Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Step 8 in Going Green: Remain Calm! Remember Al Gore: 'Despair is not an option'!

Since attending the Climate Reality Conference in Toronto in early July I have experienced, a couple of times now, a particular kind of insomnia I have decided to call CLIMATE CHANGE INSOMNIA.

This is what's happening: I can't get to sleep because I'm worrying about climate change.

Once you have fully opened your eyes to the facts of climate change--which, to put it frankly, is apocalyptic in nature, right up there with nuclear Armageddon and zombie hoards--it is hard to 'forget it'.

It's there. In your brain.

I will never, ever forget as long as live the vibe in that conference room in Toronto on July 9 when Al Gore, master of the slide show, gave his presentation.

If you've seen An Inconvenient Truth (which you must, it is right up there with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring as part of Environmental Activism 101), then you will get the gist of it.

What I saw in Toronto was the revised version, updated for 2015. This includes lots and lots of current examples of how climate change is happening NOW.

Not in a few years, not 'in the future'.


He starts his presentation with a view of the Earth from Space. Several views of it. Our precious home. Our 'pale blue dot'. Look at it! That's all we've got.

Then he shows you: see how thin the atmosphere is? Like the peel on an apple. That is what protects us.

Then: a systemic, scientific look at how global warming works.

How the proliferation of green house gases in the atmosphere work to trap in more and more of the sun's heat (infrared radiation), thereby trapping in more and more warmth.

How temperatures have been steadily rising over time, how those temperature's correlate to our increased carbon emissions (with a specific focus on fossil fuels).

How that temperature increase affects various aspects of the Earth's systems, resulting in extreme weather events (each one relentlessly clarified, and explained, and backed by examples, earth wide):

Floods, droughts, wildfires, big storms, melting ice and rising seas, increased health concerns, food and water scarcity, rising food costs, climate refugees, regional instability!

"Human sacrifice! Cats and dogs living together! Mass hysteria!"

(Sorry, had to put that Ghostbusters movie quote in, in a attempt to lighten the mood!).

Al Gore is a good natured soul. He knew this part of his presentation was gloomy and sad. He told us at the beginning to hold onto our hats: the good news was coming at the end! The last half was about the progress being made! So just wait: it ends on a high note!

But, as he was walking us through this first part, it was like the air had been sucked out of the room. 

The seriousness of what we were facing, the depth and breath (indeed, the global scale) of what we were facing, the damage and devastation already wrought--I know I was not alone in thinking:


There was no getting around the fact: damage has been done.

Al Gore even said that: Damage has been done.

He's been working tirelessly, devotedly, all these years on this, trying to get people to see what's happening right before their eyes...

How frustrating to have to admit that, so far, humanity can't get its act together enough to save itself from its own destruction!'s the good news! 

His presentation switched gears to show the progress being made: the decrease in the number of coal plants in the USA, the increase in renewable energy sources world wide, how those increases were surpassing their projections, similar to the way cell phones have grown way past their projected levels of use...

Renewal energy is on the rise! The days of fossil fuels are numbered! 

The future trajectory was quite clear. Things are changing!
But...and here's the kicker: will the change be soon enough?

The fossil fuel industry isn't going down without a fight, that's for sure. It's quite clear the whole grumbling around 'is climate change true?' comes from their deeply lined pockets.

It must take some seriously heavy-handed sugar coating on their behalf to swallow that particular pill and not have any after taste. Don't they like awake at night, wondering: what if we're wrong?

Because if it turns out climate change scientists are wrong then all we get is some clean air and a more responsible ethos towards the environment...but if the climate denial-ists are wrong...then, oh boy, things are going to get freakishly terrible around here...

Surely they must have their own form of insomnia?

Don't they realize that as they lie awake in denial and I lie awake in despair we are all lying awake on the same planet? 

We live here together.

"Despair is not an option." Denial isn't an option, either.

Let's get it together, people!

Environmental consciousness can no longer be a choice. We no longer have that as a luxury. 

Let's accelerate the shift to renewable energy! Exercise your democratic rights! Urge your elected leaders: stop subsidizing fossil fuels! Stop investing in it! Promote greener, cleaner technology instead!

