Doing the Floss for climate action

Waiting for the Prime Minister.

“Come on, get your rain pants on, we’re going to go see the Prime Minister!”

It was a rainy Thursday and the kids had barely had a moment to wind down after school and daycare, but  we had a ferry to catch and a protest to attend.

“I hate rain pants!” Declared my six-year old. He’s a determined warrior against weather-appropriate clothing.

“Me too!” Echoed his little sister, adding, “You’re a poopy!”

Neither particularly cared about the Prime Minister. Climate change, and the importance of stopping it didn’t peak much interest either.

I managed to get some fried egg into them, and packed a cloth grocery bag with hats, mitts and rain gear. I might have bribed the kids with another pick from their halloween loot, but I did manage to get them strapped into their car seats and and across Howe Sound.

We arrived at the entrance to Gleneagles Golf Course to find forty or so people standing silently and holding large and banners that said things like, “BC LNG is One Big Lie,”  or “Trudeau Pull Your Socks Up on Climate Change.” Police officers milled about, politely ensuring that everyone knew the rules of engagement. Part of me thought, “Hey, maybe this is what democracy looks like?” Another part of me thought the scene was so polite and demure, that it was actually a little awkward.

Then the kids settled into the scene. They started twirling their umbrellas, jousting and laughing. Someone started playing a drum. My daughter happily seized a pot and a spatula from my hand and started banging away. This was starting to feel like a proper protest.

Talk among us banner holders turned to Trudeau and his expected cavalcade of black SUVs.

Did we have an ETA for him? Would he come from the highway, or would he drive past all the coastal mansions? It was possible, someone said, that, he’d arrive through a back entrance.

Maybe, he’d want to stop and hang out, maybe even seek out a few high-fives?

He’d had a good week, after all. The roll-out of the national carbon tax might have stopped instantly the moment the governments of Saskatchewan and Ontario announced they would not play along, but Trudeau skilfully wooed the citizens of both provinces. After announcing that people in those provinces would get rebates, support for the tax climbed by eighteen points in Saskatchewan and to 54% across the country.

Personally, I will take news of a successful climate change fighting initiative when I can get one. I need this news, in an emotional sense. That said, I want to see even braver leadership and bolder initiatives. To me, the plan to spend $4.5 billion in tax dollars on a pipeline to facilitate the flow of fossil fuel is both gutting and absurd.

The world’s top scientists have told us we’re headed for catastrophic global temperature rises within twelve years, and if we are going to stop it we need to cut emissions by 50% within that time frame. Yet we’re all stuck in the hamster wheel of business as usual. It’s like being told you have a treatable but deadly form of cancer, and then being shuffled around to different appointments where the doctors offer little more than a pat on the back and gentle reassurance.

What does leadership look like in this scenario?

I see it in 15 year-old Greta Thurnberg. Instead of going to school this September she decided to  sit on the steps of the Swedish Parliament and demand climate action for three weeks. She did go back to class after that, but kept taking Fridays off to make sure the politicians didn’t forget about her. Apparently Greta’s parents were rather annoyed with her, but they have clearly followed her lead somewhat: her mother gave up her international career and stopped flying, the family bought an electric car but barely use it as they all prefer to travel by bicycle.

Recently, Thurnberg spoke to a crowd of 10,000 who had gathered in Helsinki, Finland, to demand that politicians commit to zero emissions by 2035.

“Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every day,” she told them. “There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground, so we can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change. Everything needs to change and it has to start today.”

Now, I’m glad that Trudeau managed to swing a majority of Canadians in favour of a carbon tax, but I’m not sure the way he did it sets us up very well for making the changes we’ll need to make to stop, or even slow climate change.

So when I sat down to think about why I would bother dragging my kids out to a protest, this is what I came up with: I want our Prime Minister, and all our leaders to know that I am willing to give up my time, my comfort, and my energy to clean up the mess we’ve made. I’m also volunteering my kids to be a part of that effort. I’d like our leaders to deliver the corresponding policy changes to make effective change. The future that scientists have been talking about since before I was born (and before Justin Trudeau was born) is here. There is no time to waste. As a country, as a species, we need to quit our addiction to fossil fuels.

We never did get a glimpse of Trudeau. I’m told he arrived at the golf course at 8:50, one hour exactly after our departure. Sure, we felt a little disappointed, wet, hungry and tired, but we actually had a pretty great time. We sang, we banged on pots and flossed our hearts out.

And on the way home, I heard tiny voices chanting from the back seat:

What do we want?

Climate action!

When do we want it?

Now!

Let’s bring back Birth Days worth celebrating

Scarlet, Southern Resident Orca
The world celebrated the birth of Scarlet (J50) who is now a critically ill three year-old.
Clint Rivers, Showtime Photography and Eagle Wing Tours

If there was any excitement at the birth of a new calf to the dwindling population of Southern Resident Orcas on July 24th, it was short-lived. The baby died just half an hour after birth, and its mother, known as Tahlequah, made sure the world knew it.If somehow you missed it, Tahlequah carried that baby for 17 days.

The general consensus is that the mama whale was sending us a message and plenty of writers and researchers have made speculations about the contents of that message.

I’ve been wondering what it was that hit us so hard about Tahlequah’s “grief tour.”

