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Just back from a trip to the Arctic aboard the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise, celebrated British actress Emma Thompson joins us to talk about visiting the Canadian town of Clyde River, which has been leading efforts against the oil industry blasting the Arctic in its search for oil and gas. Two years ago, Thompson joined another Greenpeace expedition to protest drilling in the Arctic and to research the impact climate change has already had on the region.
“I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know quite how bad it was, until the most extraordinary marine biologist, called Lindy Weilgart, who specializes in the effect of seismic blasting upon marine mammals, gave a lecture on it. And it involves the pushing out of extremely high-pressured shots of air. It’s noise. It’s sound. And the sound has to travel over thousands of kilometers, hit whatever it can find, and come back to the ship, in order to—it’s prospecting, really, to see where they can drill for oil and gas.
Now, marine mammals basically see through their ears, so the effect of seismic blasting, because the noise it makes is equivalent to half a [kilogram] of dynamite going off—it’s like an underground volcano. It’s 260 decibels, and it happens every 10 seconds, for months on end, without cease. And so, you can imagine the effect upon these large mammals, who use their ears, really, to see, to communicate, to organize, to—it’s how they live. So, it’s a disastrous thing.
And, of course, the ultimate irony is that the region is melting because of oil and gas being overused. So, the oil and gas companies, instead of saying, “We have an eco-disaster happening here. Let’s stop,” are clapping their hands, piling in, prospecting for more of the stuff that melted the place in the first instance. So, if you see what I mean, it’s a kind of cataclysmic carousel of greed and destruction.”
What will happen when humans disappear from the face of the Earth? This movie will certain make you think about the impact we have made on this beautiful planet. But when humans are gone… Earth does continue.
By Naomi Klein / bigissue.com
No Logo author Naomi Klein says we must revolutionise our working lives if we are to combat climate change and save the free world…
Imagine an ordinary, full-time working week, one that requires just 21 hours of hard graft. Imagine a less frantic existence – three days on, four days off. Imagine more time with the family, more time strolling round the park, more time listening to your favourite music while cooking at a leisurely pace. A lovely idea – but does it really stack up?
The phrase ‘three-day week’ might, for readers of a certain age, conjure up memories of the early 1970s: electricity blackouts and TV broadcasts stopping at 10.30pm. Yet a growing number of people are advocating a 21-hour working week as the solution to the 21st century’s most pressing problems.
Naomi Klein is the latest big thinker to back the idea of a shorter working week and sees it as part of a transition toward a low-carbon economy and a move away from “shitty” long-hour, low-paid jobs, as she outlines to The Big Issue…
When did you begin to think free-market economics are a threat to life on Earth?
When I started hanging around with climate change deniers, it became clear they understood the current economic system could not survive if climate change was real. You can’t hold on to ideas like freedom from regulation and liberating profit in the face of a crisis like climate change, which clearly demands collective action and strong regulation. We need to cut our emissions so deeply that it threatens the whole growth model of free-market capitalism.
Some economists are now talking about moving beyond the idea of growth and our obsession with GDP. Is that a good thing?
It’s exciting that people are talking about these things. We know chasing endless growth doesn’t deliver well-being or economic stability and is leading to widening inequality. So it’s much easier to challenge now. It’s really about having a strategic economy, focusing on parts of the economy we want to expand or extract.
You write about “selective degrowth” and ideas like a shorter working week and a universal basic income to discourage “shitty work”. Do you think people are ready for those ideas?
I think people know they’re overworked. And overworking is intimately tied to a particularly wasteful model of consumption – you have no time after work to do anything other than grab a takeaway, and less time for low-consumption activities like cooking.
Does the environment movement need to become more radical?
The environmental movement has a history of elitism. Not the entire movement – there have been grassroots outsiders engaging in confrontation tactics – but there’s a history of conservation and hunting clubs, bringing in royalty and so on. It’s not exactly been part of the left, which is why there’s been suspicion between progressive political movements and the environmental movement. There’s a lot of work to be done between natural allies.
So it’s time to stop pretending big companies are going to change everything?
There’s been a bias among many big environmental organisations to build coalitions with other elite groups. You’d be amazed by how much time green groups in the US spend thinking about how to get the Pentagon using green energy. Really? Is that the best we can hope for?
The idea we’re all guilty is demobilising because it prevents us directing our anger at the institutions most responsible
And it’s time to get angry?
