Category Archives: New Attitude to Nature

Nature always bats last



It first dawned on me that climate change was here and now when I read an article bby Oliver MIlman  in the Guardian Weekly this summer about the Hoover Dam. I had visited the dam a couple of years ago when Chris and I drove to Las Vegas to pick up her sister who had flown in from Winnipeg. The dam was an awesome sight. But like many others I was struck by the white “bathtub ring” of the reservoir that showed graphically how the level in the reservoir had been dropping for decades.


The article in the Guardian had a very similar photo of the reservoir but the water level had dropped even more. That was hard to believe. It was also hard to swallow.  After living there for 3 months each year for about half a dozen years I have fallen in love with the American southwest. It is a place of awesome beauty and fascination. I consider it my second home.


The Guardian described the situation at Lake Mead this way: “The situation here is emblematic of a planet slowly, inexorably overheating. And the catastrophic consequences of the extreme weather this brings.”  The reservoir created by the dam is the largest reservoir in North America. It is an amazing sight. Yet the level of water in the reservoir has plummeted to historic lows. This could cause many places in the southwest including my beloved Arizona to face some steep cuts in their water supplies and they don’t have a lot of alternative sources of water. They have already used a lot of ingenuity to get at water and the supply is limited. Someone once said the wars of the 21st century will be founded on water issues like the wars of the 20th century had their basis in oil.


First, we must all admit that it really does not make sense that the American southwest being as dry as it, is home to such huge cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. That was only possible because of the huge efforts made by Americans to tame the desert.  They wanted to control nature. Matin Heidegger, by way of Friedrich Nietzsche referred to this idea as the will to power, and there are few better examples of it than this region. Those imbued with will-to-power in this sense want to tame nature. As Oliver Milman said,

“Had the formidable white arc of the Hoover dam never held back the Colorado River, the US west would probably have no Los Angeles or Las Vegas as we know them today. No sprawling food bowl of wheat, alfalfa and corn. No dreams of relocating to live in a tamed desert. The river, and dam, made the west; now the climate crisis threatens to break it.”


The dam is a demonstration of engineering at its finest (or if you like its most brutal). As Milman said, “The engineering might of Hoover dam undoubtably reshaped America’s story, harnessing a raucous river to help carve huge cities and vast fields of crops into unforgiving terrain.”

 The Hoover dam is huge (though much smaller than the 3 Gorges Dam we saw in China). It is as high as a 60-story building and is 45ft thick at the top and 660ft at the bottom. It was built during the extremes of the Great Depression and was a source of national pride when it was done. It was an engineering marvel.

 But that was then; this is now. Now nature seems to be fighting back. And like they say, “Nature always bats last.”  Thanks in part to climate change, also man made, the region is in the midst of a historic drought. As a result, the dam may no longer make sense, even though it is so badly needed. As Milman said, “We bent nature to suit our own needs,” said Brad Udall, a climate and water expert at Colorado State University. “And now nature is going to bend us.

We must learn to stop fighting nature and instead learn to work with nature. Climate change is proving that we need a new attitude to nature. And we need it quickly.

Are we repeating what Europeans did to Indigenous People in the “New World?”


I have been blogging a lot about the incredible destruction by Europeans of Indigenous people of the western hemisphere after they first made contact. Lately I have wondered if the descendants of those Europeans, together with the immigrants who came from the west and their descendants have been unwittingly repeating the crime some 500 years later. Only this time they are doing it again to indigenous people but also to the rest of us. Are we doing it to ourselves in other words?

Kate Jones and her team of researchers found that 335 new diseases emerged between 1960 and 2004, and at least 60% came from animals. There is really nothing surprising about this. Many human diseases evolved from contact with animals. Europeans much more than people in the western hemisphere domesticated animals for centuries. As a result over millennia they developed immunities to many of those diseases. When they arrived in the “New World” and contacted people in the new world who did not have that long history of contact with such animals and as a result had on immunities to the diseases the Europeans brought with, they were devastated by the diseases. Within a century 95% of the indigenous people were dead according to some experts.

