Tag Archives: climate change

Preserving and nurturing the idealism of youth, and not just for the future

What would you say if your daughter told you about a conversation with three friends about where they would eat out, where she was explaining why she wasn’t getting a burger because of how much water got wasted in the production of beef, and they all turned to her and took turns saying that she was taking things too seriously because no one person could have any effect on big problems like that?

Would you just shake your head and be sympathetic, be a listening ear, make some sort of cooing sound, or extremely thoughtful spiritual direction type questions designed to facilitate your daughter’s values clarification process?

Maybe you would act appalled and reactive, tell your daughter how wrong, how destructive, how ideals-crushing her friends were, encourage her to say such and such next time, although you would not have been able to do so at the tender age of seventeen, but now, by golly!

Would you be ashamed of your daughter’s friends, nice Christian girls who ought to know better, who must have heard the starfish story, more than once, probably—the one that ends with the boy throwing one more starfish back into the ocean with, “It may not make much a difference, but to this starfish, it makes all the difference”?

Maybe you would say they’re probably right. Maybe you’d share how frustrated you were by how long it takes to change anyone’s views enough so they change their habits accordingly, how long it took your dad to get you into the habit of turning off the lights behind you, closing the doors when the furnace was running, putting on a coat instead of turning up the heat, and now how hard it was to get your own kids to make similar efforts, to recycle, to stop buying useless things loaded with packaging? How frustrating to have to deal with the wasteful average American habits the spouse inherited from the in-laws, so that you felt like your efforts were cancelled out? How you sometimes despaired of being able to see the tide turn in time to save lives, prevent droughts and wars and catastrophe?

But I know you. You are an idealist, deep down. Never violate your conscience, you’d say, if you can see a clear path. Right actions have a power that surpasses statistics, odds, and the group think of prevailing stupidity and denial. That stance has only the appearance of benign neutrality, and history always bears that out. Not that you like to use the expression, but it’s a binary decision, and a no brainer on which side of the fence to come down. I’m proud of you, you’d say–you will make the difference.



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On preparing our high school grads for the real world

My fit into the official scheme of things not well lubricated and calibrated. Deadline to get oldest child register for the SAT, and I’m late. That’s okay; $29.50 late fee will cover the inconvenience and give me incentive to be on time next kid. (Being late on vaccinations was kindly overlooked, until the system got caught up with us.) And by the way, please give us information about your race, parents’ highest level of education, your family income, the classes you’ve taken, GPA, rankings in all subjects, your desired college criteria, sports and extracurricular participation, aspirations, motivations, consecrations. It will help in the research of our non-profit organization, oh, so much, and help us determine the educational products you are most likely to buy from our affiliated educational products corporation, with the least fuss and bother. Sorry, we “prefer not to answer” or are “undecided.” Except, yes, we are white, and I feel it our duty to check that privilege–maybe will do some good somewhere–you can let Ed know.

Meanwhile, I check out for rereading the book The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education (link here), Colleges that change Lives (the link), as well as the usual catalogs dense with data, so we can highlight by quality and programs, eliminate by price, make a visitation short list. And try not to be swayed too much by vicinity to beaches. Not to say going straight to college is a given, global competitiveness aside. I don’t buy the rhetoric put out by friends of large industry, which merely wants to max its own advantage by decreasing training costs and creating a ready-made work force. Which could be done without the delay and expense of university, but without a heavy load of student debt, where would be the incentive for students to give themselves over into the rat race instead of gallivanting around the globe finding out about the effects of our style of business on the poor and our biosphere? And those tuition costs and the fear of being shut out of the top tier can do so much to get students to focus, to stream into STEM and not dawdle away their time with literature and historical anthropology and justice studies. And by the way, let’s cut out all that fiction-reading that creates empathy.

Went to hear Bill McKibben yesterday. When I got the postcard announcing he was speaking, shared it with my oldest son, and he practically jumped out of his chair. I had the gratification of seeing there was a new shared awareness and interest (thanks to the depth and breadth of the reading required by his community college English instructor). So we went together. It was an honor to hear Mr. McKibben in person, and be reminded of the principles presented in his book Eaarth.  He also showed moving images of our “brothers and sisters” in the movement, who, he pointed out, “do not look like typical western environmentalists.”

Speaking of how to win the “race,” (to save our opportunity to continue as reasonably stable civilizations), Bill said, “education is not enough. At a certain point it became clear to me that reason was going to triumph here. Because these things don’t, as it turns out, hinge on reason–they hinge on power.”

