Archive for January 2014

Cycles of Cynicism and of Hope

Scarborough's Guild Inn

Scarborough’s Guild Inn

I have been reading a book by Vanessa Farquharson that is called, “Sleeping Naked is Green: how an eco-cynic unplugged her fridge, sold her car, and found love in 366 days”.

In the introduction Farquharson introduces the Cycle of Cynicism and the Cycle of Hope. For many of us who are engaged in eco-justice, or social-justice, these cycles may be familiar.

The first of these lists goes like this:

  1. Finding out about a problem

  2. Wanting to do something to help

  3. Not seeing how  you can help

  4. Not doing anything about it

  5. Feeling sad, powerless, angry

  6. Deciding that nothing can be done

  7. Beginning to shut down

  8. Wanting to know less about problems

(Repeat until apathy results.)

Farquharson then states what she calls the Cycle of Hope:

  1. Taking personal responsibility for being a good person

  2. Creating a vision of a better world based on your values

  3. Seeking out quality information about the world’s problems

  4. Discovering practical options for actions

  5. Acting in line with your values

  6. Recognizing you can’t do everything

(Repeat until a better world results.)


United Church woman organizes for the environment

The following story was first published at:

The First Steps Of Organizing

The first steps of organizing

Terry Dance-Bennink

If enough British Columbians pledge to sign up their friends, family and neighbours, it will be politically disastrous for Premier Clark if she does not stand up for B.C. against risky oil tanker proposals. That’s because together, we’ll have the people-power necessary to organize the hundreds of thousands of people across the province required to win a citizen’s initiative.

The first step is to get so big that success would be nearly guaranteed if we launch a citizen’s initiative. So what does that mission look like for people? You have to start small to get big: team up with a few friends or neighbours and together, find and sign up as many people in your community as possible.

Registering 9,885 people to knock on doors and collect pledges in all 85 B.C. ridings starts in places like coffee shops, churches and potlucks. Small tight-knit local groups will add up to a huge movement. This phase of Dogwood’s new No Tankers strategy relies on consistent ground work led by people who have taken ownership of the movement to protect B.C.’s coast – just like Esquimalt resident Terry Dance-Bennink.

After a life-changing trip to the oil sands this past September, she decided she wanted to step up. Terry says the most upsetting part of her trip was meeting people living in First Nations communities who were dying from toxins released by the tarsands.

“Cancer rates are 30 per cent higher than normal in some areas. As a cancer survivor, my heart goes out to them,” Terry says.

“When I came home, I felt the urge to do more than sign petitions, donate money and attend protest rallies. I’ve been giving talks about our trip at various churches and now I’m a Dogwood organizer. It’s a big leap from being a supporter to an organizer, but we have to step up to the plate before it’s too late.”

Since participating in Dogwood and Organize BC‘s December organizing workshop, Terry has already helped develop a team in Esquimalt-Royal Roads with a clear target of collecting 5,888 pledges in the riding.

The foundation of the Esquilmalt-Royal Roads team can be partially attributed to a relationship that developed at Dogwood’s January 2012 Get Out the Vote event where Terry and teammate Maureen Burgess met for the very first time.

“We canvassed together and hit it off. She’s raring to go along with Jane Devonshire, a working mother involved in many community networks.”

Terry says when you’re building a team, you simply have to start where you are:

“We sat down with Peter Gibbs, the regional organizer, and discussed our targets, team structure and roles, and events we could sponsor to recruit volunteers. We started out by identifying our own personal networks in order to follow-up with people who may be interested. In my case, I’m a member of the Justice & Outreach team at Esquimalt United Church and we have ten folks who are now committed to the campaign… Our immediate goal is to recruit 15 core organizers to work with future canvassers.”

This kind of organizing approach is called a “Snowflake model” or a distributed leadership structure. Power, responsibility and ownership are distributed – not concentrated.

Extending the reach of their network even further, their team goes door-to-door every other Sunday afternoon, which includes an orientation, training and debrief afterward at the church.

