Shared Wisdom: Part 1

I keep a pad of Post-It Flags beside me when I read in order to mark special quotes or informative passages. From there I choose the best of the best and copy those passages into a  journal of treasured quotes. Occasionally I’ll sit down with a favourite beverage and that journal and revisit all those hits of wisdom that had jumped out at me and I get to enjoy them all over again. Each time I do this I wish I could share them with friends, discuss their significance, and ponder how some writers can articulate so clearly those wisps of clarity that ramble around our brains but to which we’re unable to articulate.

So I’ve decided to use this platform to share some of them with hopes that others will experience that same ‘aha!’ moment that I did. I’ll  post three at a time, sometimes with a theme, sometimes not. So, in no particular order, here are my first 3 hits of wisdom.

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savour the world. That makes it hard to plan the day.” (E.B. White)

What do you know now in a deeper way than you knew it before? I love this question because it honours how we grow and learn. Wisdom isn’t about accumulating facts, it’s about understanding big truths in a deeper way.” (Melinda Gates from The Moment of Lift)

“The new good life is yours whenever you appreciate life, whenever you live with a sense of meaning and purpose that goes beyond the material veil, whenever your heart is filled with wonders, large and small. It’s yours when you see life anew, when your faith is restored, when you find the sacred in the midst of the mundane and the beauty of your spirit in the way that you live.” (John Robbins from The New Good Life)

Did you hear about the Red Alert in this week’s news?

Probably not. Most of us didn’t.

World Meteorological Organization is “sounding the Red Alert to the world.”

In his newsletter for Canada’s National Observer, climate correspondent Chris Hatch quotes the World Meteorological Organization (WMO): “The state of the climate in 2023 gave ominous new significance to the phrase ‘off the charts.’ He said the WMO officially certified last year as the hottest on record by a freakishly wide margin.

Hatch continues. “If you didn’t hear about the WMO “sounding the ‘Red Alert'” it’s probably because it barely made the news. The weekend weather forecast gets more coverage than a global red alert from the world’s meteorologists. Instead, we are inundated with articles and commentary gloating over the plight of carbon pricing or counselling strategic retreat on that policy.”

What is the main-stream media’s role in our apparent apathy, or even ignorance on the climate crisis?  That so many of us are blissfully unaware of the consequences of climate chaos is at least partly because main-steam media outlets aren’t giving us the whole truth. Stories of flooding and wildfires are covered, the words ‘climate change’ are suggested as a possible reasons for these catastrophes, but there’s no sense of urgency, no suggestion that world leaders are talking  too much and not acting nearly fast enough. If we don’t actively search out information (ie. the facts (not cliches) about the carbon tax) we won’t get accurate information and may believe that someone else is going to fix the climate emergency.

I’ve recently turned to Canada’s National Observer, The Guardian and The Tyee for more in-depth reporting.  Highly recommended.

We Can Do It


I wrote this piece as a letter-to-the-editor in response to an article on the impending drought and wildfire season.  I had to condense my ideas to 200 words. It was a good exercise. There’s so much more I wanted to say!

 

 

We know it’s coming, a summer drought and an out of control wildfire season.

The main difference between this crisis and the Covid 19 crisis was that the virus came at us like a bullet train hot out of hell, shocking us into action while the climate crisis has crept up on us slowly, over decades but is now set to cause exponentially more deaths than a mere virus ever could. But surely, if we can ‘flatten the curve’ of a deadly virus we can also flatten the curve of global warming using science, political will and public acceptance. Our individual behaviour changes would be a whole lot easier; no face masks, no social distancing, no lock downs. And we wouldn’t have to give up all those things we love like sports, theatre, dining out etc.

The solutions are many; an abrupt shift to clean energy, adopting plant-based diets, scaling back recreational air travel, and reeling in rampant consumerism to name but a few.

The climate crisis is now that bullet train. For our children, grandchildren and future generations, let’s act like we care, in our homes, our communities and in our country.

