EcoNews
Newsletter #226 - July / August 2012
Promoting the Vision of a Sustainable Vancouver Island
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Editorial

CIVILIZATION’S JOURNEY

July 1st - August, 2012

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

These are the questions that the artist Paul Gaugin wrote in the corner of one of his paintings when he was living in Tahiti in 1897, and they’ve been asked by thinking people for as long as we’ve been thinking – especially today, when there’s a solid case to be made from the ecological evidence that our civilization is in big trouble.

Where do we come from? Yes, we are part of nature, with 3.5 billion of years of biological evolution in our genes. But that’s not the whole story. The hydrogen atoms in our bodies were formed at the very start of the Universe.

Touch your body. Pinch your skin. The hydrogen atoms in those hydrocarbons are 13.7 billion years old. If there is life elsewhere in the Universe among the trillions of trillions of stars it will include similar hydrogen atoms.

For reasons we do not yet understand, atoms self-organize to form molecules, molecules self-organize to form organisms, and organisms have evolved to form all creation on Earth. Why does it happen? Physicists say it’s a purposeless random process. Religious people say, “God did it.” To many, it’s a big unanswered question.

What are we? Are we purely material, as most scientists say, at least while wearing their lab-coats? Is consciousness just a side effect of the brain? Are thoughts of soul and spirit mere comfort-ideas, created by the lonely self? I taught parapsychology at evening class many years ago, and I studied the paranormal literature extensively. Recently, I read Twin Telepathy by Guy Lyon Playfair, and the evidence that a third of identical twins are reliably and consistently telepathic is extremely persuasive.

Such telepathy may be rare – but so are rainbows. As a phenomenon of the Universe we need to understand it, not dismiss it. There are mothers who know that they sometimes have a telepathic link to their children. Back in 1963, Francis Crick told Rupert Sheldrake that there were only two major unsolved problems in biology - consciousness and developmental biology. They remain unsolved today.

If telepathy is real – and the evidence is compelling – consciousness cannot be mere brain-stuff. Is it a fifth dimension that permeates everything? Are animals conscious? Of course they are. Are plants? It would seem so. Are atoms? That’s an interesting question. Is consciousness associated with the self-organizing nature of the Universe that causes particles to form atoms, atoms to form molecules, right on up to us, serving as the agency for intention?

Quantum physicists know that it’s impossible to separate the objective reality they observe from the consciousness that observes it. When honest, they are completely bemused as to how it all happens, even if quantum math works perfectly.

Where are we going? That’s the critical question, because we may be about to experience a massive economic collapse due to an excess of unregulated greed, and because the cost to nature and our future will be so enormous if we don’t stop treating nature, the oceans and the atmosphere like a garbage dump for our selfish behavior.

Many environmentalists and ecologists have been well schooled scientifically, and accept the materialist interpretation of the Universe. Their belief that it’s a material world need not lessen their love of life and their passion to protect it, but it may inform their vision of the future.

Where are we going? For all conscious reality, which may include all existence, the future is determined by intentions held in consciousness. If your vision of the future is negative, you may have pre-decided that our civilization is going to collapse, making it more likely to do so. If it is positive, you probably still believe that we can self-organize to overcome our challenges and achieve our goals, just as previous generations campaigned to end slavery, form labour unions, win the vote for women, defeat fascism, and win civil rights for all.

History tells us that whenever a civilization ceases to have a clear and positive vision of the future, it is on the road to collapse. Sometimes the collapse is triggered by climate change, bringing extended drought; sometimes by farming ignorance that leads to soil erosion; sometimes by an excess of the good life that dulls the impulse for innovation and exploration.

Where are we going? I envision a future in which we end all warfare, make poverty history, live in harmony with Nature, develop true democracy, and in which all humans experience fulfillment, a widening of empathy and a deepening of consciousness.

It is out of crisis that new ideas and new hopes arise. Our journey since we ceased being hunter-gatherers is only ten thousand years old; we only started thinking scientifically 400 years old; we embraced full-franchise democracy less than a hundred years old. Our Sun does not begin its decline into a black dwarf for a thousand million years.

Our present confrontation with nature and the limits of growth is a sign that we have reached our childhood’s end. It is telling us to grow up, and stop treating the planet like a childhood sandbox. From now on, we will need to act together as planetary adults. Our first real adult journey as planetary civilization may be about to begin.

-Guy Dauncey

 


- Guy Dauncey

THE ECO-PERSONALS

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Eco-Stories

SUMMER NATURE OUTINGS

Even though summer is still hiding on Vancouver Island, there is a huge range of opportunities for hikes and outings. If you want to enjoy the company of like-minded people, the Victoria Natural History Society, CRD Parks, the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition and others have a full schedule of events. See the Green Diary.

THE RIO EARTH SUMMIT – WHAT HAPPENED?

