More Seeds of a One Planet Region

More Seeds of a One Planet Region

Dr. Trevor Hancock

11 February 2020

702 words

This is the third and last of my columns, at least for now, on some of the local Seeds of a One Planet Region. The third largest component of our ecological footprint consists of buildings, and almost two-thirds of that is the operating energy used for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, cooking and powering electronics. Most of the rest is the embodied energy in the materials used to construct the buildings. Our first strategy here must be to reduce energy requirements through energy conservation and increased efficiency.

It has been said that conservation and the improvement of energy efficiency is the largest single source of energy available to us, and it is an important focus of a number of government programs and private sector activities that support both home and other building energy efficiency and switching to more energy efficient vehicles.

The BC Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA), founded in 2004, has an online information source and undertakes advocacy and education. It also has an online business directory with a listing of businesses that are “promoting sustainable energy solutions and supporting community-based action on climate change”; there are 23 listed for the Victoria region.

An important local Seed is the Victoria chapter of BCSEA. Its purpose is to “educate and advocate on issues related to energy use, the reduction of GHG [carbon] emissions, and solutions for transitioning to a non fossil-fuel economy”. They hold regular educational pub nights and have also started a Youth Involvement Project.

Their largest project is “to persuade all municipalities on southern Vancouver Island to commit to 100% Renewable Energy by 2050”, and they note this is ALL energy use, not just that used by the municipal government. Both Victoria (2016) and Saanich (2017) have already made that commitment.

The BC Energy Step Code should be an important part of that commitment. Unlike standard practice that seeks energy efficiency in multiple elements of a building individually, the Step Code looks at the building as a system. Builders are free to use any materials or construction methods they choose as long as they reach the standard, which encourages innovation. The Code started into effect in 2018 in Victoria, Oak Bay and North Saanich, and in Saanich and Central Saanich in 2020.

The final major component of the ecological footprint is ‘consumables’, the stuff we buy, and the waste that we generate. Over 40 percent of Saanich’s waste footprint is wood waste, textiles and rubber, with another one-third being paper. The aim here is to reduce the amount of stuff we acquire, especially the short-life or disposable stuff that ends up being disposed of.

The key is the 4 Rs – Reduce, Recycle, Re-use and Repair. First, we can buy less stuff altogether – do we really need all we buy or use? Avoiding disposable plastic and paper products will help, as will recycling paper and other products.

Among the promising seeds here are Habitat for Humanity’s three ReStores, which “accept and resell quality new and used building materials, as well as furniture, appliances and home accessories”. All they sell has been donated, and the profits support their work. Another way to reduce waste when it comes to clothes and household fittings and furnishings, is to buy from Goodwill, Value Village or similar stores.

We can also buy more environmentally-friendly and ethically produced clothing, an approach that is the focus of the Victoria Eco Fashion Week. It seeks to ensure that “clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair environment”. After debuting in 2019 it is back 23 – 25 April 2020.

Then there is the Zero Waste Emporium, a grocery store where you take your own container or borrow one of theirs, and the Repair Cafés. Fairfield has one, “a neighbourhood initiative that promotes repair as an alternative to tossing things out”. They have five more scheduled for Saturdays this year.

These are not the only seeds in town, these are just examples I know about, initiatives that are moving us towards a One Planet way of life. They alone are not the answer, but taken together, and with the many other examples out there for you to discover, these Seeds are helping move us in the right direction, which gives us hope.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Seeds of a One Planet Region transportation system

Seeds of a One Planet Region transportation system

Dr. Trevor Hancock

4 February 2020

697 words

Last week I described some of the local Seeds working to create a One Planet Region in the second-largest part of our ecological footprint – transportation. About three-quarters of the transport footprint is due to private vehicle use, most of which uses fossil fuels. Thus we have seen a growing interest in electric vehicles (EVs), which not only avoid carbon dioxide emissions from the tailpipe but also reduce other vehicle-related air pollution.

This makes a lot of sense in BC, because our electricity source is 90 percent hydro, and makes even more sense if the vehicles are powered using renewable solar or wind power. However, it makes less sense in places like Alberta, where coal fuels half of electricity generation and natural gas about 40 percent. In that case, EV’s just move the source of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants to the even dirtier electricity generating stations.

