Published: Tuesday 15 January 2013
“If we fail in this great experiment, this experiment of apes becoming intelligent enough to take charge of their own destiny, nature will shrug and say it was fun for a while to let the apes run the laboratory, but in the end it was a bad idea.”

 

Clive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and continue to resist the forces that are destroying us.

The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the Earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power—for the industrial elites are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion ...

Published: Monday 17 September 2012
“Experts at the World Conservation Congress here in South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju warned that there are only four specimens of the famous turtle known to be alive.”

 

The Red River Giant soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) is the stuff of legend in Vietnam. The fabled turtle in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake is popularly known by the name Kim Qui or Golden Turtle God, and it made its first historical appearance in 250 BC.

Today this species could indeed use some divine intervention. Experts at the World Conservation Congress here in South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju warned that there are only four specimens of the famous turtle known to be alive. And only two have any realistic hope of breeding, said Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

At the Congress, which ended Saturday, the ZSL and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a list of the 100 most threatened species in the world and called for concerted action to save those unfortunate enough to make it on to the list, like the Red River Giant turtle.

The report, titled “Priceless or Worthless?”, says that all breeding efforts to produce hatchlings of the Red River Giant have failed since 2008. “We have to get the last ones together to breed,” Baillie put it starkly.

The Red River Giant is probably the most famous species on the list that includes such obscure species as the Liben Lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis) from Ethiopia, of which less than 300 survive, or the Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus), considered the rarest of all living rhinos. A Javan Rhino horn goes for as much as 30,000 dollars on the black market, it is that rare.

Or take the case of the Suicide Palm (Tahina spectabilis), found in northwestern Madagascar. Only discovered in 2007, it is probably a good thing that it can grow so large that individuals can be detected on satellite imagery, as only 90 known individual trees have been located. The tree’s name comes from ...

Published: Saturday 26 May 2012
“Ann and Gord pooled their resources with Ann’s parents to buy the land in Victoria, British Columbia, and build a durable 2,100 square foot house with two semi-independent residences.”

 

The notion of building or remodeling to deep green standards is daunting. A 2011 survey by the National Association of Homebuilders found that 60 percent of professional builders thought environmentally sensitive housing was too expensive for low-income people and 30 percent said even the middle class couldn’t afford it. But modern pioneers—from owner-builders in British Columbia to designers challenging the harsh conditions of the Aleutian Islands—are showing that green building on a budget, even to the most exacting standards, is possible with enough creativity and planning.

In a Family Way

Ann and Gord Baird hand built what Jason McLennan, who developed the Living Building Challenge (LBC), has called “the greenest modern house in the world.” The LBC is the most far-reaching green-building program in existence. It requires, among other things, that a building use only the water and energy available on the site, use materials responsibly, and be healthy and beautiful. The Bairds met most of the requirements of the LBC, and they did it themselves on a tight budget. 

But they didn’t do it alone. Ann and Gord pooled their resources with Ann’s parents to buy the land in Victoria, British Columbia, and build a durable 2,100 square foot house with two semi-independent residences. The Bairds and their two kids live in one and Ann’s parents are in the other. They save costs by sharing the heating, plumbing, and electrical equipment along with the phone, freezer, and washing machine, while still maintaining most of the autonomy of a single-family home, including two separate kitchens with a pass-through between them. 

The Baird residence is the first permitted load-bearing cob ...

Published: Saturday 5 May 2012
There’s been a general perception that climate change is a future problem but with all the extreme weather disasters and weather records the public is being to realise that climate change is here, says Henn.

 

Nix will be joined by dozens of people near White Rock, British Columbia on May 5. They will be in good company as tens of thousands of people around the world participate in global day of action to "connect the dots" between climate change and extreme weather. 


"There will be at least 1,200 actions in more than 100 countries," says Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, a U.S.-based environmental group. 


There's been a general perception that climate change is a future problem but with all the extreme weather disasters and weather records the public is being to realise that climate change is here, says Henn. 


"Recent opinion surveys show the more than 60 percent of the U.S. public are connecting extreme weather to climate change," Henn told IPS. 


The U.S. public is not wrong, say scientists. 


"All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be," Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, told IPS previously. 


Last year the U.S. endured 14 separate billion-dollar-plus weather disasters including flooding, hurricanes and tornados. 


This year, most of the U.S. and Canada experienced summer in winter with record-shattering heat waves in March. More than 15,000 temperature records were broken in the U.S. which had its first billion-dollar weather disaster of the year. In most places, the spring month of April was colder than March. 


"What kind of future are we leaving for our children if we keep putting more carbon into the atmosphere?" asks Nix. 


As a former scientist who used to work for the oil industry in Canada's tar sands, he has a pretty good idea of what's ...

Published: Monday 20 February 2012
While helpful, scientific knowledge and experts are also part of the problem: by dominating the sustainability discourse, they narrow people’s visions of what’s possible.

Contrary to popular belief, humans have failed to address the earth's worsening emergencies of climate change, species' extinction and resource overconsumption not because of a lack of information, but because of a lack of imagination, social scientists and artists say.

At a conference for the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) here in Vancouver, British Columbia, experts argued that the path to a truly sustainable future is through the muddy waters of emotions, values, ethics, and most importantly, imagination.

Humans' perceptions of reality are filtered by personal experiences and values, said David Maggs, a concert pianist and PhD student at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

As a result, the education and communication paradigm of "if we only knew better, we'd do better" is not working, Maggs told attendees at the world's largest general science meeting. "We don't live in the real world, but live only in the world we imagine."

"We live in our heads. We live in storyland," agreed John Robinson of UBC's Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

"When we talk about sustainability we are talking about the future, how things could be. This is the landscape of imagination," Robinson told IPS. "If we can't imagine a better world we won't get it."

This imagining will be complex and difficult. Sustainability encompasses far more than just scientific facts – it also incorporates the idea of how we relate to nature and to ourselves, he said.

"We haven't yet grasped the depth of changes that are coming."

Because human decisions and behavior are the result of ethics, values and emotion, and because sustainability directly involves our ...

Published: Tuesday 16 August 2011
“Oil pipelines and tankers will give people jobs, but if there is an oil spill like the [BP spill] in the Gulf of Mexico, that will take other people’s jobs and the wildlife will die”

Ten-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney stood outside Enbridge Northern Gateway’s office on July 6, waiting for officials to grant her access to the building. She thought she could hand deliver an envelope containing an important message about the company’s pipeline construction. But the doors remained locked.

“I don’t know what they find so scary about me,” she said, as she was ushered off the property by security guards. “I just want them to hear what I have to say.”

The Sliammon First Nation youth put in a great effort learning about environmental issues and the pipeline in particular, and hoped to share her knowledge and carefully crafted words. Enbridge officials said they were unable to provide Ta’Kaiya space or time and failed to comment because the Vancouver office is staffed by a limited number of technical personnel. Their headquarters are located in Calgary.

So Ta’Kaiya stood outside, accompanied by three members of Greenpeace, her mother, and a number of reporters and sang her song “Shallow Waters.” The song’s video has hit YouTube and been viewed more than 53,000 times.


“Oil pipelines and tankers will give people jobs, but if there is an oil spill like the [BP spill] in the Gulf of Mexico, that will take other people’s jobs and the wildlife will die,” said Ta’Kaiya.She co-wrote her song after learning of Enbridge’s bid to build twin 1,170 km pipelines to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to British Columbia’s north coast. Like the proposed 

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