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Green IT

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Days of Miracle and Wonder


"I believe that the purpose of life is to expand our own moral imagination ..." 
--Mary Pipher 
Mary Pipher's "Wake Up! Our World Is Dying and We're All in Denial"  is just the most recent of many articles trying to address the immense gulf between the seriousness of the climate crisis and the political and public indifference. Most of the articles by scientists and activists take the movement to task for soft pedaling the true gravity of our situation. Pipher's stands out as different. But first some context.
It is quite true that scientists in particular, but also many activists have grossly understated the extent of the crisis. This is usually justified with the usual bromides that it is necessary to underplay the seriousness of climate change to prevent people from becoming paralysed with despair. There are numerous problems with this approach.
First, however well meant, the fact remains that it is a lie. Any action that begins with a lie is necessarily at least suspect, if not to be rejected outright as clearly the wrong way to create a more just and rational society.
Further, the underlying premise is that once people take some action, they will feel more empowered and are then ready to take even more action. The fact is that it is more likely that once they realize that they were mislead and manipulated, they will lose all trust and stop taking any action at all, if they ever did.
Then there is the obvious disparity between the action and the scale of the problem. However little they may understand about the nature of the crisis, most people who accept the reality of climate change understand that the problem is huge. The premise that simply reusing shopping bags and changing our light bulbs will somehow solve the problem is transparently ludicrous.
The reaction
Given this contradiction, most rational adults will conclude that either nothing can be done, hence the lack of any call for decisive action, or that the problem is not actually very serious, in which case why do anything at all. In either case not much of any consequence is accomplished, and indeed the whole exercise may do more harm than good.
Of course those not willing to hear the alarm will find it all the easier to do when the alarm is muffled. Indeed the very contradictions I note are used by many to show that "obviously the whole thing is a sham," or alternatively, that it is hopeless. 
The biggest problem with this approach is that you do not solve a problem that you are not admitting exists. These "little step" approaches are certain to fail, and this can only leave those taking these actions feeling helpless and defeated.
The truth is that this faux optimism is in fact a deep despair and sense of helplessness in disguise. Anyone who feels empowered does not begin with the premise that they have to lie to people in order to manipulate them into doing the right thing. 
How about us?
The problem of inconsistent and inappropriate messaging is real, but far more serious is that we are not living the full seriousness of the climate crisis. By this I mean many activists and progressives live lifestyles with a carbon footprint that is not particularly distinguishable from the population norm. Sure we bring our own grocery bags and travel mug, but what percentage of the average carbon footprint do those amount to? 
The bulk of the environmental movement operates as if the CO2 produced by an activist's flying here and there is somehow not as damaging as that produced by an oil executive doing the same thing. Carbon is carbon, and the failure of most of us to significantly reduce our carbon footprint makes it all too easy to dismiss us entirely.
Herein I fear another uncomfortable truth, specifically that most of us are unwilling to ask others to do what we ourselves are not willing to do. I fear that much of the rhetoric about what the public is willing to do is simply a smokescreen to justify the climate advocates not taking serious action themselves. A depressing thought, but probably more true than not.
Being blunt, at a minimum it is necessary to become at the very least vegetarian, if not vegan, and to give up the private automobile and all air travel. These three actions are still far, far from enough, but they are at least a serious beginning. 
Pipher reiterates much of the analysis of public apathy and offers a number of the standard solutions (not all of which I agree with), but what makes Pipher's article worth reading is her core suggestion for avoiding despair: amazement.
Regardless of what happens, whether action is futile or not, whether humanity is doomed or not, regardless of any of that, we are here today. Alive, or at least potentially so. 
Taking radical action to deal with climate change is the right thing to do, more so than any other struggle in human history. That we are given the opportunity to be one of the ones to participate in that struggle is amazing. 
It is a rare and wonderful privilege, even if it is also a terrible burden to bear. Despair is is for those who discover that they are too petty and selfish to make the effort. Those who rise to the challenge risk being fully alive to the fact that regardless what happens in the future, we are alive today and it is amazing!

These are the days of miracle and wonder

This is the long distance call

The way the camera follows us in slo-mo

The way we look to us all

The way we lok to a distant constellation

That's dying in a corner of the sky

These are the days of miracle and wonder

And don't cry baby, don't cry

Don't cry

-- Paul Simon,

"The boy in the bubble"

Mike Kaulbars is an environmental activist and science writer living in Ottawa. This column represents his opinion on issues of the day.


In this issue..