 

 

 

Words to live by

It was the end of a weekend-long conference for librarians and they were enjoying a celebratory awards banquet. Their spouses were included as were some authors who were seated at random tables and encouraged to chat with the librarians. Being an author, that’s how I found myself waiting for a meal, surrounded by strangers.

This event goes back fifteen years. For dinner we’d been given a choice of salmon or beef. I’d chosen salmon but had noted that there wasn’t a vegetarian option which would have been my preference.

When the meals arrived I was surprised to see that the man beside me received a plate of pasta, and it looked delicious.

“I didn’t know pasta was an option,” I said, trying to mask my plate envy.

“I requested a vegetarian meal,” he said, which I thought bold as he was simply the guest of his wife, a librarian. Being the cowardly person that I am, and being a guest, I wouldn’t have wanted to rock the boat so if I’d been served a meat other than fish, as had happened in the past, I would have given it to someone else and filled up on bread.

In those days I was always delighted to meet another vegetarian, we were so few in number, so I asked this man how long he’d been eating plant-based. I’d noted that his wife had chosen the beef option.

“Just a couple of months.”

“Really! What inspired you to take the leap?” I asked, truly curious about why some people adopt a plant-based diet even when their partners don’t. I know from experience that it makes meal planning more complicated.

“One day,” he said, “I just decided that enough was enough.” He didn’t elaborate, just tucked into his meal which I must say smelled as good as it looked. He gave me the impression that he didn’t want to discuss the topic further so I began to eat my own meal, wishing I’d also been brave enough to ask for a vegetarian option.

Enough is enough. 

That’s all he said, but his words have stayed with me over the years. I didn’t ask, but clearly he’d seen and heard the literature that promotes plant-based diets. He’d likely learned about the horrors of factory farming and the significant contribution of beef agriculture to global warming. So why don’t more of us say that – enough is enough – when we realize that our behaviour and lifestyle choices are incongruent with the health of the planet?

If it were only so simple. Life is complex. Systematic change is difficult. We don’t think that our individual actions will make a difference.

But that quiet man, that lone vegetarian at the long banquet table, he decided that he was no longer going to stick with the status quo. His individual action impressed me. Our actions speak louder than words. He didn’t feel the need to explain his choice, except to say those three words. And because of people like him, vegetarian and even vegan options have now become mainstream.

Enough is enough.

Words to live by.

Breaking up

Dear Fast Fashion,

It’s over. We’re done. I’m breaking up with you. 

Oh I know, I’ve said it before, but then you’d cast your spell over me with a new fashion trend, bargain basement price or targeted marketing that infested my newsfeeds. Yes, on many occasions you tempted me back when I forgot what matters; who made those garments, the damage you cause to the environment and the contribution you make to the climate crisis.

No, fast fashion, I truly am on to you and your corrupt ways now, the true cost that it takes to get your cheap clothing into my hands. You failed to tell me that your industry is responsible for 10% of the global carbon emissions, more than aviation and shipping combined, or that your synthetic materials, like polyester, require millions of barrels of oil every year. And how about the poisonous chemical dyes you pour into rivers? Shameful. And speaking of water, I now know your dirty little secret; one pair of jeans uses 9,000 bottles of water to produce!

And then there’s your contribution to swelling landfills! Your clothes don’t last beyond a few washes and then they’re tossed by the duped consumer. Like me.

Good grief, Fast Fashion. Does your industry lack a soul? Are the products you’d have me consume made under conditions that any decent person would consider humane? No! Those factory workers in Bangladesh are suffering, they work extremely long hours for below living wages. They are just cogs in a profit making machine, and your industry is doing extremely well in the profit making department.

I’m leaving you Fast Fashion, for something with integrity: Conscious Fashion. It’s been calling me for some time and I’m finally ready to move on.

Goodbye Fast Fashion. Please clean up your act.