As John Vidal reported in the Guardian:

“Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases such as Ebola, SARS, bird flu and now COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are able to spread quickly to new places. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals.”

Kate Jones has discovered that these zoonotic diseases are increasingly linked to environmental changes caused by human activity. We disrupt pristine forests by logging, mining, and road buildings through remote areas without paying any attention to what we are doing. We think the world is ours for the taking. We see ourselves as lords of the universe with the divine right to do with it as we please. By doing that we bring people into ever closer contact with animal species we have never encountered before. As a result we have built up no immunities to any new diseases or pathogens they carry just like the Indigenous people of the Americans when the first European explores arrived. Could that happen again and basically for the same reason? Are we doing to ourselves what we carelessly did to the indigenous people of the western hemisphere? It’s beginning to look that way.

Maybe we need a new attitude to nature.

Messing with Nature


I have been reading David Quammen for years, going back to the good old days of Outside Magazine. A while ago he wrote the book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, about pandemics. Needless to say, today he is in hot demand. He also recently wrote in the New York Times “We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbour so many species of animals and plants – and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

 All I say to that is, “ouch.”

The nCoV-2019 virus was first isolated and identified in Wuhan China in 2019. The “n” in the name stood for “novel.” Now people are calling it COVID 19. It was found in a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan. I remember seeing such markets while I visited China. I found them amazing and disturbing. Probably that was because they were so foreign to me. I thought at the time that they had the strangest animals available for purchase for food. But that is all a matter of what we are used to.

Quammen reported how despite the virus’s name it is actually not as novel a virus as we might think. Something very similar was discovered by a group of researchers in a cave in Yunnan about 1,000 miles southwest of Wuhan about 10years ago. They noted its existence with concern. The virus they determined emerged from a “non-human animal probably a bat, and possibly after passing through another creature, may seem spooky, yet is utterly unsurprising to scientists who study these things.”

Zheng-Li Shi, of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is part of a team of researchers, that identified COVID-19 was also part of the team that showed the SARS pathogen was a bat virus that had spilled over into people. “ Ms. Shi and colleagues have been tracing coronaviruses in bats since then, warning that some of them are uniquely suited to cause human pandemics.” They found that COVID-19 is

“possibly even more dangerous to humans than the other coronaviruses. I say “possibly” because so far, not only do we not know how dangerous it is, we can’t know. Outbreaks of new viral diseases are like the steel balls in a pinball machine: You can slap your flippers at them, rock the machine on its legs and bonk the balls to the jittery rings, but where they end up dropping depends on 11 levels of chance as well as on anything you do. This is true with coronaviruses in particular: They mutate often while they replicate, and can evolve as quickly as a nightmare ghoul.”

Researchers say they have been raising the flag on these viruses for 15 years. Many of them are frustrated that their warnings have been largely ignored.

Peter Dasak a scientist with a private firm, has said the research shows “these viruses are making the jump, repeatedly, from bats to humans.”

 Quammen drew the following conclusion,

“In other words, this Wuhan emergency is no novel event. It’s part of a sequence of related contingencies that stretches back into the past and will stretch forward into the future, as long as current circumstances persist. So when you’re done worrying about this outbreak, worry about the next one. Or do something about the current circumstances.”

Those “current circumstances” Quammen points out,

“include a perilous trade in wildlife for food, with supply chains stretching through Asia, Africa and to a lesser extent, the United States and elsewhere. That trade has now been outlawed in China, on a temporary basis; but it was outlawed also during SARS, then allowed to resume — with bats, civets, porcupines, turtles, bamboo rats, many kinds of birds and other animals piled together in markets such as the one in Wuhan.