Energy East -- A Present Danger
A project to pipe massive amounts of bitumen-based oil from Alberta to Canada's east coast is drawing opposition from communities along its proposed route.
TransCanada Pipeline's Energy East project is being promoted as a means of moving oil from Alberta's tar sands to ports in Quebec and New Brunswick, primarily for export overseas. TransCanada claims this project will expand oil refineries and related industry and create jobs. Energy East would be larger than either the Trans-Mountain, Northern Gateway or the controversial Keystone XL projects.
The issue motivated a discussion, "Energy East: Our Risk - Their Reward," hosted recently in Ottawa by the Council of Canadians and Ecology Ottawa. The meeting was one of a series of forums organized by the Council with local concerned groups in towns along the possible pipeline.
The evening featured a panel composed of Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, and Graham Saul of Ecology Ottawa.
Eriel Deranger stated that Treaty number 8, an agreement signed by (among other First Nations) the Chipewyan people and the Crown in 1899, guarantees its First Nations signatories hunting, fishing, trapping, and cultural preservation rights. These rights, which were later reinforced by the Canadian Constitution and Bill of Rights, are now threatened by the oil sands development in the Athabasca region.
Tar sands, she said, are destroying local ecology and poisoning First Nations peoples. Many Chipewyan have no running water or are subject to years-long boiling water advisories. They suffer increased cancer rates.
Water pollution 
The Tar sands reportedly use four barrels of water for every barrel of oil. Tailings ponds are suspected of leaking millions of litres of toxins into the McKenzie and Athabasca Rivers daily. The mining has caused acres of forest to be cleared, disrupting animal habitats and migratory patterns. Tests on local wildlife indicate probable contamination and a risk to the First Nations practice of sustainable hunting.
Deranger stated that the Harper government threatens democracy and environmental protection. She cites Bill C-45 (2012), which deregulates the management--and protection--of lakes and waterways, as an example. Critical habitats are now vulnerable.
The ACFN, she said is suing Shell Oil Canada for failure to honour agreements with the Chipewyan First Nation regarding resource exploitation on their land. Furthermore, the ACFN is legally protesting the Federal government's approval (with stipulations) of Shell's proposed Jackpine mine project to expand tar sands production.
"Canada has become the playground for oil companies. " Deranger commented. "Aboriginals' traditional territory is being sold."
Maude Barlow explained that TransCanada's use of Benzene (an organic chemical compound) to facilitate the flow of piped bitumen makes spillage extremely toxic. In such an event, the oil would sink into--not float on--water and make the clean-up "a nightmare." Some of the pipes TransCanada uses are old and ill-equipped to handle pressure.
Energy East, she said, will cross 90 waterways systems and provide "a new threat to the Great Lakes, which are already in danger." Barlow explained that U.S. authorities allow fracking wastewater to cross the Great Lakes, with spillage a constant possibility.
The global water supply, Barlow said, is itself threatened.
"The planet," she said, "is running out of water. "
Water is being pumped out faster than it can be (naturally) replaced. The Great Lakes are being drained of so much water that they might be depleted in 80 years. Half of China's rivers have disappeared since 1990. The dumping of waste water into oceans adds further damage.
"We have a responsibility not to destroy this water," she stated. "This is part of a larger struggle."
Local impacts
Part of the Energy East pipeline will cross the Rideau River just south of Ottawa, along with the Oxford aquifer, and a groundwater recharge area [a pumping station is planned in Stittsville]. A spill could thus close down Ottawa's water supply.
Barlow advocated building a strong movement against Energy East. She recommended that citizens tweet and otherwise contact representatives such as Jim Watson to have a risk assessment done regarding an oil pipeline in the Ottawa area.
Graham Saul stated that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently found that, while global warming will increase by 3 ¼ to 4 ¼ if coal and gas are continually burnt for energy, mitigating this is still possible. The IPCC says that alternative energies do not, despite what their critics say, really damage economies.
Saul explained that while Norway and Germany are increasingly using energies such as solar power, Canada does the opposite. The Harper government has reduced federal energy programs while promoting "radical, reckless, ultimately unethical projects such as the tar sands."
Saul said that Kitimat, BC recently held a non-binding plebiscite on the construction of a pipeline and an oil tanker terminal for Enbridge's Northern Gateway project. Enbridge claimed that Northern Gateway would create 180 jobs locally. Nonetheless, 60 per cent of citizens rejected the project. This, Saul said, proves the power of grassroots opposition. (The plebiscite motivated a BC environmental group, Dogwood Initiative, to campaign to have Northern Gateway subject to a popular provincial referendum). He said that communities in New Brunswick and Quebec affected by Energy East are mobilizing against it.
Saul advised that citizens in the National Capital Region lobby the Ontario Energy Board and the federal government regarding the risks associated with Energy East. People should express their concerns to candidates in the upcoming Ontario provincial election.
"We have to stand up and say we do not want this pipeline," he stated. "The time to organize is now."
David Mills writes on environmental and social justice issues.

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