Rss

Pandemic Darkens the World: What Good Is THAT?*

A little more physical distancing needed now, of course: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres fist-bumps African colleagues. (Wish I knew who they were.) I choose to love this image. (photo courtesy UN)

*(4th in the “Silver Linings”series, which began here in my house, and ends here, on Earth.)   [8-minute read]

In some ways, finding the bright side of the Covid-19 crisis is hardest at the international level. It was easiest inside the four walls of my own home, and required successively more vision and awareness as I moved from civic good news to national bright spots to this challenge: does a global perspective offer much in the way of hopefulness? I must say: I can be a gloomy sort of Gus. I lean in to sadness and uncertainty and so many hands (“on the other other hand…”) in my preferred movies and books and songs. (Dar Williams and Her Deep Well of Sadness¹ pretty dependably make me weepy.) Still, my Thinking Cap has a propeller on it, blowing me ever toward possibility and a belief in the eventual triumph of common decency and basic good sense. So.

                   ¹ This is not the name of her band. She mostly flies solo. (And she’s funny, too.) Back to our regularly scheduled post.

I concluded Part 3, which focussed on Canadian candles in the wind and gloom, with some final thoughts on internationalism. We in the North pride ourselves, at least insulated little pockets of us do, on being a UN-friendly, outward-looking nation. We’ve always tended to be a bit more restrained in our flag-waving than the Americans are, though they’ve rubbed off on us uncomfortably (for me, at any rate) in that way as well. Internationalist visionary and global community-builder Shoghi Effendi – no Canuck, though he did marry one – argued powerfully about the negative side of nationalism. No problem, he wrote, with “a sane and intelligent patriotism”, especially to prevent over-centralization and an overbearing global authority, but between the wars he fingered unrestrained nationalism as one of three “false gods” that threatened human progress and peace. (Communism, of the Soviet flavour at least, and racial-superiority doctrines of every stripe were the other two.) Well, please pardon me for getting all amateurishly philosophical on you. But the brightest of the silver linings behind the darkness of a global pandemic touch on the following: the extent to which we think globally, act cooperatively, and generally show signs that we get that we’re all in this together. Guided by Shoghi Effendi and others, I’ve learned to see humanity as having an extended, collective bar mitzvah. Our maturity as a species grows with our understanding that we are truly citizens of a shared and single planet.  

That’s big and heavy. Never fear. I’ll start with the low-hanging fruit, the most obvious signs of goodness in a bad time for humanity.

  • ALL THE WORLD’S OTHER PROBLEMS HAVE MAGICALLY GONE AWAY! When was the last time you heard about nuclear proliferation, terrorism, hunger, poverty in the Global South, or tensions between North and South Korea, or, like, the Middle East, huh? Am I right or am I — (Oh. Right. That stuff’s all out there even if the news doesn’t have room for it anymore. And is that a silver lining in itself? Not really.)²
                   ² So ends the comedy part of the show! Thanks, you’re a beautiful crowd!

Well, that’s not exactly a silver lining. Let me start over.

  • THE PLANETARY ECO-CATASTROPHE IS OVER! HAS BEEN SLOWED DOWN. A LITTLE BIT. FOR NOW.  Is it just me, or am I breathing better? It’s hard to see it clearly in a small, non-industrial city like Ottawa, but Los Angeles smog is vastly reduced. The canals of Venice haven’t been this clean in forever. Industrialized Chinese cities oppressed by a heavy blanket of thickened air – with a level of particulate air pollution we can barely imagine in the West – are breathing easier and seeing farther than they have in many years. Even scientists studying these changes don’t necessarily want to celebrate – Look, everybody! Pandemics are good for global health! is not a sane position to take, for anybody – but we shouldn’t be afraid to point out that industrial slowdowns aren’t ALL bad. This doesn’t mean that the climate crisis has been brought under control, far otherwise, but it does give us some not-so-subtle hints: first, that “back to normal” clearly isn’t what we should, in the largest sense, be hoping for; second, especially for the environmental nihilists, these improvements remind us that big changes are possible, even when they’re forced on us. Even being compelled to do the humane and right things isn’t all bad!

