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Bewildered! Where do we go from here?

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and…when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. The best of all possible worlds can only come about if the most compassionate elements of humanity prevail. The world, encircled with a supercharged capitalism and would-be tyrants, must choose a path towards either love or destruction. Sadly, it has taken the coronavirus to shake up the world’s iniquitous economies, and the racist death of a man to push us to the brink. To where, though? This whole article was supposed to be about trying to make sense of Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans, which was released on YouTube on Earth Day (April 22), but more pressing concerns needed airing. It is because it represents a pattern of injustices that I discuss it at all. I recommend that you watch this contentious documentary and its many unfounded assertions regarding renewable energy and green activists, if only because it mentions, though all too briefly, pertinent and important issues (population and overconsumption) that have relevance for our precarious lives. Though I’d agree with the makers that green technological fixes won’t solve the world’s problems, the film is a shoddy mixture of ill-founded allegations, and, for many, Michael Moore’s ‘green’ reputation is in tatters. Most egregiously, we are told that the green movement is built on fossil-fuel money and that Bill McKibben, one of its best-known activists, is a fraud. The film is a compendium of half-truths that pits us against each other, while climate deniers buy more oil stock. What a way to celebrate Earth Day! Moore does us a great disservice, as we need truth more than ever now, not a disingenuous film. On Sunday, June 7, Sherbrooke protested the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota two weeks ago. An estimated 2,000 people, mostly under the age of 40, met in front of the police station to listen to speeches addressing this grotesque murder and institutionalized racism. For nearly nine minutes they (but not the police who were watching) knelt in silence with fists outstretched to bear witness to the many black and indigenous people discriminated against. Police violence and racism are a cancerous growth. At the same time, billionaires’ greed and influence in government are accelerating the alienation and suffering of those in poverty, while there is an unprecedented push by those in power to dismantle any semblance of democracy. The “rule of law,” enforced by readily compliant police for many centuries, has propped up the aristocracy and now the corporate agenda. Remember that Germany’s laws allowed Hitler to ravage Europe. Authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia are police states. Under Trump, the US is, as Noam Chomsky terms it, a failed state. Israel appears to be no better. People around the world have condemned the racism found in their countries. Western racism has a long history. In Bristol,

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Addressing our interwoven injustices.

“A 2019 United Nations report by the world’s leading scientists warned that one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction worldwide due to human activity. At this scale, biodiversity loss will impact health, wellbeing and the future of the Earth in ways that are incomprehensible.” – Ecojustice On June 20 this year Amnesty International held a virtual World Refugee Day event with Nazik Kabalo, founder of the Sudanese Women Human Rights Project. Kabalo spoke about her harrowing experiences in Egypt and Sudan before coming to live in Canada. As many of us know, Canada closed its border with the USA to refugees last March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Groups such as Amnesty International are highly critical of the decision, declaring it illegal and stating that Canada could have easily tested and quarantined refugees instead of compounding the risks refugees face each day. The interplay between social injustice, biodiversity loss, climate breakdown and the world’s poorest people, including refugees and Indigenous tribes, has always been a huge source of consternation for me. How does this intricate matrix of loss cast a defining hue on all of us? Even the pandemic’s tragic clarion call, which linked all of humanity, gave vast advantages to the wealthy to withstand its blight, helped along the way by a nefarious plutocracy. The Poor People’s Campaign strives to address with transformative actions “interwoven injustices.” Its policy platform starts with this principle: “Everybody in, nobody out. Everybody is deserving of our nation’s abundance.” The UN, through the Millennium Development Goals launched in 2000 with the aim of meeting them by the end of 2015, followed by the present 17 Sustainable Development Goals has sought to strengthen societal justice and give a renewed voice for those in poverty – but with varying success. These are laudable projects, and if robustly acted upon they will certainly be a catalyst for change, but they are only a green shoot for humanity’s urgent healing. Governments deliberately took advantage of (but by and large haven’t rescinded) the additional powers granted to them during the pandemic to suspend environmental regulations, and allowed industrial projects to proceed that otherwise would have been scrutinized. After all, protest was forbidden. When pollution levels rise, it’s always the poorest neighbourhoods that suffer the most. It has long been expressed that until all of humanity is respected and governments aim for inclusivity in all societal actions, thus acknowledging their responsibility to enhance the wellbeing of all their citizens, no country expresses a universal principle of justice. Yes, with great flourish countries such as the US have constitutions that express those aspirations, but they fail miserably to enact any semblance of equal justice. Even if they did, the lack of any obligation to apply fairness to the whole of Nature would tear apart any country’s wellbeing. Humans are not separate from Nature. At its best, a Nature’s Trust would defend our fellow inhabitants. CO2 emissions diminished by 17% compared to 2019 by the beginning of

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Coronavirus and ecological/climate breakdown are interconnected.

