Archive for the ‘People’ Category
Sent to me in the last hour by long-time friend Bob Derham.
The EU has just announced that with immediate effect all Euro notes will be printed on Greece proof paper.
Fire dogs; another aspect of Man’s Best Friend.
A colleague back in England was speaking to me recently about a series on BBC Television about forensics. The series is called Catching History’s Criminals: The Forensics Story.
Apparently, the third in the series Instruments of Murder (For UK readers the link is here.) included fire being used as a criminal act. That episode featured a dog named Gunner who was a fire forensics dog. To the surprise of both Jean and me, while we were very aware of the sniffer dogs used by the police in many countries, neither of us had previously been aware that dogs were used, at times, in the determination of the cause of fire.
Now listen to Nikki Harvey of Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service in this YouTube video:
Published on Jul 23, 2013
Trained from a puppy by his partner in crime and handler, Nikki Harvey, Reqs (pronounced Rex) qualified as Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s new fire investigation dog in April this year. At a special event on Monday (22 July) Reqs launched his Twitter account and demonstrated his skills at Longfield Training Centre, Stevenage.
The 22-month-old black Labrador is taking over responsibility for helping to investigate the cause of fires in Hertfordshire and surrounding counties. His predecessor, seven year old CC, will work alongside Reqs until he retires.
Richard Thake, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Planning said: “The work that Reqs does is critical in assisting the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service team and it plays an integral part in community fire safety. Reqs is exceptionally valuable and receives the same high degree of training that we afford all frontline fire personnel.”
From six months old Reqs was trained to sniff out traces of ignitable liquids such as petrol, white spirit and lighter fluid which can remain present even after the most severe fire. Fire investigation officers use Reqs to assist them in determining the cause and origin of fires – whether deliberate or accidental. At the event he proudly gave a demonstration of sniffing out accelerants in a house and a car, as well as riding on an Arial Ladder Platform (ALP) that reaches up to seven floors, can be used as a water tower to extinguish large fires, and forms a safe platform for working at height.
Hertfordshire’s Chief Fire Officer Roy Wilsher said: “Reqs helps out on serious and non-serious cases and knowing what starts a fire helps us enormously in getting important fire safety messages out to the public. We want to prevent fires and keep people safe and now that Reqs is on Twitter his followers will learn a lot of useful tips to prevent accidental fires.
“I use Twitter myself (@HertsFireChief) and social networking is a great way to spread our safety messages across Hertfordshire.”
Fire investigation dogs are used for their speed and accuracy and are proving very successful in their work. Reqs and CC have assisted in many high profile incidents including suicides, fatal fires, arson attacks and murder investigations.
Reqs’ handler, Nikki Harvey said: “We’ve been training together for nearly two years now, which has given us the opportunity to get to know each other and build up trust which is essential. Ongoing training is now part of Reqs’ daily routine and it’s important that he always enjoys the ‘game’. I’m really looking forward to putting Reqs’ new skills to use.”
Reqs is the third fire investigation dog for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and is sponsored by Hatfield based company Computacenter UK Ltd, who also sponsor CC and his predecessor Browza. Clare Rafferty, Head of Corporate Events, Computacenter (UK) Ltd said: “The Fire investigation dog is a valuable asset to the Fire and Rescue Service and we are yet again delighted to extend that sponsorship to Reqs who is very worthy of stepping into CC’s shoes.”
And to demonstrate that these wonderful dogs undertake these roles both sides of the “pond”, here is a video from Denver, Colorado:
Published on Feb 23, 2015
Victoria travels to Denver, Colorado to check in on experienced arson investigator Jerry Means and his third arson dog, Riley. Jerry shows Victoria how he continues to train Riley, visits his office at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and takes her to a burn building to demonstrate live fire and extended training for Riley. Part 1 of 2
All of which seems like a great nudge for me to republish a post from Learning from Dogs from September, 2012 that explained a little more about the incredible power of the dog’s nose! See you tomorrow.