There are many local groups that are working to make private vehicle use more environmentally friendly. These include the Victoria EV Club, which shares news, organises events and provides information and support. A November 2019 BC government report noted EV sales in BC are the highest per capita in North America and were higher still in this region, accounting for almost 10 percent of vehicles sold in the first nine months of 2019. In an interview with CTV news, Glenn Garry with the Victoria EV Club pointed out an important local benefit: “All the money you spend on [fuel for] your EV stays in British Columbia”.

Then there is Modo, which is a car-sharing co-op that operates in this region and the lower mainland. They report that “for every Modo, 9-13 private cars are removed from our streets” and that “using carshare services is shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 30-50 percent”; all this while saving money for their members and paying a Living Wage to their staff.

However another recent innovation, ‘transportation network companies’ (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft, appears not to be the answer, at least in large cities. A September 2019 commentary by Transport and Environment (T&E), Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group, noted several studies from the US found “they are adding more cars to the road, increasing air pollution and CO2 emissions that cause global warming”. They may also be competing with public transit, resulting in fewer riders and more cars on the road; T&E also noted that Uber said in a share offer (IPO) document earlier this year that it views public transport as a competitor”. Overall, said Yoann Le Petit, T&E’s mobility officer, the TNC approach maybe a good business model “but it’s not working for society”.

However, while electric vehicles will lower carbon emissions and air pollution, they will not reduce the other main adverse impacts of private vehicles, which include injuries and lack of physical activity in addition to congestion and stress. Only better urban planning – creating more compact and mixed use communities where people can work near to where they live – and good public transportation will do that, coupled with support for active transportation and tele-commuting.

Thus other important Seeds of a One Planet Region in the mobility and transportation area are the organisations that are working to reduce the use of cars through support for active transportation, which means walking, biking, skate-boarding and public transit. These include the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, which works to create “vibrant public places that promote health, happiness and well-being”; Walk On, Victoria, which is Greater Victoria’s pedestrian advocacy group; the Better Transit Alliance, which advocates for “a convenient, reliable, and affordable transit system” in Greater Victoria, and the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition.

This last group of course has been a key player in the creation of bike lanes, which in spite of all the grumbling in some quarters, are an important part of our future transportation system and should be welcomed as such. We should make walking and biking the top of the transportation hierarchy along with public transit, with cars as the lowest priority. That can’t be achieved overnight, but it makes sound environmental, health and economic sense, and we have the seeds of that approach in place.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

 

 

Local Seeds of a One Planet Region

Local Seeds of a One Planet Region

Dr. Trevor Hancock

28 January 2020

702 words

Last week I wrote about the ‘Seeds of a good Anthropocene’ project and what we might learn from it. This week, I begin to highlight some of our local ‘seeds’ – groups and organisations that are working to create a One Planet Region. This is our local version of a good Anthropocene where we use only our fair share of the Earth’s resources while improving health and wellbeing in a way that is socially just.

There are a great many groups in the community, NGO, private and public sectors doing good work. I can only provide an overview and will doubtless miss many, for which I apologise. I will begin with the categories of the Ecological Footprint (EF) for Saanich and Victoria, as estimated by Jennie Moore and Cora Hallsworth. In order of importance they are food, transport, buildings, and consumables and waste. But over the next couple of weeks I will also look at other key issues and at groups that are taking a comprehensive approach

Almost half the footprint is food, and much of that is due to our diet, which is high in meat, dairy, fish and eggs. Now I am not suggesting that we all go vegan or even vegetarian – I am neither – but we do need to move to a low-meat diet. Interestingly, that is pretty much the advice from Health Canada, whose new food guide – designed to be healthy – is strongly plant-based.

A good local resource is the Good Food Network, which is coordinated by the Capital Region Food and Agricultural Initiatives Roundtable (CRFAIR). Good Food means “good for the planet, good for the provider, and good for the health and wellbeing of all”. The Network connects diverse groups from across the food system – from farm to retail – that are working together towards a healthy and sustainable food system in our region. There are many people and organisations in the Network working to produce and sell a more plant-based, ecologically produced diet, and they deserve our thanks and support.

