In the spirit of Earth Day, let’s redefine our relationship with the earth
How can we contribute to the health of our planet? We could start by telling new stories about what it means to be human, to redefine our relationship with planet Earth. Why story? Because the world is not just made up of atoms, it’s also made up of stories. We fill our days with books and blogs, films and fantasies, tweets and tall tales. Everything is story. The Calendar is a story about time. The Government is a story about power. The Economy is a story about the distribution of goods and services. Stories help us understand the world and our place in it. They shape our emotions, and influence our behaviour.
It’s become clear that the old stories are failing. Our stories of separation from the natural world, stories of greed and consumption do not serve us. They portray the Earth as a gigantic warehouse of all the goodies we could possibly want, and a garbage dump for the things we don’t want. Meeting human wants rather than needs has endangered the life of our planetary home, as well as our lives, and those of future generations. The time has come to embrace stories that show how deeply we are connected to the natural world, how dependent we are on the generosity of the Earth for our next breath, our next drink of water, our next meal. We need stories to warm our hearts and sometimes break them. Stories to deepen our intimacy with the Earth. When we change the story we change the behaviour.
I make my living as a storyteller. I write new stories and reframe old ones. When Paul, a scientist, told me the truth about bacteria, I knew I had to write a song. The prevailing cultural story is that bacteria are evil, lying in wait to pounce on their next victim. Yes, a few of them can kill you. But most bacteria are supporters, not killers. They are the building blocks of life. No bacteria, no life. Did you know you have ten times more bacteria cells in your body than human cells? And they’re working real hard to digest your food and keep you healthy. Watch a live performance of my Mitochondria Motel song on Youtube and you too might become a pacifist in the war against bacteria. (Full disclosure: I had pneumonia this winter and – gulp - I took antibiotics.)
So keep on recycling, reusing, repairing and refusing. And tell some good stories about your connection to the land and the waters where you live. The stories we tell today determine the future for our grandchildren. This is a critical time, a potent time. We are involved in a process for which we will not see the results. It’s like planting a tree that will not reach maturity in our lifetime, one that will offer shade for the next generation. We do it for others. We do it for beauty. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Pauline is the author of Becoming Intimate with the Earth, published by Collins Foundation Press
Let’s make every day Earth Day
At Island Pacific School, the grade nine students have to pick a topic of interest and then research it for six months to produce a “Masterworks” that is presented, and defended, in June. When I started researching topics for my project, I was looking for issues related to Bowen. I started researching the ferry, and soon realized that our dependence on it is a big problem. High school students take the ferry more than 350 times in a year, just to get to school. So while most people on Bowen like to think of themselves as being environmentally friendly, most of us have a way bigger carbon footprint than people living in the city.
So I started researching sustainability, and what it means to be sustainable on Bowen. I spoke to a lot of people who are taking action in interesting ways but focused on three main people: my neighbour Wayne Tatlow; Noah Pryce-Jones who works at Endswell Farm; and Dave McIntosh, who runs Bowen Waste Services.
Wayne Tatlow produces energy through solar panels on his house and with a windmill. He’s able to sell energy to BC Hydro and also has a really minimal electricity bill himself.
Endswell Farm uses food scraps from local restaurants to feed their animals and use the manure from their animals to fertilize their fields. The animals eat the grass on the fields, and Endswell sells their meat to Bowen Islanders and Bowen Island restaurants.
Dave Macintosh has been a part of Bowen Island sustainability efforts for 18 years.
His company, Bowen Island Waste Service, contributes to sustainability by operating Bowen Island’s BIRD recycling centre. This is one of the most successful recycling ventures in the GVRD.
I’ve learned that a single person can make a huge impact, and that there are a lot of potential solutions. I’ve also learned that it can be really hard to implement those solutions because our laws and regulations don’t prioritize sustainability.
Earth Day is one day of the year where people talk about taking action and helping the environment, but we need to change this so that Earth Day is every day. The way to do this is to make people knowledgeable about what they can do.
One of the reasons I wanted to study sustainability for my Masterworks project is that I wanted to make people more aware of these problems and ultimately to make Bowen more sustainable. While Earth Day is just one day a year, the things that these people are doing--and what we can do--can make an impact for generations to come.
Hamish Bryan is a grade nine student at Island Pacific School.
Earth Day 2014: Time for a new story
In his celebrated 2003 Massey Lectures, First Nations writer Thomas King told us “The truth about stories is that’s all we are”. If he’s right, it’s no wonder that those who deny the story of our culture are vilified.
