Today the sun stands still: Thoughts on Solstice

Trevor Hancock, 21 December 2022

Based on remarks at the Gorge Tillicum Community’s ‘Lights on the Gorge’ event, where children are an important part of the audience


Today is Midwinter’s Day, and today the sun stands still!

Now that may sound a bit worrying, even a little scary, but, it is actually very good news. You see, for six long months the sun has risen and set a bit further south each day, so each day the nights have grown longer, the days have grown shorter, the weather colder.

But now, finally, the sun will stop moving south. It will stand still, and then it will start its annual trek back to the north again, bringing shorter nights, longer days and warmer weather. Then comes Midsummer’s Day, when once again the sun will stand still, and then start heading south, beginning the whole cycle again.

The fact the sun stands still twice a year – on Midwinter’s and Midsummer’s Days – is what gives us one of the other names for this day – Solstice. Why Solstice, what does that mean? Well, it comes from Latin; sol – the sun – and sistere – to stand still.


It is reassuring to know the sun stood still this time last year, and the year before that, and the year before that – way back into the depths of history. The ancient ones knew it, they were keen observers of the sun and the moon and the stars, more so than most of us are today.

Think back a few thousand years, before coal and oil and electricity, before towns and cities and street lights. Imagine how dark it was, how ever-present was the the sky at night, the vast arc of the Milky Way, the moon, the stars, the moving stars that are the planets, perhaps the Northern Lights. – how impressive, how awe-inspiring it all was.

But imagine also how scary such darkness must have been, full of predators and scary monsters and things that go bump in the night. And for half a year our ancestors would have seen the days getting shorter, the nights longer and darker and colder, the crops all harvested, nothing growing, hunting difficult, their animals shivering and barely surviving. The winter was a time of hardship.

So wouldn’t you long for the end of that long, slow slide towards darkness and cold? Wouldn’t you long for the turning of the year, the day when the sun stops its southward drift, when – even though we know there are still cold, dark, hard days ahead – the days start to get longer, the darkness starts to go away.

But wouldn’t you also worry that perhaps this year the wheel won’t turn, the slide into darkness and cold will continue, that the light will never return. Wouldn’t you pray for the return of the light, make offerings  to ensure the wheel turns.

So wouldn’t you celebrate that night – the shortest night, the turning of the year – with its promise of longer, warmer days to come, of spring and summer, of new crops and easier living, even knowing that the wheel of time will keep turning, that in its turn the longest day will come and the cycle will start all over again. Wouldn’t you light fires – and perhaps jump over them – wouldn’t you light the lamps, wouldn’t you feast a bit, and drink a bit, and sing a bit, and dance a bit – perhaps even a lot!


But all that hinges on being strongly aware of and connected to nature, to the land and the waters and the sky, and to what Indigenous people call ‘all our relations’. Sadly, that is no longer the case. There is a famous and true story from Los Angeles at the time of the 1994 earthquake, when power failed and the lights went out. People saw a strange glowing mass in the sky, and they were worrried, some were scared and some even went so far as to call the emergency services to report it – was the sky falling, were aliens attacking, what was going on?

Well, you guessed it – for the first time in their lives, people were seeing the Milky Way, and they didn’t know what it was. It is a powerful example of one of the great tragedies of our age, and an important contributor to the many challenges we face; our huge disconnect from nature, from Mother Earth, from all that sustains us.

We need to re-establish that connection with nature if we have any hope of addressing our challenges. We need to learn again to respect and cherish and protect nature, to make peace with nature, as the UN Secretary General has put it.

In particular, we need to ensure that our children and grandchildren have a strong connection to nature – why else would they respect and cherish and protect and live in peace with nature.

One important place to begin is to re-connect to the great cycles of nature, to the summer and winter solstice, to the spring and fall equinoxes – another Latin word, one that means equal nights, the two times a year when day and night are of equal length.

Which is why we are here, to mark the Winter Solstice, the turning of the year, when the days start to lengthen again, when the light starts to return.

A Happy Solstice to you all!


Reconciliation must include the Earth

  • (Published as “Reconciliation with the planet includes Indigenous Peoples’)

In the rush to protect nature, the human rights of Indigenous people should not be violated — as has happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Nepal.

Dr. Trevor Hancock

13 December 2022

701 words

“Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, from an Aboriginal perspective”, wrote the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, “also requires reconciliation with the natural world. If human beings resolve problems between themselves but continue to destroy the natural world, then reconciliation remains incomplete.” As Commissioners, they added, “this is a perspective that we have repeatedly heard: that reconciliation will never occur unless we are also reconciled with the earth.”

That astute observation is particularly pertinent as the nations of the world meet at COP15 in Montreal to negotiate a new Global Biodiversity Framework. A prominent theme going into the negotiations has been the role of Indigenous people in protecting and enhancing biodiversity, something the UN has been emphasising for several years.