Another way in which the food system contributes to our ecological footprint is the incredible amount of waste in the system – one recent Canadian estimate is that on the path between field and the waste system as much as 60 percent of our food goes to waste! The CRD estimates about 18,000 tonnes of food waste from the Region goes to compost each year and that “avoidable food waste . . . makes up about 10% of our overall waste stream”.

So the CRD has joined the national ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign and is working to reduce food waste in the Region. We can all help the CRD by buying less food, which not only might save us a pile of money – astonishingly, the CRD estimates the value of food waste is “up to $1,100 worth of groceries per household” – but in this age of obesity might help us eat less, which would be good for our health.

The second largest contributor to the EF is transportation, with almost three-quarters of that due to private transportation. So the priority must be to avoid the need for travel in the first place, and an important part of that is to create somewhat more dense mixed-use communities where people can more easily carry out their daily activities locally by walking, biking and using good public transit.

An important local champion of this approach is Todd Litman. Not only is he the founder of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, whose research is used to support more sustainable transport planning in many parts of the world, but more recently he has established Cities for Everyone. This NGO points out “an inexpensive house is not really affordable if located in a sprawled, automobile-dependent area with high transportation costs”. Among other things their extensive Affordability Agenda champions affordable infill housing development and proposes that all neighbourhoods in the Region grow at 1.5 percent annually, the overall rate of population growth.

Next week, I will describe more local Seeds in transport, energy, buildings, consumables and waste, as well as organisations that are working on other One Planet issues such as water supply and quality, parks and nature access, and ecosystem protection and restoration.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

The hope of a good Anthropocene

The hope of a good Anthropocene

Dr. Trevor Hancock

21 January 2020

699 words

Sadly, there is not much good news about the state of the Earth these days. Climate change becomes more real as it starts to bite – just ask the Australians – and there is growing awareness of and concern about the extinction crisis we are triggering. All in all the Anthropocene – a short-hand term for the massive and rapid human–created global ecological changes we face – is looking pretty grim.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, we do have positive options, good choices and many opportunities. Last week I referred to the ‘Seeds of a Good Anthropocene’ project. This week, I will explore what some of those seeds are and their relevance to Victoria.

The project began in 2014 and is the brainchild of academics from McGill University, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and South Africa’s Stellenbosch University. They wanted to identify and publicise “emerging innovative ideas, ways of living, and transformational projects”, the seeds that would lead to a good Anthropocene – “a more just, prosperous, and ecologically diverse world”.

Their website – https://goodanthropocenes.net/ – notes that seeds “can be social initiatives, new technologies, economic tools, or social-ecological projects, or organisations, movements or new ways of acting”, but that “they are likely not widespread nor well-known”. However, as I pointed out last week, they may grow to become important elements of the new and different future we need to create.

To date they have collected over 500 of these Seeds, many of them in Europe and North America, but also in East Africa, Southeast Asia, parts of Latin America and elsewhere. I will focus on the seeds from high-income countries because after all we have caused most of the global problems, we have the highest ecological footprints, and we are the ones who need to make the greatest changes.

The Seeds are grouped in 45 different tags, although each can be in several different tags. The tags include environmental issues such as climate change, water, agriculture and food, but also urban issues such as green buildings and infrastructure, parks, public spaces and urban farming.

But not surprisingly there is also a strong emphasis on the social and cultural aspects of change, with tags for behavior, community, governance, networks, participation and partnerships, among others. This reflects the important point made recently by Will Steffen, a leading Earth scientist working on the Anthropocene at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. In an interview with Yale Environment 360 in December 2019 he observed “we need to reach a social tipping point, before we reach a planetary one”.

Among the many urban seeds we find the German city of Lüneburg’s 2030+ Participatory Urban Sustainable Futures project that involved the local university, government, citizens, NGOs and businesses in envisioning the future city as a more sustainable, livable and fair place. The project has “developed sustainability visions in 25 different thematic fields that together comprise an Atlas of Visions” and in the process promoted collaboration and a sense of community.

