Watch your tongue:children are listening

(August 30, 2018)

There are good reasons behind the admonition “Not in front of the children, please!”

Children are little sponges, soaking up information and what it means in ways even their parents barely understand. Other people are oblivious to the ankle-biters running around them at social events and elsewhere.

What the chronologically adult members of our society say and do in public affects the next generation, whether they realize it or not.

When it comes to racism, bigotry, sexism, prejudice and all-around cultural misery, therefore, the “dinosaur dismissal” of waiting for the old nasty ones to die off so things will get better just doesn’t work.

Adding the internet to the mix, anything that appears on Facebook or Twitter these days will also be overheard by the next generation.

This is not a new thing. I remember, as a young teen, overhearing many negative comments from adults I otherwise respected, about “immigrants,” “refugees,” people from other places coming to Canada and taking “our” jobs, “our” land, not accepting “our” culture, bringing with them the attitudes and politics of “their” country to Canada and causing trouble.

But I was also smart enough to realize that all these comments were being delivered in Scottish, Polish, Ukrainian and Hungarian accents, by people oblivious to the irony that they were denying to other needy people the same opportunities they had been given.

The waves of “boat people” from Southeast Asia, followed by other waves from Central and South America, then Africa, soon swamped such attitudes, at least officially, but lately there has been an increase in public comments too much like the ones I overheard in the 1970s.

I don’t think there are more racists or bigots in Canada now than before. Anyone who walks around the streets of any Canadian city or (increasingly) in small towns, too, knows that they will find a cross-section of the whole world living together in a kind of harmony that other countries envy. The negative comments these days just go farther and faster, thanks to social media.

Fascism, especially, has always depended upon technology since microphones, loudspeakers, movies and radios were used to spread the propaganda that helped create Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Benito Mussolini’s Italy in the 1920s and 1930s.

The real problem, for me, is not the nastiness of some of these “adults.” The real problem is that the children are listening. As adults, we can console ourselves by saying that there will be an election soon, and the government will have to change for the better, but that is not good enough. There may not be another election, or the change may make things worse instead.

The children, however, look at what is being said or done in public, and then observe how the adults they respect in their lives choose to respond. The schoolyard is society in miniature — kids experience the same range of attitudes and emotions as adults, just on a smaller scale, though (as we know from problems with bullying) one that can be just as lethal to the victims.

What happens at home, or is spread through social media, sooner or later will surface at school and will influence the rest of their lives.

I have always felt, however, that trying to keep things just between the adults has never really worked. Instead of trying to hide the nasty things in society that you don’t want the kids to see, we should embrace the opportunity to shape the lives of the next generation in a positive way.

Public proclamations against racism and prejudice are necessary, I suppose, but kids learn from what we do, not what we say. The single most powerful tool to shape their lives (and our world) for the better is something that is easy for everyone to use, every day: compassion.

What I heard, behind the bigoted and racist comments the adults made in my childhood, was a lack of compassion for people in the same situation as they once were.

In a world where millions of people are refugees, and before climate change makes things even worse, we need to demonstrate the same compassion for others that we would want for ourselves if we were the ones pleading for help at the door.

We will never have enough money, enough resources or enough time as the needs around us continue to grow.

But if the children watch us and learn what compassion is and what it means, those life lessons could change everything.

Compassion creates possibilities that were not there before.

Best of all, compassion is not only free — it is priceless.

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Climate is changing quickly, and it’s up to us to act

(June 22, 2018)

In the same week that Doug Ford won the provincial election in Ontario, scientists announced that the Antarctic ice shelf is melting three times faster than they thought.

While it is true that Ford’s election victory has generated more heat than light, it is his opposition to Ontario’s carbon tax that will speed up such melting in the future. Yet a year ago, neither event would have been predicted by the experts.

In other words, whether we like it or not, things change.

On top of the recent heat wave in the Arctic (during which Churchill hit 30 C) — and record temperatures across Canada for this time of year — the news from Antarctica is particularly disturbing.

Global warming, leading to extreme weather around the planet, is disrupting predictions as well as the lives of millions of people. In situations where political rhetoric (instead of science) drives decision making about the environment, however, facts don’t seem to matter.

So we spend billions more than it is worth to buy an old, leaky pipeline, and billions more to build the Pipeline to Nowhere to ship bitumen that should be left safely in the Alberta oilsands. We sign agreements with Argentina to “study” whether fossil fuel subsidies are a good idea, when smart money has already divested and reinvested in alternatives.

If our scientific predictions are not keeping up with the accelerating effects of global warming, our political performances are 50 years behind reality — and slipping further.

We need to see these decisions for what they are: cynical investments in business as usual, betting against a sustainable future for everyone in order to make money for a few people today. You can make a lot of money predicting the decline of stocks; in fact, you could probably calculate it is easier (and faster) to make a pile on the stock market by shorting stocks rather than by waiting for them to gain in value.

In a volatile world market, in which a presidential tweet can send stocks crashing in an hour, there is money to be made in disaster.

In comparison, however, Mother Nature can change market trends just as quickly — and in a time of global warming, those changes could be catastrophic and irreversible.

Predictions about what happens when the Antarctic ice sheet breaks away or melts vary wildly. Some of the worst forecast a rise in sea level (with continued high greenhouse gas emissions) of up to 2.4 metres by 2100.