“Anyone is welcome,” says Terry.

Terry will be giving a talk about her trip to the oil sands on Feb. 26 at Sidney’s St. Paul’s United Church, as well as a public meeting on March 24 at her church in Esquimalt to involve a broader circle of people in the campaign.

“Celine Trojand and I will speak about the citizen’s initiative and a member of the Coastal First Nations will speak to First Nations involvement. Guy Dauncey from the BC Sustainable Energy Association will answer the question often put to us: What DO you support? How can we transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy in B.C.? It will be a lively evening for sure!”

Terry says she believes in building a grass-roots movement in B.C. as a way to influence politics, as we’ve known all along this was going to be a political decision. As of the time of publication, 9,243 people have taken the pledge to stand up for B.C. if Premier Clark won’t, and 1,058 of those people have raised their hands saying they want to receive training about how to bring together British Columbians who believe in a healthy coast and a healthy economy. We’re lucky Terry is one of them.

“It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. But when I wake up at 2 a.m. worrying about some campaign detail, I remember Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and countless others who drew on their faith in God, human goodness and the planet to keep going. We have to be brave and in it for the long haul.”

To help the movement stay connected, we’re running regular trainings, conference calls and webinars to support organizers in every way we can. E-mail Dogwood’s organizing director Celine at to get connected.

If you haven’t already, please sign the pledge to Stand Up for BC. The path to victory is clear, and it starts with building real community power.

Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question

Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question

Photo Credit: Dieter Drescher

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage – even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

 If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives – and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

We may forgo some of the short-term jobs and economic opportunities the fossil fuel industry provides, but surely we can find better ways to keep people employed and the economy humming. Gambling, selling guns and drugs and encouraging people to smoke all create jobs and economic benefits, too – but we rightly try to limit those activities when the harms outweigh the benefits.

Both transportation methods come with significant risks. Shipping by rail leads to more accidents and spills, but pipeline leaks usually involve much larger volumes. One of the reasons we’re seeing more train accidents involving fossil fuels is the incredible boom in moving these products by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, train shipment of crude oil in the U.S. grew from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 234,000 in 2012 – almost 25 times as many in only four years! That’s expected to rise to 400,000 this year.

As with pipelines, risks are increased because many rail cars are older and not built to standards that would reduce the chances of leaks and explosions when accidents occur. Some in the rail industry argue it would cost too much to replace all the tank cars as quickly as is needed to move the ever-increasing volumes of oil. We must improve rail safety and pipeline infrastructure for the oil and gas that we’ll continue to ship for the foreseeable future, but we must also find ways to transport less.

The economic arguments for massive oil sands and liquefied natural gas development and expansion aren’t great to begin with – at least with the way our federal and provincial governments are going about it. Despite a boom in oil sands growth and production, “Alberta has run consecutive budget deficits since 2008 and since then has burned through $15 billion of its sustainability fund,” according to an article on the Tyee website. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Alberta’s debt is now $7 billion and growing by $11 million daily.

As for jobs, a 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows less than one per cent of Canadian workers are employed in extraction and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pipelines and fossil fuel development are not great long-term job creators, and pale in comparison to employment generated by the renewable energy sector.

Beyond the danger to the environment and human health, the worst risk from rapid expansion of oil sands, coal mines and gas fields and the infrastructure needed to transport the fuels is the carbon emissions from burning their products – regardless of whether that happens here, in China or elsewhere. Many climate scientists and energy experts, including the International Energy Agency, agree that to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we must leave at least two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On April 16, 1963 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the following words while incarcerated in Birmingham City Jail:

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.  I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Neil Young keeps on rockin’

Neil Young is a prophetic voice speaking truth to power when it comes to the Athabasca Tar Sands.

Neil Young

After leading national newscasts on Sunday night, Canadian rock icon Neil Young was back at it on Monday, poking holes in the Conservative government’s talking points on the tar sands.