One of the questions asked at the end was about the need to radically change our personal lifestyles to diminish our CO2 contribution. Bill said sure, and I do, but it’s not enough, won’t do enough fast enough and our focus has to be weakening the power of the industries which are doing the most to exacerbate the problem, and their links to the political power structure. The fossil fuel industry has money, and “Unfortunately, money gives you more influence than you deserve,” so we need to use our currency, which is “movement, passion, creativity, hard work, sometimes spending one’s body, and going to jail.” He highlighted both the passion and commitment of young people, who have a lot to lose if they, for example, get an arrest on their record, and also older folks, out there “acting the way elders are supposed to act in a working society.”

I am struck again and again by the two visions of the world our college grads will be entering in a few years, one vision presented by the top leaders in government, business, and education, and the other by environmental scientists, those who are literate in their findings, and those around the world who already experiencing the painful effects of climate change. On the one side is the rhetoric about global competitiveness, economic growth, and a skilled workforce to achieve these goals. On the other is the idea that if we continue to pursue growth, accept and equip the young for the “real world” status quo workplace with its values and pursuits, we’re kissing their hopes of any career besides, as Bill McKibben put it the other day, “some form of disaster response” work.



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Could it be the beginning of the end, the revenge of Gaia, the end time for all God’s children?

Could it be the beginning of the end, the revenge of Gaia, the end time for all God’s children?

Through the mental, metaphysical philosophical fog, which comes and goes–not too heavy right now, but how would I know?–I’m seeing a pattern. Something about the dominant culture hurdling headlong into something, dragging almost everyone else with it, to the edge of a precipice, or to a suddenly downward slippery slope. And I’ve lost the words to say what’s wrong, lost the right or ability to speak about it to anyone around me. Everything seems to be moving too fast for me–the effect of three of my children hurdling through their teen years? And I feel I’ve missed my opportunity, maybe I should have done more inculcating, more world view training, more something, so they’d all really be somebody, and not just conform to some warm norm that won’t get them through the storm. Not that I’m really concerned that they won’t be free enough thinkers, but they are heavily marketed, and I hope they can see through and walk the narrow, rocky road that leads to life.

It’s not just about global climate change, water crisis, peak oil, species destruction, accelerated genetic contamination, overpopulation, mass migrations, though it’s all of those too. Maybe something about how so few of us are engaged in looking deeply into anything, there are so many glossy, high-def, shining, interactive mobile screens to surf us along gently, even without the thrill and certainly without the skill of real surfing. Shallow and distracted. Yet not minoring on depth in order to major on breadth, either, more like drift, distraction, dullness.

But that’s just the consumer end, because there are real individual folks behind it all, creating that code, driving those machines, inserting those genes. Surely they still have their wits about them, are capable of purpose, vision, idealism. But not like it used to be, when a few tycoons, geniuses, think tanks, mavericks would move in a new direction and change things forever. When it was just a matter of making sure enough of those powerful and influential people had our ear, or even better, had a heart of wisdom. Now culture molding, revolution, not to use the term breakthrough, comes through a kind of oozing, oily wave pushed by trillions of individual molecules way back who are just in a tide, and the push-pull could be the moon for how easily influenced it is. This kind of change has a life of its own. Maybe the driver is something along the lines of economic growth. And the voices raised against that drive have been pretty much ignored by the dominant culture since they started to squeak against it. Back in ’92 at UBC I heard David Suzuki call not only for reduction in growth, but reversal, or there would be severe consequences. I heard him again last year on CBC still saying the same thing. But there’s a disease that affects those who get into political office, or that they must have at least in some degree in order to win office in the first place, which is, believing that a nation’s economic growth is a mark of its success (not to say sustainability). No public official or other advertising-dependent entity would be caught dead saying publicly “Spend Less,” as does the  Advent Conspiracy , as one of its four defining statements.

This oozing toward self destruction, sometimes slower but then more quickly as we are lulled into thinking we have reduced, reused, recycled enough, is of biblical proportions. Bringing on the judgment, instead of the Kingdom, after our thousands of years of respite, our second, no, third, chance. Maybe the whole slate has to be wiped out, and the remnant start all over again, just like those Mayans, those Aztecs who saw the looming collapse of their so-called golden ages, and crept off quietly into the jungle to rekindle an existence more harmonious with this world before they forgot how.

Tonight I’ll probably have that dream again–the one I used to have when I was twelve, about hurdling down the road in a car, with no one in the driver’s seat, and me in the back seat and not having the skills or position to do anything. Yet I try to climb over the seat, see if I can save us from crashing–there are other passengers, but they are silent and out of view. And I wake up sweating.


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