For the Love of Earth

The week began as it will end, with a day of celebration and a day of action.  April 16th is the birthday of my grandson Carter and April 22 is Earth Day.

As it was, April 16, 2023 dawned bright and sunny, very similar to the day my bonny red-headed grandson first appeared on the scene in 2009.  The temperature rose quickly to an unseasonal 28 degrees.  The birds early morning song had given way to splendid dances of courtship. I stood at my dining room window and watched as the chickadees and robins carried on happily.

Making the afternoon rounds with my canine companion Rio, I was heartened by the sight of marsh marigolds in the fields behind my home.  While the deer, coming forth from a long winter, had eaten many new buds on the trees, there were new signs of life. Green shoots were springing from the earth. Ponds were full and overflowing. The earth squelched beneath my feet. The undulating paths through the woods gave way to previously frozen pools of water, rushing streams and swamps – the frozen soil was awakening.

I passed an old nest that a week ago stood in a thorny bush on an icy knoll. I wondered how soon it would be before I might chance on new nests and the possible discovery of that magnificent blue-green colour that is a robin’s egg, earning the name robin’s egg blue. Blue and green, the melding of earth and sky.

Following the evensong when the woods was briefly quiet, I stepped outside where the chorus of song from the spring peepers was building to a crescendo and the smell of the good earth permeated my senses.  That musty, heady smell that signals a seasonal shift, an awakening and a renewal.  It would not be long before farmers would be tilling the soil, planting would begin, and encouraged by sun and rain, the landscape would transform into a magnificent display of every shade of green and eventually give way to a variegated canvas that signals the summer to come.

It was hard to think that ten days prior, heading into the Easter long weekend, we had experienced the damaging effects of an ice storm.  Trees had been covered in ice. Many branches had come crashing down in the woods.  The lane was a skating rink.  For 3 days we had no power.  For days after we had many flickering power outages and one that lasted for half a day – just when we had re-stocked the fridge from losses experienced the previous week.

Climate disruption

It is always when disaster hits home that people think most seriously about the cause and effects and what they might do, and what they need to do, to prepare for future such eventualities.  Thanks to the community of care we enjoy with our neighbours, we were able to share food removed from the freezer and cooked on their wood stoves. Definitely time for a community climate action plan.

We are so accustomed to flipping a switch and having instant access to power to light our homes, run our appliances, charge our phones and run our computers.  We expect to flush a toilet and be able to turn on a tap and have potable running water. When we don’t have these “necessities,” we discover how much we take for granted. Usually only then do we begin to contemplate things such as access to energy, food and clean water; challenges that people in so many parts of the world face every day.

Suffice to say, not having access to my computer, I was happy to spend a good part of two days reading books. I happened to pick up a book given to me years ago by a neighbour down the road, Robert Frerck, who is both the photographer and essayist of this exquisite book, Eternal Mexico.  The book not only extols the beauty and diversity of the landscape but is also a photographic history depicting the decline and disappearance of various pre-Columbian empires; the Mayan, the Olmec, Zapotec and Aztec. Looking at the photos of some these incredibly sophisticated civilizations, I began to ponder the decline of various empires and civilizations through the ages and the reason for their decline and ultimate disappearance – generally speaking a result of power and greed leading to overexploitation of resources and war.

My mind wandered to present day and how humankind has generally learned little from the fall of empires. Greed, conquest and domination continues unabated. Colonialism, capitalism, imperialism, neoliberalism, the beat goes on.

Economic growth must be exponential and eternal, and that has driven an ever-increasing plunder of the planet’s resources. Now nature is unravelling, and the pollution of that plunder is altering our atmosphere. If we continue this wholesale poisoning of the land, water and air, destroying ecosystems, and the great web of life, we will all be climate and war refugees.

And still, the profiteers ignore the dangers. Capitalism is spoken of in reverential terms and socialism as the road to perdition.  The root word, capital, is a cold word.  Money, the root of all evil. 

Socialism by contrast has social as its root word.  Social is a warm word.  Humans are social beings. It suggests engagement with others and sharing. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Commercial interests rule the day, where even the commons is commodified and water has a price. Overconsumption, entitlement and inequality are inherent as the corporate behemoth stomps across the planet leaving nothing but destruction in its wake.

