Occupy Wall Street

All I can say is WOW.

In a previous post, I wondered and hoped, if the kind of uprising that we saw last spring in Egypt would ever come here, in the name of climate change. When would people draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough? When would they get off the couch, turn off the TV, and take an active role in their democracy? When would the companies and governments of the world stop for a minute – and listen to the people?

The Occupy Wall Street movement is not about climate change, not really. It is about standing up to corporations who seem to have a relationship that is just a bit too cosy with the government. The government should not be looking out for the best interests of corporations. The government is for the people, it is supposed to represent the people. It is supposed to keep the people safe, by ensuring there are regulations on products and work practices and environmental destruction. It is supposed to protect and maintain the basic infrastructure of our society – roads, bridges, education, phone service, internet, electricity, and yes, banks. It is supposed to do things that are in the best interests of the people. It is not supposed to put corporations first.

Along the way, somehow our capitalism has got mixed up with democracy. Democracy should always be the most important thing. The people, not corporations, must decide what is in their best interests. The people must decide what are the best policies for them. They must decide what regulations protect them the best. It is should be by the people, for the people.

But somehow we have gotten to a place where capitalism is the most important thing. Democracy has been demoted. Now the economy rules supreme. And who runs the economy? Corporations. So what does the government do? It tries to create an environment where companies can thrive. It reduces business taxes, putting more of the tax burden on the middle class. It keeps minimum wage pretty low. It has regulations that are relaxed over time, in the name of competition (look at America’s banking system and how that turned out). It keeps environmental regulations pretty lax.  It disregards what 97% of climate scientists are telling us about climate change.

But is this a race to the bottom?  To have lower minimum wages, lower standards, lower business taxes, and a blatant disregard for climate change?  Are all these things the best thing for people?

Here in Alberta it is about oil. The oil royalties in Alberta are some of the lowest in the world – this is good for corporations, as they can take it out the ground and not have to pay as much to the government for it. This royalty regime has caused rapid development of the oil sands, and so the companies are up there, pulling it out, faster than the environmental agencies can determine the long-term effects, faster than the town of Fort McMurray can grow, and faster than the Woodland Caribou can adapt to their reduced habitat, putting them on the endangered list. Why so fast? There is so much development in Alberta that workers are coming in from other provinces, and foreign workers are streaming in. So why so fast? For the people of Alberta? I don’t think so. To please the oil companies so they keep growing the economy quickly? Now maybe we are on to something…

So how does the Alberta government score on environmental monitoring? Well, for starters, it uses an agency that is self-funded by the oil companies to do the monitoring. Independent scientists like Dr. Schindler’s team have said the monitoring is sorely lacking.  The formal federal environment minister, as well as Canada’s environmental commissioner, have even said it is lacking. So it is definitely lacking. Why? Well tighter regulations make it harder on companies and then the economy doesn’t grow at such a high clip. But the economy is for the people of Alberta, who already have enough jobs. And the people of Alberta, are sick of being the world’s peddlers of dirty oil.

So yeah, you can say that the Occupation Wall Street movement has really got to me. I now can see change more clearly on the horizon.  People are standing up for democracy, putting it ahead of capitalism. They are standing up for each other, for me and for you and for our shared lot in this world.  This is so inspiring and amazing.  It is exciting how fast this has grown. I can’t help but wonder how it will all unfold.

Tomorrow it starts in Canada, in 15 cities. In my own city of Edmonton, they are meeting at noon at Churchill square to march and then settle in for a longer term encampment. Can you believe it? Occupy Edmonton. It is amazing to me really. Camping here is no small feat, with temperatures dipping below freezing at night, and winter quickly upon us. It will be interesting to see how long they can last.

Occupy Wall Street is occupying my mind. As those occupiers chant, all over this continent:

We are the 99%.

We the people will never be defeated.

…I think of them with love, hope, and optimism.  Indeed.

Climate Reality?