In Canada there is Cities for People, a Montreal-based initiative that brings together a similar broad network of local stakeholders. They work to bring about systemic change by tapping in to “a demonstrable yearning for change and largely unmet civic appetite for involvement in local change and global governance”. Then there is Iron and Earth, “founded by Canadian oil sands workers . . . to train and re-train workers in Canada’s oil and gas industry to have skills in the renewable energy sector”.

These and many other Seeds are very much like the work that many groups and organisations are already doing here to prepare the ground for what we call a One Planet Region; we have our own seeds in Victoria, if not yet on the Seeds website – more on that next week. But we lack a comprehensive and visionary approach that brings it all together, such as in Lüneburg or Montreal.

It’s time our regional and municipal governments, higher education institutes and others provided the ground – in the form of a region-wide participatory futures process – and the fertilizer – in the form of funding and/or staff support – so that we can identify our local seeds for a good Anthropocene and help them sprout and grow.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

 

Small is beautiful – and essential

Small is beautiful – and essential

Dr. Trevor Hancock

14 January 2020

701 words

Some readers will doubtless recognize the reference to E.F. Schumacher’s classic 1973 book ‘Small is Beautiful’, in which he introduced the world to the concept of ‘Buddhist economics’. The book’s sub-title was ‘Economics as if people mattered’, which today we might amend to read ‘Economics as if people and the planet mattered’.

But my purpose is not to review Buddhist economics, tempting though that is, but to pick up on the theme of ‘small is beautiful’. That idea is also reflected in the slogan ‘Think globally, act locally’, and both – as well as the notion of Buddhist economics -are central to the work I am doing with friends and colleagues in the Conversations for a One Planet Region.

We believe that the best way to address the global challenges of massive and rapid ecological changes – and the necessary economic, social, cultural and ultimately ethical transformation that is required – is through local action, which requires that we have a community-wide conversation about the challenges we face and the solutions we need.

Small actions make a difference, and small groups of people make a difference, as the noted anthropologist Margaret Mead observed many years ago: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. In that sense, small is not only beautiful, it is necessary if we want to change things.

So I was pleased to see a recent article in the journal Sustainability Science that supported this contention. Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, a researcher at the McGill School of Environment, and her international colleagues – many of them associated with the Stockholm Resilience Centre – set out to establish a set of ‘good Anthropocene’ scenarios for Northern Europe. There are some terms and concepts here that need some explanation.

First of all, what on Earth is a ‘good Anthropocene’? The Anthropocene is convenient shorthand for the set of massive and rapid global ecological changes that we have initiated. By ‘we’, I mean primarily the people living in high-income countries and their corporations and governments – hence their interest in Northern Europe.

A ‘good’ Anthropocene is one in which we manage to address the challenge of the Anthropocene successfully and create “a more just, prosperous, and ecologically diverse world”, as a related article from much the same team puts it. I would add that such a world, or such a community, would also be a more healthy place to live.

This group of researchers recognize that such a future “will, by necessity, build on the present, and is likely to be composed of many elements already in existence, albeit reconfigured and combined with new participants, ideas, infrastructure, and technologies”. So part of their work has been to identify and document these elements of such a desirable future that already exist, which they call the ‘seeds of a good Anthropocene’ – check out their website, or read next week’s column for more on these seeds.

Another part of their work has been to create scenarios – coherent depictions of, in this case, a positive future, based on the growth of those seeds. They then examine how such a positive future comes about. It is this work that brings me back to the importance of ‘small’.

Because what they found was that “decentralization of power” featured in all four of the ‘good Anthropocene’ futures for Northern Europe they explored: “All scenarios imagined a decline in the power of the nation-state and multi-national companies, in which capitalism and national state power were no longer dominant, but power rested in decentralized communities, networks, and cooperatives”.

Of course, the transition they describe was not easy, requiring as it did the downgrading of “corporate greed, malignant governance, and the treadmill of competition and ever-increasing work.” and needed to include “a shift in mainstream values away from consumption, individualism [and] ownership” as well as “some sort of crisis”.