Our now-global civilization culture’s story began as the mostly Judeo-Christian story of our fall from grace to a life of struggle, and it has brought us resource exhaustion, looming economic collapse, runaway climate change, species extinction, endless cycles of war, violence, suffering, disease, trauma, personal exhaustion, poverty, distrust, cynicism, and despair. Yet still we cling to it. It is the only story we know, and drives how we live, what we believe, and everything we do. Everything we read, hear and see reinforces it.
Perhaps Earth Day could give us the courage to recognize that our story is a story of illusion and disaster, and to start to craft and offer a new one.
The first step might be to give up our denial that something will rescue us from the precipice we now stand upon, all of us on this tiny, fragile Spaceship Earth. Denial that we can expect rescue from better leaders, or better technology, or a sudden upswell of coordinated global consciousness, or better laws or freer markets or a second coming.
In his book Requiem for a Species, Clive Hamilton says his extensive study of the latest climate science research has led him to this conclusion:
We now have no chance of preventing emissions rising well above a number of critical tipping points that will spark uncontrollable climate change. The Earth’s climate [will now] enter a chaotic era lasting thousands of years before natural processes eventually establish some sort of equilibrium. Whether human beings [will] still be a force on the planet, or even survive, is a moot point. One thing seems certain: there will be far fewer of us.
If your response to reading this is anger, or disbelief, or fear, that’s understandable. Like many climate scientists, economists, and students of our culture, Clive is starting to tell a new, and heretical, story, one that flies in the face of all we believe, and hope.
Beyond the denial that our culture can be ‘rescued’, is only, now, the terrifying acceptance that within, at least, the lives of our children, the affluent, industrial world most of us have known for two centuries will be gone, and we have no idea what will, or can replace it.
What can help us move past this denial is a new story, one that will bring clarity and hope to what we must now face, and what the extraordinary legacy for future generations will be if we do so courageously and intelligently. That story is ours to write. It will begin when we learn about what happens when (not if) runaway climate change occurs, when an economy collapses permanently, and when a society’s accessible, affordable resources run out. These are world-changing events, but they’re not unprecedented and they’re not “the end of the world”.
Like a patient diagnosed with a life-altering disease, once we’ve learned and accepted the facts, we can start planning for what we will likely face and shift to a new way of living. Many patients receiving such news say it was the best thing that ever happened to them, that learning about the unsustainability of their ‘old’ way of life has led them to a joyous transformation to a new and more meaningful life.
Dave Pollard is one of the founders of Bowen in Transition.
Stewards of the Earth, and Mother Bowen
For me, Earth Day began like every other: I pinched myself to ensure I wasn’t dreaming and gave thanks for being here, living, working and raising a family in one of the safest and healthiest communities on the planet.
I look at that blessing every day and recognize that with it should come an obligation to truly respect and understand this community and its environment. To help try to figure out how to leverage the opportunities, intense desire and boundless human capital we have available here to actually make a difference in the world.
On Earth Day, and every day in between, we can recognize how truly blessed we are and choose to lead by example instead of just talking about it... endlessly.
I fell into the arms of mother Bowen in the late nineties, in the midst of the “Great Incorporation” debate.
It was a decision I supported then and still do today. The question was simple: who are the best stewards of the lands, us or them? I believe in my heart that we are the best stewards of this island. It's our nest, after all.
We all want to be good citizens of Bowen, but in that we have battled each other for decades over what that means. Through all this, life has gone on, and our island has changed and not always for the better. After these decades of environmental battles, are we actually living cleaner, greener lives? According to the Pembina Institute, we are amongst the worst polluters in the province.
How can that be ok?
Doing nothing is not a neutral choice in a rapidly changing world that desperately needs humanity to step-up and take action.
Before taking action here on Bowen, let’s all of us, as a community, take a long hard look in the mirror and own up to our past mistakes - it’s the only way we can prevent falling into the same old traps, over and over again.
For years, our community has lived in abject fear of things like short sighted development plans and of becoming a rich persons playground. Sadly, I think that we are manifesting our worst fears.
I was an alcoholic for years. I quit 15 years ago. To do that I had to look in the mirror and own that I was the master of my own successes and failures. I was not a victim.
It hurt, bad, to face the fact that I had had it wrong all those years and that the only threats I faced were internal, not external. And what a challenge it was, to move forward without wallowing in regrets over my past choices.
It was worth it. I set myself free and radically altered my view of the world and its potential.
In many ways Bowen needs to do the same. We have been drunk with our collective victim story and massive egos for many years and need to stand up and look in the mirror. As we move forward from this we must find peace and with compassion for each other.
Like I said, it's going to hurt a bit but we can get there. And maybe, just maybe, the earth will be better for it.
On Earth Day 2014 I declare my love for Mother Bowen and all it's people.
Stacy Beamer is an artisan and builder.