Current circumstances also include 7.6 billion hungry humans: some of them impoverished and desperate for protein; some affluent and wasteful and empowered to travel every which way by airplane. These factors are unprecedented on planet Earth: We know from the fossil record, by absence of evidence, that no large-bodied animal has ever been nearly so abundant as humans are now, let alone so effective at arrogating resources. And one consequence of that abundance, that power, and the consequent ecological disturbances is increasing viral exchanges — first from animal to human, then from human to human, sometimes on a pandemic scale.

We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

 Quammen also reminds us of another important fact: that is that too many of us in the west, especially in Canada and the United States have erroneously believed for too long, that our continent is a fortress that keeps us immune from illnesses and problems that plague the rest of the unfortunate world. As Quammen says, the fact is that

“The distance from Wuhan or the Amazon to Paris, Toronto or Washington is short for some viruses, measured in hours, given how well they can ride within airplane passengers. And if you think funding pandemic preparedness is expensive, wait until you see the final cost of nCoV-2019.”

We don’t know what will happen. This too may pass. But we must be more alert to political leaders who cut funding for scientific research or disband important health teams in order to keep our taxes as low as possible. Low taxes are not always a good thing. Quammen has another important warning:

“We must remember, when the dust settles, that nCoV-2019 was not a novel event or a misfortune that befell us. It was — it is — part of a pattern of choices that we humans are making.”

We have to be careful when we mess with Mother Nature. We have to learn to work with nature, not against it. We have to be smart. We have to pay attention to our scientists. When we make public policy decisions we have to be guided by the best science and not let it be overridden by what we hear from ignorant television pundits.

COVID-19 and Wildlife Trade


There is yet another problem with human activities. Besides our disruption of natural places like forests, we bring in animals, often strange animals, into our cities and towns and put them together when they have never been together before. and they have never been together with us. Sometimes species jump from one species to another and then to humans, with devastating effect. As I learned from listening to David Quammen on National Public Radio often the route to us is through an intermediary species. This is a particular problem in Asia with something I have seen—wet markets.

 These are informal markets that have sprung up in part because people in Asia often lack refrigerators or distrust them. I don’t want to demonize them. People in Asia need them. There animals are slaughtered, cut up and sold on the spot and then hung up. Or sometimes they are kept alive until the buyer arrives and wants one killed. In Asia people believe in fresh, not refrigeration. As they are hanging they often defecate on the other species below them. This is how a petri dish for pathogens is inadvertently created. Again as a result of humans who recklessly don’t care what they do to other species. Apparently there was a wet market in Wuhan where the coronavirus was first discovered to have infected humans. 

As Thomas Gillespie Professor of environmental sciences at Emory University said, “Wet markets make a perfect storm for cross-species transmission of pathogens. Whenever you have novel interactions with a range of species in one place, whether that is in a natural environment like a forest or a wet market, you can have a spillover event.”

The wet market in Wuhan sold numerous wild animals including wolf pups, salamanders, crocodiles, scorpions, rats, squirrels, foxes, civets and turtles and many others. To us those seem like very exotic creatures. To Asians not so much. In Africa they add monkeys, bats, rats, and dozens of bird species as well as other mammals, insects and rodents. It is all a matter of what you are accustomed to.

Scientist Kate Jones also said “The wet market in Lagos is notorious. It’s like a nuclear bomb waiting to happen. But it’s not fair to demonise places that do not have fridges. These traditional markets provide much of the food for Africa and Asia.” Others say that wild animal trade is a much bigger problem.

Pogo was right: I found the enemy and the enemy is us!

The bottom line, according to Brian Bird, a research virologist at the University of California is that we must be prepared. As he said, “We can’t predict where the next pandemic will come from, so we need mitigation plans to take into account the worst possible scenarios, the only certain thing is that the next one will certainly come.” We should not be cutting back on research and preparedness as the Americans did recently. We should be expanding our preparedness.

My point is simply that all of this points to careless human activities. Too many people just don’t care how we interact with other species. After all we are the lords of the earth. Aren’t we? That is the attitude that has got us into trouble. We need a new attitude to nature. One that is more respectful, more modest.