Yes – I think people should be angry. A lot of environmentalist discourse has been about erasing responsibility: “We’re all in this together… We’re all equally responsible.” Well, no – you, me and Exxon (Mobil) are not all in this together.The idea we’re all guilty is demobilising because it prevents us directing our anger at the institutions most responsible.
Do you think working people will see the connection between climate change and their own pressing struggles?
Most people don’t have good choices. They use fossil fuels because they have to – not because they love Exxon or Shell. We’re seeing an important discussion around fuel poverty. Fossil fuels aren’t delivering energy people can afford easily, if about a quarter of people in this country are choosing not to turn the heat on at times because they can’t afford the bills. I think people will start to see that action on climate change can address pressing issues.
How do you stay optimistic when the picture looks so bleak?
I don’t think you can engage with this material without being on an emotional rollercoaster. Our elites have never treated climate change as a real crisis, they only pay lip service to it. But a wide social movement can change that. Pressure from below can force recalcitrant elites to respond.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, by Naomi Klein (£20, Allen Lane), is out now
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The Man Who Planted Trees (French title L’homme qui plantait des arbres), also known as The Story of Elzéard Bouffier, The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met, and The Man Who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness, is an allegorical tale by French author Jean Giono, published in 1953.
It tells the story of one shepherd’s long and successful singlehanded effort to re-forest a desolate valley in the foothills of the Alps in Provence throughout the first half of the 20th century. The tale is quite short—only about 4000 words long. It was composed in French, but first published in English.
AND WATCH : Naomi Klein on the People’s Climate March & the Global Grassroots Movement Fighting Fossil Fuels Order the book ? Click on image
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ParkerK
In spring 2003, Peter Janes decided to do something most people only dream of — that is, if they think about it at all. He left behind an academic education and the urban life that went with it to move to a small island off British Columbia’s coast. Appalled at what he saw as industrial humankind’s destruction of the natural world, Janes figured the most honest response was to build an alternative system: by producing his own food, building his own house and generating his own power.
“I wanted to physically make the world a better place,” Janes said. With his family’s help, he bought 40 acres of forested land on Denman Island. It came with two trailers. Janes and a girlfriend he’s no longer with moved into one, and promptly sold the other — “a big, ugly, white vinyl doublewide,” he said. They planted a vegetable garden and got some chickens. Self-sufficiency “was definitely an ideal,” Janes explained, “but we were doing everything we could” to achieve it.
That ideal has since become an influential driver of North American culture. It’s in “The 100-Mile Diet.” The rise of agritourism. The urban gardens of Vancouver, Detroit, Brooklyn and Mexico City. Bill McKibben bestsellers like “Deep Economy” and “Eaarth.” The Global Village Construction Set. Modern Farmer magazine. Resurging farmers’ markets. The Degrowth movement — a “shift away from our current industrial society,” as adherents put it — across North America and Europe.
For Janes, it now presents a philosophical dilemma. After 10 years striving to build a self-sustaining farm on Denman Island, he’s struggling with questions that probe his life’s meaning. Assuming he could cut all ties to the industrial system — and that’s “a very tall order,” he realizes — would it be worth the immense time and energy he must continue expending for the next five, 10, 50 years? Can the actions of a few people in the woods, he wonders, truly make the world a better place?
Janes’ green awakening isn’t traceable to a single moment. There was no Exxon Valdez-type catastrophe that shook him out of his urban stupor. He recalls a growing dissatisfaction with the insular academia of the University of Victoria, where he took anthropology and environmental studies. And he recalls a gnawing sense, as articulated by writers like Wendell Berry, who he was reading at the time, that few things sacred can survive an industrialized society bent on conquering the natural world.
Around this time, Janes embarked on a “crazy walk,” he said, from Cape Scott on Vancouver Island’s north tip, to Victoria, 500 kilometres southeast. He hung out with lots of activists, and began to notice disconnects between their comfortable lives — “drinking black tea with white sugar,” for example — and the ecological injustices they railed against. “That was a big catalyst for me,” he said, “that it doesn’t make sense to be upset about all this stuff but then be supporting it.”
Janes dreamed of an education center in the woods. Blending farming, spirituality and outdoors skills, it would give people the tools to live less destructively. Arriving on Denman Island in 2003, though, he got sidetracked learning his own new skills. Slaughtering animals was one of them. “I’m a bit of a bull, a hard-headed person,” he said. Yet he recalls feeling “pretty emotional” shooting his first sheep. Its carcass bled onto a feed pile, and other sheep munched obliviously on the bloody grain.