The big Rio Earth Summit has come and gone, leaving disappointment, despair and cynicism in its wake. The government staffers, charged with coming up with a text their leaders could sign off on, failed to negotiate more than 1/7th of the text in time, so when crunch time came the Brazilian conference organizers pulled a toothless text out of their back pocket with all the square bracketed text removed (indicating unresolved disagreements) and presented it to the stunned delegates as ‘take it or leave it’. Concerned about being blamed for a meltdown similar to the Copenhagen climate conference, they preferred the prose equivalent of elevator music.

Lesson #1: When you try to reach consensus among 193 nations on a hugely detailed text you’re either going to get nothing or an agreement so watered down to please everyone that it’s only really good for composting.

Lesson #2: We need to change the way multilateral agreements are made - perhaps a voting model requiring 75% support. There’s not a municipal council in the world that could get anything done by 100% consensus.

I wasn’t at the Rio conference, but I’ve been following what happened:

* The big 350.org led drive to end fossil fuel subsidies whipped up a Twitter-storm, but was dismissed by developing nations who use the subsidies as a direct support to the poor.

* Greenpeace launched a great campaign to Declare a Global Sanctuary in the Arctic to protect it from drilling for oil and industrial fishing. When they’ve got a million signatures they’ll plant a Flag for the Future on the bottom of the ocean at the North Pole. By June 27savethearctic.org/en

* France wanted to tax financial transactions to build a $30 billion fund to help developing nations pursue sustainable development, but the proposal failed to gain traction.

* There was no agreement to launch immediate negotiations to develop an international instrument for high seas biodiversity conservation covering the 45% of the planet’s surface that is beyond national jurisdiction and therefore subject to a wild west fish-grab. Guess who objected? The US, Venezuela, Russia, Japan – and Canada.

* There was a lot achieved in side-sessions where hundreds of new agreement and projects were announced. Rona Fried, CEO of sustainablebusiness.com has put together the best write-up I’ve seen. The many commitments are being tracked at www.cloudofcommitments.org.

* The move to build a green global economy got serious face-time. 57 countries and 86 private companies agreed to create natural capital accounting rules that integrate clean air, clean water, forests and ecosystems into their business decisions. Britain announced that starting next year, every company on the London Stock Exchange must report its annual greenhouse gas emissions. Common eco-reporting standards are likely to be ready for implementation across the world’s stock exchanges in about seven years.

Some 1500 global business leaders present at Rio committed $500 billion of corporate cash to fund various UN agendas. Some in the NGO community condemned the move to a green economy as a ‘greed’ economy, and Britain’s Professor Tim Jackson, author of the influential book Prosperity without Growth, was scathing of the continuing commitment to economic growth.

Will someone write a concise summary of the conference as a whole incorporating all perspectives? We need a good analysis, so I hope so.



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CYCLING IN PARIS

Cycling in Victoria is on a high this summer, with Victoria’s Ryder Hesjedal winning the Giro d’Italia and competing in the Tour de France and the London Olympics, Salt Spring organizing its big Velo Village conference and its first all-bikes ferry, and 1700 cyclists participating in Victoria’s Tour de Victoria.

Paris has had five years of bike sharing, and it’s a huge success with 23,000 bikes parked at 1,400 stations, available for an annual $36 fee. Parisians make 110,000 bikeshare trips a day, and motorized traffic in the city has fallen by 25% over five years.

Washington DC has 18,000 shared bikes (pictured above). So picture Victoria with citibikes parked all over the place, available for a quick ride wherever you need to go, the first half-hour free. If we had the equivalent to Paris in the CRD we’d have 4,000 public citibikes. Watch this space!

So how is it going? Seven states in the US (including New York, California and New Jersey) have adopted laws creating benefit corporations, and 533 companies have become certified B Corporations across 60 different industries, including 48 in Canada. These include Salt Spring Coffee and Living Forest Communities, which is building an eco-hamlet at Elkington Forest on the Trans-Canada Trail south of Shawnigan Lake.



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NATURAL GAS - A HUGE FUTURE DANGER

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, and whenever we burn it we increase the red alert danger to our planet from climate change. The more we burn and the more we export, the greater the danger we accumulate and the greater the misery our children and grandchildren will suffer. The same applies to the oil and coal we burn.

BC’s Premier Christy Clark has just announced that when BC’s natural gas is liquefied for export to China it will magically become clean, since as Premier, she can rewrite the laws of physics.

Natural gas comes from the remains of 200 million year old sea creatures that have been crushed and cooked. When burnt, it creates a dangerous atmospheric pollutant, because of the resulting carbon dioxide and the methane that escapes into the atmosphere during extraction and distribution. Over 100 years methane traps 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide; over 20 years it traps 72 times more heat. (The numbers will likely be upgraded to 33 and 105 in the 2013 IPCC climate report).

