Distracted Driving on a Planetary Scale

Originally published by the South Eastman Transition Initiative as “When It Comes to Sustainability, We’re a Society of Distracted Drivers”

A recent essay by Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute intrigued me. He drew a metaphor between distracted driving and the way we all deal with sustainable living. He says driving is dangerous. In fact, it’s about the riskiest activity most of us engage in routinely. It requires one’s full attention—and even then, things can sometimes go horribly awry. The brakes fail. Weather turns roads to ice. A driver in the oncoming lane falls asleep. Tragedy ensues. And if we are not fully alert, the likelihood of calamity skyrockets. That’s why distracted driving is now against the law. If you’re caught, the fine is hefty.

We human beings are all, in effect, driving this planet, according to Heinberg. We’re largely responsible for whether it continues more or less as it is for another few thousand (maybe a few million) years, or tips rapidly into a condition that may not support human life, nor permit the survival of myriads of other creatures.  But we’re not paying attention to the road in front of us. Instead, we’re distracted.

Our personal distractions are often compelling. Most of us need to make a living. We like to make time for family and friends. We enjoy a wide range of entertainment options.

Our collective distractions seem just as important. We want the economy to grow so that there are more jobs and higher returns on investments. We want our leaders to avert acts of terrorism, and if there are military conflicts we want our side to win. We have our political heroes and villains, and we spend time and money cheering our respective “teams.”

Thing is, if we collectively veer off the road and crash the planet, these distractions don’t matter. The text message we receive while at the wheel of a car may be really interesting, but reading it isn’t worth the risk of life and limb. Similarly, the economy, entertainment, jobs, sports, and politics are all fine and suitable objects of attention—as long as we first ensure that society’s speed and direction are safe and sane.

A few people are indeed paying attention to the road ahead. Ecologists, climate scientists, and system dynamics analysts have, in fact, been monitoring society’s direction for a few decades and have been issuing increasingly dire warnings (two of the most recent ones: the Scientists Warning and the latest IPCC climate report). What lies ahead if we don’t change direction? Rising seas. Crazy weather, including worsening storms, droughts, and floods. Massive species extinctions. Threats to agriculture. Economic ruin. In short, a high-speed crash. But the experts’ urgent calls for change are largely being ignored.

If we were indeed paying attention, what would we do differently asks Heinberg? We would make sustainability—real sustainability, not just eco-groovy gestures—our first priority. Conserve and reuse non-renewable resources. Use renewable resources only up to their regrowth rates. Protect natural systems from pollution. Conserve biodiversity. We would aim for a truly circular and regenerative economy. If it turned out that the economy were just too big to operate within those guidelines, we would shrink it (taking some time to identify ways that cause the least harm and create the greatest benefit, and ensuring that those who have gained least from our centuries-long growth bonanza get an equitable share of our reduced budget). And if the human population were too big, we would shrink that too (again, taking time to minimize bads and maximize goods).

Yes, all of this would have personal implications. We would think about population levels when deciding whether to reproduce. We would refuse any career option that undermines the survival chances of future generations. We would refrain from investing in the extractive economy. We would think about all our daily choices—transportation, meals, clothing, housing—in terms of environmental impact.

Heinberg suggest the adjustments would not be as hard as we fear? Really, the most difficult aspect of this shift is the initial decision to make it. And once that decision has been made, plenty of improvements to daily life would likely accompany any sacrifices we’d have to make. For example, imagine how a more mindful economy would allow people to pursue their callings instead of just chasing jobs. Or consider how leading less busy lives would allow more time to spend with loved ones. We could put health and happiness on an upward trajectory, rather than consumption of throw-away consumer goods.

Rather than sharing the distractions now capturing the attention of other drivers, we must each retrain ourselves to pay attention to the instrument panel and the road ahead of us. Abandoning old habits and making new ones requires effort. But some habits are so unwise that changing them is a life-or-death affair.

Are our distractions really so important that we’d rather risk literally everything than shift our gaze toward what really matters?

