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Earth Days

So I was going to do an Earth Day post, but spent the day planting lettuces and turning over the dirt instead. Probably not a bad thing overall.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the whole idea of Earth Day anyway; I suspect it falls into the same consciousness-area as the rationalization of buying green products giving you a license to be ecologically lazy in other areas. I had this conversation with friends of mine during Earth Hour (the “turn off your lights for an hour” thing) where one of them actually said that since she was doing this, she didn’t feel so bad about driving to Kingston the next day. Repeat after me: that’s not the point that’s not the point that’s not the point.

Which is one thing I really like about’s current Global Work Party campaign; they make it clear that it’s not about “changing the world one solar panel at a time”, but rather about raising awareness and getting other people, especially politicians, on board. And meanwhile it does still accomplish something concrete as well, without which there would probably be fewer people getting involved in the first place.

They don’t yet seem to have a function on their website to find or join existing work parties, so you can’t tell what’s going on in your community, but that’s probably going to be added. I don’t know if I’ll have the ability to organize something, but we’ll see.



So, the big news yesterday: Obama announces his Copenhagen plan, committing to cut America’s CO2 emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020.

(That’s 3 percent of 1990 levels, for those who are counting.)

The sad part is that this is more or less the best we could have hoped for. And I think most of us are glad that at least the US has decided to set itself firm mandatory targets, which it was never willing to do before. But, seriously…three percent? By 2020?

China’s announced its plans as well; it’s going to reduce its emissions by 40 to 45 percent per unit of GDP. Says researcher Qi Jianguo of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “In 2020, the country’s GDP will at least double that of now, so will the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). But the required reduction of emissions intensity by 40 to 45 percent in 2020 compared with the level of 2005 means the emissions of GHG in 2020 has to be roughly the same as emissions now.” This does not strike me as grounds for optimism.

Meanwhile, the deniers continue their increasingly shrill tirades, buying radio ads here in Montreal and across the country. I’m not going to bother linking to them, as I have no interest in helping boost their search rank, but you’ve probably heard them.

The best suggestion I’ve heard on that topic comes from my friend Kielo, who wants to know why we can’t have that kind of nonsense classified as “hate speech against, y’know, the planet and stuff” and dealt with accordingly by the government. While I’m quite sure this proposal wouldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of, say, an actual lawyer (or probably of Ki himself if he were sober at the time), it does point up the glaring anthrocentricity (not a word out of you, Microsoft Spell Checker!) of the way we look at things.

Advocating harm to any group of people, that’s a crime. Advocating doing nothing while other species die, and pushing a lifestyle that actively implicates us all in their extermination, well…that’s free speech, it is. No, even better: that’s science.

350 in Montreal

Some days, in the environmental movement, you feel like you’re some sort of small squishy creature making brave noises just before the great corporate-political-industrial juggernaut squashes you. Some days, you feel very alone.

funny pictures of cats with captions

Saturday was not one of those days.

As everyone probably knows, it was the International Day of Climate Action, where people all over the world gathered to show support for a strong Copenhagen agreement and to demand that steps be taken to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide content below 350 parts per million, the level which scientists have determined will keep climate change within manageable limits. (We’re at 387 ppm now. Not so good.)

It was raining off and on all day in Montreal. The event I was most looking forward to was the 350 Concordia Student Bike To Mount Royal, which was supposed to start at 11 am. I biked downtown from NDG, arrived at the Hall Building, and saw…nobody. Some people were setting up a sound system behind the building for an entirely different event (something to do with Uganda, I’m not sure what they were doing exactly) and other than that and a crowd of random smokers by the doors, the area was deserted. No bikes.

Rode over to McGill to check if maybe there was an email I’d missed, and got chased out of the SSMU building by a janitor who didn’t like me bringing my bike inside. (I don’t have a lock at the moment – long and irrelevant story – and don’t intend to have my bike stolen, thanks.) Biked home to NDG, checked my email. Nothing.

So I decided to head back for the next event, which was a musical event at City Hall, supposed to start at 2pm. Rode back downtown, and as I was passing the Hall Building again, spotted a cluster of signs at the side of the building with one guy sitting next to them. Apparently the bike event had been rescheduled to 2 and everyone else had gotten the email but me. Also, we were no longer biking to Mount Royal, but to City Hall, via Place des Arts to pick up another group of riders; then we were all joining the musical event, which had been changed to three o’clock.

It was still raining lightly, and the organizer wasn’t optimistic. Apparently they’d had four hundred people register for the ride, but the weather kept most of them indoors. When we left Concordia at twenty past two, there were about two dozen of us. Most were on our own bikes, a few on rented Bixis. About half were wearing helmets, and only two of us other than the Bixis had lights going. Go bike safety! Someone asked if we were going to have a police escort. It would probably have looked a bit ridiculous.

We rode to Place des Arts and milled around for a bit. There was a fair crowd there, as apparently they’d just finished doing another event. Lots of people in paper Stephen Harper masks. I don’t think we actually picked up any extra riders there, though. Eventually we got cold enough that we needed to start moving again.

We met up with Geoff Garver and a bunch of other people at the Champ-de-Mars field outside City Hall.

That’s Geoff, me and Ed. There still weren’t nearly as many people as there would have been with good weather, but at least we were enough to make a decent crowd.