*image from greenmatch.co.uk

Zooming In

My view is vast. Infinite. It’s the entire cosmos, all the solar systems, galaxies, stars, planets, asteroids, satellites and black holes.

Time is irrelevant here, but change is constant. Stars flicker out or explode as supernovas. Dark matter and energy pulse and there are hefty rocks careening through space, colliding with planets and other celestial objects. Planets circle stars and moons circle planets. There is chaos and there is order. The universe is All.

I rest my sights on the Milky Way which is but one of billions of galaxies in the universe. Each star in the milky way is teeming with planets. I focus on one of those stars, known as the Sun and see the nine planets that orbit it. Looking even closer I note the third planet from the sun, a blue dot in the black vastness. Zooming in I see that the planet is mostly covered in water, hence the blue tinge but great mountain ranges zig zag across the land and there’s lush vegetation, trees being the most notable feature. 

Drawing my gaze even closer I recall that this blue dot in the universe is also home to billions of beings, from single cell organisms to birds that soar and larger two and four-legged creatures. Last time I cast a glance this way there were significantly more varieties but now the two-legged ones, the humans, have grown in number, skewing the fine balance. Time will sort out this problem. Time, eternal time, restores balance to all aspects of the cosmos.

Earth has existed for 3.8 billion years but humans have been around for only a few hundred thousand. In other words, they just got there.

And perhaps they are already on their way out?

I’d watched the evolution of life on this planet and when I first noticed the transition from hominid to human I was curious. What will they do with their developing brains? With their compassionate hearts? 

Not what I’d expected, as it turns out.

Earth, that tiny, fragile exception in this particular solar system was an anomaly. It had life. It had potential. Humans did not rely solely on instinct to guide them as unicellular beings do. They are capable of great emotion and wondrous imagination. Continue reading

Mind-blowing Science

Every time I watch a jumbo jet hurtle down a runway and then lift skyward I’m awed by the science that made that feat possible. How many pounds of aircraft, people and luggage are being propelled into the atmosphere? Who ever dreamed it could be done? I’m constantly humbled by how little I know. 

A mere 66 years separate the Wright brothers’ first flight and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. It’s miraculous that science could achieve so much in that time frame. And now with the advent of AI new developments in science will likely speed “advancement” even faster although we don’t yet know how these ‘advancements’ will play out. Will they solve many of our man-made problems or only add to them? Perhaps in another 66 years we really will be living in settlements somewhere in outer space.

What really amazes me though (and not in a good way) is how we can make these huge advances in certain sciences, like aviation, yet we still can’t learn the basics, like how to get along. War continues to be waged around the world. As well, it has been suggested that if everyone on the planet consumed resources as fast as the average Canadian, five Earths would be needed to sustain us. As a species we can be so brilliant, yet we can also behave as daft as that ostrich with its head buried in the sand. 

In the early days of the Covid pandemic we were all forced to slow down. You could almost feel the planet sigh with relief. The air cleared almost immediately as most of the planes were grounded and people who could worked from home, sparing the atmosphere all those carbon emissions. Wildlife began to appear where it dared not tread just weeks before. People returned to the humble Craft; baking, knitting, gardening. Wouldn’t it have been nice if this grand pause could have taught us to slow down permanently, breathe more deeply and appreciate simple pleasures? But life has ramped back up. It’s what keeps the economy going. 

But let’s return to science, that miraculous body of knowledge that created vaccines and medicines that extend our lives.  That changed our means of communication. That continually evolves. Biologists. Physicists. Geologists. They are all working on discoveries to further enlighten and improve the human condition. 