Methane has a natural life in the atmosphere of only 10 years, however, which means that its short term impact is far more potent than CO2. If we are to have a chance of preventing the rising heat from passing the dangerous tipping point, it’s methane we have to tackle.

The danger is very relevant, because the government is encouraging much faster extraction by fracking BC’s natural gas, and BC Hydro seems to be preparing to abandon its commitment to clean power and go back to burning natural gas to generate new electricity.

The New Democrats seem to share these views, saying “all systems go” for BC’s natural gas even though doing so will blast a massive hole in BC’s climate action goals and undermine BC’s reputation as a climate leader.

The commitment to rush ahead with extracting and liquefying natural gas for export to China presents a very tough challenge to those who understand the dangers of climate change because it is tied to big financial revenues for the government and jobs in BC’s north-east. But we must speak truth to truth. Natural gas is not clean, not renewable, and not a bridge to a clean future.



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NDP POLICY PLATFORM

Do you have a great policy idea that you’d like to present to the BC New Democrats, who – on present polling – may form the government next May? The NDP has held ten regional policy conferences around the province, and its Caucus Platform Committee is gathering the best ideas. It is co-chaired by Carole James and Bruce Ralston, so if you have a great idea, you could present it as a well argued one-sider and email to Carole.James.MLA@leg.bc.ca



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CALIFORNIA GM LABELLING

Do you know if your food contains genetically modified ingredients? Companies like Monsanto are fighting furiously to prevent us from knowing if our food is GM-contaminated. In Vermont, where the Legislature has been considering a bill requiring mandatory labeling, Monsanto has threatened to sue if the bill passes.

Europeans have been labeling their GM food it since 1997, the Chinese since 2004, and over a billion Indians will start labeling GM food in January 2013. In California, activists have collected the 850,000 signatures needed to place a citizens’ initiative on the ballot for the November 2012 elections. See www.carighttoknow.org



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VERTICAL GARDENS

Take a close look – that’s a building in Paris with a vertical garden designed by Patrick Blanc, full of a huge variety of plants, irrigated by a tank on the roof with water that is recycled. Vertical gardens bring life, hope and beauty to a city – they belong in our future! See www.verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com



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FIN-FREE VICTORIA

The world’s sharks appeared on our planet more than 400 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs, and they have survived five major extinctions. Today, humans are killing 73 million sharks a year, and some shark populations have declined by more than 90%, primarily because of the Chinese desire to serve shark fin soup. The sharks are caught, their fins are cut off and the living sharks are thrown back into the ocean.

Shark fin soup is a delicacy dating back to the Sung Dynasty that indicates the wealth of the hosts and respect to their guests. In Vancouver, first generation Chinese-Canadian Claudia Li is running a campaign called Shark Truth to persuade the Chinese community to embrace weddings without the soup. Two years ago, when she was on a Cantonese radio show, most of the callers were confused about shark finning and did not believe that we needed to go Fin Free. Two months ago, on the same show, every single caller supported her work and understood why they should not buy shark fin products.

Here in Victoria, the Grade 6 students at Glenlyon Norfolk School did a project about sharks after they heard Elizabeth May speak about it. They brought the film-maker Rob Stewart (Sharkwater) to Victoria, and founded Finfree Victoria, seeking a shark fin ban in our local municipalities. They have had good success, with five Chinese restaurants taking shark fin soup off the menu, and they are making presentations to Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay councils and to the Victoria restaurant association, educating people about the plight of sharks and the horrific cruelty of shark finning.

Their goal is local municipal by-laws similar to those passed by Toronto last year and Port Moody this May banning the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark-fin products. Ideally we need a nation-wide ban on the import of shark fins, and NDP MP Fin Donnelly has introduced such a bill, but the chances of Harper acting are zero. Polling in BC shows that 83% of people are opposed to the importation of shark fins, including 77% of respondents of Chinese ancestry. For more information, see Fin-Free Victoria’s Facebook page, www.sharktruth.com and www.sharkwater.com.

ACTION OF THE MONTH

FIN-FREE VICTORIA

See the story above. Please help the students of Glenlyon Norfolk School in their bid to save the world’s sharks by banning the sale of shark-fin soup in our region. Please write to your local municipality, wherever you live.

* The Mayor and Council, Victoria City Hall, 1 Centennial Square, Victoria V8W 1P6.
You can send an email here
* The Mayor and Council, Saanich, 770 Vernon Ave, Victoria V8X 2W7. Emails to council@saanich.ca
* The Mayor and Council, Oak Bay, 2167 Oak Bay Ave, Victoria V8R 1G2 Emails to obcouncil@oakbay.ca


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Tel (250) 881-1304
guydauncey@earthfuture.com

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