Dealing with Fear

There has been a lot of bad news in the media in the last few weeks. Political turmoil, refugee crises, and some very dire climate warnings. It is not surprising then that people will have trouble dealing with fear.

Unfortunately fear and worry don’t move us well toward good solutions. As Baz Luhrmann says in his iconic piece Wear Sunscreen,

Don’t worry about the future
Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing Bubble gum

The poem Luhrmann quotes reflects on highly personal issues; jobs, aging parents, aging ourselves. The solutions he offers are mostly about living a full and happy life.

The problems we hear about in the news may feel bigger. And yet they are quite similar. We have very little control over what diseases might hit us, or how economic downturns will affect us, or how our parents or children will do. We also have very little personal control over what happens in politics or with respect to climate change (although we still have a party to play).

What matters is how we deal with the the fear. Approaching problems with an air of defeat will make them worse. Taking positive action with an optimistic attitude will make the problems feel less daunting. When we take positive steps in dealing with fear it feels better. And people like to follow the lead of optimistic people. Though it is sounds cliché, together we can make a difference. Which is part of what makes Green Party policy of sustainability so attractive.

The following article was originally written by Wade Wiebe for the South Eastman Transition Initiative. It has some great ideas on dealing with fear.

 

How I’m Dealing with My Fear

by Wade Wiebe

I’ve been having a difficult time coping with the information in the latest IPCC report released two weeks ago. In it, we learn that we must reduce our emissions by 50% within 12 years to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5C. If we achieve that reduction, we’ll get a chance at the next deadline in 2050, when it must be brought to zero. If we fail, we won’t be able to stop the catastrophe at all. At 2.0C, 25% of all species will be extinct. At 3.0C, New York City will be submerged. It gets worse after that.

While the facts are difficult to process, most of my frustration comes from my perception that few people seem to be aware of the scope of the problem. The scale and certainty of this threat are greater than all of humanity’s fears combined. How is it possible not to talk about it?

Dr. Emily Green was probably experiencing something similar when she wrote “The Existential Dread of Climate Change” for Psychology Today in October 2017. After slowly learning more about the reality of climate change, she found herself in a state of despair and heightened anxiety. Looking closely at her own reaction, she probed further. She writes that thinking and learning about these harsh realities activates what’s called our “ultimate concerns”, including finitude, responsibility, suffering, meaninglessness and death. And while her intense emotional reaction is reasonable given the circumstances, Dr. Green asked herself this question: “What happened after the podcast, or radio, or television was turned off? Did the information push her towards something useful or productive?” “Unfortunately” she says, “as I reflected I realized that my horror at the state of things, rather than spur in myself action towards helping the cause, had bred minimal lifestyle changes…” Why was that? Green writes that several common reasons for inaction in response to awareness may be at play in all of us. Denial and repression, numbness and apathy, perceived risk of change and perceived ineffectiveness of change were known to be common reactions to knowledge about climate change. But the literature on the subject also provided some good news. While inaction was a common response, other individuals respond positively through collective engagement, activism, a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility, and a desire to influence others to act similarly. According to Green, there is evidence that being an active participant increases a sense of self-efficacy, social competence and a range of other positive emotions. She points out that “…while the existential dread of the potential destruction of our planet and species may seem like a burden too great to bear; like any other anxiety, it is one best approached rather than avoided.”

As we begin to appreciate seriousness of our situation, fear and despair will undoubtedly become more commonplace. The role for those of us who have begun to process the facts in earnest will be as a source of rationality and direction for others. And the only way we can offer that strength is to face up to it and find it ourselves.

Dr. Green’s article closes with a tip sheet from the Australian Psychological Society. “Although environmental threats are real and can be frightening, remaining in a state of heightened distress is not helpful for ourselves nor for others. We generally cope better, and are more effective at making changes, when we are calm and rational.”