One more Reason we need a New Attitude to Nature


There are actually many reasons we need a new attitude to nature. I have just found another one.

 Professor Thomas Gillespie said,

“Wildlife everywhere is being put under more stress, he says. “Major landscape changes are causing animals to lose habitats, which means species become crowded together and also come into greater contact with humans. Species that survive change are now moving and mixing with different animals and with humans.”

According to Gillespie the spread of Lyme disease is another example of a disease that was facilitated, if not caused by our disturbance of forests. People who live close to forests are more likely to get bitten by a tick that carries the Lyme pathogen.

Gillespie sees this in the US, where suburbs fragment forests and raise the risk of humans contracting Lyme disease. “Altering the ecosystem affects the complex cycle of the Lyme pathogen. People living close by are more likely to get bitten by a tick carrying Lyme bacteria.” As John Vidal reported in the Guardian,

“Richard Ostfeld, distinguished senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York pointed out that human health research seldom considers the surrounding natural ecosystems, there’s misapprehension among scientists and the public that natural ecosystems are the source of threats to ourselves. It’s a mistake. Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage. The health risks in a natural environment can be made much worse when we interfere with it

Ostfeld also pointed out that rats and bats are often the problem because they are strongly linked to the spread of zoonotic disease because they are the most likely to promote the transmission of pathogens. That’s why he says, “The more we disturb the forests and habitats the more danger we are in.

Felicia Keesing, professor of biology at Bard College, New York, added another dimension to the problem. She said, “When we erode biodiversity, we see a proliferation of the species most likely to transmit new diseases to us, but there’s also good evidence that those same species are the best hosts for existing diseases.” It reminds me of what Viktor Frankel said about the Nazi death camps: the worst of us survived.

We have to be very careful when we mess with nature. That is not something we are accustomed to doing. We are accustomed to doing with nature as we please. As we are now learning, that can be very dangerous.

Are We to blame?

Now that we are in the midst of a global pandemic that has a large part of the world spooked, many are pointing the fingers at others. That’s what we do in dangerous times. We look for someone to blame. Everyone is looking for scapegoats, none more than Donald Trump the so-called leader of the free world. He keeps calling the coronavirus “the Chinese flu.” No doubt he does that to deflect attention from his early negligence in which he referred to the coronavirus as a “hoax.” Well the hoax has come home to roost. Like a magician he wants us to look where he is pointing rather than looking at what he is doing.

Searching for scapegoats is seldom useful. Except in one circumstance. Remember Pogo, the ancient comic strip. He said he had gone looking for the enemy and found it. Much to his surprise he found it was “us.” We are the enemy. And we might be the enemy again in the case of coronavirus.

As John Vidal senior environmental writer at the Guardian that I have been reading for many years said,

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as COVID-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.”

Many years ago I had a summer job at Manitoba Hydro and my supervisor was a very smart man. HIs name was Al Boily  I was his assistant on a digger, a large vehicle that was used to dig holes for utility poles. I had to tamp the mud and dirt into the hole around the pole with a heavy iron bar after it was inserted. First of all, he taught me how to work. That was a big job, for, if truth be known, I was as lazy as grass. I needed to know how to work and to forget all ideas of money falling into my lap. This was a very valuable life lesson. One of the most important of my life. He taught me one more valuable lesson. I remember him objecting to Vapona No Pest Strips. Remember those? These were produced to hang in buildings such as open garages where they would attract bugs especially flying insects. Then they got stuck to the sticky strip that contained some chemical to hasten their demise. I thought they were a great invention. After all I hated flies and mosquitos. But Al told me, “John, what’s bad for bugs is probably bad for people too.” That made a lot of sense to me. Scientists now employ a similar principle.

So many things we do are harmful to other creatures and we are entirely careless about that fact. This might be very unwise!

In the last few years we seem to have been plagued (literally plagued) with various pestilential outbreaks. In 1996 it was Ebola a deadly virus until then barely known to humans, until it spilled over out of the forest in Africa in a wave of small epidemics. It was far away in Africa so who cared? Right? Wrong! All of us should care.