“For years, normality has been stretched nearly to its breaking point, a rope pulled tighter and tighter… Now that the rope has snapped, do we tie its ends back together, or shall we undo its dangling braids still further, to see what we might weave from them?” – Charles Eisenstein charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/ What can our future look like, now that the business-as-usual mode of living is currently broken? Have we now seen a glimpse of a more egalitarian future these last few weeks through a broken window? True, all economic groups can catch the virus, but people living from paycheque to paycheque will disagree that future universal health care is there for them. Will Medicare for All finally become a reality in the USA? We have certainly witnessed some inspiring actions. In Britain, arms companies are making ventilators. Across the world, pollution levels are drastically lower. The UN secretary-general called for a global ceasefire. Italians are singing on their balconies, and people around the world are dancing online (tinyurl.com/stayed-home). A visit to the supermarket revealed that bakers-to-be had bought up all the yeast for that first loaf of bread they’d dreamed about creating. The responses of governments towards the novel coronavirus in the first month certainly tell us what their priorities are. Protecting oil, coal and gas interests and the industries that rely upon them reflects the same mentality that led to the 2008 bank bailouts: big business safety nets are always chosen over people’s health and wellbeing. The right-wing ‘leaders’ of the US and Brazil continue to use delay and brazen lies to help large corporations instead of their own people. There are many parallels and links between the coronavirus and the biodiversity/climate emergency. In the name of capitalism, humans have obliterated many of the world’s wild places, built roads through them, plundered irreplaceable forests for exotic woods, destroyed rivers through mining and pesticide use, set fire to pristine places to raise cattle and produce palm oil, captured wild animals for foreign markets and thereby brought new diseases within easy proximity. If governments had not allowed oil, coal and gas multinationals to contaminate huge undisturbed areas, the world’s inhabitants would not be suffering now. Industrial governments’ denial of the impact of the biodiversity/climate crisis on future generations has left their moral leadership in tatters. With the coronavirus, however, these politicians have an immediate problem: it’s the older generations that keep them in place. The over-55s are the most likely demographic group to die from the virus; alienate them, and you’ve lost power. Certainly the UK and the US governments are risking this. Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said recently: “We are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves. And as we hurtle towards a population of 10 billion people on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally.” For many ‘leaders’, however,

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Living, reading and gardening in the time of coronavirus

Stone walls do not a prison make,Nor iron bars a cage:Minds innocent and quiet takeThat for an hermitage.If I have freedom in my love,And in my soul am free,Angels alone, that soar above,Enjoy such liberty. Richard Lovelace, 1642 Amidst the suffering and uncertainty that have been abundantly revealed throughout the world, the coronavirus has forcefully encouraged many of us to be more reflective and to pursue simple pleasures. There is a multitude of paths to choose from. This article speaks of some of my pursuits. Daily reading, walking, gardening, music and chess, as well as video calls with overseas friends, have sustained me these last months. Here is a chronicle of these contemplative activities. Enjoy Nature. The amaryllis is blooming quite miraculously, with five astonishingly stunning flowers. The bulbs have been with me for years. Just let them keep their green leaves after they bloom to give vital energy for the following spring. In this year of crisis they allow us to celebrate an engaging Nature that many of us were too busy to notice before. By January I had received my vegetable seeds in the post after joyfully perusing the informative seed catalogues. Is hope another name for a seed catalogue? For over 45 years my delight in finding a box filled with life has brought much anticipation, but particularly this winter. (Brian Creelman’s website seedsforfood.net is a great source of seeds from the Eastern Townships, and Clarke & Sons in Lennoxville is also excellent for your gardening needs.) I set up the ultraviolet lights and began preparing to sow the seeds in containers of various sizes. Ah, the joy of having soil on my hands again! Rejuvenation! A real ritual. Aubergines, peppers, parsley, parsnips, onions, leeks, basil for pesto, brussels sprouts, kale and many varieties of lettuce were in pots by the end of February. Each year I make a point of discovering a new vegetable, and okra is the ‘vegetable of the year’ for my garden this season. Last year it was the European broad bean. Swiss chard is to be sown in a few weeks. Spinach I will sow directly into the garden later this month. Each April I grow sweet peas so that the garden will be bathed in unsurpassed colour and fragrance. From my observations, I suspect that this spring will be warmer than last year’s, so the tomatoes and several squash varieties are next to be put into mini-greenhouses inside my house. They do not tolerate any hint of cold weather, so they are welcome guests indoors till June. I like growing a small pot of basil or thyme on the windowsill. These herbs are easy to grow and fun to watch. Sunflower seeds collected last October are now ready for sowing. Peas and especially watercress will be happy in the wetter part of the plot. Pole and bush beans love warm soil, so June 10 might be a good day for them to meet the earth, but I’ll consult the biodynamic calendar