But “the empowerment of local communities was a crucial leverage point in all scenarios” in bringing about the transition. In other words, it seems that any route to a ‘good Anthropocene’ – healthier, more just and sustainable – requires local action and a decentralization of power. Small, it seems, is not only beautiful but essential.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

 

 

The deepest health challenge of the 2020s

The deepest health challenge of the 2020s

Dr. Trevor Hancock

8 January 2020

702 words

Regular readers of this column will know that my main concern is with the deeper factors that underlie our state of health and that my main focus is on three inter-related sets of issues: Human-created ecological changes that undermine our health, social injustice that leads to large inequalities in health, and an economic system that is not fit for purpose in the 21st century.

But what underpins them – and what is therefore the most profound challenge to the health of the population both locally and globally – is a morally bankrupt corporate, commercial and political system of governance. The focus of the system is on the pursuit of growth and profit and the accumulation of obscene amounts of wealth, regardless of the health, social and ecological consequences for others.

The marketing of tobacco remains the poster child for this – a product that when used as intended is guaranteed to kill and sicken millions of people, and exert its malign influence for decades. Yet the industry continues to sell its products around the world, immorally using marketing practices elsewhere that are not allowed in high-income countries.

It exemplifies how corporations are prepared to distort and obfuscate the evidence and hide what they know, and how political leaders are willing to turn a blind eye to the evidence as long as possible and generally have to be dragged kicking and screaming into taking effective action.

All these factors – immoral marketing, distortion of the science and political ignore-ance of the evidence – have been adopted by the fossil fuel industry and were on display at the recent failed UN COP-25 climate change summit in Madrid. In fact, noted Canadian energy expert Martin Bush, while the World Health Organisation had in recent years banned the tobacco industry and its lobbyists from the process of establishing rules to govern the industry, that was not the case in Madrid, where “The fossil-fuel backed contingent was huge, well-funded, and hosted non-stop social events”.

The only crumb of comfort was that for the first time – yes, you read that correctly, for the first time – the conference statement actually referred to fossil fuels. Astonishingly, noted Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada and Jamie Henn, strategic communications director of 350.org, “The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement ran 16 pages, but didn’t mention the words ‘fossil fuels’ ‘coal,’ ‘oil,’ or ‘gas’ once”.

When it comes to political ignore-ance, the obstructionist practices of the USA, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, China and others were clear. But no better example is on display than Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, who continues to plan for and celebrate increased fossil fuel exports even as his country burns and its Barrier Reef decays.

Of course this has nothing to do with the fact that “the corporate and fossil fuel industry’s powerful trade associations” in the USA spent well over $1 billion between 2008 and 2017 “to convince the American public that its products are beneficial and necessary”, according to a report from the Climate Investigations Centre. In Europe, the Guardian reported recently, “The five biggest oil and gas companies, and their industry groups, have spent at least €251m ($363m) lobbying the European Union over climate policies since 2010”.

Meanwhile here in Canada, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported in November 2019 that in the seven years between January 2011 and January 2018, “the fossil fuel industry in Canada recorded 11,452 lobbying contacts with government officials”. This was far more than the forestry, automotive and renewable energy industries and five times more than environmental NGOs. Moreover, under Trudeau, the lobbying has shifted from a focus on politicians to senior government bureaucrats so that “key government institutions and actors become integrated with private firms and interest groups that together co-produce regulation and policy”. The danger of this shift in focus is that “the influence of industry actors—like those in the fossil fuel sector—are likely to far outlast election cycles”.

If the health of Canadians and the rest of the world’s population is to be protected and indeed improved in the 21st century, we have to replace this morally bankrupt system with one founded on ethical principles of social justice, ecological sustainability and human wellbeing.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

Key public health issues for the 2020s

Key public health issues for the 2020s

Dr. Trevor Hancock

1 January 2020

701 words

I was prompted to write this column by an article in The Tyee (a Vancouver-based on-line news service) about public health issues in 2020. It’s not often people write about public health, as opposed to health care, so the attention is welcome. However, I found the column heavily focused on infectious diseases and newsworthy items such as the opioid epidemic, dementia, brain injury and air pollution. But while not unimportant – Alzheimers disease and opioid overdose were seventh and eighth in the list of causes of death in 2018 – these are not the biggest public health problems we face over the next decade.

