Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’


Just read an excellent article over on AlterNet, discussing what impact Bill Gates’ big speech of a few days ago might have. Gates just announced that he’s putting his massive resources and personal clout behind the target of getting to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Globally. Zero.

From the AlterNet article:

Gates spoke about his commitment to using his massive philanthropic resources (the Gates Foundation is the world’s largest) to make life better for people through public health and poverty alleviation (“vaccines and seeds” as he put it). Then he said something he’s never said before: that is it because he’s committed to improving life for the world’s vulnerable people that he now believes that climate change is the most important challenge on the planet.

Even more importantly, he acknowledged the only sensible goal, when it comes to climate emissions, is to eliminate them: we should be aiming for a civilization that produces no net emissions, and we should be aiming to live in that civilization here in the developed world by 2050.

I don’t think most of us even let ourselves dream about that kind of goal. Successes in the environmental movement, especially at the global level, are so depressingly few and far between that we have a tendency to define our goals very narrowly, to try to insulate ourselves a little from the cascade of disaster that would otherwise bury us. I can imagine and work towards a bike lane on Ste-Catherine Street. That’s a goal I can see reaching. I don’t think I could honestly focus on the goal of a zero-carbon-emissions world without falling into despair.

Maybe that’s just me. Maybe I give up too easily. But I think a lot of us would be daunted by this scale of work; because we don’t normally work on that scale. And the people who do work on a global scale readily, the CEOs of international corporations and the politicians of nation-states and the generally super-rich, they aren’t thinking this way. (I’m going to define “they” in a very reductionist way here as “anybody who has access to their very own airplane”.)

That’s why everyone’s buzzing so much about this: because Gates isn’t David Suzuki, he isn’t George Monbiot; he’s one of them. And now we’ve got one of them on our side.

Is his goal realistic? I don’t know. Is he, even with all the resources of his foundation, going to be able to have much of an impact here? Maybe, maybe not. But it sure is one heck of a morale boost that he’s decided to try.

Bike there!

I got all excited this morning when I found out that Google maps is now supporting biking directions. Then, of course, I discovered that it’s not available in Canada yet. Boo! Had a lot of fun playing around with it though, as I’m planning a cycling trip through Vermont in a couple of months. It looks like they are assuming a cycling speed of about 10 miles an hour, which at first I was thinking was pretty slow, but of course I’m used to thinking in kilometers anyway and actually 16 km/h is probably very reasonable for that kind of hilly area. (I’m planning my route to go through as many state parks, national forests, bird sanctuaries, etc as I can manage, and those all seem to be centred around mountains.) So I’m for sure looking forward to using this tool. Can’t wait for it to be available in Canada too.

It’s really impressive the ripples this has made. It’s hard to separate cause and effect in something like this, but just a few days after Google launched the new bike options, the US Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced a new policy toward bicycling:

“Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized. We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.”

About time, is all I can say. If only our government could follow suit. Come on, Harper, you’ve been tagging along after the US on all kinds of bizarre policies for the last few years; how about following them on something worthwhile?

Rights of Nature

From the Towards an Eco-Economy blog comes an interesting referral to UK environmental lawyer Polly Higgins and her proposal to expand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to all life forms.

60 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the devastation of the humanitarian crisis of the Second World War. Now we have a planetary crisis. Over the past 35 years there has been an ever increasingly loud voice of those calling for proper protection of the planet. There are over 500 pieces of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ law, social documents and individual manifestos that refer to the environment, but until now there has not yet been a comprehensive codification of the Rights of the planet, nor a recognition of our role as trustees and the responsibilities that brings with it.

Go there and watch the video; it’s well worth it.

Circles of concern, circles of influence

I just read an article in the current issue of The Canadian Friend that resonated very strongly with me. In “Making Peace With Our Place on the Planet”, Tony McQuail of Kitchener Monthly Meeting writes:

Something that has been helpful to me is distinguishing between my circle of concern and my circle of influence. If I spend a vast amount of time and energy worrying about the things out in my circle of concern, I can get pretty wound up, frustrated, and lose my inner peace. When I concentrate on my circle of influence I feel far more positive, and bring a hopeful and constructive energy to bear on situations where I actually have some impact. It helps me work on what I can do, rather than worry about what I can’t.

This is a very helpful way of thinking, to me. I spend a lot of time in this job listening to bad news, much of it coming from distant places where I can’t have much if any direct impact, or occurring on a scale too vast to be affected by individual will. This is generally the point where despair sets in.

It’s sometimes hard, too, to figure out what exactly my “circle of influence” is. I know that I could be doing more than I am. I could put in more volunteer hours than I do. I could donate more money to causes I care about. I could, when my current job ends, go and join the Peace Corps and spend the next few years building schools in Africa or whatever. The point is, there’s this large nebulous zone just outside the things I can currently have a positive impact on, full of things I could have a positive impact on if I had more strength, more willpower, more energy, less time commitments, less emotional entanglements, less ties to the place where I live – if I were, in short, a different person altogether. For me, that leads to more guilt than it probably ought to, and that feeds the despair too.