So at last I can centre my insomnia back on more mundane matters, like interpersonal anxieties, routine parenting concerns, work quibbles, existential questions, and why the heck can't I find a literary agent for my Regency mystery novel?

Enough with this apocalyptic stuff!

PS. Having undergone the Climate Reality Leadership training, I am now authorized to present Al Gore's slide show to interested parties! I can do this via the web or in person! Please let me know if you are interested! Twitter @julieejohnsonn

PPS. If you are interested in becoming a Climate Reality Leader, please go to find them on Twitter @ClimateReality

PPPS: I tried to 'live tweet' the event, quoting speakers and Al Gore as they happened (I've included a few samples above). Search back in my Twitter feed to get a feel for the event! @julieejohnsonn

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Step 7 in Going Green: (Re) Connect with Nature! (Plus more thoughts on Al Gore's Climate Reality Leadership Training)

I feel like the English language is lacking in nuance when it comes to nature.

The romantic poets on the nineteenth century had one term for it: the sublime.

But they were talking about that sudden burst of spiritual transcendence-ecstasy that occurs when faced with nature's magnificence. The dramatic view that would send you to the 'ever lasting universe of things' (as Percy Shelley puts it in Mont Blanc).

  • What about the open curiosity one experiences while heading into the woods on a hike?
  • What about the quiet contemplation that occurs when staring out to open water?
  • What about the excitement/fear of being in an open field while a storm is heading towards you and you can smell it on the air?
  • What about the serenity of gazing at the moon in the sky? Or the quick leap in the pulse when it emerges from behind a cloud?

Look! The moon! Tonight it's a sickle moon and sharp as a knife point!

We need more words to describe these moments!

This idea came to me when I was reflecting upon my experience a few weeks ago at the Climate Reality Leadership training in Toronto (hosted by Al Gore).

At one point in the conference, we were encouraged to 'share our stories' with our table mates. That is, share our stories about why we had come to be at this conference.

This was a very interesting exercise! Like me, every one there had experienced an inner shift at some point in their lives. Something inside that said 'I need to do something about the environment'. I need to protect it, speak about it, paint it, write about it, advocate on its behalf.

Everyone had their own story to tell about what had caused the shift inside.

Perhaps the most dramatic example that I heard came from one of the conference speakers, who used to work for the oil and gas industry but became so upset with what was going on that he switched careers. He now works for the David Suzuki Foundation.

As to my table group, what really struck me was how many of us expressed a connection to nature. 'I grew up in nature' 'I like being in nature' 'I want to protect nature'.

I paraphrase, but it was a concept oft repeated: nature is important to me,

I kinda always knew that for myself but I hadn't really said it out loud before.

I grew up in a variety of small towns in Ontario. Nature was literally at my back door. I played outside all the time, riding bikes, making forts out of sticks and pine needles or snow. We lived along side lakes, rivers. I spent every summer at a beach, in the water.

Even when we moved to a (mid sized) city, it was on Lake Ontario and our house was steps away from a natural beach.

Oh, the many days of my adolescence, walking that beach, staring out into the wind at the water, and thinking deep thoughts about the latest high-school drama!

(That experience in itself needs its own term. What word can we create for a teenage form of nature-soothed-angst?).

When I think about it, all my life nature has been there, a consoling presence in the background.

This past Spring, around the time I started this blog, I also started taking what I call the 'nature pic of the day' and posting it on Twitter. I started looking around me, really looking, and snapping photos with my phone of whatever aspect of 'ordinary nature' struck my fancy. The sky that day, a tree trunk, the view from the lake (yes, again I live near a lake).

I hadn't made the connection to this blog, I just started taking photos 'for fun'--but now I realize: my appreciation of my natural environment and this blog are the same impulse differently realized.

With words, with images, I feel the need to document how an average, ordinary person (ie: me) can appreciate the ultimate preciousness of our natural world, and thus, promote that compulsion within myself--and perhaps within you?--to see it properly safe guarded.

That moment of realizing the preciousness of our natural world? That inner shift inside that calls one to take action on its behalf?

 We need specific words for it!

(I propose eco-empathy for the first, green-epiphany for the later. What do you think?)

