entertained thoughts that the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge had fallen down as it did once before some six decades prior. Now, however, it is just a minor thrill. What once scared me barely makes me jump. I have grown accustomed to its presence.

I thought of this after reading a short interview with George Marshall, author of Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.In it he argues that the reason we treat a threat like ISIS with multinational immediacy and the international calamity of climate change with almost lackadaisical indifference is the nature of the enemy. With ISIS, the combatant is a known group of people who intend harm. With global warming, well ... the enemy is ... us. 

And therein lies the difference. Does any of us really mean harm when we fill up our gas tanks, turn the heat up or use air conditioning? Do we really have nefarious intent when we build our family home and buy cement for the  foundation or lumber for the frame? Don't we all just want to have a nice life? 

It is hard to fight against an enemy that smiles back at us in the mirror.

Although I agree with Mr Marshall's theory, mine is a little bit different. Like the trains and their tumultuous din, its hard to be scared of something with which we have grown far too familiar. And that familiarity is costing us dearly.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

BC Education - Environmental Curriculum under the Knife

On June 9, 2014, during talks with the Australian PM, Stephen Harper stated the following:

No country is going to undertake actions on climate change, no matter what they say ... that is going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.  

A few days ago, just before the opening of the UN Climate Summit in NYC, the Globe and Mail ran an editorial regarding Mr. Harper’s position … or lack thereof:

The PM has been very good at talking about what policies he won’t be adopting. [It will not, for example] … address greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those from the oil-and-gas industry, by adopting a politically suicidal plan of economic destruction … But what does it intend to do? Telling Canadians what the plan isn’t doesn’t tell us what the plan is, or if you even have one.

…Between the extremes of shutting down the oil sands – totally unreasonable – and doing nothing – totally unacceptable – there’s a lot of middle ground. The government needs to start exploring the territory.

Whether or not you agree with the Globe and Mail’s position that it is “totally unreasonable” to shut down the oil sands, the real question is who will start "exploring the territory"?

I am beginning to have serious doubts there will be any qualified souls to do this work, especially since I heard through the Sierra Club that the BC Ministry of Education has released a curriculum draft that effectively removes environmental education from BC classrooms, grade 1-9. The organization goes on to say that the draft eliminates fundamental words such as “habitat,” “ecosystem,” “pollution,” and “sustainability” from the curriculum…

Is this how we, as Canadians, now deal with environmental issues? Through denial, obscuration, or just plain deceit? George Orwell step aside, we have a new version of newspeak

A few weeks ago,Canadian Press wanted to interview Fisheries and Oceans scientist, Max Bothwell, about the origins of a certain pervasive algae. The request put through to the federal government resulted in 110 pages of emails from 16 different federal communication agents.  By the time permission came through with "approved responses", CP had already written the article. Dene Moore of CP Press suggests a possible reason for this delay. Contained on one of those 110 pages is the statement: [Algae] Blooms are the result of global climate change factors.

We need our children to learn as early as possible their interdependence with the natural world. It is in these youthful years that crucial and hard to change beliefs are formed. Youth must learn that without trees we will not survive. Without clean water, we will die. Without many of the millions of microorganisms that make up this planet we will cease to exist despite the health of our economy.

Please to not let the BC Government follow down the same path as Mr. Harper.

The Ministry of Education is currently asking for feedback and comments on the proposed curriculum draft. provide feedback to the ministry. Please add your thoughts.

I also encourage you to click on the Sierra Club link to sign a petition but remember, emails and letters are taken more seriously than petitions. Please write your own letter or copy and paste directly from the Sierra Club site.

Send your letters to:

Your MLA - Click here to find his or her contact info  

Premier Christy Clark  
Peter Fassbender - Minsiter of Education
John Horgan – NDP Leader of the Opposition

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Big Rule

As I entered the Physio’s office I overheard the receptionist talking with one of the therapists. She was describing how exhausting it was tutoring her grade eight daughter in algebra. I took the key to the washroom and on returning the conversation was winding down but still on the same subject. I heard her say: just one rule and I missed it. Her colleague left but not before telling her, almost patronizingly, that it was good to learn new things. The receptionist then focussed on me.

I was always good at math, she said. But I moved provinces the year we studied algebra. The class was ahead of me and I never learned an important rule: that when you subtract a negative, you change the sign.

I agreed: it’s a big rule.

I never knew it, she repeated. I missed it during the transition and everything is based on this foundational rule. My teacher couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t grasp the more complex formulas and neither could the tutor my mom hired. It’s a major rule.

I agreed again, repeating my words: It’s a big rule. You can’t move on until you know that rule. Her face drew a mixture of relief and loss; of missed opportunities and wonder as she heard my response. It was obvious this revelation—this discovery of a rule she had somehow missed—was affecting her deeply.

I can only surmise how it was for her back then but I imagine it was fairly devastating for this bright twelve-year-old girl to change schools only to find out that she was no longer as smart as she used to be. That if she was wrong about that, maybe she was wrong about everything: who she was, her looks, her popularity—all the things important to a child entering those tender years of puberty. And now, fifteen years later to find out that it was one single rule that she had somehow missed—one small bit of information that could have made a big difference... maybe even of the way she thought of herself today.

She showed me into the session room and I settled down onto the massage table. As I waited for the physio to come I pondered her repetitious telling of the story. No doubt she had expressed this discovery to the therapist whom she was talking to when I first came in the office. And, from the way the story had this endless recording sound to it, it felt like she had told others too. 

As I lay there, however, I could her voice distant in another cubicle talking about a different subject. The retelling of the rule story had stopped. I reflected on this and the image of her face from when I had validated her feelings not five minutes before. I wonder if that relief I briefly saw was a sense that she could finally let go; stop blaming herself for not getting it. I could almost hear her saying: I know the rule now, I can move on.

A few weeks ago my father was involved in a minor fender bender. He was at a T-intersection waiting to turn left. The light turned green and he moved forward. Another driver, coming from his left, ran the red light and hit him. Thankfully no one was hurt and damage was minimal but there were also no witnesses. The other driver was adamant that my father ran a red; that he was responsible.

In telling this story my father started repeating himself. His voice became somewhat frantic as he told me again and again that it was not his fault. My voice of reassurance could not reach him. Finally, in a slow, stern voice I said: “Dad, I believe you. You were not at fault.” Then I restated what happened in my own words. He heard me and stopped his endless recording of events. It was as if I needed to break through walls of imagined guilt cumulated through years of being blamed for events beyond his control. He said, “okay”.

I think of all the times I have been repetitive in my need to tell and retell a story. How I tried the patience of many not because they did not believe me but because I did not believe myself. How I, myself, have been impatient with those who cannot let their story lie still. It is as if we all need, sometimes, for someone to take us by the shoulders, look us straight in the eye and say, yes, I believe you, or yes, you were wronged, or yes, you did the right thing, for us to finally look inside and find agreement.

We are not vulnerable children who need an external source of unconditional love and acceptance to build a foundation on which to thrive. As adults it is up to us to find it within, to hold it sacred and to let it shine. However, we are not and never will be perfect … sometimes someone else has to hold the light so we can rekindle within what is naturally ours. And the miracle of it all is, it can be as simple as saying: I believe you.

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