And in this age of climate and ecological crisis, people need to come together collectively to act with alacrity in the public interest to ensure a livable future. With 8 billion people and counting, the status quo is impossible. We need a seismic shift from entitlement to de-growth to stewardship and sustainability.

Economic systems and human constructs can be changed, but disrupt the laws of nature and you have climate disruption, biodiversity loss and chaos.  Such is the age of the Anthropocene. Fires, floods, droughts, ice storms, warming and rising seas, disappearing ice shelves, desertification, desiccation of coral reefs all the result of over-production, over-extraction and over-consumption. Exploitation of people and gross inequality is experienced daily in one community after another across the globe and further exacerbated by the scourge of war.

The Scourge of War

I think any thinking person would echo the sentiments sung boldly in the Edwin Starr song, “War, what is it good for, absolutely nothing.”  

In an age when world leaders are talking the talk of climate mitigation and adaption, they are not walking the talk but rather marching as to war. The double-speak of our “leaders” is shameful. Governments have become shills for corporations.

Corporations are gaming the system. They control mainstream media and our elections. They’ve even garnered the same status as people under the law! Their profits rise and their calls to war grow louder and louder. Profit for the robber barons. More production, more arms, more oil, more gas, more minerals. They perpetuate the narrative that war is a must. In his History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides’ wrote, “Most people in fact, will not take the trouble in finding the truth, but are so much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.”  A cautionary tale in this age of internet spin, tweets and sound bites.

I am aghast when I hear Canada’s Minister of Defense, Anita Anand gleefully announcing the purchase of new F-35 jets, arms, tanks, instruments of war, you name it. The Prime Minister, Deputy Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs are happy to inform us that more military aid will be sent to Ukraine. We bow to the American hegemony. Beyond the politics of it all (worthy of another blog), how shameful that peace is not the overarching goal. Peace cannot be achieved with more arms, more tanks, more missiles, more threats. Why is diplomacy not the first line of defence and action!?

U.S. President Eisenhower, a military man, not only warned of the military industrial complex but in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1953 extolled the precept that “any nations hope of lasting peace cannot be based upon any race in armaments but rather in just relations and diplomacy.”

When we talk about the very survival of the human race, why isn’t every nation signing nuclear (and fossil fuel) non-proliferation treaties, particularly members of the “security” council!? Not to do so is MAD and paves the way for mutually assured destruction.

The very real possibility of a nuclear accident, of nuclear war, sits at the gate as the rhetoric and spin ramp up.  Do we not remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  What about all the military “tests” in  deserts and mountains and seas? What of the wreckage of war – abandoned equipment, artillery, depleted uranium, active and abandoned mines?  Nature is unable to defend itself against this onslaught. When we poison the air, the water and the land, we destroy all that is sacred and all upon which we rely to survive.

I share these words from Ukrainian poet Iya Kiva from a recent edition of the online magazine (Feb 23, 2023), Emergence. She said, “War does not end when the battle stops. War is a slow-acting poison that strikes at the now but aims at the future.”  In her essay she goes on to say:

The environment does not have a chance at winning a war, it always loses. And the loss of ecosystems and of processes established in biocenosis are irreversible and innumerable, because all war can do is rape the body of the earth, filling it with rockets, shells, bombs, mines, weapons, military equipment as if it were a woman’s vagina. So that for a long time hence, for years and years, the earth cannot give birth, cannot be a home for living beings, cannot shelter them. And none of us know when the earth will find the strength to recuperate, and whether it will recuperate at all. The green backbones of our forests, the strong teeth of our mountains, the supple bodies of our rivers and seas, the skin of our steppes, tender like feathergrass, the elusive breath of our air—they are all sullied, befouled, and poisoned by war.

War and the legacy of war.  When we talk about decarbonizing, one sees little if any discussion about the enormous carbon footprint of war – its production, its testing and its enactment.

The push is on for more war; sabres are rattling, rhetoric is ramped up, new enemies are found. Money is no object. A trillion dollars for the military? You betcha. We’re preserving a rules based order (say what?!) Lest we forget?  I think we forgot.

