Understanding the True Meaning of Mother Earth

Editor’s note: Once again, David Suzuki has published a blog post that, without a doubt, hits a very strong nail in the hip of most of our culture today. It is incredibly important to not justify our actions saying it is at least better then yesterday, but still much worse then it once was. This article comes at a time when it seems there’s an influx of scientists and commentators calling for a much larger movement then just monitoring our rate of pollution – we’re calling for a complete reversal to a world where we respect mother earth so much that every single action we take, from buying groceries to choosing to walk, is taken with sweet mother earth’s best interest in mind, with the intention of nurturing her, rather then reaping what she provides.

This original article can be found on the David Suzuki Foundations’s blog.

By David Suzuki

The coming year looks bright with the promise of change after a difficult decade for environmentalists and our issues. But even with a new government that quickly moved to gender equity in cabinet, expanded the Ministry of the Environment to include climate change, and offered a bravura performance at the climate talks in Paris, can Canada’s environmentalists close up shop and stop worrying?

Of course not. The nature of politics includes constant trade-offs, compromises and disagreements. Even with a government sympathetic to environmental issues, we won’t act deeply and quickly enough or prevent new problems because we haven’t addressed the root of our environmental devastation. The ultimate cause isn’t economic, technological, scientific or even social. It’s psychological. We see and interact with the world through perceptual lenses, shaped from the moment of conception. Our notions of gender, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status and the environment we grow up in all limit and create our priorities.

If we were to examine the anatomy of human brains, the circuitry and chemistry of neurons or the structure of our sense organs, nothing would permit us to distinguish gender, ethnicity or religion because we all belong to a single species. But if you were to ask a man and a woman about love, sex or family, answers could be quite disparate. A Jew and Muslim living in Israel might respond differently to questions about Gaza, the West Bank or Jerusalem. A Catholic and Protestant living in Northern Ireland might hold radically different outlooks about their country’s history.

London - 052012 (254 of 302)

source: Ned Tobin // www.nedtobin.com

We learn how to see the world. That, in turn, determines our priorities and actions. The world has been overwhelmed by the belief that our species stands at the pinnacle of evolution, endowed with impressive intelligence and able to exploit our surroundings as we see fit. We feel fundamentally disconnected from nature and therefore not responsible for the ecological consequences of our actions. Even at the 2015 Paris climate conference, the sense of urgency about climate change was dampened by the perceived equal need to protect jobs and to consider the economic costs of aiding vulnerable nations and even ways to continue exploiting fossil fuels, the very agents of the crisis.

We can’t just look at the world as a source of resources to exploit with little or no regard for the consequences. When many indigenous people refer to the planet as “Mother Earth”, they are not speaking romantically, poetically or metaphorically. They mean it literally. We are of the Earth, every cell in our bodies formed by molecules derived from plants and animals, inflated by water, energized by sunlight captured through photosynthesis and ignited by atmospheric oxygen.

Years ago, I visited a village perched on the side of an Andean mountain in Peru. People there are taught from childhood that the mountain is an apu, a god, and that as long as that apu casts its shadow on the village, it will determine the destiny of its inhabitants. Compare the way those people will treat that mountain with the way someone in Trail, B.C., will after being told for years the surrounding mountains are rich in gold and silver.

Is a forest a sacred grove or merely lumber and pulp? Are rivers the veins of the land or sources of power and irrigation? Is soil a community of organisms or simply dirt? Is another species our biological relative or a resource? Is our house a home or just real estate?

Once we learn that our very being, essence, health and happiness depend on Mother Earth, we have no choice but to radically shift the way we treat her. When we spew our toxic wastes and pesticides into the air, water and soil, we poison our mother and ourselves. When we frack our wells, we contaminate the air and water on which we depend. When we clear-cut forests, dump mine tailings into rivers and lakes and convert wilderness into farms or suburbs, we undermine the ability of the biosphere to provide the necessities of life.

Is this how we treat our source of survival? Until all of society understands this and then acts on that understanding, we will not be able to act fully to protect a future for ourselves.

Healing humanity’s grief in the face of climate change

This article first appeared on David Suzuki Foundation’s website, calling to action Canadians to Speak up about climate change.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Public Engagement Specialist Aryne Sheppard

The tragedy we’re witnessing in so many places around the world is heartbreaking. Responses on the ground and in the media to events in Paris, Beirut, Syria and elsewhere have ranged from inspiring to chilling. Too often, people express fear and distress as anger, suspicion and scapegoating.

For many reasons and in many ways, people and nature are in distress. Quaker activist and author Parker Palmer implores us to ask, “What shall we do with our suffering?” The way we deal with our pain has critical implications. Whether we project it outward as war or murder or absorb it as despair and self-destruction, “Violence is what we get when we do not know what else to do with our suffering.”

The interplay of environmental degradation and geopolitics has had alarming repercussions. Over the past decade alone, millions of people have been displaced by war, famine and drought. The world is shifting rapidly as a result of climate change and there’s little doubt we’ll see increasing humanitarian crises. We must face this new reality as a global community.

Climate change is one of the most destabilizing forces in human history. We must deal with carbon emissions but we must also deal with human suffering. In Canada, Inuit are feeling the impacts disproportionately. Ice appears much later in the season and melts earlier. Changing wildlife migration patterns disrupt community livelihoods, land-based activities and cultural practices.