Here are their tips on making changes in the face of climate-change distress:

  • Be optimistic about the future
  • Remind yourself that there is a lot you can personally do
  • Change your own behaviour
  • Become informed about problems and solutions
  • Do things in easy stages
  • Identify things that might get in the way of doing things differently
  • Look after yourself!
  • Invite others to change
  • Talk with others about environmental problems
  • Present clear but not overwhelming information, and offer solutions
  • Talk about changes that you are making in your own life
  • Share your difficulties and rewards
  • Be assertive, not aggressive
  • Congratulate people for being environmentally concerned
  • Model the behaviour that you want others to do

Listening to Each Other

Anyone who’s spent any time following political posts on social media will know just how little time people actually spend listening to each other. Most comments are statements of position. Many simply repeat political dogma whether from the left or the right. Worse, is the mud-slinging. Calls of libtards, repugnicans (I admit to having used this myself and have vowed to stop), snowflakes litter social media.

If the only place we saw this was on the comments section that would be bad enough. Unfortunately, our entire political system has become highly polarized.

This is one of the symptoms of the First-Past-the-Post electoral system. Only one team can win the horse race. The stakes are high, and when you can win 100% power with 43% of the votes, it becomes easy, necessary in-fact, to tear down your opponent. And in doing so, you polarize your followers.

A government should not be a place of 100% power for a given clique. It should be a place of debate. We would build better solutions if our governments were places of negotiation and consensus-building. So this trend toward more polarization in politics is disturbing on a number of levels. It puts too much power in too few hands and it creates see-sawing public policy which is expensive and disruptive.

It can seem like this is all doom and gloom, particularly in light of the current American administration. We Canadians shouldn’t be too self-congratulatory though. As things go in the US culturally, they tend to go here too. There is no doubt that we have a fair degree of left/right polarization in our public discourse and that it is growing.

So it is exciting to see some people recognizing these problem and taking action to mitigate the harmful effects. A group of concerned people in the US have found a fun and creative way to help people in that act of listening to each other.

They’ve started an event called “Make America Dinner Again”. The idea is to throw a dinner party. Invite people with different political  tastes. Let them meet, talk, listen, and learn.

It is a beautiful idea. Protests and public action are valuable. Writing letters and signing petitions can help. Getting involved in a political party is a positive process. Sitting down to have dinner together may be delightful.

Click here to read more about Making American Dinner Again. And thank you to the CBC for their article that pointed us to it.

 

 

Green Influencer: Dr. Martin Entz

Yesterday’s post on Working Together explored some of the importance, more than ever, of finding ways to work together. Learning from one another, sharing knowledge, collaborating on research moves us all forward in positive and tangible ways. As the article says: “Dr. Martin Entz’s dream is to be inclusive in his research and to make it applicable to all farms and farmers.” and “Significant and substantive change will only occur if the changes are sung about and reflected in the culture. ” Note: This article was prepared by the Southeastman Transition Initiative.

 

Green Influencer: Dr. Martin Entz

By Gary Martens

I find it fascinating to track where our influences come from and where they lead us. My career path was not a straight line from knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up to actually doing that. Most of us have a zig-zag career path. The path may result from being at the right place at the right time. The path may result from seizing opportunities as they arise or it may result from developing interests based on what we see or hear or read.When I asked Dr. Martin Entz, professor in the Plant Science department at the University of Manitoba how he had arrived at his current position and what had influenced him to do what he does, he immediately said, “I remember my grandfather taking me for walks in our pasture at Ste. Elizabeth. He showed me all the different plants and pointed out the birds and the bugs.” Martin went on to explain that he was fascinated by the diversity he saw in a simple pasture field.