Maybe it’s helpful to remind myself what exactly my circle of influence is.

My garden is the first thing that comes to mind. A large part of Tony McQuail’s article is about his farm, and the ways in which food production is linked to oil and thence to war and violence. I don’t have the skill to grow some things (celery, so far, has been a dismal failure) or the environment to grow other things (chickens, say, or pineapples – damn you, delicious pineapples, and your inability to thrive in the St. Lawrence Lowlands!), but my boyfriend and I can generally get our quota of vegetables entirely from the garden during the peak tomato-producing months.

Another group within my circle of influence is my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, with whom I walk a fine line between wanting to mention when they’re doing something environmentally terrible (“You know you shouldn’t be seting Styrofoam on fire, right?”) and wanting to actually keep said friends. Generally I find perky enthusiasm a lot more helpful than nagging. (“Guess what I saw today! Recycled paper coffee filters! Those used to be impossible to find! Isn’t it great how many more recycled products you can get these days? I feel so much less guilty going shopping when I can get recycled stuff, don’t you?”)

Then there’s the other people in my environment, who I don’t necessarily know but who can see me bicycling, or using a refillable mug, or darning my socks on the bus, or whatever, and might think it’s a good idea. I don’t know how much that actually happens, but it’s certainly happened to me a few times. Besides, it’s a critical mass thing – how many people do you see now using reusable grocery bags? Practically everyone. There’s social pressure about it now. Several times in the past month I’ve seen people apologize (to the cashier, or to the other customers at large) for taking plastic bags. This is a positive step. (The next step is for the supermarkets to just stop offering plastic bags altogether. They’re already doing it in Halifax. Come on, Montreal, do you always want to be trailing behind Halifax??)

There’s my government, of course. Sometimes, like everyone else, I feel I have next to no impact on the decisions of the government that theoretically represents me. But I write letters to them anyway. And hey, we finally got Peter McQueen elected; that has to do some good.

There are my consumer decisions – what to buy, what to wear, where to shop. I’ve finally got my clothes-buying algorithm mostly figured out. (The Salvation Army figures prominently.)

Finally (and by “finally” I mean “I’m probably forgetting something”), there’s this blog, and its literally tens of readers (“Dozens! Baker’s dozens! They come in thirteens.”). Writing for a living has always been my goal, though admittedly I usually visualise that as involving fiction. But I’ve always thought writing was one of our most powerful tools for shaping the world. The amount of positive response that Right Relationship has received over the past year has been truly staggering, and I want to make sure to keep that firmly in mind as I continue in my own writing career in the months and years ahead. I know I now have the skill to write well enough to get people interested in what I have to say; now let’s see if I can make sure I’m saying something worth reading.

Moral analysis

Here’s a great article about our project from Resurgence Magazine by Jack Santa Barbara, the Director of the Sustainable Scale Project and Associate of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University.

The neoclassical economic paradigm that has been so successful at providing material goods is clearly identified as the main culprit in both the destruction of ecological systems and the creation of enormous inequities that characterise the current condition of our special planet. As the authors point out, the economy is about relationships, as is ecology. And the current relationships we humans have with both are wrong. They are wrong because our economic activities are destroying the life-support systems for the commonwealth of life that sustain us, and these same activities reward those who least need more and disadvantage those whose needs are greatest.

The authors’ analysis of the problem we face is not new, but what is different about Right Relationship is the moral basis for both the analysis and the solutions offered. And what may be even more refreshing for some is that the moral basis is not derived from a ‘sacred text’ but from the fundamental truths of science. Many of these truths are also included in sacred texts, so there is not a conflict but rather an integration of traditional spiritual values with the more recent perspective of current scientific inquiry.

Click to read the whole article.

More news: Right Relationship gets a good recommendation in the Maple Ridge News from BC.

Oh, and in the category of “making me feel like a giant wimp”, here’s Ryan Stotland, who is bicycling 12,000 km to raise money against skin cancer and climate change. Donations for his ride will go to the David Suzuki Foundation and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.

Just Finance from the WCC

Hey, back to the actual topic of the blog this morning! All right!

The World Council of Churches recently published their “Statement on just finance and the economy of life”. Some excerpts:

“The current financial crisis presents an opportunity to re-examine our engagement and action. It is an opportunity for us to discern together how to devise a system that is not only sustainable but that is just and moral. Economics is a matter of faith and has an impact on human existence and all of creation.”

“Today’s global financial crisis, which originated in the richest parts of our world, points to the immorality of a system that glorifies money and has a dehumanizing effect by encouraging acquisitive individualism. The resulting greed-based culture impoverishes human life, erodes the moral and ecological fabric of human civilization, and intoxicates our psyche with materialism. The crisis we face is, at the same time, both systemic and moral.”

“Unfortunately, churches have also been complicit in this system, relying on popular models of finance and economics that prioritize generating money over the progress and well-being of humanity. These models are largely oblivious to the social and ecological costs of financial and economic decisions, and often lack moral direction. The challenge for churches today is to not retreat from their prophetic role.”

I urge you to read the entire statement over at their website.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

What am I thankful for?