Climate Avengers?

(August 8, 2019)

It scans like the plot from a bad Marvel movie, perhaps called Climate Avengers.

The Arctic burns; glaciers disappear and migrants drown. Cities set scorching new heat records, crops are failing, millions will starve if cholera and Ebola do not kill them first.

Swedish teen climate hero Greta Thunberg refuses to fly across the ocean, and so cadges a lift on a sailboat to September’s One Last Chance to Save the Planet UN summit meeting in New York City. Other climate heroes are killed, one almost every other day in 2018, for the crimes of defending their homes, their water and their land against corporate greed and political corruption in order to keep hope alive for a sustainable future for their children.

The stage is set for the Climate Avengers to arrive. It’s election season on both sides of the border, so the cast assembles in a kind of pick-your-own-Avenger situation… and it’s a disappointment for everyone in the audience.

In the midst of our climate crisis, the planetary emergency that requires brilliant, incisive leadership to save the planet and all of us from, well, ourselves, we get this motley crew instead:

From his villa in Costa Rica, Brian (PST) Pallister pledges to remove provincial sales tax on dead people and pedicures, while Justin (Is that a pipeline in your pocket?) Trudeau promises to turn the clock back to 2015 to recover his promises for electoral reform, gender equality and respect for Indigenous Peoples.

Jumpin’ Jagmeet Singh is fuming in his box, hoping that his handlers will eventually turn the crank enough to pop the lid and let him out to campaign — but is upset that someone stole his bicycle, so he will have to walk if he ever decides to return to Ontario.

Andrew (Alfred E. Neuman) Scheer is mad that his MAD magazine has been cancelled, but is secretly relieved that Conservative policies will no longer be leaked in its pages, so they can dribble out again — to the despair of comedy writers for The Beaverton, who find it hard to write more amusing copy than his press conferences provide.

Wab (Will you be my candidate?) Kinew is discovering that truth in politics is almost as rare as forgiveness and a fresh start, especially when you are the only one playing that kind of game. Speaking of discoveries, Dougald (Upsweep my hair) Lamont has found out that being the third party in Manitoba politics is like being the third wheel on Jagmeet’s bicycle… not really needed, and awkward around obstacles.

And then there are the Greens, who by colour are either sustainable or nauseating, and can’t make their own minds up either way — which is what happens when you have a leader named May, rather than Must — even though she clearly pedals her own bicycle and won’t let anyone put her in a box… not for long, anyway — just until the judge grants bail.

As for “Mad Max” Bernier, well, his vision of the future is as chaotic and nihilistic as anything Mel Gibson could produce in his worst nightmare.

In comparison to what we need at this point in time, this group makes the Guardians of the Galaxy look like polished professionals. Perhaps buried in the northern Manitoba bush there is our own aboriginal Wakanda, hiding the skills, wisdom and intelligence of a Black Panther that we need to lead our province and our country in a world facing its ultimate crisis, but we are almost out of time.

Looking south, we can count on little help from our neighbours, who only wish their politicians had the youth, wisdom and vitality of our own — Jon Gerrard, for example, would have to sit at the kids’ table at either the Republican or Democratic convention.

Given this situation, it’s no wonder the young people would rather stay home than vote. Yet this is precisely the problem; because the young people didn’t vote, the world got Brexit, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and — closer to home — Jason Kenney and Doug Ford.

I’ve often been prodded, after saying things like this, to run for office myself. But — after spending most of my days among 18- to 22-year-old students — at 60, I know I am too old for politics.

I have much less to lose than young people, too much reason to hang onto the way things are (or the way I want to remember them) instead of doing what needs to be done to transform our society and our communities so they will survive in the desperate days that lie ahead.

Elders can supply wisdom (when they have it!), but our hope lies with the young people and their non-violent, active and forceful engagement to change the systems that threaten their future.

If extinction is our current destination, then their only option — and ours — is rebellion.

Extinction Rebellion — XR — coming soon. Watch for it.

Read More

Moon landing was example of hope

(July 20, 2019)

Space — the final frontier.

I grew up with that idea. I remember watching the original Star Trek on television, reading the books and fuming at how badly the early movies were scripted.

Somewhere in the house, I still have my membership card from Colonel Loonar’s Space Club, from the Calgary television show I always watched before I was old enough for school.

And I remember watching, on July 20, 1969, the poor-quality black-and-white broadcast from the moon with my family, hunched over the screen with the intensity of a 10-year-old obsessed with everything space and riveted on what we all were seeing for the first time.

I also remember my frustration when someone complained about the blurry picture just as Neil Armstrong uttered his immortal — but, for me, inaudible — words.

For me, growing up, failure was not an option when it came to space exploration. U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 public promise to land someone on the moon within a decade was the mere start of a glorious trajectory outward from Earth to the universe that awaited. The heroes of NASA were the ancestors of Starfleet, and because of them, we all would live long and prosper.

Fifty years later, the old images are all being reproduced, looking much better than they did the first time. I now can hear Neil Armstrong’s words, though that burst of static (and his faulty memory) leave debate still about whether it was “one small step for man” or “one small step for a man” as he planted the first human feet on the moon.

Yet there was a dark side to the lunar adventure, just as there is now. That same year, my classroom partner Bruce and I won first prize in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division science fair. Our project (accompanied by my crude, multicoloured drawings) enthusiastically demonstrated the lethal effects of a nuclear bomb hitting Winnipeg at Portage and Main.

I recall waxing eloquent for the judges about how the effects of an atomic weapon would destroy pretty much everything. To justify these gruesome descriptions, I claimed they would help the few unfortunate survivors among us to realize what the radioactive aftermath would be like.