This fabulous world of blogging.
When I first started writing Learning from Dogs, some six years ago this coming July 15th, I didn’t have a clue. Not a clue about how addictive it would become, how eventually it would motivate me to write a book of the same name as the blog (not yet published), and, above all, what a wonderful family feeling would develop. Not only between me and my followers but also, and just as importantly, from the many wonderful blogs that I follow in turn.
In a world that offers so many examples of everything that we don’t love, it’s a great pleasure to republish Val’s post, done so with her very kind permission. Thank you, Val.
Love is the Bridge for Understanding – and Action
Posted on July 1, 2015 by Val Boyko
Diana over at Talk to Diana wrote a moving post today that has stayed with me. “He Deserves Better Than This” is about her father who has been in chronic back pain for years and has not received treatment to alleviate it. Diana decided that enough was enough and made several calls until she spoke to an administrator in the health service.
Diana’s intention was clear. “They know his medical history, but I wanted to tell them about the man who is my dad, who worked hard all his life, who deserves better than this; who deserves to live his last years with some enjoyment and quality of life.”
Sometimes we let ourselves think that others have our best interests in mind… And we suffer in silence. It is up to us to ensure that they understand what our needs are and support us in getting them met. (Having a caring daughter as an advocate also helps!)
So, how do we make ourselves be seen, heard and understood?
Having a good argument doesn’t cut it. Bringing all the facts to the discussion won’t either. Getting angry could also backfire.
I believe that in Diana’s case, her passion and love for her father touched the goodness inside a fellow human being. The administrator wanted to help and she did. He gets treatment on Friday. Yeah!
Love is the bridge for understanding. It moves us from being “one of them” in the eyes of another to become “us” in our common humanity and caring.
Here’s an other story that touched me deeply. Daniel Gottlieb is a family therapist, psychologist and award winning radio host. Thiry years ago he survived a traumatic car accident. He is paralyzed from the neck down and gets around in a special wheelchair.
In his book The Wisdom We’re Born With he shares a personal story. While staying at a hotel on business, the manager approached him and said “I hope you are enjoying your stay”. As it turned out there had been several hurdles that he had had to overcome in order to find a room that was easily accessible and comfortable. He asked to meet with the manager the next day to go on a guided tour with him. The manager seemed sincerely interested.
Gottlieb then asked the manager “Who do you love most in the world?” The manager quickly responded “My daughter.” Gottlieb then said “Okay, could you do this before we meet tomorrow morning? Imagine your daughter is visiting your hotel…. and she is in a wheelchair.”
They did meet the next morning but there really was no need, the manager had already seen the obstacles and hurdles. He was eager for more input from Gottlieb so that he could make it right.
When we reach out with love, we touch the innate love and compassion in others. We come together in our common humanity and caring. We hear each other and understand. We are all connected by love.
And then we know what is to be done.
Revealing my age, what comes immediately to mind after having read Val’s post is this song:
Welcome to July!
Sidney Bloch, who is Emeritus Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne, recently published an essay over on the blogsite The Conversation. (Greatly recommended, by the way.)
His essay was about happiness versus contentment and certainly touched a few spots in this old Englishman’s psyche, contented as I am in this rural part of Oregon. However, until now I had never stopped to think about the difference between being happy and being contented.
So, I think you are going to enjoy Professor Bloch’s views, that now follow. His essay is republished, with permission, just as it was presented on The Conversation.
Happiness is an illusion, here’s why you should seek contentment instead.
June 29, 2015 4.07pm EDT
I want to share a personal view of what it is to be happy and how it differs from feeling content. Let me begin with a clinical story.
They met at a party; it was love at first sight just like one reads about in romantic novels. They married following an exhilarating courtship, and since they shared an eagerness to raise a family, Jennifer soon announced the joyful news of her pregnancy. They called their baby Annie after Adam’s late mother.
