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Giving young people a public voice: a conversation with Anne-Julie Bergeron

Please tell the Record’s readers a little about your background, Anne-Julie. Where did you spend your childhood? Do you feel this has shaped your attitude towards Nature and the climate crisis? I grew up in a small town in Bellechasse, Qubec. Where I lived, Nature surrounded us mountains, forests, rivers, and a beautiful lake. Of course, seeing this scenery every day shaped my view towards Nature. Before I was even aware of the climate crisis, I felt the need to protect my environment. Nature was my haven of peace and I felt lucky the forest was my playground. I cannot count how many hours my brothers, my friends and I spent in the woods, playing hide and seek or building tree houses. Sometimes I saw deforested areas in my town, and something didn’t feel right inside me. As a little child, I could not tell what this feeling was. I only wanted the trees back. It is paradoxical that I felt so close to Nature as a child, and at the same time I thought big farms were natural. My grandparents had a dairy and hog farm. I visited them often, so I thought animals were meant to be ‘caged’ and give us food. Even in small towns, it is normalized to possess and commodify other living beings. In a sense, I am glad I could witness the captivity of these beings, because these memories make me realize how society denaturalizes animals and living beings. Does your family support you in your deep interest in and actions to protect Nature? In the first place, I would have said “yes”, because my parents support me in everything I undertake. However, the only way I could feel their support would be if they took actions themselves to protect Nature. I have often tried to engage in conversations with them about the environmental crisis and the things we can do as individuals. As soon as they realize their behaviour might be harmful to our planet, they disengage from the conversation. Yet I do not blame them. I understand their mentality comes from a toxic society and years of capitalism indoctrination. Why did you decide to take the Bishop’s University ‘Ecological Crisis and the Struggle for Environmental Justice’ class? Do you feel an affinity with other students regarding climate justice? I want my years at university to be meaningful and that I can have a positive impact on society. I am studying to broaden my mind, not to narrow it. As a young person, I am extremely concerned about the ecological crisis. I thought this class would be a great step to act for environmental justice. I feel some people took this class because it fitted their curriculum, but on the whole we all have an interest in protecting Nature. It is empowering to connect with other people of my generation and understand how they feel about this crisis. Have you attended any climate protests? Yes, I took part in the 2019 September climate

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With success at the UN Glasgow Climate Summit uncertain, people are demanding renewed action.

“There is sufficient evidence to draw the most fundamental of conclusions: now is the time to declare a state of planetary emergency. The point is not to admit defeat, but to match the risk with the necessary action to protect the global commons for our own future.” Professor Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research The 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP  21), one of the ongoing series of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summits, has been described as the first successful pathway that determined the carbon limits 200 countries would voluntarily accept in order to reverse the Earth’s increasing temperature gains resulting from human industrial activities. The key drive in those negotiations was to try to limit a rise of not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels through each country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to lower carbon emissions. The ensuing Paris Agreement stated that every five years each nation would bring an updated NDC to the UNFCCC. Those ambitions do not come close to the reductions necessary to stop a cascading catastrophe. Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, has just issued a stark warning to the world. If this year’s Glasgow summit (COP 26) were to fail, she said, there would be “less food, so probably a crisis in food security. It would leave a lot more people vulnerable to terrible situations, terrorist groups and violent groups. It would mean a lot of sources of instability.” COP 26 was delayed from 2020 because of the pandemic and starts in a few days. This is the 26th time since 1995 that the UN has held a world conference with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, more recently, searching for the means to move forward on issues such as climate justice as it relates to equitable pathways for developing nations to adapt to worsening climate scenarios that they have not contributed to. Heavily industrialised nations such as Canada, Great Britain, Germany and the United States have historically had the largest impact on the increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Three pillars of climate change negotiations will present themselves at COP 26: Mitigation methods such as the phasing out of coal as the world community strives to drastically slow down carbon emissions. Adaptation to a rising level of crises such as flooding and drought to enable the world to continue to flourish. Adaptation also refers to ecological protections. The concept of ‘loss and damage’, which has gained traction in negotiations in the last decade. Small island states have led the push to demand that rich countries accept responsibility for the buildup of GHGs as they demonstrate their vulnerability to higher ocean levels created by melting glaciers throughout the world from the Himalayas to Greenland. Hand in hand with ‘loss and damage’ goes financial responsibility. ukcop26.org/cop26-goals/  It was agreed at the Paris summit that by 2020 the rich industrial countries with their financial partners would give US$100 billion a year to

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Giving young people a public voice: a conversation with Georgia LaPierre.

