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 Living Lightly

  EnviroCentre Edition - Spring 2016

Scroll down for highlights!
Catherine Mageau-Walker (SustainLowertown Coordinator), Annie Mercier (LCRC Community Developper), Mathieu Fleury and Angela Palma Herriot at a Good Food Market in Lowertown Credit: Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown

Catherine Mageau-Walker (SustainLowertown Coordinator), Annie Mercier (LCRC Community Developper), Mathieu Fleury and Angela Palma Herriot at a Good Food Market in Lowertown.
Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown

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..

Good Food Markets in Lowertown

Catherine Mageau-Walker, Program Coordinator, Sustain Lowertown

There is an old saying that says we are what we eat. But what happens if you can’t access healthy food?

Angela Palma Herriot (former Lowertown Good Food Market Assistant in the red apron) with volunteer, customer and Lowertown resident Patrick Cassidy at the first indoor GFM in the common room in 160 Charlotte. Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown

 Angela Palma Herriot (former Lowertown Good Food Market Assistant in the red apron) with volunteer, customer and Lowertown resident Patrick Cassidy at the first indoor GFM in the common room in 160 Charlotte. Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown



The Good Food Markets hope to alleviate this problem of access. An initiative of the Poverty and Hunger Working Group through the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres (Anti-Poverty Project) and their community partners, Good Food Markets are pop-up non-profit markets that address barriers to food at the neighbourhood level by selling high quality produce and dry goods in communities at great value.

Over the last two years, Lowertown offered eight Good Food Markets in MacDonald Gardens Park with one happening each of the summer months.  The markets offered fresh produce and because of a partnership with the Good Food Pantry, dry goods as well. They were not only a source of nourishment for the body, but also for the community with live music from such local artists as Gabriel Bouchard, Tariq Anwar, Moonfuits and Greggio, as well as face painting and soccer playing for children (or interested adults) and information on community offerings.

Catherine Mageau-Walker, former Lowertown Good Food Market Coordinator, states, “The point of a Good Food Market is not exclusively to provide affordable fresh food to residents, it is also a community strengthening tool – a way to bring community residents together. If you have ever come to a market, you would witness first-hand how this happens: between the chatting amongst the volunteers, the interactions between the market attendees, the collective enjoyment of the music or complaining of the weather. The markets act as a vehicle for creating that community togetherness with the added benefit of providing and assisting people in making healthy food purchases possible.”


Catherine Mageau-Walker (SustainLowertown Coordinator), Annie Mercier (LCRC Community Developper), Mathieu Fleury and Angela Palma Herriot at a Good Food Market in Lowertown. Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown

To ensure these markets continue, MarketMobile, Good Food Market and their passionate supporters are always looking for creative solutions and alternate funding streams to continue offering healthy food to communities that need it.  In the interim, in Lowertown, the Lowertown Community Resource Centre and SustainLowertown, a partner community in EnviroCentre`s Sustain Your Community project, have formed a partnership to bridge the fresh food accessibility (both physical and financial) gap by holding indoor markets. At this time, two markets have been held in the resident’s lounge of an Ottawa Community Housing building,   once again offering affordably priced fresh local food to the seniors living there. And as with other markets, the live music, creating an ambiance of either a Parisian café or a campfire sing-along, has made many of the market attendees smile – or many a volunteer stomp their feet in tune.

With the rising prices of fresh produce, making healthy food accessible and affordable will continue to be a challenge – but through the Good Food Markets we can continue to strive to provide nutritious food at the best possible price, so that everyone can be a true reflection of “we are what we eat”.

PEN Spring 2016 Simple

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The PERC thanks the above organizations for their support.

Thank you to Sustainable Eastern Ontario, the Community Foundation of Ottawa, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for sponsoring the Winter 2015-2016 edition of the PEN.


Viewpoints expressed should not be taken to represent the opinions of the Ottawa Peace and Environment Resource Centre, the Peace and Environment News, or our supporters. The PEN does not recommend, approve or endorse any of the advertisers, products or services printed in the PEN or referred to on the PERC website. Health-related information printed in the PEN or online is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified and licensed health care provider. The PERC and PEN are not responsible for the content on any external website links.