They felt blessed; every moment since their first encounter had been nothing but pleasurable. Everyone who knew them concurred that their lives as a couple had been replete with happiness.
Tragically, it was not to endure. Their first setback occurred only days after Annie’s birth. She was sleeping fitfully and her colic stubbornly persisted. Jennifer felt utterly demoralised as a new mother. Her mounting sense of guilt and melancholy led to her admission to a psychiatric ward (her first ever encounter with psychiatry); the fear of her harming Annie or herself spread through the family and circle of friends.
And then, quite shockingly, despite the most diligent medical and nursing care, Jennifer met her death after jumping off a second floor balcony. Her family and friends plunged into deep grief; the medical professionals who had looked after her were similarly bereft.
An elusive goal
Having worked as a psychiatrist for over four decades and got to know dozens of men, women, and children of diverse backgrounds and with unique life stories, I have witnessed many a sad narrative, although suicide has mercifully been a rare event.
These experiences, in tandem with a lifelong fascination with what makes people tick, have led me most reluctantly to the judgement that while we may savour happiness episodically, it will invariably be disrupted by unwelcome negative feelings. Still, most of humankind will continue to harbour the expectation of living happily and remain oblivious that this wishful fantasy is an unconscious way of warding off the threat of psychic pain.
Rather than confront and demoralise those who have sought my help, I have gently but honestly responded to their plaintive yearning (“all I want is just to be happy”), by highlighting an inherent human sentiment. Namely that clinging to the fiction of being able to avoid suffering and enjoying a continuing state of pleasure is tantamount to self-deception.
I have offered them the hope – but not a guarantee – that they have the potential to lead a more fulfilling life than hitherto by participating in a challenging, and at times even distressing process of self-exploration whose purpose is to enhance self understanding and acceptance of the reality-bound emotional state I call contentment.
You may retort: “But you treat people who are miserable, pessimistic and self-deprecating, surely you must be hopelessly biased.” I would readily understand your reaction but suggest that all of us, not just those in treatment, crave happiness and are repeatedly frustrated by its elusiveness.
As the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud emphasised in his 1930 essay, Civilization and Its Discontents, we are much more vulnerable to unhappiness than its opposite. That’s because we are constantly threatened by three forces: the fragility of our physical self, “doomed” by ageing and disease; the external world, with its potential to destroy us (through floods, fires, storms and earthquakes, for example); and our unpredictably complicated relationships with other people (regarded by Freud as the most painful source of unhappiness).
So, am I simply a misanthrope? I hope not but I am inclined to agree with Elbert Hubbard, the American artist and philosopher, who said, “Life is just one damn thing after another“.
We only have to think about the 50 million people who are currently displaced and unlikely to find a secure haven anytime soon, or the 2.2 billion people – including millions of children – who live on less than US$2 a day to appreciate the validity of that remark.
A better option
Given the formidable obstacles to chasing after happiness or promoting its sustainability if we are lucky enough to come by it, what options do human beings have? I have not come across any meaningful approach to this question, even from the unswervingly confident proponents of the contemporary school of positive psychology.
So, I espouse the following: given that we have the means to distinguish between happiness and contentment, we can examine how they differ and, in so doing, identify an alternative to the futile pursuit of happiness.
Happiness, derived from the Norse word hap, means luck or chance; the phrase happy-go-lucky illustrates the association. Many Indo-European languages similarly conflate the feeling of happiness and luck. Glück in German, for instance, can be translated as either happiness or chance, while eftihia, the Greek word for happiness, is derived from ef, meaning good, and tixi, luck or chance.
Thus, a mother may have the good fortune to feel ecstatic when responding to her infant’s playfulness, only to see it evaporate a couple of years later and be replaced by the initial features of autism. In the story we started this article with, Jennifer may have persevered had her baby slept peacefully and not been assailed by colicky pain in her first few weeks of life.