This early influence was always at the back of his mind as he chose his education and subsequent jobs. Dr. Entz chose to go to the University of Saskatchewan to study how winter wheat behaved in zero tillage systems and received his Ph.D. degree there. Martin loved the idea of reduced soil disturbance because of what he had learned about the life in the soil. Zero tillage had gained more acceptance in Saskatchewan than in Manitoba because it was drier there and

After completing his graduate studies Dr. Entz took a position at the University of Manitoba as the forage agronomist. Partly he was in the right place at the right time because Dr. Anna Storgaard was retiring as forage agronomist, but also because forages fit into his vision of what a farm should include. Martin believed that diversity on a farm was a long-term benefit. Forages introduce diversity of life cycles to the farm. Most of our farms plant only summer annuals like wheat, canola, soybeans and corn. Introducing forages brings perennials into the rotation, and perennials bring diversity. Diversity aids in the control of weeds, reducing the need for herbicides. Diversity also contributes to nutrient cycling and general soil health.

Another early influence in Martin’s life was Dr. Wes Jackson who visited the University of Saskatchewan when Martin was studying there. Wes Jackson has, for his entire career, sought to perennialize our annual crops. He has made significant advances in developing a perennial wheat and Dr. Martin Entz was influenced to introduce some of that wheat into his crop rotations as it became available.

Martin’s concern for the well-being of the soil and the well-being of entire farm lead him to focus his research attention on organic systems and the introduction of livestock into those systems. As Dr. Entz’s published papers exposed him an acknowledged organic and farming systems researcher, young people from around the world sought him out to study with him. These highly motivated, intelligent people continued to inspire Dr. Entz’s program and allowed him to flourish.

Dr. Martin Entz’s dream is to be inclusive in his research and to make it applicable to all farms and farmers. This is why he is starting to talk about “beyond organic”. Martin believes that we need to highlight and name the positive practices that many farmers are already practicing. Practices like good crop rotations, reduced tillage, reduced pesticide use, and incorporating a diversity of crops and livestock on the same farm.

Significant and substantive change will only occur if the changes are sung about and reflected in the culture. The good news is that the songs are beginning. Dr. Martin Entz cited Monika Wall, a Manitoba singer who is becoming a cultural influencer for the good of the Earth.

This column is prepared by the South Eastman Transition Initiative.  Go to setimanitoba.org.

Working Together

Anyone who has spent time problem solving knows that working together with other people produces better results. When we work together we build stronger relationships, gain clarity and continuity, and produce better ideas. Unfortunately, as this article from the Guardian points out, we are living in an age of increased hyper-individualism and it may be doing us great harm.

 

This isn’t just about personal choice. We have become highly independent agents. Socially, we can choose where to live, who to congregate with. Politically, we have a wide variety of causes to get behind. Economically we have an unprecedented amount of choice.  It sounds great, and many political movements, Neo-liberalism, Libertarianism, Populism, celebrate the individual in their own way (although members of those particular camps would resent being lumped together).

 

Sadly, ironically perhaps, they are missing the big picture.  Humans do better when we work together.

 

Climate change is going to test us like no other challenge has. Acting independently, we can, and should, buy reusable coffee cups and LED light bulbs. We can ride our bikes to the grocery store where we will feel conflicted over organic vegetables wrapped in plastic. These decisions have less impact when our governments buy pipelines and corporations continue to produce more and more wasteful single use products. We will feel thwarted in our efforts to act responsibly by a system that relies on us consuming beyond the capacity of the environment.

 

We can solve these problems, despite the dysfunction created by Neo-liberalism by working together. Social action and political action are powerful tools for change.

 

Working Together with the Green Party

Cooperative problem solving is a vital part of Green Party of Canada policies.  In fact the GPC runs their conventions using consensus-building techniques, promotes proportional representation, and believes in cooperative, not conflict-driven, government.

 

 

Pallister Not Facing the Hard Challenges

My name is Janine G. Gibson and I have run as the Green Party of Canada candidate many times(8) in Provencher and as the Green Party of Manitoba candidate several times (3) in Steinbach. I have lived on a small mixed farm in Hanover near Pansy sine 1991 and have run my agricultural consulting business serving as an organic ag consultant and organic inspector across Canada since 1993. I have served on the national board of the agricultural charity Canadian Organic Growers (COG) since 1999 and served as the national president for 7 years. I helped to found the Manitoban chapter of COG called the Organic Food Council of MB, a founding member of the Manitoba Organic Alliance, whom I serve as the Executive Secretary.