Tell our readers about yourself, Georgia. Has your family background encouraged you to be interested in social justice and climate/biodiversity issues or in general to have an appreciation for the natural world? I am 21 years old and grew up in Montreal. My family, particularly my dad, encouraged me and introduced me into the world of social justice and ecological issues by bringing me to protests and courses/talks about Nature and our changing climate. I don’t think I would be as socially aware and as involved in the climate justice movement as I am today if it weren’t for their support. A recent article in the scientific journal Nature looked into the emotional impact and the impaired trust in government the climate crisis is having on young adults. Having read that article, do you identify with any of the concerns that were expressed by the 10,000 people who were part of the survey? Of course I identify with the youth who answered this survey. I would find it quite worrisome if there were youth in our world today who weren’t suffering from climate anxiety. The science is clear – we have a very limited time frame to reduce the impacts of climate change, and our governments are doing nothing to act effectively. This makes me, as a young person, angry and sad. It makes it seem that they simply do not care about us. I go through phases where I’m a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person when it comes to the climate crisis. When I lived in Montreal, I went to the Fridays For Future protests every week, and the government made no response to our efforts. It is clear that they are not taking our demands and our futures seriously. If the government truly did care about their youth (who are alive today) they would not sign on for new pipelines and fracking contracts. They would take effective change that climate scientists are suggesting.  What courses are you taking at Bishop’s University? What made you choose those classes? My major is sociology with a concentration in gender, diversity and equity with a minor in Indigenous studies. All my classes have to do with these topics. I picked this major because, since high school, I’ve been a climate and social justice activist. I take the term intersectionality to heart – all issues in our world caused by human and capitalist activity are related, and they must be tackled as a whole in order to effect meaningful change. The courses I am taking make me understand our society better and these issues better. Using this academic knowledge, I hope to help make a change. Do you participate in outdoor activities such as snowshoeing or walking?  I do! Since a young age I have hiked, skied, walked and been on canoe trips. Without these activities, I would not have the relationship I do to Nature today, and probably would not strive as much to save it. Participating in outdoor activities showed me the beauty and importance of Nature,

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A review of Carl Safina’s Becoming Wild

As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists. Albert Einstein There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men. Herman Melville, Moby Dick Carl Safina’s Becoming Wild: how animal cultures raise families, create beauty and achieve peace is an intimate tapestry of the lives of three animals that exhibit meaningful cultures.  Sperm whales, macaw parrots and the chimpanzees are visited, and with the help of scientists and naturalists, Carl Safina examines their families in the context of culture. What makes these animals who they are? For example, sperm whales have complex communications that allow extended families to stay together. A certain group or ‘clan’ of these whales will only communicate with the same members of that clan. Water is an incredible conduit for sound and as the whale moves across the oceans a whale can listen to and respond to another member many kilometres away. This also enables them to come to the defence of the young extremely quickly. But how they come to the defence of their young is determined by learning specific to that group of whales. “Genes determine what can be learned, what we might do. Culture determines what is learned, how we do things…Social learning is special. Social learning gives you information stored in the brains of other individuals. You’re born with genes from just two parents; you can learn what whole generations have figured out. “  Culture presupposes that there is innovation in a group. The author gives us many examples of how just one animal can impart to others a new  way of interaction in the world. So there is both the process of learning and conformity. Carl Safina goes on to define culture as “information that flowssocially and can be learned, retained and shared…Innovation is to culture what mutation is to genes; it’s the only way to make any process, the root of all change.” Becoming Wild is all about the amazing cultures found in Nature, not just human culture. Tragically, humans until recently thought they were the only beings on the planet that had culture.  Roger Payne’s 1970 recording of the whales ignited a keen interest in other species. When Payne and Scott McVay published “Songs of Humpback Whales in Science in 1971 everything changed, well almost everything, except the continuation of the industrial killing of the great whales. People began to strongly question the need to destroy these sentient creatures. Was it imperative that margarine contained whale oil, for fertilizer or that machinery needed their oil?   It has always struck me that one of the great perversities perpetrated by fossil fuel corporations and their lobbyists is its active and unremitting ability to help kill off whales, something that men in boats throwing harpoons could never quite manage. You’d be correct in assuming that once whales were not murdering for their oil to light up houses because fossil fuels

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Suffragettes’ “Deeds, not words” motto invigorates climate activists