Contentment is derived from the Latin contentus and usually translated as satisfied. No multiple meanings here to confuse us. In my view, feeling content refers to a deep-seated, abiding acceptance of one’s self and one’s worth together with a sense of self-fulfilment, meaning and purpose.
And, most critically, these assets are valued and nurtured whatever the circumstances, or even especially when they are distressing or depressing.I have had the privilege of knowing men and women who suffered grievously as children in the ghettoes and concentration camps of Nazi Europe but emerged from their nightmare to face the challenge of seeking strengths, emotional and spiritual, within themselves. With the passage of time, many succeeded in achieving a sense of deep-seated contentment.
What these survivors have clearly demonstrated is that accepting and respecting oneself, coupled with determining what is personally meaningful, stand a greater chance of accomplishment, even if never completed, than a relentless and ultimately futile pursuit of happiness. What’s more, contentment has the potential to serve as a robust foundation upon which episodes of joy and pleasure can be experienced and cherished.
I read the essay on The Conversation out aloud to Jeannie yesterday morning and we both found it a very wise and insightful reflection.
Seems to me that there’s another aspect of life that we could learn from our wonderful dogs!
Time from two very different perspectives.
I started writing this post approaching midnight (UTC) on the afternoon of Tuesday, 26th May, 2015. In other words, approaching 00:00 UTC 26/05/15 (or in American ‘speak’ 05/26/15 – a little thing that is taking me years to become accustomed to.)
At that time, it was fewer than four weeks to the June solstice. Now it was over a week ago and Christmas is just around the corner! (OK, I’ll admit a slight exaggeration!)
However, I thought the TomDispatch essay was just as valid on June 29th as it was on May 26th. So I will continue.
The planet Earth has been in orbit around the sun for a very long time! Time beyond imagination. By comparison, in a very short time one species alone, namely homo sapiens, has altered the biosphere of Planet Earth. It’s almost beyond comprehension!
To expand on that shortage of time, let me republish an essay from TomDispatch from last September. Republished with the kind permission of Tom Engelhardt.
What to Do When You’re Running Out of Time
Posted by Rebecca Solnit at 8:09am, September 18, 2014.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.
Just when no one needed more lousy news, the U.N.’s weather outfit, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), issued its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. It offered a shocking climate-change update: the concentrations of long-lasting greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) rose at a “record-shattering pace” from 2012 to 2013, including the largest increase in CO2 in 30 years — and there was a nasty twist to this news that made it even grimmer.
While such increases reflected the fact that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels at staggering rates, something else seems to be happening as well. Both the oceans and terrestrial plant life act as carbon sinks; that is, they absorb significant amounts of the carbon dioxide we release and store it away. Unfortunately, both may be reaching limits of some sort and seem to be absorbing less. This is genuinely bad news if you’re thinking about the future warming of the planet. (As it happens, in the same period, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, parts of the American public stopped absorbing information in no less striking fashion: the number of those who believe that global warming isn’t happening rose 7% to 23%.)
So consider this a propitious moment for a major climate-change demonstration, possibly the largest in history, in New York City this Sunday. [Ed: it turned out to be the largest climate march in history.] As the WMO’s Secretary-General Michel Jarraud pointed out, there is still time to make a difference. “We have the knowledge and we have the tools,” he said, “for action to try to keep temperature increases within 2°C to give our planet a chance and to give our children and grandchildren a future. Pleading ignorance can no longer be an excuse for not acting.” As TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit, author of the indie bestseller Men Explain Things to Me, points out, the pressure of mass movements can sometimes turn history upside down. Of course, the only way to find out if climate change is a candidate for this treatment is to get out in the streets. So, for those of you anywhere near New York, see you this Sunday! Tom
The Wheel Turns, the Boat Rocks, the Sea Rises
Change in a Time of Climate Change
By Rebecca Solnit
There have undoubtedly been stable periods in human history, but you and your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never lived through one, and neither will any children or grandchildren you may have or come to have. Everything has been changing continuously, profoundly — from the role of women to the nature of agriculture. For the past couple of hundred years, change has been accelerating in both magnificent and nightmarish ways.