I am reminded of a popular 1960’s song by Country Joe & the Fish (I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to die) when the Vietnam war raged ….

Well come on generals let's move fast,
Your big chance is come at last,
Gotta go out and get those reds,
The only good commie is one that's dead,
And you know that peace can only be won,
When you blow them all to kingdom come

Ah the sixties. The V sign, give peace a chance; songs and voices of protest, of sanity, voices for peace, voices for the environment and social justice.  It was the sixties activism – anti-war protests, teach-ins and sit-ins – that led to the creation of Earth Day.

Earth Day

In 1969, the devastating images of a massive oil spill from an oil platform off Santa Barbara’s coast galvanized California into action and caught the attention of the rest of the nation, including Senator Gaylord Nelson.

Following on the heels of a teach-in on the environment, hosted by a handful of students and staff at the University of Michigan, Nelson proposed the idea of holding a nationwide environmental “teach-in” as a way of increasing public awareness of the world’s environmental problems. He hired a young activist, Denis Hayes, to be the National Coordinator. The original Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970 and the theme was “Give Earth a Chance.”

In massive rallies across the United States people marched and demonstrated in the streets for a healthy, sustainable environment. It was estimated 20 million people, from 10,000 elementary and high schools, 2,000 colleges, and over 1,000 communities participated that day.

Earth Day is now recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behaviour and create global, national and local policy changes.

In 1990 Earth Day went global, mobilizing over 200 million people in 141 countries. This put environmental issues on the world stage, paving the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The Earth Summit was held to develop a broad agenda and a new blueprint for international action on environmental and development issues that would help guide international cooperation and development policy in the twenty-first century.

It is 53 years since the first Earth Day and 31 years since the Earth Summit and 55 years since the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC -the UN body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change) and we are face to face with two terrifying existential crises.

Following the last IPCC report in March, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, issued an urgent plea to the world:

“Humanity is on thin ice – and that ice is melting fast. Our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.”

The IPCC said that in order to do so requires that we quickly slash carbon pollution and fossil fuel use by nearly two-thirds by 2035. The United Nations chief was emphatic in calling for an end to new fossil fuel exploration and rich countries quitting coal, oil and gas by 2040.

The very future of life on earth depends on all of us to rise up in whatever ways we can to take action to preserve and protect the earth, to respect its limits, to prevent further damage, to leave to our children and grandchildren and future generations a flourishing planet and to give peace a chance.

Every day should be Earth Day. It is a wondrous place our blue-green earth. She is a good mother. Let us care for her in all her magnificence. As the signs of so many young activists remind us, there really in no planet B. Let us embrace it and each other as fellow travellers on this sacred orb. We, the people, are the hope for the future, for our children and grandchildren and generations to come. There is hope and there in nobility in the struggle to defeat Mammon and still the winds of war.

In the words of the great historian and philosopher, Howard Zinn –

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

And people are acting across this land and around the globe in small and big ways. The grassroots are mobilizing as if their lives depend on it, and indeed it does!

On April 16th the CBC program What on Earth with Laura Lynch aired an episode called “Not all Climate Heroes Wear Capes,” which featured various climate hero nominees taking action in communities across Canada. La Pêche’s own Paula Halpin was featured the week prior, having been nominated by daughter Bryony. We are rich in climate and social justice activists in our community! As stated in this weeks intro, “They’re saving wetlands, writing songs, supporting Indigenous clean energy projects, helping homeowners electrify, speaking out for old growth forests and more.”  

In celebration of Mother Earth and all those who love her, respect her and are working to make a difference, I would like to close my musings with a few of the poignant lyrics from a group of climate champion nominees from William’s Lake, B.C.. This collaboration of young singers and songwriters (with some supporting adults) includes Shannon O’Donovan, her son Finn and a young girl, Raven Shepherd (who wrote the opening line). It is a clarion call for all of us to think it out and come together.

We Can Think it Out
She is only 10 and the Earth is Dying 
Because we didn’t think it out
They stepped out in the barren field
Heard the cry of the naked hills
Because we didn’t think it out…

We’re all sparrows
Trying to fight the fight
Just one song at a time
I need your song and clearly you need mine.