Dreaming the Compost Dream

I’m finally writing about compost, but don’t leave me on that account. I think about this subject fairly obsessively, and while it’s become a suburban constant in Canadian cities — trucks for curbside pickup, pretty green bins on wheels — it’s not even on the radar in China. So let’s talk about compost. Don’t you love dialogue about rotting fruit and decaying leaves? I do.

It’s one of my oldest and clearest links, I realized recently, with a long-departed father who was always present while I grew up, but in a fairly vague and fogbound way. For some reason, maybe just because we weren’t that far removed from farmers in our rural community, we had a compost heap in the backyard 50 years before most people did.

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Retroactivity Is Still Activity, Right? (IEF 2)

I live in a mental and emotional framework in which, much to my bride’s consternation, time is elastic and late is a long sight better than not at all. Besides, as one of the great thinkers said, literature is news that STAYS news…

Not that my two-week-old reports on the International Environment Forum’s 11th conference are literature — my hubris has bounds — but the ideas and the challenges that bubbled during those consultations are as current as next year’s news. Such is my justification for this late report: this stuff MATTERS, no matter how tardy the messenger is. As before, I’ll give you a quick taste and link to the more full report on the IEF site, where there’s even some moderate-quality video, too.

Saturday afternoon, October 13: Local Eco-Action

Here is the briefest of summaries of a panel discussion on the theme “Value-Based Approaches to Environmental Action”, and featured two of Ottawa’s citizen leaders and an American guest.

Jessica Lax spoke of the Otesha Project, a “light living” NGO that seeks to empower and train young people. This initiative of Ms. Lax and friends came after a life-changing period of service in Africa. With joy and practiced optimism, Otesha’s theatrical and bike-tour activities have made a strong impact on the youth culture of Ottawa.

Clive Doucet is one of Canada’s strongest voices for re-imagining cities. His work for the greening of Ottawa, as a city councillor, has allowed him to see both what is possible and the nature of the obstacles to those advancements. Check out his book Urban Meltdown here.

Peter Adriance is the NGO liaison for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. He outlined some of the experiences and learnings of various elements of the American Baha’i community, and its collaborations with other faith-based organizations. Movingly, he told of grassroots development among impoverished women in Kenya, and struggling American fishers.

Session 2: The Development of Moral Capabilities

“Let your vision be world-embracing, rather than confined to your own selves.” This famous passage from the Baha’i writings, Gordon Naylor (a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada), began, is a radical call to moral and ethical advancement.

He urged the participants to adopt a humble, learning mode about the developments of human civilization to come. We don’t know and can’t imagine the civilization that we need to build, and we shouldn’t waste time and energy trying to make it in our own drastically limited images. Mutual encouragement is key. We must find ways to joyfully appreciate the talents and capacities of others. A mature respect for the rights of others is another of these capacities.

At Nur University in Bolivia, a set of 19 moral capabilities was developed to allow rural communities to move forward. They include the capability to:

• evaluate one’s own strengths and weaknesses without ego
• imbue one’s actions and thoughts with love
• take initiative in a creative and disciplined way
• contribute to the establishment of justice

Mr. Naylor advocates the following elements of a moral framework.
1. An orientation of service to the common good.
2. Leadership whose purpose is individual and social transformation.
3. Twin moral responsibilities to truth: know it, enact it. (Serve it.)
4. Transcendence through vision.
5. Belief in the essential nobility of the human being.
6. The development of capabilities.
7. Commitment to a world-embracing vision.

IEF: A Backward Glance

One of the main things that I wasn’t posting about when was down was a conference that had absorbed my family unit for several months before it actually happened. EcoBride was one of the main organizers of the 11th annual conference of the International Environment Forum, a collection of people inspired by the teachings of the Baha’i Faith to seek out ecological understanding and action. This was the first time the IEF has conferred formally in Canada, and I saw many of the anxious hours, the e-mail flurries and the telephone marathons that make an event like this happen. I am glad that the conference is over, partly because it was superb and I got to be present for a lot of it. I’d almost say that I’m getting my wife back, except that she now has more invitations to speak and will soon be off to Sweden for a more work-related gathering on eco-labelling practices. (There will likely not be a JH report on the mysteries of consumer environmental regulations…)

I won’t give you the full summaries — I wrote for the on-line discussion, and will link you to these more complete notes — but I want to offer you some of the flavour of this conference, entitled Responding to Climate Change: Scientific Realities, Spiritual Imperatives.