In a village of 37 people in Africa 21 people were killed by Ebola. Many of them had participated in a project of killing, carrying, skinning, chopping, and then eating a chimpanzee from the surrounding forest.

John Vidal tells how in 2004 he travelled to Mayibout to investigate why deadly diseases were emerging in apparent hotspots in the rainforest. He found people that were traumatized by the deadly virus that killed up to 90% of the people it infected. Those are pretty tough odds. Many of the children who loved the tropical rainforest before that were terrorized by it after the deluge.

Not that long ago people believed the tropical forests would be a source of viruses and pathogens. Now scientists are getting more sophisticated about it. We are the source.


As Vidal said, “But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike.”


Now scientists are adding an entirely new discipline that studies the visible connections between the well being of humans and other living things including entire ecosystems. It seem Al Boily is right. What is bad for nature is bad for us too.

As a result of this new discipline a number of scientists are now inquiring whether or not “human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?


Kate Jones and her team of researchers says that her team is investigating exactly that. “We are researching how species in degraded habitats are likely to carry more viruses which can infect humans,” she says. “Simpler systems get an amplification effect. Destroy landscapes, and the species you are left with are the ones humans get the diseases from.


Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s department of environmental sciences, who studies how shrinking natural habitats and changing behaviour add to the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to humans made the point, “Pathogens do not respect species boundaries”


He also said, without any sugar coating,


“I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg. I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”


Humans, are creating the conditions for the spread of diseases by reducing the natural barriers between host animals – in which the virus is naturally circulating – and themselves. We fully expect the arrival of pandemic influenza; we can expect large-scale human mortalities; we can expect other pathogens with other impacts. A disease like Ebola is not easily spread. But something with a mortality rate of Ebola spread by something like measles would be catastrophic.”


All of this is a direct result of our casual and careless attitude to the natural world. Doing as we please without regard to other people or other species has a price. Are we willing to pay it or should we rather change our attitude. Arrogance is seldom pretty or helpful.

Hard Truths: Climate Change and Indigenous People


The second speaker at the Climate First Tour rally in Winnipeg was new to me. Apparently she is a frequent commentator on TV. I guess I either don’t watch enough or watch the wrong programs. She was Dr. Dr. Pamela D. Palmater a Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick.

Today I learned that she was a passionate speaker and ardent advocate for those urging us to do something significant about climate change. She said that she was pleased to be sharing the stage today with 2 of Canada’s Warrior Grandfathers,” as she called David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis  Well, that might be true, but she fit right except that she is obviously much younger than her partners today. Later when I did a little research about her, I saw a picture of her with a shirt that read, “She Warrior.”

Today she told us, “I need to talk about hard truth.” The truth she wanted to convey was this: “Canada is killing its own people and the planet and we must do something to stop it.” I think she meant to refer to the conclusions of the recent Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. That report concluded that there were reasonable grounds for concluding that Canada was guilty of genocide against Indigenous women and girls (it did not actually say Canada was guilty because such a statement is legally significant and ought only to be made, it is thought, by a court of law). That is a hard truth. Many Canadians, including many of my friends resist that conclusion. It is hard for me to accept. Secondly, her comment refers to the fact that Canada is participating in the active destruction of human life and many other species on the planet by permitting greenhouse gas emissions to rise unchecked. This is another hard truth though not as difficult for many of us to accept. It is still a harsh indictment of Canadians, though we are far from the only ones facing such indictments.

Palmater also said that these are “the only two issues we should be talking about in this election are ecocide and genocide!” Everything else pales into insignificance. I accept that too.

Palmater also argued, “the pain of climate change is felt first in the north and first there, to indigenous people.” I think that is difficult to dispute as well. Even though indigenous people are the first and perhaps worst affected, this is rarely discussed when climate change is discussed. Just like the unfortunate fact that the people first affected by climate change, around the world, are often the ones who have done the least to cause climate change, it is true this climate injustice is seldom faced with any rigour or sincerity. Our attitude really can be summed up by the expression, ‘It sucks to be you.’ Hardly the most rational response.