I grew up on my parents ranch near Oakbank and so have been involved in agriculture my whole life. As agriculture plays such a key role in the Manitoba economy ( the first wheat traded from the prairies came from the RM of Springfield  near where I lived, I have been inspired to help agriculture be as resilient and sustainable as possible and so chose to support organic production. My grandpa never called himself an organic farmer, nor my grandma an organic gardener, but that is what they were. I honour their heritage by continuing to serve agriculture.

I embrace the fiscally conservative yet socially progressive policies of the Green Party of Canada. As Elizabeth May our leader says, “Canadians working together can solve any problem, overcome any hurdle,” including finding a fair way to tax pollution and invest in healthier alternatives.

This is what concerns me about the Palliister government isolating themselves by going their own way opting out of creating a workable carbon fee structure for Manitoba. They choose not to co-operate with the other provinces and the federal government to find a carbon policy that can work for us all. My concern is by not facing the hard challenges posed by climate change now, they are increasing the burden for future Manitobans. The Pallister government is not seeing climate change as the opportunity it is to create local, sustainable jobs. Yes Manitoba is unique, but all of us putting our heads together, can be smarter than any one of us. Let’s take what is working as climate strategies in Ontario, BC and Quebec and tweak them to work for progressive change & investment here in Manitoba. I agree with Elizabeth May and many economists and climate scientists that a Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan is the smartest most efficient way to shift away from fossil fuels by investing in young Canadians through an annual carbon dividend.  BC policies have dropped their fuel use by 16% while incentivizing investment in sustainable jobs and green technology. We need to do that for our younger generations here in Manitoba.

For more on the Green Party Climate and Energy Policy check out our platform at www.greenparty.ca.

(originally for publishing in The Carillon)

Evaluating Media

As a followup to my post from a couple of weeks ago on supporting good journalism, I thought I’d post a link to a website I discovered a year or so ago. You may have seen the graphics from this website on social media. The site’s owner has developed a valuable methodology for evaluating news media.

When looking at an article or post, it is important to be able to evaluate the reliability of the information. I’m sure most of use do this intuitively to some degree. For example, I know to take articles from Huffington Post with a small grain of salt. And that Occupy Democrats or The Rebel are mostly political rallying points with little news value.

Venessa Oterro’s website, Ad Fontes Media (Latin for “from the source”), examines two important elements of media outlets. The first is the amount of left-right bias. The second is a measurement of the news value of the content. The site is regularly updated with revisions to the chart. Oterro also discusses how she develops her rankings and posts insights into why various sites earn their ranks.

The site’s content is, unfortunately, almost entirely American with a smattering of British media. I think, however, that most people can derive their own evaluations of Canadian media from her analysis.

Welcome to the New Epoch: This is not good news

While it isn’t official yet, the earth may be entering a new epoch. And the reasons for this are not good news.

Many of us are probably aware that science has identified a number of distinct geological eras throughout history. We may not know the names off by heart but early Silurian, middle Ordivician, and, of course, the legendary Jurassic will be familiar.

We’re currently in the Holocene epoch which covers the last 11,700 years. Geologists mark the beginning of this epoch at the end of the last major ice age. As such, it is characterized by a stable climate, temperate weather, and a generally comfortable environment. This is the era in which humans developed and thrived; it has supported the development of agriculture and given us good access to food, water, clean air, and lots of land.

Scientists have suggested that we’ve shifted into a new epoch. Unlike every previous epoch, this new era is dominated not by natural cycles but by man-made change. Our activities on this planet have been so profound that we have outpaced geological processes. So much, in fact, that we may be driving the planet out of the stable and hospitable Holocene and into conditions that may not have existed for millions of years. This single idea; that we have changed this planet so much that it will leave a distinct mark on the long-term geological record, is, well, earth-shattering.

