Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

A Bridge In the Woods

May 7, 2011

A bridge in the woods demonstrates a great deal of generosity and faith. There is no reason to build it unless you believe someone will come along to use it. Constructing a bridge in the middle of a shady wood, far from the roads, requires difficult labour. So why build it for strangers who might wander by? I have to believe that its carpenters were good-hearted and wanted to leave a silent legacy of kindness. Why else would they toil among the bugs and humidity, or worse rain, for my benefit? Me, the mysterious person who hikes through the woods and sits on the side of the bridge to eat a pear.

So I began this narrative of your life. You were a group of adventurers who weaved in and out of the Niagara Escarpment on the weekends. When you reached water you trudged through because as your leader said, “no river can stop us when we work together.” In this way you covered the hundreds of kilometers between the Falls and the Bay. One day you reached my town. It seemed simple enough with its lime kilns and lack of sprawl. I imagine you thought this was just another meaningless stop on your endless journey. I wonder if you could go back to that day if you might have turned down another Sideroad to avoid the creek, but there you were standing in a farmer’s fallow field. As you reached the tree line you could just hear the water ahead. “Oh just another stream to cross,” shouted your leader. You cut through the broken fence and stopped at the edge of the creek. Then something unexpected happen, a sudden thirst perhaps, and one of you bent down to drink the water. In that moment, as the clouds drifted above the treetops, the squirrels dashed from root to bush, the flies hovered, and the water passed between her lips, everything changed. Your group was stuck. The location was no longer a blur of trees and water, but the most significant place you had ever been. You also realized that if you didn’t act no one else would enjoy this place. After all, why would anyone come here if they couldn’t cross the creek as you do.  In the following days you carried wood and built. You hammered and cut the wood for a magnificent bridge. You made it possible for many others to come and cross and experience the moment just as you did that first day. Here I am.

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The Forest For The Trees

April 30, 2009

Bit of a short post today. The podcast is on the way but has been delayed thanks to work and life.  I occasionally talk about issues pertaining to the environment (you can find a bunch of earlier posts by googling “the alder fork environment”).  I cam across a very interesting blog post about 5 environmental concerns that are more serious and imminent than global warming.  I agree with the author’s assessment and have also noticed that deforestation and pollution are often ignored these days.  That should keep you busy for awhile.

A Long Time Ago

April 25, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In honour of Earth Day and Earth Week, I resent this interesting take on human evolution.  It’s a bit of a tradition on this blog to feature animated NFB films from the 70’s.  Zlatko Grgic blends humour and social consciousness into an entertaining trip through history. Deep Threat seems a bit dated today, and it’s message has certainly been heralded to death in the last 30 years.  The use of eccentric animation is not something you would see today in an environmental film. In fact, you are much more likely to see live action shots of whatever habitat/creature/society that is threatened.  This film may be a time capsule of the film industry and environmental movement of the 1970’s, but it’s remains enjoyable today.   I think the environmental movement takes itself far to seriously sometimes, with very dramatic tales of humanity’s destructive powers.  Deep Threat put a nice spin on the overall message of protecting the earth.  Perhaps people don’t need to be scared in order to act.

My Life Will Never End and Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall

February 5, 2009

And the leaves that are green turn to brown.

Simon and Garfunkel

Leaves That Are Green

The podcast is actually up now. In keeping with the theme of one part of the podcast here is the third installment of my ongoing series about an ecology of peace. In case you missed them check out Part I and Part II.

Since we control our relationship with the Earth, we must apply some ethic to our decisions.  Some would argue that there is no reason to suddenly develop a moral component to our actions when there as not been one before. I counter that of course we have been applying some ethical standard to our actions, though it may have been intrinsic.  Whether we express our beliefs or not they influence our behaviour.  No one can act free of their internal compass, regardless of its content.  Now what are our options?  Well we can certainly be the aggressor, and actively destroy those aspects of nature that displease us.  It is an ancient way of acting, that I believe is related to our need to protect ourselves from the fury of nature. At the other extreme, we could abandon our world building efforts and disassociate from all the changes we have made.  There are not many who advocate a complete return to the earth way of living but some are out there.  I prefer a more moderate approach rooted in the ethic of love for the planet and humanity.  For many years people have promoted the notion of loving the Earth and protecting it for future generations.  It is an attitude that requires a long-term commitment to what I will call just actions, though there will be objectors to that term.