An Inconvenient Truth, by Gerbis!  (13 October, morning)

Michael Gerbis is the CEO of the Delphi Group, an Ottawa environmental consulting company, and one of 20 Canadians who have been trained by Al Gore in giving this presentation on the causes, effects and solutions to global climate change. The challenging irony of the situation was clear early in Mike’s presentation – the majority of attendees have already seen An Inconvenient Truth, and some have read the book. Preaching to the converted, of course, and the implicit challenge of how to take this message to those whose lives, politics, education or commitments leave them outside the “in-group” of environmentalists. One of Gerbis’s solutions is to take it to the schools, a very different audience from this one!

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children and grandchildren.” Mike, father of two, began in this vein of native spirituality. This is a businessman, someone who has decided to seek out the opportunities presented by ecological imperatives. His approach is not primarily a spiritual one, but his presentation fit well into the overall search of this conference for the ethical and moral dimensions of this scientifically complex phenomenon of climate change. Mr. Gerbis’s contribution was that of a sobering reminder and a summary of the overwhelming scientific consensus that will perhaps eventually filter down to inform the consciousness of the mass of citizens, in Canada and everywhere.

  • The correlation between the accumulation of so-called “greenhouse gases” and increasing global temperatures are now clear; the 10 hottest years on record have ALL occurred in the last 14 years. Crazy weather is now a staple of newscasts, and we’re starting to believe what scientists are in the process of proving.
  • Among the most stunning visuals for me show the retreat of the glaciers world-wide. The Inuit, of course, see this at first hand in their hunting and living grounds.
  • We’ve lost 20% of the world’s coral reefs, and much more is desperately threatened.
  • Gerbis, a businessman, finds the countervailing economic arguments very short-sighted and limiting. There are major economic opportunities out there, which his own company is based upon.
  • Australia has had five “hundred-year droughts” in the last ten years. This and other “freak” occurrences are increasing exponentially. They are accelerating.
  • This is most dramatically seen, perhaps, in the rapid melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves, and is beginning to be seen in low-lying territories.
  • But perhaps the biggest problem is our way of thinking: our denial, our unwillingness to sacrifice privilege and comfort and the apparently urgent imperatives of economic growth.
  • And get this straight, says Mr. Gerbis: there is NO lack of scientific consensus; there has never been anything about which practising scientists (as opposed to industry lobbyists) have been more in agreement about.

As with Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore’s documentary, it was a sobering picture, but not a despairing one. The scientific and technical prowess to make dramatic changes exists, but the ethical impetus is still lacking. The main place of change is in people’s hearts. Gerbis concluded with these words of Martin Luther King, given in a different context but applicable to this global emergency:

“When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point but victory. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

It is our moral obligation to do everything we can to give the planet back to our children in such a way that it will benefit them; the earth will be fine, it’s not going anywhere, but will it be a liveable place for those that follow us?

Tangled Up in Green

My goodness, but that was a long post on David Suzuki! Kudos to you if you made it through all that goo… (It was very good goo).

When did I get so green? Thanks to good luck in the marriage lottery, I have been exposed to many of the best thinkers on ecology and sustainability. Environmental issues do get me wound up, and it’s not just a function of their size and potentially catastrophic impacts. It’s also because climate change, perhaps more than any single issue other than nuclear war – or an invasion by ugly, laser-toting aliens with attitudes – speaks to what I have become convinced is the central challenge of the modern age.

It’s about UNITY, smarty! We are ever more conscious of the singularity of the planet we call home, and of the oneness of the human race. This seems to be the way of it: if we don’t move toward unity voluntarily, then the spirit of the age kicks us upside the head. So if there’s a silver lining to the threat of cataclysmic climate change, it’s this: it’s a problem we can solve only by united action. All the people. All the governments. All the time. “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” That was Mírza Husayn ‘Ali, in the 19th century. I’m listening. We’re learning, but my God it’s slow!

And because you’ve been so patient, and because I went on so yesterday, that’s all I have to say about that. Now we’re even. (You’re welcome!)