This study is looking at the current earth trajectory in a geological sense. It asks some hard questions about what impact we are having. Is there a tipping point beyond which a stable environment is impossible? Where is that point and what happens when we cross it? What must we do to prevent reaching that tipping point? These are hard questions but it is absolutely vital that we answer them. And act on them.

Welcome to the Anthropocene.

 

Journalism and Democracy; Taking a Stand

Today, newspapers across America are answering a call by the Boston Globe to run editorials denouncing Donald Trump’s attack on journalism.

It is an important issue. We may not always be happy with the news we read. We may not always agree with the opinions expressed in editorials. There will always be bias in journalism and, of course, we will run across articles that do not align with our own biases. There will be times when we will be fuming mad because we don’t agree with something we read. This is okay and is just as it should be. Journalism should be something that challenges us and asks us to think critically.

It is entirely up to us to understand the difference between news and opinion. It is up to us to understand that bias exists, to be understanding of it in other people, and to be willing to see it in our own beliefs, opinions, and actions. We can, in fact, learn to appreciate difference of opinion. In doing so, we encourage building better solutions.

We build sustainable democracies by ensuring the free movement and discussion of ideas. That includes, of course, the challenge of standing up for the right to speak opinions which differ from our own. It also includes denouncing efforts to weaken journalism through intimidation, threats, and bullying.

Following are a few links to editorials including one from Canada’s National Observer:

National Observer (Canada)

Boston Globe

The New Yorker

The New York Times

The Atlantic

 

In the News This Weekend

I have to admit that when I saw the news of Elizabeth May’s behaviour this weekend, with reports of bullying from some former staffers, I wasn’t particularly surprised. Disappointed, yes, and worried about what it meant for the Green Party in general. But not really surprised.

It took a bit of introspection on why I wasn’t surprised. I don’t know May well, but I’ve had the opportunity to meet her and work briefly with her in a policy development group. She’s outspoken, yes, but clearly highly intelligent, hard working, and very determined.

I worked in a large corporate entity many years ago, somewhat akin to politics, I’m sure, in terms of the power dynamics. I’ve known these women; the ones who are working successfully at high levels in a male dominated field. Although I hesitate to speak for women, I think there is probably some truth to the idea that women have to be tougher and more vocal than men to work in, and get respect in, that environment. There is truth in the idea that they will be held to higher standards of behaviour and judged more harshly than the men they work with.

It is possible that these complaints come from former employees who have an axe to grind for perceived slights. Clearly, there are numerous people who have worked closely with May for many years and have considerable respect for her as a politician and as a friend. I doubt you can get very far in politics without ruffling numerous feathers.

So, no, I wasn’t particularly surprised because, well,  these stories almost certainly have at least a grain of truth in them.

It appears party officials are rushing to rally around May and downplay the accusers’ stories. This is an unfortunate mistake. We’re in an era where owning up to your actions is important. It is important to make sure that those that feel victimized get heard fairly and respectfully. It is important to determine, as much as possible, in a not-very-black-and-white-world how much truth there is in the stories. It is important to make appropriate amends, wherever possible; from personal amends to improvements in party complaint processes.

It is also important, as difficult as it might be in a one-MP party, to recognize that this MP is not the party. There are many good and capable people in the Green Party. There are clear signs that Green values are speaking to people, as evidenced by the growth in party popularity in B.C. and P.E.I. For me, personally, I remind myself that I came to the Green Party long before I had a real inkling of who Elizabeth May is. I have read her books, heard her speak, and come to admire and respect her, but she is not the reason I’m here.

I hope these grievances get resolved in a respectful and dignified way. And I’ll remain optimistic that, no matter what, the party will learn and grow from this experience. At the end of the day my commitment to the Green Party, and the values it embodies, goes beyond a single person.

Blair Mahaffy

Note: Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect GPC party policy or the policy of our EDA.