In the last year, so much of my reality has changed.

I really can trace that change to a day last November, when I picked up a book called “Now or Never” by Tim Flannery, read it in one night until 3 am in the morning, and was crying by the end. My reality changed. My way at looking at the world changed. In the course of about 5 hours to read that book, it had all changed.

Before, I would find entertainment and enjoyment in going shopping, wandering through the malls with my kids, looking at cute tops for me and new outfits for them. We would come home with bags of stuff, and I would manage to find somewhere in our house to put it all. It was fun looking at all the new designs, the patterns, the colours. I liked seeing new things designers came up with.

I admit, I still like it. But now I realize that looking at this stuff, and appreciating the design, can be separate and apart from plunking down my cash to take it home with me. I can look and be interested by something, without having to own it. Looking at this stuff fulfills something in me that perhaps we all have but have not noticed before – an appreciation for art, design and innovation. This does not necessarily have to translate into ownership.

Okay, so now I don’t really buy stuff. Like ever. And it is not hard, either. I don’t see things and think ohhhh, I want that, I want that! I see things and appreciate them, but don’t even think of buying them. I just don’t care anymore. I just don’t want it in my house. I just don’t want it. I want nothing to do with it. I don’t want to be part of what it took to bring it to this store, where I am standing, looking at it now…

That is what I mean. My reality has changed. I cannot look at any object in any store and not think of its history. Where did it come from? Like really, WHERE. Where on Earth was it derived? Everything came from the Earth somehow, so how was this thing cobbled together? How far did it travel? Who made it? Were they paid a fair wage? Were they exposed to dangerous conditions, to chemicals? Where was it mined? What happened to the place on this planet where it came from? Was wildlife disturbed? Were forests peeled back? Was fresh water used and used and used? Was carbon put up into the sky?

Again I ask myself – am I a crazy person for thinking this way? Like I cannot look at a sweater in a store, and not think about where it came from, what it took to get it to me, and what the real cost was. The REAL cost, the cost to people, the cost to the planet, the cost to wildlife, the carbon cost to our atmosphere. If the REAL cost was presented to us on price tags everywhere, we probably would not buy much stuff at all…

And so I do not. I don’t buy, because I cannot be a part of it anymore. What makes me sad is that I feel like I am the only one. I realize that I might sound crazy for opting out of our consumer culture, but in fact, I am sad because I feel like everyone else is crazy. Everyone else does not realize what we are doing. Everyone else does not see the course we are on. Everyone else does not seem to care that our everyday actions, have real consequences somewhere else, where we cannot see them. The stuff we buy impacts other people that we will never know, it impacts forests that we will never see, and mines that we will never even know existed. It all impacts the carbon in the sky, which of course too, is invisible.

So most of us just turn a blind eye. We don’t want to think it.

Sigh.

So when I walk around now, outside, downtown at my lunch break, in my neighbourhood with all the cars rushing past, or in the store to pick up milk, I look at all the people around me and I feel so different. Different from everyone else. Different from what I used to be. Different from how I used to think. It is like I am walking through the Matrix or something, and everyone else does not know the true reality, and I do. It is a strange and scary feeling all at once. I know. They don’t. Or perhaps they do, but cannot face it.

Thank goodness, I am not the only one who sees things this way. There are others that share my view, my reality. They might not be walking around in the grocery store, but they do exist! They are the people organizing a Climate Reality Project, an online streaming 24 hour event that starts tonight at 7 pm CT. The first presentation is from Mexico City, in Spanish. Every hour after that, the presentations move west, by one time zone. So the next presentation is from Boulder, Colorado and after that it is from Victoria, British Columbia and then from Kotzebue, Alaska. Then over the Pacific we go, with a message from French Polynesia in French, and then from Hawaii in English. These presentations continue over the globe, each starting at 7 pm local time, and the whole thing ends in New York, at 7 pm ET on September 15th, with a message from Al Gore.

24 presenters. 24 time zones. 13 languages. One message.

If you want, you can Like this on Facebook, and tweet about to spread the word.

Reality. What’s yours?

Goodbye Jack Layton

I feel really sad.  Canada has lost an inspiring leader and visionary.

When I first learned of Jack Layton’s death, I was shocked. Then I read his letter, the letter he wrote to all Canadians two days before he died.  In those last few precious hours of life, when most would be cherishing every moment with family and friends, he was thinking about us, about Canadians. It really struck a chord with me, especially the last part.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Inspired, I logged onto facebook to post this as my status. Then I saw it, this same quote, everywhere. All over Canada, people were inspired to post it too.

Then this morning the quote was on the front pages of newspapers, it was all over the news. People were making t-shirts with that quote; people were writing that quote with sidewalk chalk in public places; people were replacing profile pictures with that quote.

What is it about Jack Layton that has touched everyone? His unfailing optimism? His can-do attitude? His ability to include all sorts of people in the conversation, from Canada’s youth, to Quebecers, to Albertan moms like me? His sincere hopes and dreams for a better Canada?

As I do, he believed that young people will lead the way to change, that they will take charge of their future. In his letter he specifically spoke to Canada’s youth, saying:

“To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. … As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.”

I voted for Jack Layton in the last election because of his commitment to do something about climate change, and to start the transition to a green, clean economy. Plain and simple, that is why I voted for him. But during the election I got caught up in something else. Here was a guy that stood up for struggling families, for everyday Canadians, for seniors and for the homeless. Who else was standing up for the underdogs?

Listening to him speak, I started to believe that a country is not just a place where we need to grow the strongest economy or export the most oil or build the most automotive parts. A country is a place where we need to look after each other first, for those less fortunate, where we band together as a community of people and say that our collective quality of life is what matters, that is really what counts. It is about families feeling the embrace of their community around them, it is about helping each other, it is about remembering to speak out for those people who don’t have a voice. Jack stood for all that. The economy matters, yes. But it is there to serve us, not the other way around. The people must come first, and our environment must also be cherished so that it will continue to sustain us.

In his last letter to Canadians, he closed in saying:

“And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world.”

We can and we must, do every one of those things. The hope lives on Jack. You have inspired so many, and have definitely done your part to change the world. I will try and do my part too. Thank you for being such an important part of Canada, and for opening our eyes to what is possible. I really hope your dream for Canada really does come true.

Australia Will Lead the Way

Great, fantastic news out of Australia this week – they are set to pass historical legislation that will put a price on carbon (AUS$23 to start). Although there is still a bit of controversy over it, overall it is amazing and exciting and such a huge important first step forward. Here is how it works:

Of the total revenue the government receives from the tax:

  1. 50% is given to the people as assistance, to help them pay for lower energy technology and to help them pay for the rising cost of energy
  2. $13 billion is used to boost green clean renewable energy resources and create green jobs
  3. Some will be given to farmers to reduce carbon in farming
  4. Some will be given to project that protect wildlife and ecosystems

This is terrific! Here in North America the lack of action of climate change by our governments is can be frustrating. There are so many people still fighting the good fight for change, but it can seem almost hopeless at times. Not willing to give up on hope, many of us are making changes in how we live our lives, since our governments are not there to lead the way. All hope is not lost however, as many municipal and provincial governments are stepping up to the plate. My own city of Edmonton is about to embark on an exciting new environmental strategy, called “The Way We Green“. Ontario has an exciting feed-in-tariff system that encourages the installation of solar panels. Vancouver is doing absolutely amazing things, and aims to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. Action is being taken!

However, national leadership in both Canada and the US seems far away. 

For Australia – they have done it. National leadership, on climate change, it happened – there.

Perhaps our governments will take pause and reflect what Australia has done. Perhaps now they will see this and take a long hard look in the mirror. Perhaps they will see Australia’s lead and – dare I say – follow?

Here is hoping that Australia will lead the way!

I will leave you with an inspiring video created by Australian youth that shows the huge impact one young girl can have. My heart was bursting by the end of this one!

Connecting at the Farmer’s Market

Farmers' Market

Image by NatalieMaynor via Flickr

There is a Farmer’s Market within a 10 minute walk of my house that is open year round. I have only recently begun to appreciate how lucky I am to have it so close. However, it is a small market. For the last month I have been going to my city’s largest market, mostly for the variety of foods offered. Yesterday I decided to check out my local market again, and see what I could find.

Kulman’s is the one vegetable vendor at this market – their operation is on the edge of the city. I bought potatoes and tomatoes. Then I noticed his pickled carrots and asked him if they tasted like pickles. He answered that they have such a different texture than pickles – they are not juicy but hard, and you really can taste the carrot. I considered buying a jar to sample (before I make my own pickled carrots one day) but they were $16 so I held off. I told him I wanted to make pickles this year, but had never done it before. He then went on to tell me how easy it was to make pickles, and specifically how to do it. “They key is tweaking the recipe to just how you like it”, he said.

I wandered on. There was a new girl in the Market, selling organic homemade cosmetics and candy under the name Mistical AcScents. She was super cool. Get this – she is inspired by the 16th century. Her products are a total throwback to medieval times!! She researches what people used way back then, using University archives and transcripts that have been made available online through Google Books. She then recreates the past, everything handmade, everything naturally organic. She offers face creams, cleansers and toners, as well as lip balm and lip tint. She has some bath products as well, and her homemade candies look divine. She even has her own Etsy shop online, and is part of the Etsy Organic Team. She was so nice, and I so believed in what she was doing, that I broke my shopping ban and bought a small jar of rose face cream. I just felt like I had to support her. This was her second show at the market and I wanted her to stick around. The price was right – $3.50.

Next I purchased eggs from Ma-Be Farms, only 3 dollars for free run and farm fresh. He asked me if I wanted brown eggs or white eggs. “What is the difference?” I asked. “Well brown eggs come from brown chickens and white eggs come from white chickens”, he replied. “It is as simple as that?” I asked. “It is a simple as that”, he replied. I chose a dozen brown. Then he mentioned that they take the egg cartons back to reuse them. I told him that I had been saving all my egg cartons, knowing that somebody would like to reuse them! So eggs for me, and a new home for all my egg cartons.

Next I came across a lady selling hemp products. I have heard of hemp before, but didn’t know a whole lot about it. She explained to me all the uses for hemp – the oil can be used in cosmetics, shampoo, conditioner, and it can be used as cooking oil. The seeds are a fantastic source of protein – a whopping 11 grams in only 2 tablespoons. Vegetarians of the world rejoice! The hemp fibres are super strong and long lasting.  She pulled out her knitting bag from under the table to show me two projects she was working on, using hemp yarns. The first was a hemp/wool blend, and the sweater was quite soft. The second was made from 100% hemp, and it was stiff, but she told me it would soften over time. She said that the sweater would be so long wearing, that it would outlast most people! I asked here where I could get hemp yarn and she told me it was difficult to find, and most yarn mills are located in China or India.  So this miracle fibre is grown locally in Alberta, but we have to ship it across the world to be milled for yarn.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could mill it ourselves?  She agreed. She told me that there are heavy restrictions on growing hemp – you have to apply for a license and that can take up to 2 years. Then the minimum you can grow is 10 acres. This keeps many people out of the market. I guess hemp gets a bad rap, due to its notorious cousin, marijuana. However, hemp doesn’t have any THC, marijuana’s active ingredient. So what is the issue? She also told me about Kestrel, the first road-ready car made out of hemp.  Check it out!  Wow. As for me, I would love to get my hands on some local hemp yarn and make some cosy sweaters for my kids.

I walked out of the market happy with the connections I made and the conversations I had. I definitely learned a few things. I realized though, that almost all these vendors were nearing retirement age (if not beyond). There were so many tables of grandmas, offering homemade baking, homemade children’s blankets, homemade doll clothes. Even the farm vendors were older. It made me think – who is going to replace them when they retire? What will happen to this market?

I am not sure what will happen. All I know is that I want to support these farmers in the here and now. Perhaps if more people do the same, the younger generation of farmers will see that farming can offer a decent living, and be drawn back into the trade. There are so many benefits – from the food security of our region, to the health benefits of the people through eating more whole foods, to the farmers, and to our precious environment.

I will leave you with a wonderful tribute to one farmer – my good friend Becky of F&M wrote this song for her Grandpa who passed away last month. It is simply – beautiful.

http://beckyanderson.bandcamp.com/track/the-farmer

PIcture by Bjoern Friedrich.

Tipping Point

Review of the Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
This book discusses the phenomenon of social epidemics – how they are started, how they take off, and how they reach the tipping point so that they are subscribed to by the majority. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that there are 3 laws that work together to create an epidemic:

1) Law of the few – there three groups of exceptional people out there, 1) ones who are interconnected (Connectors), 2) ones who have lots of information and love sharing that information (Mavens) and 3) ones who are very good at convincing others (Salesmen). These people are vital to the transmission of a new idea. For a new idea to take off, you need groups of these people on board.

New ideas are adopted at different rates by different people. He categorizes people as follows:
• Innovators
• Early Adopters
• Early Majority
• Late Majority
• Laggards

Innovators and early adopters are visionaries and risk takers. They may be the “cool kids”, they may be activists. Many ideas fail to take off because they cannot be translated from this eclectic group to the mainstream of the early majority. You need those special people – Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen – to translate the radical ideas that have been embraced by the innovators, and tweak them and repackage them in a way that the majority can understand. Not only do these special people transmit the message, they send it in the language of the majority.

2) Law of Stickiness – the idea has to be memorable and resonate with people. It has to appeal to them on a deeper level. This can be done by “tinkering, on the margin, with the presentation of the idea” (pg 131), and packaging it in such a way to make it irresistible.

3) Law of Context – the situation surrounding a new idea has an impact on whether it will take hold. Ideas hold better in smaller community groups, preferably under 150 people, where everyone knows everyone else. “In order to create on contagious movement, you have to create many small movements first” (pg 192). Also, people are better at looking at complex thoughts when rephrased in the social context. Finally, a new idea will not take hold until the environment is ripe for that idea to take hold.

“Starting an epidemic requires concentrating resources on a few key resources” (pg 255) because small changes to who is delivering the message, how the message is framed, and the context surrounding the message can have a large impact on the success of adoption by the majority. Small changes on the margin are important.

In the end, you must have a belief that people can radically change, with the right kind of impetus.

Application to Climate Change
So can we apply these principals to create a social epidemic relating to action on climate change?

1) Exceptional People
First of all we need those Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople on our side. These are the exceptional people that rapidly translate ideas in a way that the majority can understand. If you are not one of these people, then you must find them, or hope that your message finds them so that they can pass it on. I have often thought that involving celebrity culture may be the ticket, since so much of North America is drawn into that. However, we all know people who know a lot of other people, who are connected, or are natural sales people. If they embrace our message, there is no telling what could happen.

2) A Sticky Message
The environmental dilemma is in itself, is a very sticky idea, as we are talking about the survival of life here on our planet. However, many people either believe that:
• The idea of climate change is a hoax
• There is nothing they can do about it anyway (what difference can one person make)
• If they don’t think about it, then they can convince themselves that it is not real.

How can you increase the stickiness of the idea for these people? For those that think it is a hoax, I am not sure what will change their mind. They probably will only listen and consider information from sources close to them that they trust. This may or may not be you.

For those who think the problem is too big and they will have no impact, remind them that all they have to do is openly live a lower impact life, with less carbon, less garbage, less consumption. Their family and friends will take notice, some will be inspired. The ripple will continue. People who are in denial might start to question themselves, when they see a friend making environmental changes. Also, everyone can vote with the environment as their number one issue. You can send letters to politicians, emails even. We can engage in the political process more than every 4 years people!

Some people may want to do these things, but then not follow through. They are busy and care about other things that have more of their immediate attention, such as providing for their families, and managing their jobs.

But a lot of this stuff is not more work. It is simply making different choices. Stickiness would be increased by showcasing how easy it is.

The idea must also include the human condition, and more personally, how it will impact your family, your children. It must include the message that we must do it for the children. What mother or father or grandparent does not want to secure a sustainable future for their children? This is very sticky indeed.

The idea must be phrased to include some humor. The humor draws people in, so that they can be entertained while being informed. Doom and gloom will probably not draw them in. Most of the people we want to draw in know about the doom and gloom, but are in denial. So lighten it up a bit.

Framing the idea around high tech solutions for use by the everyday person will also increase stickiness among the younger generation. This could include personal applications or devices that they could use to monitor or reduce their carbon footprint, their water footprint, their garbage footprint, their plastic footprint…

The idea has to include urgency, as we really don’t have much more time to wait. Everyone is aware of the problem, but most don’t really know the severity and how much little time left we really do have.

The idea must resonate with hope. Without hope, there is no impetus for change. We have to be optimistic.

3) Context Ripe for Change
Are we finally ready to change? That is the big question. We were definitely not ready 10 years ago. Now however, it seems like there is daily news on developments and setbacks related to the environment, so the information is out there. Most North Americans probably don’t want to change their heavily consumptive lifestyles, but might be willing to buy a hybrid car next time, just to follow a trend. They might live in a large house and commute a long time in a car to work, but would be willing to support caps on emissions as long as it did not reduce jobs. Or would they?

It really comes down to this – whether people individually believe that a vote for the environment will negatively affect the current economic condition in their own family. Some people don’t believe that it will – that we can make up for the downturn in fossil fuels by an increase in green collar jobs. Some people think it will impact the economy and don’t care, they will vote for the environment because they see the bigger picture. Others will never give up something of theirs for the greater good. They especially won’t do this if they don’t believe in climate change.

Let’s face it – people are scared of the impact the environment is going to have on jobs. It is hard for people to get their minds wrapped around what a green economy would look like. People are scared, so they just say no.

Maybe they have to be more scared about climate change than about economic change for this thing to work. However we have already been told that the “doom and gloom” tactics don’t work. So what to do?

In short, we have to assume the context is ripe for change, as we really don’t have much more time to wait.

What caused me to change? It was a sequence of exposures to the idea, over and over, that caused me to get to my tipping point. The ideas became stickier with each repetition. I watched a few documentaries on the idea, and that got me voting for the Green Party. However, I did not really change the way I was living or talk too much about it with other people or engage in political discussions. Then I read the book, Now or Never by Tim Flannery which really had an impact on me and forever changed how I see this issue. However, I am not sure that I would have tipped if I did not have children; that was my context. The future scares me. I love my children so deeply that I felt that I had no choice but to try and do my part to make the Earth a good place for them to live.

Conclusion
I believe that the only way people who are not yet convinced to join us early adopters, is to hear it from us directly. They probably won’t listen to the next documentary, or listen to the next news issue on the environment. They will probably change the channel because they don’t believe it, don’t want to believe it, or don’t believe they can make a difference anyway.
They may listen to their neighbour though, or see what their co-worker is doing and take pause. They might hear their daughter talking about it over Christmas dinner, and what was at first dismissed, is now mulled over with deeper reflection. If they have young children or grandchildren, they might stop for a minute and think about the world they will be inheriting.

That is why we all need to deliver a sticky message. We all need to provide it through living as an example. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. We must deliver our message with sincerity, with humour, with urgency and yes, with hope.