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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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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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