According to Palmater, it is time we also faced the ugly truth that “We can’t live without the planet, but the planet can easily live without us.” As a consequence of this uncomfortable truth, we must face the fact that if we are facing a climate emergency, we must change our ways to save not just our descendants, but our species. If we think our species is worth saving.

To really face up to this challenge we have change our system of exploitation of the natural resources of the planet, and convert to working with nature, rather than against it. The colonizing system of which we are an integral part shapes transforms all human systems, and all human interactions with others. That system is so totalitarian it cannot be escaped.

We have to realize, Palmater said, “the planet is crying too.” I always think that if the planet could talk it would speak like the broadcaster in the film Network, “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” This really should be the motto for the earth rather than the populists.

According to Palmater, we also have to realize that the issues of genocide and ecocide are closely. This is the same position taken by others such as Anthony Hall in his magisterial  2 volume history of the relationship between European invaders, Native Americans (in the broad sense) and the natural world in the western hemisphere. I will return to this subject later. As Palmater succinctly put it, “Damage to Indigenous Women and Girls is damage to the planet too.”

All of the three speakers tonight agreed that we are much past the time when we need to debate policies.” It is too late for that. We have to act and we have to act with speed. We can’t allow debate to slow us down though we have to think critically about what we are doing. We can’t plunge ahead blindly. I wish we had more time to debate policies, but we have been dithering around for two many decades. Partly those delays were caused by the energy sector’s very successful decades long policy of spreading doubt about the science. Now we have to live with the consequences of that delay. It sucks to be us!

The problem with emergencies is that they often require a quick action. They leave little time for reflection. You can’t mull your way through an emergency. Or as Palmater said, “Best intentions don’t matter anymore—only action.” At this stage I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with her hard truths. But she wasn’t finished delivering them. She was just starting. This is precisely what Greta Thunberg has been saying. We need action. We have to treat an emergency like it is an emergency. Canada has said this is an emergency but it has not acted like it. If it did it wouldn’t spend $4.5 billion on a pipeline. It would spend $4.5 billion or even more, on transitioning away from fossil fuels. As Palmater bluntly put it, “In the end we either do or we die.”

The Creed of Cancer


At the Climate First Tour in Winnipeg, David Suzuki, who  is always critical of economists and economics said our current economic system is  based on the idea of endless growth. “The philosophy of infinite growth means that progress is measured by growth, constant growth, and this is the creed of cancer. This can end in only way, with death.

Another pet peeve of Suzuki is that economics, the dim science, is out of whack. According to economics, all of the things that nature does to keep the world intact are externalities. They are all irrelevant from the perspective of economics. Everything nature does is irrelevant; it does not count.  From my perspective, this  is the original  sin of economics. If we are serious about tackling climate change, this is the attitude that must be rejected.

David Suzuki thinks that Stephen Harper epitomized this attitude. Harper elevated the economy over everything else. The atmosphere, for example, according to Harper, was an externality that did not matter. As a result of such attitudes, damage to nature is not counted as a cost. The people who caused the damage, whether to the air, the atmosphere or the ocean did not have to pay for that damage, because such costs were externalities. Externalities do not fit into the equations of economics. That attitude leads directly to our current collapsing natural world and our existential climate crisis. Suzuki categorically rejects this attitude: “Holding up human constructs over nature is crazy.”

Suzuki said the essential characteristic of humans is that we can foresee dangers. Foresight was critically relevant for our survival during our long evolutionary history. Now science and computer technology have amplified foresight. Scientists have warned us that we are headed for danger, but we don’t pay attention. As a result we are ignoring one of our most important characteristics and it will be our peril.