That first year some university friends stayed over the summer. Even with their help, Janes was learning that true self-sufficiency would be much harder than he’d thought. Going off the electrical grid was prohibitively expensive, the farm itself produced almost no income and he needed money to buy food and tools. So he took menial labour jobs when he could, trying not to enter the winter too burdened with debt.
History is full of hard-headed idealists like Janes. In 5th century B.C., an Athenian named Diogenes renounced his possessions to live in blissful squalor (and later befriended Alexander the Great). “One of the first back-to-basics freaks in recorded history,” claims one account. More recently, during the 1960s and ’70s, up to 100,000 Americans fled to Canada, some of whom started communes in B.C.’s wilderness. Kurt Vonnegut’s son, Mark, lost his mind at one northwest of Vancouver.
Janes is unsure he could handle the social stress of communal living. “That comes with all its own problems,” he said. But family to him is important. Janes met Magdalene Joly, his partner of nearly six years, in a friend’s backyard. Joly had dropped out of music school and was spending lots of time on Denman, drawn to a sense of place she found lacking in cities. She was also drawn to Janes, his self-reliant ideals and stubborn efforts to achieve them. “He can basically do anything,” she said.
Not long after, she moved onto his farm with her son Raphael. Joly, a trained herbalist and nutritionist, brought a formidable skill set. She baked steaming loaves of bread and made herbal medicines and teas. What her family didn’t use they sold in local markets and cafés. In a western culture obsessed with mobility she loved the challenge of staying put, of keeping animals alive, the taste of freshly picked kale. “The nature of society’s problems lies in being alienated from the land,” she said.
Where Janes’ hard-headedness could verge on cynicism, Joly strove to be earnest and optimistic. “We sort of balance each other out,” she said. Slowly money came in. Janes sold fruit and nut tree seedlings he’d propagated at his Tree Eater Nursery, and crafted “pointed hoes” and other tools on a homemade forge. Joly planted a huge garden, and this year launched a community supported agriculture program, delivering to eight local families weekly boxes of fresh produce and homemade specialties like nettle pesto.
Yet it sometimes seemed the further they fled the industrial system, the more tied to it they felt. Years of hard work accumulated, and still Janes and Joly’s lifestyle wasn’t possible without store-bought staples like rice and flour, diesel for their pick-up truck, and BC Hydro’s power. “There were a lot of people who came [to B.C.] in the ’70s and tried to do all the same stuff as us,” Janes said. “Then they all got older and stopped.” He went on: “I don’t want that to happen, but who knows.”
There was little sign of Janes and Joly stopping soon during a recent winter morning on their farm. “Uh oh, the geese have escaped,” Janes said, taking pursuit as ’80s rock wafted from a distant stereo and chickens squawked nearby. An almost finished two-storey wood house — whose beams Janes had logged, milled and assembled — stood stark against the forest clearing’s fog. Joly squished through some mud to pick kale that tasted especially sweet and nutty. “Frost does wonders for it,” she said.
Still, they wondered what it all added up to. “I wish we had 10 more generations to heal our planet’s wounds,” Joly said. “But I sometimes worry that we really don’t, and then I start to feel like, ‘What am I doing living on this little island?'” Some days the answer seems clearer. After a Scandinavian man emailed recently about buying one of Janes’ homemade tools, Joly’s nine-year-old son Raphael told her how inspired it made him feel. “I can see that we’ve made a really positive imprint,” she said.
A new generation is also finding inspiration in the do-it-yourself ideals of local farming. Last July, Vancouver opened North America’s largest urban orchard, one of 446 community garden plots built across the city in 2013. “On some campuses,” the New Yorker reported, “a junior year spent weeding an asparagus bed has become as popular as studying abroad.” It’s because “there’s a deep drive in humans to create their own existence,” self-sufficiency guru Marcin Jakubowksi told the magazine.
Janes wouldn’t disagree. It’s just that after 10 years, he’s unsure what wider good his own deep drive has served. “I now know by direct experience how hard it is to shift away from the momentum that our society has,” he said. But in the process he and Joly have created their own existence to a degree most people could only dream of. “What does success look like to you?” Joly asked him. “How do you know when you’ve reached that point?” Janes paused, then quipped: “I’m already onto the next thing by then.”
Geoff Dembicki is an Alberta-born journalist who reports on energy and climate change. Dembicki’s work has appeared in The Tyee, Toronto Star, Salon.com and Walrus Magazine.