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UN climate summit failure worries young people

The placard of a protester attending the Madrid climate conference currently taking place says, “The climate is changing. Why aren’t we?” So far the UN summit has been bogged down in technicalities, as each of the wealthy countries tries to manoeuvre into a position that reflects its own aspirational ‘commitments’ sung so eloquently at the 2015 Paris summit. You may recall Justin Trudeau’s enthusiasm prior to that conference when he declared, “Canada is back!” This was meant in part to be a pledge to work diligently with the rest of the world to vigorously lower greenhouse-gas pollution after Stephen Harper’s anti-science agenda. Canada has failed miserably to reach its climate goals, both for individuals and as a government. Will the government exacerbate this situation by approving the proposed open-pit tar sands development that would cover an area as large as the city of Vancouver?  December 13 is the final day of the Madrid summit, and ministers from the world’s governments arrived in Madrid only a few days previously to negotiate where this 25th UN meeting will lead us. These global conversations have been going on for a long time, yet we are still no closer to stopping a rise in global temperature of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius—or more probably a catastrophic increase of 3 degrees. The aspirational concoctions laid out in the Paris summit have led us nowhere. The pledge of US$100 billion yearly for a decade in 2009 to help the poorer nations to adapt and manage in the face of climate change still hasn’t materialized, apart from a mere trickle of valid commitments. Meanwhile, to the utter shame of the Spanish government, the Madrid conference is being sponsored by the very corporations that have contributed most to our ecological crisis: the oil and electric companies and the banks that finance them. Foxes welcomed into the hen house? As sponsors, they go on to influence the negotiations taking place. The ultimate greenwash? Although half a million people came out in Madrid to protest about the slowness of negotiations, individual countries are loath to pledge to push forward an authentic agenda that will tackle the emergency and stabilize the Earth’s climate. At the same time, scientific reports and disasters are documenting daily the unfolding catastrophe. Major Australian fires, ecological tipping points and expanding oxygen-depleted dead zones in the oceans head the list this week. Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! has been following the situation in Madrid and speaking with young climate activists attending an alternative conference called the Social Summit for Climate. She pointed out that the International Monetary Fund estimates that globally governments subsidize the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $5.2 trillion annually. During her conversation with activists from Chile (where the conference was to be held until that government cancelled) and Uganda, it became apparent from their testimonies that unprecedented droughts and floods are causing huge suffering. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg addressed the people in Madrid’s streets, saying, “The change we need is not going to come

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Alliance of World Scientists Issue Bleak Warning

In 1972 the first United Nations Conference dedicated to the state of Nature took place in Stockholm. It spoke of the fragility of the planet’s ecosystems and helped spur the expanding interest in conservation. The UN Environment Programme was created in the same year to promote sustainability and stewardship for the Earth. Seven years later, amidst growing concern about greenhouse-gas emissions, the First World Climate Conference was held in Geneva. This event was important because it laid out the internationally recognized concerns about climate change. Its Declaration stated: “Having regard to the all-pervading influence of climate on human society and on many fields of human activities and endeavour, the Conference finds that it is now urgently necessary for the nations of the world: (a) To take full advantage of man’s [sic] present knowledge of climate; (b) To take steps to improve significantly that knowledge; (c) To foresee and prevent potential man-made [sic] changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity.” Over the next nine years there were further gatherings of scientists and governments, culminating in the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. tinyurl.com/history-climate-activities Forty years after the Stockholm Conference, the Alliance of World Scientists (AWS) came together to issue a warning to the people of the world to take action. They expressed their concern in a preliminary paragraph: “Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to ‘tell it like it is.’ On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” tinyurl.com/aws-warning It is some of those graphical indicators that I wish to share with you. They are important because they speak about more, much more, than just atmospheric change, which until now has received most of the attention. The graphs are divided into two groups: the first sets out the human activities that have changed our climate, and the second focuses on the impacts of those activities. A human population graph begins the first list. In 1979 there were 4.4 billion people on Earth, and now there are almost 7.8 billion, spelling out massive hurdles for our planet’s ability to sustain life as we know it if we continue on this trajectory. Total fertility rate has dropped considerably since 1979 but is beginning to rise again. More than 220,000 babies are born each day – over 80 million each year. There are close to 4 billion ruminant animals (cows, sheep and others), belching huge quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Per capita meat production has risen sharply since 1979 (causing huge biodiversity loss). World Gross Domestic Product has risen 80.5% every 10 years – but remember that this reflects every kind of ‘product’, including cleaning up the devastation and pollution following disasters such as hurricanes and fires. And the graphs go on, covering tree loss globally and, specifically, in the

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