Cape Breton University Canada research chair Ashlee Cunsolo Willox is working with Inuit to understand their communities’ climate-related mental and emotional health impacts, documenting anxiety, despair, hopelessness and depression, increased family stress, drug and alcohol use and suicide attempts. People are grieving for a way of life that is changing with the landscape.

Together with the Nunatsiavut communities of Labrador, Cunsolo Willox produced a documentary film, Attutauniujuk Nunami/Lament for the Land. Residents describe how ice, when it forms, is often not thick enough to hunt, gather wood or travel by snowmobile.

The land is part of who they are, a source of solace, peace, identity, and well-being. Hunting and fishing and spending time on the land help Inuit feel grounded and happy. When residents can’t get out of town, they feel “stuck”, “lost” and “less like people”.

Although global warming discourse typically ignores our intense feelings and grief in the face of environmental change, Cunsolo Willox argues it can expand our capacity to act. “Re-casting climate change as the work of mourning means that we can share our losses, and encounter them as opportunities for productive and important work,” she says. “It also provides the opportunity to stand up and publicly object to injustice.” Shared experiences of grief can build solidarity, support healing and inspire collective action.

With the Paris UN climate talks underway, we have an opportunity to expand the conversation to include environmental grief and loss. Today’s social and environmental leaders need to understand the psychological implications of a world in distress. Geographer and research scientist Susanne Moser predicts future leaders will need more than professional expertise and political savvy. They must be “steward, shepherd, arbiter, crisis manager, grief counselor, future builder.”

Instead of knee-jerk reactions that so often accompany fear and emotional pain, what if we summoned the courage to experience our sadness, disorientation and grief in all its fullness? More importantly, what if we did this together? The feelings surrounding change and loss highlight our shared vulnerability and expose our connections to one another. We can consciously foster a heightened sense of human and ecological fellowship.

The late environmental scientist Donella Meadows believed the process of experiencing feelings is far from trivial. “Feelings, like knowledge, don’t directly change anything. But if we don’t rush past the feelings or stuff them down, if we take time to admit even the most uncomfortable ones, to accept them, share them, and couple them with knowledge of what is wrong and how it might be fixed, then feelings and knowledge together are motors for change.”

The suffering we’re witnessing because of loss of land, culture, ways of life and identity may portend what is to come for all of us. Now is the time to come together and decide how we will respond. Let’s make sure it’s the best humanity has to offer.

Canadian Oil Sands and Lesser Prairie Chickens

Northern Alberta Tar Pit #3

It started off a few years ago as a project that would simply cost way too much to pursue. I remember it clearly as they said that it wouldn’t be explored because it was far to bad for the environment, cost way too much money, and there was way to much oil in the middle east… I remember even hearing how they said that with current technologies it takes more oil to actually extract the tar sands oil, than they actually get out of it in the process. But then oil went up to the prices we now see today, and suddenly WE THE CONSUMER started paying for our earth to be devastated. I’m talking about Canada’s oil sands.

Last time I was at the pump, gasoline was $141.9. For my ‘fuel efficient’ Jetta, a full tank costs about $70 to fill. I am paying for this exploration. I am guilty myself.

You know, if I was a believer in conspiracy theories, I might even venture to guess that half of the profits some of these oil companies get are by sneaky accounting. Think of this if you will: Company X buys oil, machinery, and pays employees while getting huge tax cuts and credits for being a developer of raw resources, for employing people, and numerous amounts of other loop holes. Company X just so happens to also extract the same oil they buy, so not only are they buying their own oil at premiums – keeping investors happy – they are also given tax credits to buy their own oil at premiums: essentially free government money. Company X also has huge backers on the board lobbying government, giving Company X basically ZERO risk factor of any sort of policy changes occurring in the near future that would hinder progress; if any policy change along the sorts is proposed that will make it harder for Company X to make large profits, the policy changes will be tied up in courts so long Company X will be allowed to take many years of life from planet earth.  Sounds like smart business, doesn’t it?

Today I signed many petitions to bring change in the world. I realize that it is slightly silly thinking that signing an online petition will bring change, but the positive fact of the matter is that many of these petitions do indeed bring change to the world. These petitions do have success. I’ve signed some petitions that have anywhere from a quarter of a million people signing them to over 2 million peoples signatures.

Today I signed a petition to bring the Lesser Prairie chicken – a rare grouse species threatened by oil and gas exploration, wildfires, and drought – under the wildlife protection act for protection against extinction.

I also signed a petition to bring the company Monsanto, and their super herbicide Roundup, forward to answer questions. Evidently a peer-reviewed report published in the scientific journal Entropy indicates glyphosate, a chief ingredient in herbicides like Roundup, is being found in the foods we all eat, we all buy from the grocer. Glyphosate is proven to have negative impacts on the human body by “manifesting slowly over time as inflammation [and] damages cellular systems throughout the body.” Not only does it effect humans, but animals and plants. In short, all life on the earth is effected by glyphosate and Monsanto’s Roundup.

CANADA ALBERTA FORT MCMURRAY 23JUL09 - View of Suncor Millennium tailings pond and tarsands mining operations north of Fort McMurray, northern Alberta, Canada. jre/Photo by Jiri Rezac / GREENPEACE © Jiri Rezac 2009

CANADA ALBERTA FORT MCMURRAY 23JUL09 – View of Suncor Millennium tailings pond and tarsands mining operations north of Fort McMurray, northern Alberta, Canada.
jre/Photo by Jiri Rezac / GREENPEACE
© Jiri Rezac 2009

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