Yet when we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system. They insist that we’re rocking the boat unnecessarily.
I say: rock that boat. It’s a lifeboat; maybe the people in it will wake up and start rowing. Those who think they’re hanging onto a stable order are actually clinging to the wreckage of the old order, a ship already sinking, that we need to leave behind.
As you probably know, the actual oceans are rising — almost eight inches since 1880, and that’s only going to accelerate. They’re also acidifying, because they’re absorbing significant amounts of the carbon we continue to pump into the atmosphere at record levels. The ice that covers the polar seas is shrinking, while the ice shields that cover Antarctica and Greenland are melting. The water locked up in all the polar ice, as it’s unlocked by heat, is going to raise sea levels staggeringly, possibly by as much as 200 feet at some point in the future, how distant we do not know. In the temperate latitudes, warming seas breed fiercer hurricanes.
The oceans are changing fast, and for the worse. Fish stocks are dying off, as are shellfish. In many acidified oceanic regions, their shells are actually dissolving or failing to form, which is one of the scariest, most nightmarish things I’ve ever heard. So don’t tell me that we’re rocking a stable boat on calm seas. The glorious 10,000-year period of stable climate in which humanity flourished and then exploded to overrun the Earth and all its ecosystems is over.
But responding to these current cataclysmic changes means taking on people who believe, or at least assert, that those of us who want to react and act are gratuitously disrupting a stable system that’s working fine. It isn’t stable. It is working fine — in the short term and the most limited sense — for oil companies and the people who profit from them and for some of us in the particularly cushy parts of the world who haven’t been impacted yet by weather events like, say, the recent torrential floods in Japan or southern Nevada and Arizona, or the monsoon versions of the same that have devastated parts of India and Pakistan, or the drought that has mummified my beloved California, or the wildfires of Australia.
The problem, of course, is that the people who most benefit from the current arrangements have effectively purchased a lot of politicians, and that a great many of the rest of them are either hopelessly dim or amazingly timid. Most of the Democrats recognize the reality of climate change but not the urgency of doing something about it. Many of the Republicans used to — John McCain has done an amazing about-face from being a sane voice on climate to a shrill denier — and they present a horrific obstacle to any international treaties.
Put it this way: in one country, one party holding 45 out of 100 seats in one legislative house, while serving a minority of the very rich, can basically block what quite a lot of the other seven billion people on Earth want and need, because a two-thirds majority in the Senate must consent to any international treaty the U.S. signs. Which is not to say much for the president, whose drill-baby-drill administration only looks good compared to the petroleum servants he faces, when he bothers to face them and isn’t just one of them. History will despise them all and much of the world does now, but as my mother would have said, they know which side their bread is buttered on.
As it happens, the butter is melting and the bread is getting more expensive. Global grain production is already down several percent thanks to climate change, says a terrifying new United Nations report. Declining crops cause food shortages and rising food prices, creating hunger and even famine for the poorest on Earth, and also sometimes cause massive unrest. Rising bread prices were one factor that helped spark the Arab Spring in 2011. Anyone who argues that doing something about global warming will be too expensive is dodging just how expensive unmitigated climate change is already proving to be.
It’s only a question of whether the very wealthy or the very poor will pay. Putting it that way, however, devalues all the nonmonetary things at stake, from the survival of myriad species to our confidence in the future. And yeah, climate change is here, now. We’ve already lost a lot and we’re going to lose more, but there’s a difference between terrible and apocalyptic. We still have some control over how extreme it gets. That’s not a great choice, but it’s the choice we have. There’s still a window open for action, but it’s closing. As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Society, Michel Jarraud, bluntly put it recently, “We are running out of time.”