Just actions lie at the heart of an ecology of peace.  They do not require that we abandon our way of life in favour of hunting and gathering.  Instead they place a responsibility on all people to examine their behaviour both before and after to identify their intentions, their actions, and the consequences of their activity.  In some ways I am borrowing ideas from liberation theology because an ecology of peace is primarily about active thinking rather than passive reflection.  It is necessary to reflect on what you do in an open and honest way.  For example, when a business decides to build a new factory, even in countries with strict pollution controls, they must evaluate a large number of variables to make their decisions.  Staffing, construction, accessibility, and a host of other considerations must be included in the final analysis.  At some level I am sure environmental impact is mentioned.  But an ecology of peace would insist that the environmental concern be near the forefront of any discussion, and that maintaining the loving relationship with the earth is a priority.

I Went Up To The Mountain

January 19, 2009
This is mine.

This is mine.

That lovely picture is as close as I get to making visual art.  It’s a sketch of a picture that I took at Mt. Rainier in Washington, USA.  It was a windswept, snowy day on the mountain when my good friend Kern and I headed out on the trails to see what we could find. Once the snow was up to our knees we surrendered and turned around.  After some watery hot chocolate and cheesy nachos we returned to our warm hotel in Kent.

I am posting this to let you know that The Alder Fork Podcast has booked its first artist guest. Emily Chen, a graphic designer, artist, and friend of Kathleen Edwards (you might’ve noticed Emily’s comments on an earlier post) will be chatting with me about her work and what not on a future episode. You can find out all about her, and check out her great blog, here.

I am snowed in Guelph for one more evening, then I will be back to Hamilton. I will have the blog back up to full speed with all of the usual features you have come to expect. The last few days have been great fun for me, and I hope you have enjoyed the change of pace. As promised here is Part II of my piece, An Ecology of Peace. If you missed Part I, check it out here.

How is an ecology of peace framed within the context of this human-nature relationship?  As I understand an ecology of peace, and I am essentially borrowing the term and establishing my own definition, it advocates the same things as the concept of sustainability.  An ecology of peace is a religiously rooted relationship between people and the natural world, that emphasizes the importance of sustainable practices to the mutual benefit of both.  It is religious because the reasoning for an ecology of peace is rooted in an ethical system of divine love.  I will use Christian terms to explain myself, but there is potential for other religious groups to adapt my meaning to their own belief system.  I have already acknowledged that people have taken on part of the role of creator on Earth, and this has to be accepted for an ecology of peace to have real meaning.  If we pretend that what we do is wholly controlled by a divine influence then there is little impetus for change. Religious societies have made many of the great advancements in the history of our species.  People have been the force driving those changes, through their ingenuity and creativity, whether initiated by a divine spark or not.  At this point I might be tempted to abandon any notion of religion completely and move on with a humanist ethic.  If you decide to do so, go right ahead, it is certainly possible. But if you wish to maintain your religiosity or spirituality as you grasp at the meaning of sustainability please stay with me.

The theology that I ascribe to considers human love as the primary driving force for people.  This does not mean we all act out of love constantly because it is obvious that we do not.  I believe that it is our capacity to love that creates many of our greatest accomplishments.  Thus any healthy relationship with the Earth will involve a great deal of human love.  Nature is fairly neutral in its feelings towards us.  The planet would go on with or without us. Yet in an unintentional way (after all “the Earth” has no intentions) it provides us with the means for survival, and an environment we can thrive in.  Whether this is by chance or on purpose it is an undeniable fact.  Although people have struggled to adapt themselves to extreme climates, ultimately we have always prevailed. This is not hyperbole because at this moment there are human beings on every continent. The Inuit are probably the best example of the adaptability of people. They found a way to exist in the unforgiving Arctic, with ingenuity and cunning.  Today, in those hash places, humans are using technology to over come these challenges and be world builders.  My point is that in the face of an ambiguous Earth, one that we cannot destroy, we dictate the nature of our relationship.  As the masters of destiny we make the choices about our planet.  If we look elsewhere for answers, we will find nothing.  Other creatures may adapt their environment somewhat (I think of ants as an example) they are still incapable of the radical changes we have made.