Is it the fact that we cannot un-see that limp and yellowing corpse, the baby whose life we should be celebrating?

Maybe it’s not just the grief, but the injustice that gets us. Yes, babies die, but Tahlequah’s shouldn’t have and we know it. What we felt watching Tahlequah carry her child around was the same devastation we felt seeing images of a child’s body washed ashore because his parents tried to take him to a safer place. It was the same gut-sick feeling we held for the children taken from their parents by immigration officials at the US-Mexican border earlier this summer. It’s the same horror we feel when we hear about a teenager in our own city dying of “professional indifference.”

The more I learn about these whales, though, the more convinced I am that our grief is even deeper than this. We are bearing witness to the death of birth*, to extinction.

In an interview by Mark Leiren-Young in his orca-focused podcast, Skaana, researcher Ken Balcomb laid out the hard truth about this population:

There have been dead babies in the past and there will be dead babies in the future, and the problem is, there will be no successful reproduction if we don’t have a viable ecosystem for them to live in. That’s the problem.

Just look at the past few years in the life of these whales, and you’d be inclined to think Balcomb is on to something.

In 2014, an eighteen year-old named Rhapsody was found dead near Comox, an autopsy revealed she was pregnant.

In February, 2016, a whale named Nigel disappeared, researchers say his ribs were showing on the last day they saw him.

Throughout that summer, researchers followed 23 year-old named Polaris and her young son, Dipper. The pair appeared to be starving, and in October of that year, they disappeared.

Researchers announced the loss of Granny, believed by some to be more than 100 years old, shortly thereafter.

In the past month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been trying to help three year-old Scarlet, who is also starving, but these efforts have ground to a halt now that she’s in Canadian waters.

In an article about the current situation, and his struggle to get answers from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Leiren-Young writes:

Today, if I thought anyone would answer me, it’d be time for hardball questions like: “If Scarlet starves to death because no one signed off on feeding her in Canada, which Canadian official or organization would be responsible?”

It’s a great question.

Governor Jay Inslee could order the breaching of the Lower Snake River dams assisting in the recovery of salmon populations and cut Washington State’s tanker traffic. Premier John Horgan could let the licenses for 20 open-net salmon farms expire, and he could encourage the federal government to cut the allowable catch for the commercial chinook fishery by more than 25%. Prime Minister Trudeau could come up with a better way to spend  $4.5 billion in taxpayer dollars than to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline (especially now that the Canadian courts have rejected the legitimacy of the project’s approval).

If these things happened and the Southern Residents made a miraculous comeback, we could celebrate these leaders as heroes.

If their action are weak and ineffective, can we hold them responsible for the subsequent deaths?

I’ve left voicemail messages urging these leaders to act, and intend to follow up in writing (I’m better in writing). Honestly, my efforts feel scant and futile. The chances are low, I figure, that our leaders will take more than half-measures. A determined policy shift aimed at protecting our Southern Resident friends and rejuvenating the ecosystem they live in would probably be pretty disruptive to the status quo, and let’s face it, the status quo is quite comfy for most of us.

If every last Southern Resident disappears into the deep abyss of the ocean, we will mourn their passing and carry heavy hearts on our sleeves, but I doubt we will change much. As J.M. Cotzee writes in his novel Waiting for the Barbarians: The jackal rips out the hare’s bowels, but the world rolls on.

I finished Cotzee’s book last week. Although it was written in 1980, I felt like it was incredibly timely. It’s about empire and oppression, but it’s also about seeing the future and making a half-baked attempt to change its course. The unnamed protagonist is an aging, lecherous man who holds (at the beginning at least) a position of relative power. The protagonist makes muffled protests against the injustice he sees around him, but ultimately, he is a party to the crimes of his empire.

The same could be said for most of us, myself included.

If our leaders take half-measures and turn our whale friends from living, breathing, sentient gems into artifacts for natural history museums, they are guilty. If the rest of us fail to speak up with the required force, we’re guilty too.

The good news is, we’re not at the end of the story yet. We still have Tahlequah and her fellow chinook-eating orca swimming the ocean. We still have the chance to listen when they send us a message. As far as I know, there’s no single solution to bringing this population back to health, but hope for these whales lies in a genuine commitment to saving them. A commitment to saving is also a commitment to saving their ecosystem and our own. If there was ever a challenge worth stepping up for, here it is.

We might not succeed, but also, we might, and when we do there will be babies to celebrate.

 

  • “The Death of Birth” is a chapter in Paul Hawken’s book, “The Ecology of Commerce,” but I think that EO Wilson is the one who coined the phrase.

Feel like making some calls or writing some letters?

Premier John Horgan:
Telephone:(250) 387-1715 (Legislature number)
Email: john.horgan.mla@leg.bc.ca

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau
Telephone: 613 992-4211
justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca

Canadian Minister of Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard 604.775.6333
JONATHAN.WILKINSON@PARL.GC.CA
102 W 3 Street
North Vancouver, British Columbia
V7M 1E8
HILL OFFICE
613.995.1225
JONATHAN.WILKINSON@PARL.GC.CA

Governor Jay Inslee
Telephone: 360-902-4111 | Fax: 360-753-4110