At 10 years of age, I had already concluded that I would not be one who survived an atomic detonation. Winnipeg would be incinerated by Soviet missiles, either intentionally, because it’s a major transportation hub, or incidentally, as the missiles were exploded en route to the silos in North Dakota.

I remember playing in the first new house my parents had built in Calgary, hiding in the bomb shelter they built to get the tax credit the government offered.

Years later, watching a movie about American civil defence propaganda, I was suddenly reminded of how it felt when the air-raid sirens went off on North Hill, and how (in Grade 1) we had to take cover under our school desks as part of the air-raid drill.

For all the excitement of lunar anything back then, there was also a palpable, underlying anxiety of how close we were to the end of planetary everything, because of the imminent threat of nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis was still fresh in collective memory, and war in Vietnam brought back memories for the adults of how close things had come to a nuclear exchange during the Korean War.

So when the first pictures of Earth from space were sent back by Apollo 8, of that little blue dot that was home, they were seared into my imagination as a sign of hope.

Fifty years later, that dot is not so blue any more. The worst threat to our common home is still nuclear, but we have also learned that any major war (or any minor use of nuclear weapons) will accelerate the equally lethal effects of planetary climate change.

Space is not really “the final frontier.” The challenge for our generation is not somewhere “out there.”

It is right here, inside our hearts and within our communities.

The mission to Mars does not excite as many young people today as the moon mission excited my friends and I. Even the International Space Station is becoming a tourist destination for rich people, instead of the inspiration for humanity’s next step.

But we can’t reach for the stars if we continue to foul our own nests and make the Earth, our home, into a place no one human can live.

The moon mission was impossible, yet people found a way to do it, together.

Our current mission is impossible, too, and not easily identified by looking up into the sky on a clear Prairie night.

We need to live together peacefully and sustainably, to build climate resilience into our communities and to realize that — in the midst of our struggle — we are not alone. Not on Earth, anyway.

Read more

My Canada is upside-down

(July 2, 2019)

My Canada is upside-down.

What I see around me is not the country I knew, not the one I have experienced, and certainly not the one I had hoped for when I was younger.

Something has gone seriously wrong. Given that we are now facing a premature provincial election as well as the expected federal election in the next four months, it’s time for an equally serious conversation.

Not a conversation numbed down to bumper stickers and political attack ads, but one that gets to the heart of what is wrong.

Not a partisan conversation, either, in which brains seize up at the thought of crossing party lines, but one that thinks about the children and their children, out to the seventh generation, and then decides what to do.

I know just how long a time that is — as long as my white ancestors have been in Canada, arriving as United Empire Loyalist refugees after the American Revolution, after already spending 150 years as settlers and builders in New England.

My Aboriginal ancestors met their boats — in the 1630s and the 1780s — and were assimilated well before anyone thought of the concept or what it meant.

Colonizer and colonized, bearing both privilege and loss, my family history hints at the patchwork quilt of new and old that Canada became — and should still be.

But this Canada Day, I wore my Canada flag pin upside-down. Inverting a flag — flying it upside-down — is a traditional maritime signal of a serious problem, of a ship requiring assistance.

As the Arctic warms, the sea levels rise, and forests across the country burn, our governments dither about what to do in a warming world. They lack the wisdom to act, however, not the knowledge of what to do. They subsidize fossil fuels, instead of a sustainable future, more concerned about their own comfort than our children’s survival.

Seventy-five years after the D-Day invasion, we can do much better. Back then, in six years, Canada went from being a Depression-era pauper in 1938 to a modern industrial powerhouse that helped to win the Second World War in Europe. Today, the rich get fewer and richer, the poor grow in number and in poverty, and we are told this is the way things must be.

My Canada used lines of iron to forge a nation with a railroad that brought people from both coasts together in a common interest. Our current federal government approved more lines of pipe that will guarantee both division and environmental destruction — right after declaring a climate emergency.

My Canada would not have allowed a handful of unelected Conservative senators to torpedo legislation implementing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Worse, this happened at the same time as a long-overdue report condemned the genocide inflicted on Indigenous Canadians, especially women and girls.

My Canada would be ashamed of turning away migrants and refugees, having learned its collective lesson from the way it treated Jewish refugees from Nazi-era Europe. My Canada would not put up barriers to the reunification of families today, or limit the private sponsorship of refugees.

The face of my Canada would not normally be white, nor would its leadership usually be male.

My Canada would offer an alternative to the world of how to embrace diversity and live together in peace, countering the tensions, distrust and hostility that are too often found elsewhere. When I ask my international students “What does a Canadian look like?” they puzzle over the question and hesitate to answer… before I tell them to look in the mirror. I point out that the diversity they experience here will be found nowhere else on the planet, and that they should embrace it as the most important part of whatever education they will receive.

Yet today we have political leaders, or would-be leaders, either embracing or excusing racism, claiming to speak for the fearful in a rapidly-changing global society, justifying exclusions and arbitrary rules that would have left their own ancestors on the outside, looking in.

My Canada would provide health care for everyone, not only those who happen to have money and privilege and live in large urban centres. My Canada would also find ways to fund disease prevention, not just its treatment, instead emphasizing the health of all local communities, good food everywhere, and an active lifestyle for everyone.

My Canada would be led by politicians whose lives were enriched by the experience, not by the office, who demonstrated humility and responsibility instead of flaunting privilege and power.

But right now, my Canada is upside-down — is yours?

Join the conversation on Twitter and tell me about your Canada — what it is, and what it should be.

Read More