New and Renewable Energies
The future is not yet written. Look at the world we’re in at this very moment. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was supposed to be built years ago, but activists catalyzed by the rural and indigenous communities across whose land it would go have stopped it so far, and made what was supposed to be a done deal a contentious issue. Activists changed the outcome.
Fracking has been challenged on the state level, and banned in townships and counties from upstate New York to central California. (It has also been banned in two Canadian provinces, France, and Bulgaria.) The fossil-fuel divestment movement has achieved a number of remarkable victories in its few bare years of existence and more are on the way. The actual divestments and commitments to divest fossil fuel stocks by various institutions ranging from the city of Seattle to the British Medical Association are striking. But the real power of the movement lies in the way it has called into question the wisdom of investing in fossil fuel corporations. Even mainstream voices like the British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and publications like Forbes are now beginning to question whether they are safe places to put money. That’s a sea change.
Renewable energy has become more efficient, technologically sophisticated, and cheaper — the price of solar power in relation to the energy it generates has plummeted astonishingly over the past three decades and wind technology keeps getting better. While Americans overall are not yet curtailing their fossil-fuel habits, many individuals and communities are choosing other options, and those options are becoming increasingly viable. A Stanford University scientist has proposed a plan to allow each of the 50 states to run on 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Since, according to the latest report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fossil fuel reserves still in the ground are “at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level,” it couldn’t be more important to reach global agreements to do things differently on a planetary scale. Notably, most of those carbon reserves must be left untapped and the modest steps already taken locally and ad hoc show that such changes are indeed possible and that an encouraging number of us want to pursue them.
In case you are wondering why this TomDispatch essay has been published some ten months after it first appeared, it is simply because I made a note to leave it for a few months to see if the benefit of some hindsight put the essay into context.
Here’s the context.
In the month of September, 2014, when this essay was published over on TomDispatch, the Atmospheric CO2 monthly average was 395.26 ppm. In April, 2015 it was 403.26 ppm. I can’t spell it out any better than what is written on the home page of CO2Now.org:
What the world needs to watch
Global warming is mainly the result of CO2 levels rising in the Earth’s atmosphere. Both atmospheric CO2 and climate change are accelerating. Climate scientists say we have years, not decades, to stabilize CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
To help the world succeed, CO2Now.org makes it easy to see the most current CO2 level and what it means. So, use this site and keep an eye on CO2. Invite others to do the same. Then we can do more to send CO2 in the right direction.
What an interesting period in man’s history to be alive.
Believers and non-believers alike owe Pope Francis a giant ‘thank you’.
As regular followers of this place will have heard before, one of the roles of the ‘alpha’ dog, or more accurately referred to these days as the Mentor dog, in other words the female dog that in the days before domestication was the leader of her pack, was to move her pack if she intuited that the pack’s home range was not sustaining them. (Her other role was pick of the male dogs!)
Thus the title of today’s post came to me as just possibly the metaphorical equivalent. That the global human ‘pack’ has been sharply reminded by one of the world’s key religious leaders that ‘more of the same’ isn’t going to work for much longer.
Quite rightly, there has been a huge amount of reporting and analysis of last week’s Papal Encyclical. But one of the most beautiful and profoundly eloquent came from the writer Jennifer Browdy. If you haven’t come across her before then do drop across to her website; you will love what she presents! I have been a subscriber to her blog posts for some time and that was how I came across her post called: And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Pope Francis Shows Us the Way. Jennifer very kindly gave me permission to republish her post today.
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Pope Francis Shows Us the Way
By Jennifer Browdy
The Encyclical on climate change and the environment released by Pope Francis this week has all the magic of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991. Back then, the antagonism between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. seemed implacable and unresolvable, a fight to the death. And then suddenly the wall came down and the world walked through, marveling, into a new era.