The major causes of death in Canada are chronic diseases, with cancer and cardio-vascular disease (CVD) causing more than half of all deaths. The good news is that overall mortality rates for these and two other major forms of chronic disease (chronic lung diseases and diabetes), age-adjusted to allow for the aging of the population “has decreased by a third over an 18-year period” (from 1998 to 2015), according to a 2018 update from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Even better, the death rate for cardio-vascular disease declined 50 percent.

On the other hand, the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability found “an estimated one in five Canadians (or 6.2 million) aged 15 years and over had one or more disabilities that limited them in their daily activities”. The leading causes of disability were pain-related problems (15 percent), flexibility and mobility problems (10 percent each), and problems related to mental health (7 percent).

Tobacco use continues to be the most important behavioural risk factor contributing to death and disease, a recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) noted, even though smoking has dramatically declined (only 13 percent of the population 15 and over report they are current smokers), thus markedly reducing tobacco-related illnesses. This is because the damage it has inflicted lasts for decades. Other good news is that better medical and lifestyle management of high blood pressure and high blood lipid levels has significantly reduced their contribution to premature death and disability since 1990.

Meanwhile, growing impacts on death and disability are being seen from physical inactivity (nearly two-thirds of children and youth and more than four in five adults do not get adequate exercise), unhealthy eating (7 out of 10 Canadians aged 12 and over) and harmful use of alcohol (more than 1 in 6 Canadians aged 15 and over) and drugs.

In addition, the PHAC update reports that 13 percent of children and youth aged 5 to 17 years and 28 percent of adults were found to be obese in 2014/15 – and many more were overweight. Because having a high BMI contributes to diabetes and muskulo-skeletal disorders, the major diseases causing disability, a high BMI is “the top risk factor contributing to years lived with disability in Canada”, according to the CMAJ study.

Since the major causes of death and disease in Canada are chronic diseases that last for years and are rooted in a life-time of exposure to unhealthy living, rates do not change very swiftly. As the CMAJ study noted, “risk factors can influence the population for a substantial length of time and . . . decreasing [the] health burden for Canadians requires a long-term commitment to risk reduction”.

Looking to the 2020s, I do not expect to see major changes in this pattern, with perhaps one exception; a growing recognition of the increasing burden of disease related to poor mental health. So the critical issues in public health in the 2020s will be much the same as today: Continuing the fight against tobacco (and now vaping, which may become an entry-level drug for smoking); working to reduce the impact of increasing behavioural risk factors related to diet, physical inactivity and alcohol and drug use; and improving the management of chronic diseases.

However, the real fight will be against the commercial, social, economic and environmental conditions that encourage and support these risk behaviours, the complex social factors leading to increasing mental health problems, and the broader ecological changes and underlying cultural values that threaten our health for the rest of the century and beyond. More on all that next week.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

 

 

 

 

We need faith in a sustainable future

We need faith in a sustainable future

Dr. Trevor Hancock

24 December 2019

700 words

I recently touched on the interest among local faith communities in the challenge of becoming a One Planet region. But that local interest is part of a wider national and global movement across many faiths that links concern with ecological change – especially but not exclusively climate change – and social justice.

Faith communities are important holders of values in our communities, and in society at large. If they can bring their moral and spiritual weight to the discussion about how we can address the massive social and economic challenges we face as a result of human-induced global ecological changes, that is a very helpful contribution.

Here in the West we are perhaps more familiar with Christian statements, such as the Pope’s 2015 Encyclical on Care for Our Common Home, the World Council of Churches’ Statement prior to the 2015 Paris climate change summit or the Canadian Council of Churches’ 2015 statement “On Promoting Climate Justice and Ending Poverty in Canada”, which was also signed by Buddhist and Sikh leaders. This statement identifies “a spiritual, moral and ethical human crisis that can be expressed in this question: how will Canadians act as a good neighbour in both the natural and human communities since in the long run the health of one depends on the health of the other?”

But the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University lists statements on climate change from fourteen of the world’s major religions, from Baha’i to Judaism, Buddhism to Shinto. For example, a Hindu Declaration on Climate Change was adopted by spiritual leaders at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne in 2009, and recently updated. The Declaration calls on all Hindus to “consider the effects of our actions not just on ourselves and those humans around us, but also on all beings. We have a dharmic duty for each of us to do our part in ensuring that we have a functioning, abundant, and bountiful planet”.