In 1992 in a famous public statement  a large group of scientists of the world warned us. They said that human actions and the natural world are on a collision course. This is already affecting our atmosphere, oceans, soil, forests, corals, and species extinction. It is the cause of over population. This statement was signed by ½ the Nobel scientists who were alive at the time. Yet we did nothing about it. We did not heed the warnings. We ignored our foresight that had saved us so often in the past. Had we heeded the warning, we likely would not have this existential crisis now.

In 2017 scientists gave us a new warning. They warned us that unless we changed our ways within 12 years and drastically reduced our emission of greenhouse gas emissions, we would be destroying the life as we know it. Again little has been done. Again  we are lacking foresight. Greta Thunberg’s big theme is that all she is telling us is to listen to the scientists. Listen to the warnings. Use our foresight.

There is one more thing we need besides foresight. We need to work together. This problem we face, this emergency, demands that everyone work together. All parties have to be set aside.

Suzuki said that when he was a student in the United States in the late 1950s after Russia launched the first space ship into space to orbit the world, America was horrified. How could the Russian do it first? What did this mean? The America reaction was clear and simple: we have to deal with this. No one asked ‘how can we afford this?’ They got together and poured money into the NASA space program. Anyone in science who wanted a grant got one.

With an urgent goal, we can perform what appears impossible. When it comes to climate change, we need that sense of urgency now. It doesn’t look like we can do it.

People who know how to live sustainably



Last week Chris and I attended the Climate First Tour at the University of Winnipeg. David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis, 2 elder statesmen were travelling across the country trying to fire up the country about the pressing issue of the times—climate change. They were joined by Pamela Palmater an indigenous spokeswoman. They wanted to make this the critical issue of this election, because it was the critical issue of our time.

The first speaker was David Suzuki. I have heard him many times and read many of his books, but he is always worth listening to.   Suzuki made one very important statement at the beginning of his talk. He said that we should always think about Indigenous People who flourished on this continent for millennia. They did not just survive; they flourished.  They are the only example that we have of sustainability over a long period of time. We should learn from them. We should not do what we always did before, namely, ignore their advice. Who is more qualified to give us advice than Indigenous People?

Like each of the other speakers that came after him, Suzuki started with the assumption that we are in fact in a climate emergency. The Canadian Parliament acknowledged it and we should proceed on that assumption. I agree.

He also agreed with the other 2 speakers that this issue is not partisan and we all must address it accordingly. Too many people, and too many political leaders are avoiding the uncomfortable fact that we must dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Nothing less than that is acceptable. It is too late for puny measures.

Suzuki also said that he and Stephen Lewis were elders who had both made many mistakes and a few successes. Elders are required to speak the truth. Elders have a responsibility to share what they have learned. Elders have no need to suck up to power; they are in a unique position to tell it like it is, for they have nothing to lose.

Suzuki said, “We are at a critical in the history of human life on the planet. We need unity like we had when the Toronto Raptors were winning the NBA championship.”

Suzuki was very critical of media coverage of the issue of climate change. I know many people are sick of hearing about it, but it is the critical question of our time. They should be devoting a lot of time to climate change or they would not be doing their job.  Suzuki had one glaring and shocking example of their failure. He said that the recent United Nations report on species extinction was completely swamped by the media attention given to the report of Harry and Meghan’s baby. I think that baby is 6th in line to the throne. Is that important?

Suzuki pointed out that “for 95% of our existence as humans on this planet, we have been hunter-gatherers deeply embedded in and dependent on the natural world for everything and during all this time we had an ecocentric way of seeing the world.” In other words we did not have an anthropocentric view of the world, in which we see everything as if its purpose was to fulfill our needs. Being ecocentric means that humans are part of the natural world like all other creatures.

The first European explorers of the Western Hemisphere had a very different attitude. They were looking for resources and saw them everywhere. According to Suzuki,  “the European explorers saw Indigenous people as an impediment. As a result they did not appreciate the priceless knowledge the Indigenous people had that enabled them to flourish in this hemisphere.  From then on, starting in about 1750, we shifted to an anthropocentric way of seeing the world.”