Now we have another abrupt shift, this time of a religious order. The leaders of the Catholic Church can hardly be accused of being “radical tree-huggers.” And yet here is Pope Francis, solemnly exhorting his flock of a billion Catholics worldwide to be respectful to Mother Earth and all the living beings she supports. In the blink of an eye, the language of Native American spirituality has been taken up by the same Catholic Church that once tortured and executed indigenous peoples precisely because of their different religious beliefs.
I urge you to read the entire Encyclical for yourself. It is a truly remarkable document, worth serious study. Of many passages I’d like to underline, here are two:
228 Care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion. Jesus reminded us that we have God as our common Father and that this makes us brothers and sisters. Fraternal love can only be gratuitous; it can never be a means of repaying others for what they have done or will do for us. That is why it is possible to love our enemies. This same gratuitousness inspires us to love and accept the wind, the sun and the clouds, even though we cannot control them. In this sense, we can speak of a “universal fraternity”.
229 We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment.
Here we find spiritual ecology enshrined as Catholic doctrine. And one thing about the Catholic Church—it is big on obedience. For believers, to ignore the Pope is to risk hellfire and damnation. In this case, though, the hellfire and damnation will be earthly, if we do not listen to the wise advice of Pope Francis and curb the insanity of industrial growth that goes beyond the limits of the planet to support.
Scientists appeal to our sense of reason, presenting compelling evidence that if we continue on our present path of wasteful consumption of the Earth’s resources, we will destroy our own future as a flourishing species. Religious leaders appeal to human beings’ moral conscience in invoking the responsibility of current parents and grandparents to leave a livable world to our descendants. It is up to the politicians, though, to translate vision into practice.
For too long, Christian conservatives in the U.S. have played the role of the ideological wing of Big Business, using money, manipulation and scare tactics to buy politicians and votes. In the face of the new Papal Encyclical, can American Christians really continue in good conscience to support the worst of the planet’s polluters and plunderers? Can they continue to elect mercenary politicians who hold our country hostage to the highest bidder?
If all good people who love our Earth and its creatures were to translate our love into action, as Pope Francis has just done so forcefully, I have no doubt the seemingly invincible wall of the industrial growth society we’ve been living with these past 200 years would melt away, revealing the path into a green, prosperous future.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” the saying goes. Pope Francis has just shown us the will, and the way. It is now the task of us ordinary citizens to break the stranglehold of Big Business on politics and insist that our politicians follow his lead.
I close with an excerpt from the Pope’s “Christian Prayer in Union with Creation,” a vision of ecological interdependence if ever there was one:
“Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
“Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined to everything that is.
God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.”
I am sure that, whatever your religious or spiritual persuasion, you will agree with me with regard to the beauty of Jennifer’s essay. I know there are millions and millions of people who will want to look back in a few years time and see how Pope Francis’ legacy literally saved our lives.
“In defending the natural world, we should be honest about our motivations – it’s love that drives us, not money.”
Not my words but the opening line from a brilliant essay published yesterday by George Monbiot.
I can add very little to the power of Mr. Monbiot’s essay other than to ‘top and tail’ his words with a couple of photographs taken here at home. Plus not forgetting to add that the essay is republished with George Monbiot’s very kind permission.
Channelling the Joy
17th June 2015
In defending the natural world, we should be honest about our motivations – it’s love that drives us, not money.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th June 2015
Who wants to see the living world destroyed? Who wants an end to birdsong, bees and coral reefs, the falcon’s stoop, the salmon’s leap? Who wants to see the soil stripped from the land, the sea rimed with rubbish?
No one. And yet it happens. Seven billion of us allow fossil fuel companies to push shut the narrow atmospheric door through which humanity stepped. We permit industrial farming to tear away the soil, banish trees from the hills, engineer another silent spring. We let the owners of grouse moors, 1% of the 1%, shoot and poison hen harriers, peregrines and eagles. We watch mutely as a small fleet of monster fishing ships trashes the oceans.