Just before the first of four concerts to benefit the Athabasca Chipewayan First Nation in Northern Alberta, Young kicked off the war of words with a scathing critique of the Harper government and the unfettered development of the tar sands.

The “Honor the Treaties” benefit concerts are raising money for their legal defence fund to fight the expansion of the tar sands on their traditional land. One of them, Shell’s Jackpine, got the go-ahead last month, despite Ottawa’s finding that it’s “likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

The Prime Minister’s Office hit back against Young late Sunday, claiming that only projects “deemed safe for Canadians and the environment” get the go-ahead.

The PM’s spokesman Jason MacDonald, who probably figured this admission would never come back to haunt him, added: “Canada’s natural resources sector is and has always been a fundamental part of our country’s economy.”

Oh, and rock stars need oil to fly around in their fancy jets. The “lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day,” MacDonald said.

On Monday, Young decided against letting the PMO’s talking points stand.

“Our issue is not whether the natural resource sector is a fundamental part of the country,” Young said in a statement. “Our issue is with the government breaking treaties with the First Nation and plundering the natural resources the First Nation has rights to under the treaties.”

Oh, and “rock stars don’t need oil,” said Young, who pointed out that he drove his electric car from California to the tar sands, and on to Washington, “without using any oil at all.

“My car’s generator runs on biomass, one of several future fuels Canada should be developing for the post-fossil fuel age.”

And when it comes to “the thousands of hard-working Canadians,” Young explained that “we have respect for all working people. The quandary we face is the job they are working on. They are digging a hole that our grandchildren will have great trouble digging their way out of….”

The above commentary originally appeared in

Watershed moments by Sara Stratton

Orca Carving by Dora Edwards. Photo: Sara Stratton, 2013.


This reflection by KAIROS staffer Sara Stratton could be a “watershed moment”. Sara reflects on the connections between the Truth and Reconciliation commission and the pursuit of Watershed Discipleship. What will your “acts of kindness bespeaking kinship” be?

I hope that it will help you begin 2014  with hope for our common future, and peace for all God’s creation. To see the entire reflection, please click here.

Legitimacy in Canadian democracy

IMG_1326Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, “David and Goliath”(p.208), defines the principle of legitimacy as being based on three things:

1) the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice – that if they speak up, they will be heard.

2) the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today.

3) the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another.

In Canadian democracy today, it seems to me, two of the three (above) do not apply.

1) Politicians “listen” mainly to corporations – especially oil companies. When was the last time the Prime Minister gathered people from a food bank to hear their concerns?

2) The rules are different for the rich and powerful – i.e. Conrad Black, Nigel Wright, Senators Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau, the Conservative Party of Canada (robo calls), Toronto’s Mayor Ford, etc.

Are people opting out of the political system because they feel that it is illegitimate?

Is the system that we have in place at this time  illegitimate, in terms of being democratic?

Is this is a time when we, the citizens of Canada, need to act to make the House of Commons representative of the “common people” of this nation, and not the political elite?

Embodying HOPE in 2014

My friend Rita sent this inspiring message on New Year’s Eve.  I share it as we contemplate our lives in 2014, and how we will respond to Wendell Berry’s question.

IMG_0922On this eve of 2014, I invite you, one of my favourite people, to spend 39 minutes with Wendell Berry, and be inspired to defend what we love. This rare interview was conducted by Bill Moyers on Earth Day 2013. I am now enjoying reading The Mad Farmer.

Writer and Farmer Wendell Berry on Hope, Direct Action, and the “Resettling” of the American Countryside

In this rare television interview with Bill Moyers, the poet, farmer, and activist Wendell Berry discusses his vision for society living in harmony with the planet.

Wendell Berry on His Hopes for Humanity from on Vimeo.

Wendell Berry, a quiet and humble man, has become an outspoken advocate for revolution. He urges immediate action as he mourns how America has turned its back on the land and rejected Jeffersonian principles of respect for the environment and sustainable agriculture. Berry warns, “People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.”

Let’s share the inspiration.

With love,