Continue Reading >>

Past-Blasting: The Climate, 2007

This piece from February of 2007 was called “Citizenship, Climate Change…and Hockey?” It’s an orphan piece that never found a publication to call home, so now I offer it here. My nearly six-foot tall teen was then only seven, and merely bilingual. The NHL was struggling to recapture fan interest outside of Canada after losing an entire season to labour squabbles. Canada was still part of the Kyoto Accord. (We bow our head in shame, and remember when Canada deserved its reputation for internationalism.) I was not long removed from writing for Canada’s Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, who had been succeeded in that office by Michaelle Jean.

We hadn’t imagined coming to China at all, and now we’re wrapping up five years on the edge of the Middle Kingdom. Look back. Waaayy back…

Last week saw a series of events that, after a whirl in the cerebral blender, yields a thoughtful stew on citizenship. It’s a bit like the musical “mash-up”, but without that unpleasant ringing in your ears. Here are some not-quite-random reflections on the meaning of the modern Canuck.

Two years ago last Friday, the National Hockey League finally suspended the 2004-2005 season. Canadian men (and a few women) grew more gloomy and resentful. No major sporting league had ever ditched an entire schedule, and the North American cultural divide widened. Canadian lovers of other sports hoped for a silver lining to the lockout, but were dismayed to find that hockey still dominated jock talk and writing. Meanwhile, American sports media – and the great majority of fans – barely noticed its absence.

And the citizenship connection? Well, you might have missed this surprising bit of civic mindfulness, but several NHL players declared the February 16 anniversary as “Save Hockey Day” – not so much to recall the lockout as to pay attention to the Kyoto Accord on climate change. ‘Bout time!

Continue Reading >>

Spirit, Ethics and Climate Change Action: IEF 3

Here’s a third quick instalment on the International Environment Forum’s conference earlier in October. As with the earlier three synopses, I give you a link to somewhat more expansive notes that I posted on the IEF site. The following link takes you to a news story, with photos, from the Canadian Baha’i community. (It focusses especially on the Friday sessions that I didn’t attend.)

Here’s a peek at what Saturday afternoon’s IEF session had to offer.

Living Lightly, With a Smile

David Chernushenko is an environmental consultant, activist, and author, and a former deputy leader of the Canadian Green Party. He took the conversation from the abstract and the global to tangible, immediate and home-based actions. His personal motto is “live lightly”: reduce our ecological footprints and do it with joy.

He emphasizes the following characteristics. Resilience. (Are we ready to ride out the rough spots?) Integrity. (Walk the talk.) Empowerment. (Are we encouraging our children?) Equity & Fairness. (Am I taking more than my share of the planet’s resources?) Redefining growth. (It’s not all economic indicators.) Humility. (Who do we think we ARE?) With that in mind, he suggested a range of simple, practical steps that any family can take. Make one step. Then make another. It’s simple, and it’s light. (Upon light!)

“Learning to Make Responsible Choices: The Consumer Citizen Network”

Victoria Thoresen, Ms. Thoresen, an Education professor from Norway and the manager of the CCN, challenged the conference. Many of her frankly imploring messages – I beg of you, please consider… — urged the perspective of parents and teachers, and the needs of their children/youth, about these concepts:

SufficiencyHow much is enough? How do we withstand the barrage of materialism? Courage. Sustainable consumption has powerful enemies. Encouragement is golden. Diversity of response. Not everybody should be doing the same thing, even if it was possible!
Empathy. Thoresen, with her wide travel and international experience, called upon us to remember how the majority of humans live. “We are only a small corner of the world, even if we DO own most of it!”

Dr. Thoresen also implored us to remain mindful of the UN Decade for Sustainable Development, 2005-2014, as well as the earnest United Nations’ Millennium Goals which many have already forgotten. She spoke briefly of the Consumer Citizenship Network (“’consumer’ is such a bad word in Canada!”) and its work to create debate and enlightenment about “the pressing need for consumers to understand the ethical choices that they make”. She concluded:

For humanity’s nobility to emerge, its qualities of trustworthiness, compassion, selflessness, dedication, loyalty, sacrifice and service need to be nurtured and gain ascendancy over its selfish, baser impulses.”