“Where the voice that is in us makes a true response,Where the voice that is great within us rises up,As we stand gazing at the rounded moon.”(Wallace Stevens) You may be surprised to learn that if you look at the origins of the word “human” you’ll discover that, a long way back, it is related to the word “humus,” meaning earth or soil. Humus is the organic component of soil. To be human is to be from the soil, and right now there are millions of conversations taking place that strive to bring us back to being a “people of the earth” as our ancestors knew deeply within their beings. These conversations are not only between humans. As we discover the “secret lives of…” all sorts of species, hugging a tree might not be considered so bizarre to many. Industrial society wished to stamp out our love for Nature; now it is simply resurfacing. Just ask a cat, horse or dog person if they converse with those animals, for example. But is humanity living up to its own name, people of the soil? Many climate and biodiversity campaigners, including Extinction Rebellion (XR), Greenpeace and 350.org, are strongly critical of governments’ climate inaction. These same groups denounce fossil fuel reduction targets of 2050 – or any other year beyond 2030 – as being truly the “new denial” by corporations and governments who refuse to accept the climate/ecological crisis. Activists point out that politicians looking only towards the next election couldn’t care less about what happens in 2030 or 2060, and that is why campaigners are taking up the suffragettes’ clarion call “Deeds, not words.” When on Earth Day this year, after nine women in the UK smashed 19 windows of the headquarters of a major bank, a journalist asked a member of XR if the public would not call that vandalism, her response was that no life was ever endangered by the broken glass, but that since 2015 that bank has supported the fossil fuel industry with tens of billions of dollars – it should be noted that Canada’s RBC does the same – ignoring the plain truth that this is financing climate breakdown. It is the banks that are the true vandals – of the planet’s integrity. Who, she enquired, is really the criminal? The same stunts corporations use by publishing targets and long-term goals to show off their climate care could be found at the climate summit hosted by Joe Biden on Earth Day. Brazil’s climate-denying president, Jair Bolsonaro, gave us little to believe in concerning his intentions for the wellbeing of the Amazon, by cutting the budget of his environment ministry despite his promise to stop all illegal deforestation by 2030. The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, utters the same hot air on commitments to real deeds to stop runaway climate change. Biden appears to be one of the few politicians in America who are taking bold steps to move forward on climate issues after four disastrous years of Trump climate

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Homer-Dixons book, Commanding Hope, brings us to a better future.

We…must come to terms with nature, and I think were challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves. – Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring In the past the December holiday season and the coming New Year imbued many of us with a vision of a prosperous and loving future. For most of us the pandemic has been an unmitigated disaster: people we love have died, how we work, learn and communicate has been severely hampered, daily comfortable schedules have been uprooted, financial woes have been exacerbated, our mental health has suffered through unprecedented isolation, and our sense of overall security in a world we thought we could have some control over has been smashed. Those who could choose to take cruises and planes at a moments notice have found themselves sitting at home. Even moneys perceived ability to fix any problem will not loosen the grip of this virus. A cure-all vaccine is trumpeted, but it seems that many people will refuse it, questioning its efficacy and the motives of governments and the pharmaceutical companies that produced it; some even speak of dark and tyrannical objectives. Fear and trepidation permeate our daily lives. At last humans are realising that we are part of Nature, which we have abused for so long. But is this reluctant and grudging acknowledgement coming too late for us? Our ever-increasing encroachment into natural habitats and refusal to respect the notion of limits to growth for humanity, characterized by global unethical capitalism run amuck, is now in the process of ruthlessly pursuing climate breakdown. Covid-19, it appears, represents one more landmark on the road to devastation that we collectively continue to encourage. Thomas Homer-Dixons recently published book, Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril, comes at a time when many people believe humanity is soon to be forced to its knees. But Homer-Dixon states: Real social and political change only happens in times of crisis, because crisis is needed to discredit existing systems of worldviews, institutions, and technologies, and the structures of power that sustain them. Commanding Hope is dedicated to Homer-Dixons two young children, Ben and Kate, who are continually alluded to throughout the book, whether that be in a drawing of theirs or in dialogue between them and their father and mother. To put it succinctly, Homer-Dixon wrote this book as if his childrens lives depended upon it. It took him eight years, and nothing will stop him from finding a non-magical elixir of knowledge and informed action to save his children and ours. He begins with an account of the heroic efforts of Stephanie May, a young Connecticut woman, making phone calls in 1957 asking people to protest against atmospheric nuclear testing. In 1961 she goes on hunger strike while walking up and down in front of the Soviet Unions Manhattan UN mission, asking them to save the worlds children by eliminating the tests. To

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Hope: the enormous power to renew the world.