Why are the defenders of the living world so ineffective? It is partly, of course, that everyone is complicit; we have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyperconsumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost. But perhaps environmentalism is also afflicted by a deeper failure: arising possibly from embarrassment or fear, a failure of emotional honesty.
I have asked meetings of green-minded people to raise their hands if they became defenders of nature because they were worried about the state of their bank accounts. Never has a hand appeared. Yet I see the same people base their appeal to others on the argument that they will lose money if we don’t protect the natural world.
Such claims are factual, but they are also dishonest: we pretend that this is what animates us, when in most cases it does not. The reality is that we care because we love. Nature appealed to our hearts, when we were children, long before it appealed to our heads, let alone our pockets. Yet we seem to believe we can persuade people to change their lives through the cold, mechanical power of reason, supported by statistics.
I see the encyclical by Pope Francis, which will be published on Thursday, as a potential turning point. He will argue that not only the physical survival of the poor, but also our spiritual welfare depends on the protection of the natural world; and in both respects he is right.
I don’t mean to suggest that a belief in God is the answer to our environmental crisis. Among Pope Francis’s opponents is the evangelical Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has written to him arguing that we have a holy duty to keep burning fossil fuel, as “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork”. It also insists that exercising the dominion granted to humankind in Genesis means tilling “the whole Earth”, transforming it “from wilderness to garden and ultimately to garden city”.
There are similar tendencies within the Vatican. Cardinal George Pell, its head of finance, currently immersed in a scandal involving paedophile priests in Australia, is a prominent climate change denier. His lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation was the usual catalogue of zombie myths (discredited claims that keep resurfacing), nonsequiturs and outright garbage, championing, for example, the groundless claim that undersea volcanoes could be responsible for global warming. There are plenty of senior Catholics seeking to undermine the Pope’s defence of the living world; which could explain why his encyclical was leaked.
What I mean is that Pope Francis, a man with whom I disagree profoundly on matters such as equal marriage and contraceptives, reminds us that the living world provides not only material goods and tangible services, but is also essential to other aspects of our well-being. And you don’t have to believe in God to endorse that view.
In his beautiful book The Moth Snowstorm, Michael McCarthy suggests that a capacity to love the natural world, rather than merely to exist within it, might be a uniquely human trait. When we are close to nature, we sometimes find ourselves, as Christians put it, surprised by joy: “a happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.”
He believes we are wired to develop a rich emotional relationship with nature. A large body of research suggests that contact with the living world remains essential to our psychological and physiological well-being. (A paper published this week, for example, claims that green spaces around city schools improve children’s mental performance).
This does not mean that all people love nature; what it means, McCarthy proposes, is that there’s a universal propensity to love it, which may be drowned out by the noise that assails our minds. As I’ve found while volunteering with the outdoor education charity Wide Horizons, this love can be provoked almost immediately, even among children who have never visited the countryside before. Nature, McCarthy argues, remains our home, “the true haven for our psyches”, and retains an astonishing capacity to bring peace to troubled minds. Acknowledging our love for the living world does something that a library full of papers on sustainable development and ecosystem services cannot: it engages the imagination as well as the intellect. It inspires belief; and this is essential to the lasting success of any movement.
Is this a version of the religious conviction from which Pope Francis speaks? Or could his religion be a version of a much deeper and older love? Could a belief in God be a way of explaining and channelling the joy, the burst of love that nature sometimes provokes in us? Conversely, could the hyperconsumption that both religious and secular environmentalists lament be a response to ecological boredom: the void that a loss of contact with the natural world leaves in our psyches?
Of course, this doesn’t answer the whole problem. If the acknowledgement of love becomes the means by which we inspire environmentalism in others, how do we translate it into political change? But I believe it’s a better grounding for action than pretending that what really matters to us is the state of the economy. By being honest about our motivation we can inspire in others the passions that inspired us.
Will close this thoughtful essay from Mr. Monbiot with another photograph.
It truly is love that drives our relationship with nature.