An Ecology of Peace will be continued. Radio 2 Concert on Demand tomorrow, featuring The Empiricals, and The Flaps apparently going head to head.

Forest for the Trees

January 14, 2009

If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear, does anybody hear the forest fall

Bruce Cockburn

If a Tree Falls

This blog only periodically deals with “big” issues, like the environment, politics, or the economy.  This things to interest me, but I usually feel they are best left out of what is mostly a fun blog. Today, however, I came across an interesting article on the CBC website. While the information contained in the article was well known to me, I hadn’t seen it organized and expressed so succinctly before.  Entitled A look at life on the farm the piece gives a nice overview of the state of farming in Canada. I am not a farmer myself, but I am dating someone whose family still farm in Markdale, Ontario.  I have the upmost respect for that way of life and all it enatils. If you have any interest in understanding one of our nation’s biggest industries, and the current challenges facing our farmers please give the article a read.

When I was debating topics for my Master’s Thesis, I briefly considered the rural crisis as a starting point.  My intention was to develop a model whereby religious groups in rural communities (those who had connections to provincial and national organizations) could act as a mediating force to provide social services.  As part of that process I wrote a brief piece on the concept of an ecology of peace. In the spirit of discussing the rural crisis I would like to share some of that piece with you today. What follows are my own words and thoughts.

An Ecology of Peace

Be fruitful…fill the earth.

Any attempt to understand the relationship between humans and the natural world should first begin by recognizing the inherent power struggle. Historically humanity has battled the world for survival. Most great religious leaders of the past said very little about ecology because the questions about the human footprint are relatively modern. Our species has only recently learned to shape this planet in an image we prefer.  Pope Benedict XVI has referred to an ecology of peace when writing about the extraction and consumption of oil.  I would like to understand this term through its relationship to sustainability.

One of the great disappointments of my life is that I will not be able to be an explorer.  The surface of the earth is more or less completely known and discovered. Although I can not know the joy of discovering a river or climbing a mountain, I can participate in world building.  Many would consider this notion blasphemous because it places humanity in a similar role to God. Yet, like the God-men of ancient mythology, we have consciously decided to mould the Earth.  As we create new landscapes and nurture the growth of the old we supercede our original role among the animals, and elevate ourselves to the status of creators.  There are dangers inherent to accepting and defining such a role, but as we learn more about nature and its component parts, we become evermore the ventral figures of creation. I do not regret or condemn the advancements our species has made. I do not consider world building unethical or evil. As much as we have the ability to ruin and destroy, we have the tools to improve and adapt the world to address local and global needs. Under the umbrella of sustainability is a commitment to ethical world building.

I define sustainability as an ethical system of living that promotes the protection of environmental components while acknowledging the needs of human life.  To borrow a cliché, the genie is out of the bottle, for our species.  Our intellectual capacity has allowed us to build a society that increases our life spans, improves our quality of life, and gets the most out of our resources in both positive and negative ways.  That is not to say that our world is perfect, it is in fact nowhere near that. The notion of sustainability can be applied equally to the environment and to humanity.  I cannot even begin to discuss an ethical standpoint without acknowledging the suffering of millions of people.  I will be able to integrate that reality into my discussion of the rural crisis.

The connection between sustainability and ethics is very important to me.  Although the notion of sustainable systems can exist independently of any moral commitment, the impetus to enact such a model, and the foundations of it will be driven by the human spirit to act justly in the world. But there is a conflict between our long existing desire to control and dominate the planet, probably born out of constant struggle against the elements, and the need to protect the planet from damage.  I would argue that it is not so much that the Earth needs protection from us, but that we must work harder to maintain our own habitat and that of the life forms we depend on for existence. I disagree with the notion that we could “destroy” the planet. As much as we are world builders we lack the capability to render the earth even lifeless and desolate, nevermind destroyed.  What we can do is create a metaphoric sinkhole that eliminates the elements we need for survival and diminishes the ability of the planet to maintain our existence.  Essentially, along with millions of other species we could extinct ourselves, or at the very least fundamentally alter the way we live on Earth.  The prospect of a future in climate-controlled environments that are dependent on enormous amounts of energy to protect us from a hostile world is real enough to be scary, although it is science fiction right now.

To be continued…