Lets speak about our individual worldviews by starting with a cartoon by Marc Roberts that shows a man putting his hand in a glass bottle. At the bottom of the bottle is a car. He reaches for it, and with his hand now enlarged with the car he cant get it out of the bottle. As he struggles helplessly a friend comes up to him and says, Youll have to LET GO of the car. Upon which, while still grasping the car, his face utterly distorted, he screams, NEVER!!! The cartoon appears in Thomas Homer-Dixons newly published book, Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril. It depicts an obsessive mans outrage that he cant have everything he wants, and his worldview an important word in Homer-Dixons lexicon is one that has to change if people and the planet are to celebrate a return to ecological sanity by 2100.The possession of a car, for most people in the west who can afford it, is an undeniable right, even if the car brings all manner of ills to our world, including an acceleration of climate breakdown, the destruction of natural places, and questionable resource extractions that upend Global South vulnerable communities.All of this becomes personal, as I have just leased an electric car. Although I was determined never to get an internal combustion vehicle again, I couldnt help feeling uneasy when I viewed the cartoon. Was I the person depicted in the drawing? Was I hell-bent on obtaining a car regardless of the consequences for our planet? Lets face it: electric cars have their problems. Their manufacture and use cause pollution, and thats only the beginning of the dilemma. My rationale for driving an electric vehicle (EV) was interesting to contemplate and goes like this: poor bus transportation in my area; an ongoing pandemic, which means that taking a taxi can be risky, as previous passengers might have been infected; and the desire to take a vacation or get to a national park to cross-country ski or snowshoe this winter. All these clinched my resolve to get the car. Even though I know that not having a car is the best action, I felt I could contribute far less to climate breakdown with the use of the EV by not emitting fossil fuels, despite the fact that the production of the car does exactly that and were told it might take a couple of years before the car becomes carbon-free after all that energy to produce it is accounted for. Walking and continuing to use my bicycle around the area as my primary means of transportation are a good start, as well as not flying, I told myself. Nonetheless, I felt my hand reaching for that car, saying, Never! We rarely dissect our private worldview or discuss what exactly the prevailing worldview is in the country where we live. Our worldview, born from our experiences, gives us a framework, gives us our personal identities, and links us

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Saving the planet begins with the food we eat

“Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in millions of years. The way we produce and consume food and energy, and the blatant disregard for the environment entrenched in our current economic model, has pushed the natural world to its limits.” Living Planet Report 2020 We all know that the planet’s ecological balance is tottering. Multiple scientific reports on the health of Nature that show precipitous declines in both vertebrates and invertebrates seem to make no difference to how world governments, policymakers or individuals commit to urgent and beneficial actions for stopping the massive slide towards catastrophic extinctions. Please see wwf.ca/living-planet-report-canada-2020 While national government subsidies for fossil fuel companies and for conventional agriculture are far outstripping any grants and loans that support both renewable energies and organic farming, individual cities have made great efforts and are producing viable results in fighting climate change’s insidious ramifications for all life. As individuals we can all do our bit to bring about a more harmonious planet through steadfast support for organic agriculture. More and more people are buying organically produced food, but conversations about why we should commit ourselves to an organic diet often end with a single individual’s health and don’t consider the vast benefits that can accrue for our planet’s wellbeing. This article looks at what we can each do every day for our farmers, ourselves and the Earth. When we buy organic foods, we are not paying for synthetic pesticides and other chemicals, so the soil is not contaminated with a deadly cocktail of ingredients. Around the world our destruction of soil and its microorganisms is well documented. By not contributing to yet another assault on the planet’s ecology, we are saying that farmers’ lives are respected as well. When we refuse to buy these harmful concoctions, we are helping farmers to protect themselves and their families against many maladies. Not long ago an organic farmer told me that an ornithologist had visited their farm and the documentation of birds living there was truly astonishing. Through not introducing synthetic fertilizers and herbicides to the land, this farmer has been contributing to a remarkable abundance of wildlife and plants. Insects that pollinate our food crops or are a prime food for birds and bats are able to find a refuge in ecologically robust soils. Water is cleaner too, so people living downstream are not subjected to an influx of toxic chemicals, which have frequently shown up near non-organic farms. Local communities are beneficiaries of sound agrarian practices; in a real sense organic farming is an insurance plan for all beings. In his new book A Small Farm Future, farmer and social scientist Chris Smaje argues that organising society around small-scale farming offers the soundest, sanest and most reasonable response to climate change and other crises of civilisation—and will yield humanity’s best chance at survival. There has been huge coverage of litigation cases of people affected by pesticides. I have seen first-hand the disastrous use of pesticides in the tropics. Pristine lands

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A tale of two dinner parties

“Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all societies eventually will.” – Anne Applebaum  “You want it darker.” – Leonard Cohen Anne Applebaum’s new book Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism tells of her experiences with powerful right-of-centre political figures and makes the case that our democracies are in mortal jeopardy of being utterly eroded. She takes us on a tour to many European countries that are in the throes of becoming one-party states.  The book is not meant to be a scholarly treatise on the growing rise of authoritarianism, although undoubtedly Applebaum is capable of writing one, having won a Pulitzer Prize as a historian for her writing on the Russian gulag. Twilight of Democracy focuses on the people she feels are destroying democracy. Most of those she writes about were once her friends and one was even a future head of state, but they are no longer speaking to her. (It’s important to understand that she herself is a conservative.) In some instances they are the intellectuals and power brokers who allow one-party regimes such as those now found in Hungary, Poland, China, the Philippines, Venezuela and Russia to flourish. She calls these disgruntled people “clerics”: the enablers of would-be despots. Most of them, she feels, have not felt appreciated in democratic societies and desire more power. Donald Trump’s and Boris Johnson’s angry right-wing “what’s in it for me?” acolytes are helping to dismantle democratic states. Truth is the last thing these “advisers” wish to discuss, and “alternative facts” are the way to create division. Applebaum speaks of “restorative nostalgia,” which is used to rekindle a nation’s supposed past “greatness.” The narrative goes like this: the nation has become a shadow of its former self; the nation’s identity has been taken away and replaced with something less heroic. She warns, of its proponents, “All of them seek to redefine their nations, to rewrite social contracts, and, sometimes, to alter the rules of democracy so that they never lose power. Alexander Hamilton warned against them, Cicero fought against them. Some of them used to be my friends.” She adds, “Eventually, those who seek power on the back of restorative nostalgia will begin to cultivate these conspiracy theories, or alternative histories, or alternative fibs, whether or not they have any basis in fact.” Sound familiar? For many people in the UK who support Brexit it is the EU that has sapped the true greatness of Britain. For Trump’s restorative nostalgia gimmick “Make America Great Again” to work, it must have a list of ills that have befallen the USA for which Trump points the finger of blame at Democrats, immigrants, protestors/agitators, Black Lives Matter supporters, gun-control advocates, scientists, anti-fascists, climate change activists and even the coronavirus lockdowns that necessitate masks and social distancing.  Understand that “reflective nostalgia” is quite different. We might study the past or mourn the past, but we realize that in fact life was more difficult then. Those old photographs, though they might have

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Interview with Nick Gottlieb: giving young people a public voice

Nick Gottlieb is the author of Sacred Headwaters, a bi-weekly newsletter that gives critically important insights into how we can protect our planet. Nick, you write that Sacred Headwaters “aims to guide a co-learning process about the existential issues and planetary limitations facing humanity and about how we can reorient civilization in a way that will enable us to thrive for centuries to come.” What have been the catalysts driving you towards a co-learning and inclusive approach in these newsletters? Climate change is a symptom of much deeper problems in the social, political and cultural structures that we collectively call human civilization. Overcoming those problems requires reimagining what we value as humans and what we expect from life. But the systems we’re trying to replace are so embedded that they constrain the way we think and the scope of what we perceive as possible. I chose this format for my newsletter because I – perhaps naively – believe that if people learn enough about how the system is failing and why, they’ll come to recognize the patterns of that system in their own cognitive frameworks, their own minds, and through that recognition free themselves to begin the process of change. You move from climate change and planetary boundaries to current politics and ideas. “Defunding the Police,” “Indigenous Ways of Knowing,” “Environmental Racism” and “Degrowth” are a few of the titles of the newsletters. What are your overarching goals in sharing these newsletters? The climate movement tends to focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but this narrative fails because it identifies them as the “root cause.” We’ve known that GHG emissions cause global warming that threatens our way of life since at least 1959. In 1992, 88% of Americans believed global warming was a serious problem. But we live in a world where companies are incentivized to externalize costs and maximize “profit,” leading them to actually fight against solving climate change despite knowing full well its implications. We’ve seen parallel stories play out over and over again; climate change is just one manifestation. I’ve been writing about issues like environmental racism to try to draw those connections for readers, to make clear that if we want to survive the climate crisis, we need to recognize that it is a symptom of a much more invasive disease than GHG emissions. In your newsletter “Introduction to Systems Thinking,” a memorable sentence, “The earth is a system,” stands out. You describe Sacred Headwaters as being “about the systemic nature of everything.” Can you explain this, please? We have a tendency towards reductionism rooted in what our culture thinks of as “science”: we isolate every problem so we can solve it, but the real world is governed by deep complexity and interconnectedness. This is true in ecological systems, as we can see in the speed with which we’re exceeding most of the modelling of global warming’s impacts, and also in the systems of organization that govern human society. Climate change, environmental racism and widespread inequality are interrelated problems with systemic

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