In a speech on the state of the world in December 2020, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke specifically to the importance of Indigenous people as protectors of nature, calling on nations to “heed their voices, reward their knowledge and respect their rights.” The rights of Indigenous peoples with respect to their traditional lands, territories and resources are addressed in a number of Articles (especially Articles 25 -29 and 32) in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which both Canada and B.C. have recognised and adopted into legislation.

Pointing out that “Indigenous peoples make up less than 6 percent of the world’s population yet are stewards of 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity on land”, Mr Guterres noted that “nature managed by indigenous peoples is declining less rapidly than elsewhere.” Thus, he suggested, “Indigenous knowledge, distilled over millennia of close and direct contact with nature, can help to point the way” towards protection of nature.

His remarks were rooted in a number of UN agency reports, including 2019 reports from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the UN Department of Social and Economic Development Affairs and the UN Environment Programme’s Global Environment Outlook, as well as the 2020 Human Development Report, all of which stressed the importance of Indigenous knowledge and approaches.

With COP15 being held in Montreal, headquarters of the Secretariat for the Convention on Biodiversity, Canada is not surprisingly playing a leading role. At the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Trudeau joined the call by the UK, France and Costa Rica, to conserve 30 percent of the Earth’s land and waters by 2030. He claimed Canada is on track to protect 25 percent by 2025 and that 30 percent by 2030 is “quite feasible.”

In an accompanying news release, Trudeau noted “Indigenous Peoples have been caring for the lands and waters of Canada since time immemorial” and that they “have unique relationships with nature and knowledge of responsible stewardship as a way of life.” He announced $800 million over seven years, starting in 2023-24, to support up to four large-scale Indigenous-led conservation initiatives in Canada’s North. Canada has also just created the First Nations Guardian Network – a world first – to support Guardians in stewarding and monitoring their territories.

Which all sounds good, except that there are questions about what ‘protection’ really means, and the potential impacts on Indigenous peoples. A December 8th article in The Narwhal reports that Trudeau revealed in an interview that “some resource extraction may be allowed in conserved areas.”

Presumably that is what prompted James Snider of World Wildlife Fund Canada, in the same article, to ask “what do we mean by protected and conserved areas?”, while Charlotte Dawe, of the Wilderness Committee, comments that she has  “stood in freshly logged ‘protected areas’ supposedly made for the conservation of wildlife”. That hardly equates to protection.

Moreover, the protection of nature must not come at the expense of Indigenous people, a point stressed by the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity as well as by three UN Special rapporteurs on human rights. Both groups are concerned that in the rush to protect nature, the human rights of Indigenous people may be violated. Indeed Indigenous people have been evicted or threatened with eviction from ‘protected’ areas, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Nepal.

So not only must reconciliation include the Earth, it must also – of course – include reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada and around the world.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

The other COP – Biodiversity is fundamental to our health

Published as “In tackling biodiversity loss, it’s actions that matter, not words”

The degradation of nature and loss of biodiversity is a degradation of and loss to humanity, an existential threat to society, and indeed to humanity as a whole.

Dr. Trevor Hancock

6 December 2022

700 words

Speaking at the Stockholm+50 conference in June, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres identified a “triple planetary crisis” – climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.  The first of these – climate change –  was the subject of the UN’s 27th Climate Summit (COP27) in Sharm el Sheikh last month. The second – biodiversity loss – is the subject of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), which began in Montreal, this past week.

The web of life is absolutely fundamental to our health and wellbeing, indeed, to our very existence. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the materials and energy we use – they all come from nature. We are part of the web of life, and as the Duwamish elder, Chief Seattle, is recorded as saying more than 150 years ago, “whatever we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves”.

The degradation of nature and the loss of biodiversity – the loss of the other beings that are, as Indigenous people put it, ‘all our relations’ – is a degradation of and loss to humanity, an existential threat to society, and indeed to humanity as a whole. As an editorial in The Lancet Planetary Health journal put it, the global biodiversity crisis is “one of the great threats to planetary health.”

The scale of biodiversity loss is dramatic and unnerving, but is not as widely understood and has not generated as much public concern as it should. The 2020 report ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 5’ (GBO-5) stated “Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying.” Those pressures include economic growth, population growth, unsustainable resource extraction (forests, fisheries and the like) and an unsustainable high-meat diet.

The GBO-5 was also a report on the world’s progress in achieving the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets that were adopted in 2010. None were fully met, and only  6 were even partially met. So while the intention at COP15 is to agree to a new global biodiversity framework for the next decade, it will be actions, not words, that matter.

This loss of biodiversity is also seen in Canada and in B.C.  A joint report released this month by the federal, provincial and territorial governments finds Canada is home to about 80,000 species (not including bacteria or viruses). The report covers 50,534 species; however, there is only enough data available to provide an assessment for 24,483 species.