Similarly, an Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change was issued at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in August 2015. The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, a UK-based organisation that championed the Declaration, notes that “The Qur’an is inherently conservationist and much of it has to do with how human beings relate to the natural world and the benefits that accrue from protecting it”.

At a global interfaith level, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which seeks “a more just, peaceful and sustainable world”, held its seventh global Parliament in Toronto in 2018, with more than 8,300 people from 118 spiritual and secular traditions and 81 countries in attendance. The Parliament’s Declaration on Climate Change states “As members of religious and spiritual communities, we affirm these values and principles, which are taught by all our traditions”. The principles relate to humanity’s profound interconnection with nature, the need to respect and care for nature and all life, and our duties to future generations, “who will bear the consequences of our action or inaction”.

The United Religions Initiative (URI), a global grassroots interfaith network, has identified the environment as one of fourteen global challenges it is addressing. URI seeks common ground among all faiths because “every member of every faith tradition depends on necessities like clean water and access to natural resources to survive”.

URI has over 1,000 Cooperation Circles (CCs) world-wide, of which over 300 identify the environment as a focus. It is noteworthy that of the seven CCs in Canada that identify the environment as a focus, the five which are clearly locally based are all in BC: Squamish, White Rock, Surrey and two in Vancouver.

The importance of faith communities in the fight against climate change was underscored by the UN’s Climate Change Program back in 2015, at the time of the Paris Summit. They referred to a study from the Pew Research Centre that reported that “around 84 percent of the world’s population are religiously affiliated”. Imagine the impact if the world’s religions can engage those 6.8 billion people in the fight against climate change and other important global ecological changes.

Imagine the impact locally if our many faith communities could come together to protect the Earth and our local part of it.

© Trevor Hancock, 2019

We’re spending our kids’ inheritance

We’re spending our kids’ inheritance

Dr. Trevor Hancock

17 December 2019

701 words

No doubt you have seen – perhaps you even have – a licence plate holder or bumper sticker that proclaims ‘we’re spending our kids’ inheritance’. While that may be a somewhat amusing idea to some, when elevated to the level of national and global policy, as we have just seen in the failed climate change summit in Madrid, there is absolutely nothing funny about it.

In reporting on a UN climate change report last month, the CBC quoted Jennifer Francis – a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center – as noting: “it’s important for people to realize the end of the century isn’t really that far away. It is just one lifetime: a mere 80 years from now”.

Globally, average life expectancy is now more than 70 years, and the UN Development Program reported this month that 34 countries had life expectancies of 80 years or more in 2018 (82.3 years in Canada). In those countries, an infant born today would live to see the end of the 21st century – or they would if life expectancy were actually a prediction, which it is not.

At its heart, life expectancy is a sophisticated way of measuring what amounts to the average age of death for people dying this year. So it can only predict the length of life of a child born this year if she or he experiences EXACTLY the same set of life circumstances as was experienced by those dying this year.

But one thing of which we can be certain is that children born today will not have the same life experience. The future will be nothing like the past. Go back to 1940 and think about just how different today’s world is from what it was then – and since then, the pace of change has dramatically increased. We have seen massive and rapid increases in a range of socio-economic factors that in turn have driven massive and rapid changes in the natural systems that are the ultimate determinants of our health and wellbeing and the stability of our societies.

The global ecological change that is most apparent and of greatest concern right now is climate change. The UN Environment Program described the findings in its Emissions Gap Report, released in late November, as “bleak”, noting “countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions”. As a result the world is on track for as much as 3 – 50C warming, as predicted by Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, in November 2018.

A temperature increase of 40C would be devastating, the World Bank’s President warned in a 2012 report, listing a variety of serious consequences, and concluding: “A 40C world can, and must, be avoided”. It is a simple point that seems to have eluded many of the key players in Madrid – the US, Brazil, India, China, Saudi Arabia and Australia were especially mentioned. They were far too busy squabbling over money and past wrongs, real or imagined, to spare much thought for future generations.