         Suzuki added, “Ever since about 1750 our legal, political, and economic systems have been based on this anthropocentric way of seeing the world.” It undergirds everything. This reminded Suzuki of what Greta Thunberg said to the world leaders at the UN, “How dare you?”  In other words, “How dare one species arrogantly usurp all rights for itself?” Where is the right of the river to flow? Where is the right of the birds to fly? Where is the right of the forests to grow?

According to the anthropocentric ideology and that is really what it is, we are the superior species entitled to dominate the earth. But that is precisely the attitude that has got us into our current predicament.

The key question of our time, he said, is to shift from the anthropocentric to the ecocentric. I agree with this completely. We need a new attitude to nature. Or rather, we need an old attitude to nature. There are people who already have this worldview. They are all around us.

Many Indigenous people already have this worldview. We should listen to Indigenous people. They have known for thousands of years, how to flourish here. The anthropocentric view has only been on this hemisphere for about 500 years. We have to respect their knowledge. As Suzuki said, “the indigenous point of view that is shared by many Indigenous people is deeply ecocentric in origin, and remarkably, they still seem willing to share it.”

The famous Brundtland Report published by the United Nations in 1987 taught us the word “sustainability”. It really was based on this Indigenous attitude. That report said we should take advantage of that vast source of knowledge from Indigenous People. As Suzuki said, “We have been destroying the only human culture that has managed to thrive on our continent.” It’s time to change direction.

No Nature



Dandelion: friend or foe?

On the last day of our trip, listening to CBC radio I heard about a scandal in Regina. Apparently they have a local bylaw there that if the “lawn” on your yard is more than 15 cm high it must be cut down. What a draconian rule! If you don’t do it the weed inspector will come down and do it for you and send you the bill.  No wild flowers permitted in Regina.

It reminds me of the war that most of us who reside in towns have waged on dandelions.  Such beautiful little yellow flowers. Some say the problem with dandelions is that they take over. They invade the lawn. That is true. Nature hates  monoculture. If we didn’t insist on creating monocultures on our property,  dandelions would have no place to invade. People forget that in nature there are seldom vast fields of yellow dandelions. Dandelions enter where nature has been destroyed. People in towns don’t want nature. So they get dandelions and want to use various horrid chemicals  to defeat them.

Some town folks even think golf courses are nature at her finest! Those wide fairways where golf superintendents apply vats of carcinogenic substances to kill the weeds are what they think is nature. They actually consider that nature. Just goes to show how far they are removed from nature, they have forgotten what nature is like. The only difference between a wild flower and a weed is a public relations firm.

On the way home from British Columbia I saw another example of our war on nature. This was actually a big example. Just after we crossed the Alberta/B.C. border we lost nature.  After we left Banff National Park we saw no nature until we arrived in Steinbach other than rain clouds. That was about 1,000 km.! Not one single animal other than an occasional cow. I don’t think cows were native to North America. The prairies that we took the better part of 2 days to travel through used to be grasslands.  Less than 1% of the tall grass prairie remains. Less than 30% of the remaining grasslands are gone too. Actually, to me it looks like more than that has disappeared. We saw none other than in occasional sloughs or river banks. The grasslands seemed to have vanished.

The first European explorers were stunned when they encountered what they saw as an ocean of grass. They had never seen anything like it. After all, the grasslands of Europe were all but gone before they arrived. Most of that grassland is gone.

We have destroyed so much of nature in the holy names of progress.

I have also been told that the wildlife in North America, before contact with Europeans,  was even more abundant than Africa. To me having been to Africa and having seen their depleted wildlife that makes ours pale into insignificance , I find that hard to believe. It is an awful desecration.

For two days,  we saw virtually none. That is a pity. As the Red Rose Tea commercial used to say, “a dreadful pity.”

I even like dandelions when they have gone to seed. I think there is a beauty in old age.