Think about it: 2.4 metres. For the metrically challenged, that is more than 71/2 feet.

If the models are not keeping up with the data, and if we continue to build and use pipelines, that end date will be a lot sooner than 2100.

Most people, especially younger ones, are not sure what they will be doing in 2050. At the rate things are going, billions of people around the world could be swimming by then.

I’ve been fortunate to be part of a small group of people that is providing a technical review of the global version of GEO 6, the latest Global Environmental Outlook prepared by the United Nations Environment Program, which is due to be released in March.

Watching colleagues around the world wrestling with the data — finding it, interpreting it, putting the pieces together — reminds me how difficult it is to know exactly where we are or where we will be even in 10 years.

But trends are clear. It is also clear that we do not have to do anything to ensure a high-carbon future, one where the dangerous effects of global warming change the conditions of life for many people on the planet.

Some will be floating; others will suffer from extreme heat (of more than 50 C) in which nothing can grow or live.

The politicians in office now, including the Doug Fords, are the ones who have the power to make decisions on our behalf to change that grimly inevitable future. Mother Nature does not attend campaign rallies, nor does she have a Twitter account.

What we say doesn’t matter; if we don’t change how we live together, the planet will simply do it for us — more rapidly, it seems, than even the scientists think.

Yet our political systems, even in a democracy, are failing us faster than the Antarctic ice is melting. Far more people in Ontario stayed in bed on election day than those who gave Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives their majority government.

Refusing to vote because you don’t like the choices is not a morally superior position. At such a critical point in the history of our civilization, it could be disastrous.

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Trucking industry green-driven

(May 30, 2018)

Co-authored with Terry Shaw, Executive Director of the Manitoba Trucking Association

The Pallister government might not expect to see environmental groups like the Green Action Centre working together with the Manitoba Trucking Association to advance a similar agenda, but it is not surprising.

We are concerned about creating a sustainable future and frustrated with the lack of government action toward that goal.

We have not seen the leadership we were promised, on Premier Brian Pallister’s vision to make Manitoba into “Canada’s cleanest, greenest, and most climate resilient province,” a vision that lay behind the Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan.

Given the Green Projects, Business Competitiveness, and Clean Technologies initiative and the rhetoric that accompanied the various surveys and public (and private) consultations, we expected more, better and sooner from this government.

Specifically, we expected more from the long-promised carbon tax plan, especially in terms of how the money is going to be allocated. At the first province-sponsored consultation in October 2016, both our organizations — like others present — asked for the revenue to be spent on mitigating the impacts of the carbon tax on Manitoba’s most vulnerable citizens, and for the rest to be spent on programs to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

This would involve initiatives such as increasing and improving public transportation, enabling the use of electric vehicles by subsidizing their purchase and providing the necessary charging infrastructure, and subsidizing other efficiencies to encourage reduction in GHG emissions in the transportation sector.

We also impressed upon the members of government we have met over the past two years that this is an urgent problem, something that needs to be addressed in part by reducing the amount of “green tape” that gets between us and the solutions we could offer.

Truck drivers, like farmers and the rest of Manitobans, want to do their part to contribute to solutions, rather than just continuing to be seen as part of the problem.

Obviously, truck drivers provide a service that feeds, clothes and employs Manitobans, and delivers the goods and services that allow us to enjoy the standard of living we have.

We all want to find ways to make transportation more efficient, which is why the MTA jointly established the GrEEEn Trucking fuel efficiency initiative to provide incentives for truck drivers to do just this.

Failing to use the carbon tax revenues collected to support much-needed initiatives such as this one risks having the Manitoba headquarters of our trucking industry move to other provinces where such subsidies are already government policy.

After all, why should the Manitoba trucking industry pay a carbon tax, and at the same time (as good corporate citizens) spend more of their money to improve the efficiency of their operations for the benefit of all Manitobans, if this is not valued or appreciated by the government?

Some things are therefore clear to both our groups:

Without taking serious steps to do things differently, our greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise, fuelling global warming. As Canadians, we have made commitments under the Paris accord to reduce emissions. Whether or not this will be enough to stop global warming remains to be seen, but doing nothing is not an option.

The carbon tax by itself will simply not be high enough to change consumer behaviour by punishing us into a greener lifestyle. Instead of $25 a tonne, we would need closer to $300 a tonne to do that.

The money raised, however — every nickel — should go to protecting the most vulnerable Manitobans first, and then to creating options for Manitobans to make lifestyle and work choices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While we are pleased to see the one-time gift to the Winnipeg Foundation for a conservation trust fund, the revenues from such a fund are woefully inadequate for new climate-change initiatives, especially since existing programs (such as the subsidies to public transit) have already been cancelled as cost-saving measures by the provincial government.

Some parts of the solution are obvious. We have an abundance of electricity, which is more valuable to us kept at home than exported abroad. What we lack is the infrastructure to develop and support electric vehicles, as one part of a sustainable transportation strategy, something that carbon tax revenues could be used to promote.

We need the best answers all of us together can provide, because a sustainable future is important for all Manitobans — especially the next generation.

We are prepared to work as allies, and across sectors, to ensure the province advances its carbon reduction strategies by reducing emissions with funds from carbon taxes.

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