Right now climate scientists are working particularly hard and are sounding an alarm loud and clear. They have the knowledge to teach us how to save ourselves and yet we’re still too preoccupied with our rampant consumerism, fast fashion and celebrity culture to hear it. Like that airplane hurtling down the runway, it can feel as though planet earth is careening toward disaster. But writer George Monbiot reminds us that political systems were made by people, and they can be changed by people. And we’re not ostriches. As Dr. Seuess says, “We have brains in our heads. We have feet in our shoes. We can steer ourselves in any direction we choose.” If we can blast airplanes into the sky and rockets into outer space surely science can help  rejig our trajectory, moving us toward the creation of a kinder, gentler and greener world. 

Spiritual Longing on a Sunday Afternoon

Written on a glorious fall day.

High above the towering forest the sky is a brilliant, summertime blue but the air on the ground is cool and fresh. Fallen leaves crunch beneath my feet as I stomp along the wooded trail. Through shafts of light that slice through the overhead branches I see that the the air is not actually clear but full of minuscule debris, bits of the forest, dancing in the breeze.

A sense of the sublime hits me as I absorb this perfect moment. Forgotten are the to-do lists, the chores that are waiting to be tackled and the many sorrows of the greater world. My mood, which seconds earlier had been dark as I rehashed the worries of the day, has lifted. I lean against a statuesque tree and look up, the green tree foliage juxtaposed against the cloudless sky and I let the beauty soak through me…

And then a crow squawks, breaking the stillness of the afternoon. I sigh, check my watch, and continue to plod along. The spiritual longing that is my constant companion settles over me again.

C.S. Lewis describes the feeling as “an inconsolable longing for we know not what”. How true. No matter how even-keeled my life is on any given day I can always feel that pang, that need to understand the meaning of it all. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Is there even a purpose?

Around the world people turn to organized religion to find the answers and yet we’re the one species who regularly rages war on one another (often in the name of religion) and we’re also the one species who (supposedly) has the greatest intelligence yet ignores what we know and continues to destroy our one and only planet with our wasteful, polluting ways. There’s such a disconnect between what we know and what we do. How can a person reconcile bliss (ie. a walk on a perfect fall day) while also knowing that our lifestyles are such that people only a few generations from now may not be able to experience this same beauty? Indigenous people from every corner of the world seem to have a more balanced relationship with the planet, recognizing the interconnectedness between all living things, and yet we don’t listen.

So what do we do with this?

We can only do our best, living in a manner that treads as lightly as possible. We can pursue knowledge. The sublime may be beyond our grasp but we can live generously and with kindness. And we can pay greater attention to those simple pleasures that stimulate the sense of wonder, that dew-covered, extraordinarily intricate spider web sparkling in the morning sunlight. That smell of decomposing leaves beneath our feet. That deep, unexpected connection with a stranger or the warmth we feel in our beloved communities. Perhaps if we do pay attention, much closer attention to these many simple joys the sense of the sublime will push aside the spiritual longing for longer and longer moments and we’ll “find the sacred in the midst of the mundane.” (John Robbins)

And we can hope, deeply hope that our elected leaders will take the necessary actions that begin to resolve the many problems in the world.


Imagine…

Before anything significant can happen, it first has to be imagined. A world without slavery had to be imagined before the abolition movement could exist. A world where women are equal to men had to be imagined before women were eventually granted the right to vote. A new year has that ‘anything can happen’ kind of feeling. In that spirit, here is the perfect world of my imagination, an invocation to make it so.

Imagine that we wake each morning to the sound of birdsong. Bird numbers have returned to preindustrial numbers and their trills, warbles and whistles fill the air as they welcome the new day.

Imagine we rise each morning with our hearts full of compassion and not greed, full of wonder and not cynicism.

Imagine starting each day with a wholesome breakfast of food that we’ve grown in our own small gardens or was produced locally.

Imagine living in communities where people have access to smooth-running transit as we head to work and school. Even better, imagine communities designed with safe walking and biking trails for easy commuting.

Imagine that everyone is employed in work that contributes in a meaningful way to society, and that we enjoy doing over a four day work week.