PS. Recent studies have shown the importance of nature on our psychological well being. Science is documenting that which has long been known. Nature is awesome!

PPS. If this post hasn't made it clear yet, go outside and make friends with nature!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Step 6 in Going Green: Take Action: Go Petitioning! (Al Gore's Climate Reality Project)

So I was at the beach with my family today and beyond thinking normal thoughts like isn't this a nice day and I wonder what I'll make for dinner I'm thinking:

I wonder if anyone here would sign my petition?

You see, I just spent 2 days at the Climate Reality Leadership Corp conference in Toronto. Al Gore spoke, as did numerous guest speakers. It was a revelation. And an affirmation of my new direction, my 'going green' transformation.

I am now officially a Climate Reality Leader and I have the certificate signed by Al Gore himself to prove it!

This is just an amazing turn of events for little 'ol me who started this little 'ol blog a few months ago and you can be sure there will be more blog posts to be posted here about it as I unpack this intense but deliriously fabulous event.

Anyway. But first, let's talk about the petitioning!

After the conference, there was a Day of Action, where upon several attendees gathered in small groups about Toronto and practiced our petitioning skills.

If a year ago, if you would have said that I would be standing on a busy street corner in Toronto calling out to assorted passer-bys: could you sign a petition to help stop climate change? I would have coughed up my water through my nose in startled bafflement.

First, because I haven't asked for petition signatures since I manned the Amnesty International booth in the concourse of my high-school. So it had been awhile.

Second, because a year ago I was in a different head space. I was still recovering from an illness, and the zone of my outward perspective was centred on family, work, and polishing up the final draft of my mystery novel.

Somehow, since then, my mentality has shifted very dramatically. I have gained in good health--the foundation for any enterprise--and have gradually broadened my range--broadened it farther than I ever could have imagined--

I started this blog because I'd reached an internal tipping point, a space inside that said 'I can't just sit here and do nothing'. That spark has now grown into a raging flame because:
  • I just sat in a huge conference room with 600ish people all dedicated heart and soul to improving the environment;
  • I had numerous conversations with people there who shared their stories of how, like me, something tipped internally, prompting them into action;
  • These people come from all walks of life (business folks, educators, artists, parents, students) 
  • Many of them travelled from far away to be there, such was their dedication (from other provinces, from the US, from the Caribbean, from Asia, from Africa...);
  • I heard Al Gore speak, many times in fact, and it is impossible to do that and NOT be inspired by his tirelessness, his kindness, his humour, his vast experience and knowledge, his impassioned plea to enact change, and his relentless optimism re: the positive changes currently taking place (dramatic increases in renewal energy, for example)
  • I heard others speak, like:
    • Ian Bruce from the David Suzuki Foundation
    • Keith Brooks from Environmental Defence Canada, 
    • Glenn McGillivray from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, 
    • Dr. Normand Mousseau from University Montreal and Sustainable Canada Dialogues
    • Chief M. Bryan LaForme, Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation,
    • Dr. Henry Pollack from the University of Michigan
    • Cara Pike, from Climate Access
    • Merran Smith, from Clean Energy Canada
    • Celine Bak, Analytica Advisors
    • Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne
It is impossible to walk away from that kind of intense conviction and positivity and NOT want to stand on a street corner and call out to others with enthusiasm.

And so: off I went with my group to gather petitions from passerby's near the exits of the Bloor/Yonge subway station!

(This was an overwhelmingly positive experience by the way: not everyone signed, obviously, but several who did thanked me for what I was doing, thanked me for taking action.)

This has changed my overall perspective, it seems.

So now, when I'm in a crowd at the beach, the strangers all around me no longer seem like strangers but instead:
*potential allies*

The people at the beach today: would they want to sign my petition?

That lady in the polka dots. Would she sign it? That guy in the black swim trunks? Would he sign it?

(One thing I also realized while petitioning in Toronto: you can't assume based on appearances who will sign it.)

How about that couple tossing the beach ball around? Would they sign it?

How do I know if I don't ask?!

I guess I better bring it next time!

I wonder if I should start carrying the petition around in my purse?!

If I'm in a public space, I can use it!

So I think I need to start using it.


So go and sign it already!