The collapse of the Madrid climate change summit is something of which the world’s government and corporate leaders should be deeply ashamed. When push comes to shove, they are perfectly prepared to sacrifice the world’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged people, as well as their own children, grandchildren and subsequent generations – not to mention many of the other species with whom we share the Earth – on the altar of greed and self-interest.

The BBC quoted Adam Currie, with youth climate organisation Generation Zero, saying “We are tired of governments siding with the polluters. We are tired of our lives being negotiated away for money. The people are tired of being ignored while a handful of wreckers and bullies negotiate in bad faith. We know that until we get them out of power they will continue to sabotage our future.”

The level of greed and selfishness on display in Madrid these past couple of weeks is shocking. This is the legacy of our government and corporate leaders, their bequest to future generations – we don’t care if we are blighting your future, we are only interested in making money today, so we are spending your inheritance. Nothing funny in that at all.

© Trevor Hancock, 2019

Awe and peace: The spiritual value of nature

Awe and peace: The spiritual value of nature

Dr. Trevor Hancock

10 December 2019

698 words

The Midwinter Solstice is nearly upon us, and it is a powerful time of the year. For our ancestors, the shortening days and the growing cold must have been a source of concern every year; would the sun come back, would winter end? So the point at which the sun stopped moving north and the days stopped growing shorter was a vitally important time of the year. The Midwinter Solstice was a time to celebrate, and of course our various midwinter festivals – Christmas, Hannukah, Diwali and others – are rooted in that time of year.

Recognising and celebrating the Solstice is an important way of re-connecting us to the seasons and great cycles of nature. But in the past century or more we have become increasingly disconnected from nature. On average, in Canada, we spend only about one hour a day outdoors, and since we are 80 percent urbanised, most of that outdoor time is spent in an urban environment, with little nature contact.

Symbolic of our disconnect from nature is a wonderful but disturbing book that was published in the UK last year – The Lost Words. The lost words in question were words related to nature which had disappeared from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. They included words related to common plants and animals in Britain (and for that matter, here in Canada) such as acorn, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter and willow.

In their place were new words such as attachment, blog, broadband, bullet-point, cut-and-paste and voice-mail. As the publishers noted, this shows “the outdoor and natural being displaced by the indoor and virtual”, something that was seen by many as “a powerful sign of the growing gulf between childhood and the natural world”.

Yet over the past couple of decades there has been a growing body of work showing a wide variety of mental, physical, emotional and social benefits of nature contact. This in turn has given rise to a growing interest in issues such as outdoor play, nature kindergartens and ‘forest bathing’.

But it is deeper than that. Surely we have never known a time when we more desperately needed a strong connection between humans and nature. We face not only a climate emergency but a wide range of other troubling human-induced global ecological changes that threaten present and future generations. I firmly believe that what we face is not a science and technology problem – we have known at least in broad terms the science of global change and the technologies we need to address the problems we have created for at least 50 years. It is instead a social, economic, legal, political, cultural and ultimately ethical and spiritual problem.

Which is why faith communities are such an important part of the conversation, because we need not only to understand nature in an intellectual way, as the source of all that we need for life and health and for our material prosperity, but to feel a real emotional and spiritual connection to nature.

The need for that spiritual connection, and also a concern with ethical matters related to our relationship with the Earth, seems to be of growing importance for some faith communities here in Victoria and, for that matter around the world. In the past month or so I have spoken on the issue of becoming a One Planet Region, and the ethical and spiritual aspects of that, with three congregations.

Many who experience nature would agree there is a spiritual quality to that experience. Nature can be beautiful, a source of peace and tranquility, of reflection and contemplation; it can also be awe-inspiring and humbling as we see the power of a river, a storm or a volcano, or the immensity of a forest, a canyon, a desert, the ocean or the sky.

Re-discovering the spirit in nature, experiencing both the awe and the peace that nature can provide, may be one of the more important ways for us to address the massive ecological, social and economic challenges we face. Because ultimately, saving us from ourselves is not a technological but a spiritual quest to live in harmony with and as part of – not separate from – nature.

© Trevor Hancock, 2019