Imagine that everyone has discovered their passions, those things that bring us joy without harming ourselves, others, or the planet. And imagine we can all find time each day to pursue these passions, whether they are playing sports, making music, art, cooking or any of a million other interests. May we also have time each day to care for our families, friends and people in need.

Should we become unwell, imagine that the medical system will be there to meet our needs, from consultation, to tests and treatment. Continue reading

The Day The World Stops Shopping

“We must stop shopping but we can’t stop shopping: the consumer dilemma has become, quite simply, the question of whether we can sustain human life on Earth.” (page 12)

You can see from the number of Post-it tabs on the pages of this book that there are A LOT of passages I need to return to for additional reflection.

From the back jacket: “In North America, we burn the earth’s resources at a rate five times faster than they can regenerate. Despite our effort to “green” our consumption, we have yet to see a decline in global carbon emissions. And economists say we must always consume more, because even the slightest drop in spending leads to widespread unemployment, bankruptcy and home foreclosures. Author J.B. MacKinnon addresses this paradox head-on. Is there a way to reduce consumption without triggering an economic collapse?”

It may sound ‘dry’ but it’s not. MacKinnon is an engaging writer. The book is a brilliant thought experiment that is as full of hope as it is of amazing and well-researched material. I could not stop reading and want to share this book with everyone I know. But because I also know that ‘everyone’ won’t find time to read it I’ll share some (and there are SO many) quotes from the book.

(page 60) (referring to the early months of the pandemic) Many people said the air had cleared because everyone was staying home. A more precise cause is that the consumer economy had stalled. Factories were closed. Planes weren’t flying. Shipping lanes were empty. Our daily commutes to earn money, or to spend it, were called off. It was the consumer dilemma made piercingly clear: our economics are driven by consumption, yet consumption drives our carbon emissions. The relationship is so strong that climate scientists have long used growth in one as an indicator of growth in the other. Accelerate the fashion cycle, and you accelerate climate change: cut back on the Christmas spending spree, and fewer CO2 molecules enter the atmosphere that year. Yet addressing climate change by reducing the scale of our consumption has never been seriously considered by political leaders.

(page 162) In a world in which billions of people already have enough apparel, the only way to keep them buying is to generate unnecessary demand. The way to create unnecessary demand is to accelerate fashion trends. The way to accelerate fashion trends is to make clothes cheap enough to buy more and more often. And the only way to make clothes that cheap is to cut corners on quality, working conditions, wages or environmental standards – the disaster of everyday life that Bangladesh has been living for years.

(page 247) Anti-consumers are more likely to engage with issues such as climate change, species extinction, racial injustice and poverty – matters that can be disturbing, depressing or even frightening. Since engagement with such topics is congruent with their values, however, it makes life meaningful – but perhaps not cheerful.

(page 10) Those who warn against consumerism have made two main arguments. The first is that a love for money and things indulges the lesser angels of our nature, such as greed, vanity, envy and wastefulness. The second is that every moment you spend thinking about money and things is a moment that could have been spent making a greater contribution to the human community through service, the pursuit of knowledge or the life of the spirit.

(page 83) …low or no economic growth was the norm through nearly all of human history.

(page 292) This book began with a question: Can we solve the consumer dilemma? The answer is yes, we can. In slowing an economy bound to endless expansion, we only rejoin the longer trend of more gradual growth seen throughout most of history: with ingenuity, we can adapt. The more personal question – whether we want to go down this path – is harder to answer. The evidence suggests that life in a lower-consuming society really can be better, with less stress, less work or more meaningful work, and more time for the people and things that matter most. The objects that surround us can be well made or beautiful or both, and stay with us long enough to become vessels for our memories and stories. Perhaps best of all, we can savour the experience of watching our exhausted planet surge back to life: more clear water, more blue skies, more forests, more nightingales, more whales.

If we care at all about future generations something has to give. Please read the book. You will be fascinated, shocked and, most importantly, inspired.