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Earth Day brings together what matters

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,There is a rapture on the lonely shore,There is society where none intrudes,By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:I love not Man the less, but Nature more” Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage  “We need the tonic of wildness—to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of Nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features . . . the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.”   —Henry David Thoreau, Walden  When, years ago, I visited the surrounding land and swam in Walden Pond, not far from Concord, Massachusetts and made famous by Henry David Thoreau, who went to live there in a small cabin in 1845, I had already read Walden; or, Life in the Woods, which describes his stay there over a period of two years. I had time to reflect on where I was going as I cycled there from Boston, and felt that I was approaching a sacred place. Oddly, there was no one else there, and I was pleased to find the water clean and inviting. I had known since the age of 15, when I had first read Walden and Thoreau’s other writings, including On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, that I could trust his deep connection to Nature. He had built his cabin from repurposed and found materials, all for the grand sum of $28.12½ (equivalent to $938 today). I have tried to emulate his handiness and quest for living a simple life. I have never felt happier than when being with people in the tropics who do not have a door to their dwelling. Walden Pond hasn’t changed since Thoreau was there, though the trees are broader and higher. I’m not alone in my praise or in taking a pilgrimage to Walden Pond, as thousands have come too. His sojourn there was an inspiration for the world to cherish Earth.  The renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote a letter to Thoreau more than a century later. He imagined the two of them a-sauntering through the woods and spoke of his gratitude for Thoreau’s presence in a prologue to his book The Future of Life. He even invited Thoreau to join him and a hundred others at Walden Pond on July 4, 1998 for the first Biodiversity Day (sometimes called a BioBlitz, in which local people and

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Global North off the charts and tone-deaf to Nature’s plea for help

“High-income countries use six times more materials per capita and are responsible for ten times more climate impacts per capita than low-income countries.” Global Resources Outlook 2024 Besides the usual musical definition of “tone-deaf” there is this one: “Having or showing an obtuse insensitivity or lack of perception particularly in matters of public sentiment, opinion, or taste.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)  Jubilation followed the news that a biodiverse and fecund cold-water coral reef off the coast of British Columbia had been discovered by Indigenous people and that another reef had been discovered near the Galápagos Islands. Calls to immediately protect the areas received support. At a time when warming oceans are harbingers of coral bleaching, any good news gets its rightful share of publicity, but is it enough? A concatenation of ongoing Earth crises is upon us, but not because the warnings haven’t been voiced. Governments have been swayed by corporate money instead of being clarion voices for their own peoples’ wellbeing. More than a century after Eunice Newton Foote recognized and articulated the greenhouse effect in 1856 (something that has often wrongly been attributed to John Tyndall), the oil companies’ scientists realized that there is long-term danger from burning fossil fuels, which increases the temperature not only in the atmosphere but also in the ocean. They kept this knowledge from the public because they wanted to maximize profits. In 1985 the astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan laid out before the US government the coming existential crisis that humanity would face if greenhouse gases were not urgently curtailed in the coming decades. Sagan called for all nations to act together on a plan to combat the rise of emissions so that future generations could flourish. The eminent climate scientist James Hanson, testifying in 1988 in front of Congress, basically said the same thing. In 1989, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature, the first popular book on the perils of increasing climate warming. The 1992 Rio Earth Summit helped to cement the relationship between Earth systems, economics and political engagement, and the resulting Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed by most countries, including the United States, and the landmark accord was the first global treaty to explicitly address climate change. In 1992 some 1,700 leading scientists signed a letter of warning asking for immediate action “if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” More than 15,000 scientists endorsed a second warning 27 years later, declaring a climate emergency and detailing the need to limit the human population and reduce the per capita consumption of meat and, amongst other resources, fossil fuels. The 2006 climate documentary based on Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth reached millions of people and helped launch the climate movement.  Even though humanity has witnessed the multifaceted catastrophes brought on by rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, there is no enforceable treaty in sight to reduce these emissions. Take methane, for example. Although it is a

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Are electric vehicles truly a panacea for our fossil fuel ills?

“The long lifetime of fossil fuel CO, creates a sense of fleeting folly about the use of fossil fuels as an energy source. Our fossil fuel deposits, 100 million years old, could be gone in a few centuries, leaving climate impacts that will last for hundreds of millennia. The lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere is a few centuries, plus 25% that lasts essentially forever. The next time you fill your tank, reflect upon this. ”The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate by David Archer, geophysicist  Monday’s eclipse experience viscerally includes all of us as beings of the universe who do not control the heavenly orbs. Most of the time we forget this at our ultimate peril. A few dozen private jets came to Sherbrooke for the occasion, spewing pollution and causing more haze. The history of our use of fossil fuels is one of utter devastation. Wars, expropriation of lands, biodiversity loss, climate breakdown, glacial melting, vast areas of contamination affecting land, oceans, rivers and aquifers, massive human rights violations, huge health impacts and even constant small spillages of gas or oil in our streets and neighbourhoods, are leading to untold suffering that is already beginning to unfold. As oil companies in 2024 increase their obscene profits so does their legacy of pillaging Nature expand. Four years ago I bought a small electric car, and these days I have many conversations about electric vehicles (EVs). Most people’s negative reactions to them range from passionate opposition to being worried about whether there are sufficient rapid charging stations along the roads.  Frankly, I’m perplexed why those same educated people seem to forget that their lives have been spent travelling by plane, buying carbon-intensive products (including cars, electric or not) and generally being in the top 10% of the world’s population that is ripping apart the natural world through biodiversity loss, fossil fuel pollution and climate heating. Canada is one of the top five elite and notorious countries for overconsumption. As people accelerate their use of flights—Montreal’s Trudeau airport is getting a C$4 billion facelift to tempt them to do so—the simplest research shows that there is a lot going for electric vehicles, if only to massively lower pollution levels, as well as getting rid of the chemical stench from fossil cars’ exhaust which is not often spoken of.  But the details make the arguments in favour of EVs appear less clear-cut and merit examination. The majority of new cars will probably be electric by 2040. Some of the very valid questions that come up all the time concern the vast amounts on energy and water needed to produce them, as well as the difficult recycling process, on which only now is any progress being made.  Like all road vehicles, EVs use tires, which through particle abrasion are a major contributor to air and water pollution, with humans and wildlife equally affected. (Fishers are suing tire companies for polluting rivers.) In fact, because of the weight

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