Of these, one in five are either critically imperiled, imperiled or vulnerable, while 128 species  – mainly plants and insects – are considered extirpated (likely disappeared from Canada, but still found elsewhere), while 7, not found elsewhere, are considered extinct globally.

One of the keys to biodiversity conservation is habitat protection. Canada is steward of the second-largest remaining areas of intact nature in the world, and in 2020 Canada pledged to protect 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030. But at the time, Canada was only protecting 12 percent, and a 2022 release from Environment Canada reports “at the end of 2021, Canada had conserved 13.5 percent of its land area [and] 13.9 percent of its marine territory.”

Given that “expanding to 30 percent from 12 percent means adding an area roughly equivalent to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined”, according to UBC researcher Matthew Mitchell, it seem unlikely that target will be reached. And it is certainly not helped by the outrageous plans by the Ontario government to pave over large parts of Toronto’s green belt for housing, which will also worsen urban sprawl.

As to B.C., which a November report from the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club BC notes is “home to the highest amount of biodiversity in Canada, but also home to the greatest number of species at risk”, their report finds “current federal and provincial legislation are not safeguarding biodiversity and species at risk.”

Most glaringly, of course, is John Horgan’s failure to keep his 2017 commitment to bring in a Species at Risk Act. For the sake of all of us, and all our relations, let’s hope Premier David Eby has more integrity and a greater commitment to protect and restore BC’s environment and biodiversity than his predecessor.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Earth For All requires more equal shares for all

  • (Published as “Playing field needs to be tilted in favour of low-income countries for a while”)

Many of the problems faced by low-income countries are rooted in systems, institutions and corporations set up largely to benefit high-income countries.

Dr. Trevor Hancock

29 November 2022

700 words

I was fortunate to be born in a fairly peaceful high-income country. I had a high standard of living while growing up, with enough energy, food, water and other resources to lead a good life. I am fortunate to have never experienced war, real hunger or starvation, serious poverty or homelessness.

However, we know that this is not the case in many parts of the world. We live in a world where many lack access to even the most basic necessities of life – clean air and water, enough food that is safe and nutritious, adequate shelter, basic education and health care, not to mention those who are also caught up in war or civil strife. Small wonder then that there are massive inequalities in health.

‘Earth For All’, the recent report to the Club of Rome, identified three major global equity challenges: Ending poverty globally, addressing gross inequality within nations and empowering women. To meet those challenges, the authors say, we need transformative change to create a greater equality of opportunity for everyone in the world to share in the benefits of the Earth’s bounty.

This week I explore the solutions proposed in the report to the first equity challenge, ending poverty globally, which is rooted in inequalities in wealth and, perhaps even more important, in power between nations and people. These inequalities are embedded in and worsened by the current world economic system. Next week, I will look at what ‘Earth For All’ has to say about addressing gross inequality within countries and empowering women.

The report notes “the billion richest individuals account for 72 percent of the overall consumption of resources, while the poorest 1.2 billion . . . consume only 1 percent.” Clearly, the poorest countries require a greater share of economic development and wealth so they can meet the basic human development needs of their people. Ending global poverty, say the authors, is feasible, but it requires low-income countries to grow their economies by 5 percent annually so they can deal with both poverty and the unequal consequences of climate change they face.

But in a finite world, an increased share for low-income countries and populations requires a reduction in the excessive share taken by high-income countries and people. A small reduction in the share taken by the richest translates into a very large increase in the wealth and consumption of the poorest people and countries. We need to recognize, as Gandhi said, “There is enough on Earth for everybody’s need but not for everyone’s greed.”

Accomplishing this, they write, requires high-income countries to “provide all possible support to low-income economies”. This will mean debt-forgiveness, low or zero-interest loans, and support for public investment in key infrastructure, which can be financed by a combination of taxes on the rich and on corporations – although the latter will require reforming taxes globally to eliminate tax havens.

It will also mean revising the system whereby high-income countries export their dirty production – and its accompanying wastes and emissions – to low-income countries, thus benefitting from the consumption of the goods without bearing the full costs of production.

One way to accomplish this would be to legislate a Green New Deal in which transnational corporations are required to invest only in green industries in low-income countries, not in polluting industries.

This should be accompanied by technology transfer and reform of the intellectual property laws to ensure that new green technologies are rapidly available to the low-income countries that need them. Moreover, green industries in low-income countries need protection from international competition in their start-up phase; regional trading blocks should be encouraged and protected.

Many of the problems faced by low-income countries, Earth For All shows, are rooted in multi-lateral institutions (such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization), public and private-sector financing systems and transnational corporations that are set up largely to benefit high-income countries.

While ultimately we need a level playing field, for now the field needs to be tilted in the other direction for a while, to create greater equality of opportunity, wealth and power between nations so we can eliminate poverty, and all the human misery, disease and premature death that accompanies it.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy