BE THE CHANGE: THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY
The real problems of our planet are not economic or technical, they are philosophical. The philosophy of unbridled materialism is being challenged by events… Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful.
– E.F Schumacher
Here at our rural cabin the snow’s long gone now. The kale, chard and celery wintered over and is edible for salads here in zone 8 coastal British Columbia. Numerous seedlings are sprouting in trays on windowsills and in cold frames and the greenhouse. Easter turkey dinner will indeed include greens.
This winter I passed sixty – the question arose, what direction to take in life? I’ve missed the mark so many times that I’m brought again to that Gandhian saying:
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
The British economist E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977) once said,
“We must do what we conceive to be right and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether we’ll be successful. Because if we don’t do the right thing, we’ll do the wrong thing and we’ll be part of the disease and not part of the cure…”
Fritz Schumacher was calling you and I to examine ourselves in the quest that leads to what Buddhists call “right action”.
Schumacher authored three seminal books in the 1970’s: 1) Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered 2) Good Work, and 3) A Guide for the Perplexed.
He helped form organizations like Practical Action and the Soil Association. They advocate for the development of human scaled and decentralized appropriate use of technology. Today Schumacher’s work is considered a cornerstone of sustainability.
Listen to how Schumacher illustrated within a Christian context the commonly held belief that many people have in ever increasing wealth and economic growth:
“In the beautiful hills of Surrey, where I live, you can go for walks, and even on a Sunday you never meet anybody, though you may hear the distant roar of traffic down to the coast. And the story goes that an economist went there for a Sunday-afternoon walk, and he met none else than God Almighty, which gave him a bit of a shock, and he didn’t know what to say.
He remembered that as a little boy he had been told that what a thousand years to us is but a minute to the Lord. And he asked God “Is this so?” and the Lord said, “Yes, this is quite so.”
By that time he had recovered his composure, and he said to God, “Then perhaps it may also be true that what is a million pounds (or dollars) to us is only a penny for you.” And the Lord said, “Yes, that is quite true.” And he said, “Well, Lord, give me one of those pennies.” The Lord said, “Certainly, my dear lad. I don’t happen to have it on me, but just wait a minute while I fetch it.”
… And so it is with the salvation expected from the growth of GDP – just wait another minute and we shall be rich and happy. This notion is becoming increasingly questionable.” page 124 – Good Work
Many of you know another person I look to for inspiration is Thomas Merton (1916-1968). His sage wisdom brings me a sober in depth reminder:
“My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. The fruit of my labours is not my own, for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement.
Therefore, the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, my own society and time.”
In short – we’re in this world together.
photo of the Himalayas 1968 – also by Thomas Merton
Merton and Schumacher were kindred spirits – two gentle giants of their age.
Downtown San Francisco – May 23, 2010 b.witzel photo
There are poor societies which have too little; but where is the rich society that says: ‘Halt. We have enough’? – E.F. Schumacher
This brings me to the essence of this reflection.
Recently you may have heard about 16 year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She has helped begin a climate strike movement of students that happens every Friday throughout many cities of the world. Yesterday, April 17, Greta met Pope Francis briefly saying to him “Thank you for standing up for the climate and speaking the truth. It means a lot.” The pope smiled back broadly and responded “God bless you, continue to work, continue. Go along, go ahead.”
I recommend you listen to Greta speaking here. It is both heart breaking and inspiring to listen to Greta with such desperation and incredible will as she calls for elders to “act your age” in regards to Climate Change.
The list of solutions to reduce climate change is large and Greta wants us to act in every way possible and to act now. As Fritz Schumacher reminded us:
“It’s amazing how much theory we can do without when the work actually begins.”
The many positive actions we make are unique to our different situations and locale. Small things make a difference too. How about recycling with a local thrift store and Craigs List? Or ride a bicycle and eat less red meat which have much smaller carbon footprints.
Recently I heard that one of the most radical things a person can do in this day and age of climate change is to stay close to home. Simply, rediscover the beauty and wonders of our own back yards.
If we need to visit family who live a distance away or we really want to travel we can buy carbon credits or invest in NGO’s like KIVA. This is a direct action towards creating wellbeing and reducing global Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
My friend Jack Anderson is a community leader who helped form Climate Action Powell River. Jack says it’s a time for truth telling – like Greta is doing.
My niece Jade, myself, and Jack on the right at his beautiful self-built home in Lund
Powell River is located on what is known as the Sunshine Coast in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The communities along this coastal band of temperate rainforest are connected by only one highway and a series of ferry boat rides. They have no comprehensive forest fire emergency evacuation plan yet the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires make communities incredibly vulnerable.
Recall the Fort McMurray wildfire and evacuation in Alberta in 2016 or last years Camp Fire in Paradise, California. A recent article from the financial and media company Bloomberg has the headline that reads “Climate Changed – Now California Wildfires Burn All Year.”
Satellite image of 2018 BC wildfires – NASA
Powell River is now part of a growing movement of 440 municipalities in Australia, UK, Canada, USA and Switzerland who have declared a climate emergency. Some people say this is alarmist.
Isn’t climate change alarming?
As early as 1955 Fritz Schumacher had this foresight:
“A civilization built on renewable resources… is superior to one built on non-renewable resources, such as oil, coal, metal, etc. This is because the former can last, while the latter cannot last. The former co-operates with nature, while the latter robs nature. The former bears the sign of life, while the latter bears the sign of death. It is already certain beyond the possibility of doubt that the ’0il-coal-metal-economies’ cannot be anything else but a short abnormality in the history of (hu)mankind – because they are based on non-renewable resources and because, being purely materialistic, they recognise no limits.”
May peace be with us all
100 Mega Watt solar installation in Rajasthan – photo compliments of PV Magazine