Clearly the police had expected a much larger presence as well; there were five police vans parked in the parking lot. Periodically an officer wandered by to see what we were doing and how long we planned to stick around. Nobody seemed much bothered by us. Pedestrians stopped occasionally, not many.

At 3:50 pm we went out on the lawn and played the note F for 350 seconds. The guy with the guitar is Brendan, the organizer of the event.

The frequency of F is 350 Hz – okay, actually 349.23 Hz, but there’s no point nitpicking, especially since we were probably pretty out of tune anyhow, as most of our instruments were the kind you can’t really tune, like pennywhistles and things. Oh, and a musical saw.

Can you tune a musical saw? I have no idea, but it sounded awesome.

After we’d done that, we formed ourselves into a 350 shape and got our picture taken. I haven’t received any pictures of that yet, so, um, here’s a picture of people in Aotearoa, New Zealand, doing it instead.

That’s where the Moral Economy Project’s Robert Howell lives, so it’s almost as relevant.

Afterwards, someone from CTV showed up with a camera and they said they wanted to film us doing a different event entirely; there’d been another Montreal event called “Jump For The Future” where everyone went up on the mountain and jumped up and down. They wanted to put that on the TV, but it had already happened, so they got us to jump up and down instead, and filmed it. We had a small child with us, which automatically makes us look better on TV.

The CTV video player isn’t embeddable, but here’s the link.

Everyone kind of dispersed after that, and I headed home along with a few other cyclists who were going in the same direction. Herding together for mutual protection is Urban Cycling 101. The ride back through Westmount to NDG was quite pleasant, actually, once we got out of the rush hour traffic around Atwater. Lots of leaves on the ground making pleasant squishing noises as we rode through them. Montreal’s official bicycling season ends November 15, which means that’s when they’ll take down the bollards protecting a bunch of the bike lanes and let people park in them and so on. There’s so few good days left.

Did we accomplish anything? I have no idea. The slideshows on are inspirational, for sure. There are certainly a lot of people willing to come out and demonstrate about this. I have no way to measure how many of those people went to their demonstrations by car; how many of them will go home and decide not to take that unnecessary flight, or buy that new TV; how many people walked by the events, or saw them on the news, and went and looked up what they were about, and started thinking seriously about this stuff for the first time; how many politicians added climate actions to their list of Things That Will Make Me Look Good To Voters If I Do Them; how many flapping butterflies’ wings it takes to start that storm. We aren’t going to know any of that until it’s been settled, one way or the other. We just have to keep on doing our bit, and hope it’ll be enough.

In the end, it all comes down to faith.

Countdown to 350

Eight days to go till the International Day of Action on Climate Change. There are about ten events scheduled in Montreal; I’m planning to join the Concordia bike ride. Yeah, it’s a pretty ordinary kind of demonstration, but I’m okay with that; there are plenty of wacky events going on all the time too, and we need both kinds because they tend to reach different crowds. Plus I just like bikes.

Think of the children!

Or the youths, anyway, because today’s post is about the youth climate movement(s). What the children are doing, as far as I can figure from the Eco-Fair I attended a few weekends ago, is building trash castles out of paper towel tubes and excessive glitter. Remember trash castles? Did everybody else have to do those when we were kids? I still remember my dad’s comment that he’d rather have a million trash bags sitting around than a million of those things. Myself, I figured it was a great solution if you happened to have a paper towel tube surplus, but it didn’t go terribly far toward addressing nuclear waste.

(All of which is terribly unfair to the children’s climate movement, of course, which actually does some pretty amazing things.)

But the point right now is youths, and specifically, the upcoming PowerShift event on October 21-23 in Ottawa. From their latest newsletter:

“This October, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition will bring together over
one thousand young people from across Canada for two days of awesome
workshops and strategy sessions in Ottawa that will build to a MAJOR lobby
day on Parliament Hill on the third day. We will deliver our message of
change to our elected officials and push the federal government to take bold
steps in tackling climate change.

Youth of all backgrounds will come together to create a fresh, positive,
and inspiring vision of the future, one focused on our potential to overcome
the challenges of the 21st century, build a clean energy economy, create
green jobs, increase global equity, and revitalize our economy. Now is the
time for action. Now is the time for boldness.”

That is OCTOBER 21-23, everyone. The next day, October 24, is‘s International Day of Climate Action. According to their website, there are already six action events planned for Ottawa, so probably just about everybody’s going to stick around for that.

I still have no idea if I’m going; it depends if MEP is organizing an October 24 event in Montreal or not. I’ll keep you posted. (By “you”, of course, I mean the approximately six people who read this blog and aren’t involved with MEP in some way already. Whatever. Tell your friends.)

Anyway, if you want to get involved with PowerShift, contact Maggie if you’re an individual or Kimia if you’re an organization.

Oh, yeah. Youth are doing a bunch of other stuff too. Leave a comment and add something about your own group!


I was trying to post a new video from our May 15-16 symposium this morning, but unfortunately it looks like WordPress doesn’t allow embedded Vimeo videos. Stay tuned and I’ll try to make it work. Meanwhile, here’s the one video from the symposium that’s on YouTube instead: Bill McKibben, head of, in a pre-recorded address to the symposium:

Thanks again to everyone who attended!