My Climate Action Credibility… exposed (rated PG)

I was pleased to receive a provocative comment from a reader regarding my “credibility” today. It got me fired up a bit, but more importantly, it helped me to reflect and then to blog about my personal credibility.

I think it is very important for anyone trying to create change to disclose their personal efforts (how they are walking the talk), and Steve from Virginia made me realize that I probably haven’t done that enough. Beyond that, it gave me the opportunity to blog about my thoughts on creating positive change for the environment that is at odds with the economy and fossil fuel customs: that extremists don’t relate well to the mass of humanity we need to change.

Sometimes I lament that I’m not stretching every muscle, dollar, brain cell, and second to have the absolute least amount of impact I possibly could have.  And then I realize I would be giving up my entire known life, including the people and places in it. I would also lose my ability to influence those people and places I care about. That would suck.

So Steve from Virginia, thanks for the prompt. I hope you learn something from it too.

On 2012/08/28 at 2:02 am, Steve commented:

Great job Heather …

what kind of car do you drive?

Unless you can say, “None,” you have no credibility

To which I replied:

Hi Steve! Interesting comment – thanks for sharing your perspective. Here’s my story:

I cycle and take the bus every single day it is humanly possible. You can ask any of my friends, family, colleagues, fellow bus riders and everyday commuters I wiggle my buns of steel at during rush hour (rain or shine). Alternatively, I do have the option of working from home, from time to time.

But, I do own a car. My parents gave me their 1998 Honda CRV when I was putting myself through University and had just had my son. And I certainly did rely on that vehicle regularly then, when bus routes did not accommodate. The alternative was to give up juggling work, school and parenthood (work and school were far away from each other, so cycling everyday and transporting a new born in between was prohibitive).

Had I not had a vehicle then, I probably would not have finished university and probably would not be doing what I am for a living (I.e. would not have the credibility of the knowledge I have). It was hard enough with a car. Since then, I have thought of selling it and joining a car coop for those odd grocery runs, hectic days and holiday trips, although, there is another factor in my life.

I married a man that fixes things for a living (a welder). He needs a truck for certain aspects of his business, but otherwise, chooses to drive the fuel efficient Honda (he is also a skilled mechanic and has improved every aspect of fuel efficiency we have been able to afford). And whenever possible, he does quotes via motorcycle. It might be also worth sharing that I married him before I really developed my zeal for climate action… he was NOT the kind of man most, who have gotten to know me recently, would guess I had chosen to marry, because I have changed.

All this to say: I get it. There is the option for my husband to retool and get a desk job, perhaps for us to move closer into the city and benefit from the lower stress life of public transit, walking and bicycles 24/7… why wouldn’t I make him do it if I care so much? I HATE driving. It is costly, inefficient, stinky, destructive, and noisy… not to mention the atmospheric impacts. The reality is that we are part of a society that is transitioning, and even the most passionate climate/humanity/environmental activists are prone to getting caught in the middle. And, not everyone is cut out for a desk job (neither can desk jobs deliver even close to half the needs of society).

If you read my articles (and consider the time a young, working mother put into writing them) you will clearly see how deeply I care, and how credible that care is. So to speak in absolutes, and say that I have NO credibility, well, quite frankly it makes you sound like a dink.

And I mean that in the nicest of ways… honestly. I hope you can learn from it.

Because my story is one of a person who has GROWN to appreciate the imperative for action. Someone with a a standard, upgrade your TV, drive when you can afford it, the earth is “too big for us to break”, but be a good person and don’t litter upbringing that has suffered tears and heart break for choosing to be different… or better… while loved ones and peers made fun, or worse, berated me for daring to suggest they were in the wrong…

My friend, I have learned. Change is #&*ing hard. Economically, personally, socially… and you can’t fault people for struggling through it, otherwise YOU lose your credibility – as someone unable to relate to the majority of humanity. You’ll have your cult following and that. Is. It. And seeming like a bright guy (from the peek I’ve taken at your blog), I’d suggest that would be a shame.

Anything hard has its ups and downs. But it’s worth it. And that is what I am communicating in my blog. Welcome to my climate action ADVENTURES.

Good luck with your endeavors,

Heather

P.S. Regarding my loved ones (including my husband) and their perspectives – partly because of my efforts, and (somewhat) tempered approach to communicating about climate action, they have grown to be much more aware, excited to talk to me about climate change and the environment, and several are making good headway in the low-carbon transition. I have done well not to alienate them because I value them as people and I learn a lot from relating to people that do not have the zeal (yet).

So, what do you think? Am I less credible because I’m not perfect? Should I just shut up and sit down until I am living off the grid and growing all my own food? Or should I blog more about how I am stretching my efforts to make progress towards it (and how I’m learning from my failures)?

To a new world waiting,

HB

 

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It’s okay to cry. I did.

Midway Albatross chick - courtesy of KK+ on flickr
Midway Albatross chick

A woman entered the conference breakout session about youth engagement. She sat next to me. Like most of us, she was probably there to hear some good, heart warming stories about how youth are stepping up to the sustainability challenge.

Emily Chartrand is one of those youth. She was about to tell her story of traveling to Midway to see first hand the pollution that is wreaking havoc on the ecosystem there. An image of a bird carcass, full off plastic Coca Cola bottle caps flashed on the screen. Immediately, the woman gasped: “Oh no, is this the bird thing? I can’t watch this…”

Yes you can.

I had the luck (or so I thought) to see the Midway film preview before it aired at the conference. It was part of a keynote presentation by Jan Vozenilek to the entire delegation. I thought “geez, good thing I watched this in the privacy of my bedroom, so I could cry without embarrassment.” And then I heard Emily speak.

Emily’s presentation was about how the message from Midway impacted her. She spoke of how she was touched by the images she saw of baby albatross – before and after they had succumbed to ingesting plastic that permeates the water column in the North Pacific.

I was fine… holding it together. Being rational yet contemplative and not crying. Until she expressed how she didn’t really feel the weight of the sadness until the morning she stood on the beach in Midway, surrounded by grown men sobbing over the carcass of a baby albatross…

Image courtesey of CornerOfArt on Flickr
Our eyes connect us to the world in powerful ways.
Our tears do too.

It’s okay to cry.

And boy did I. Again. In public and right next to the woman who felt the urge to run away from the important message from Midway.

Upon returning home, I shared the Midway Film with my parents. I wondered how they would react. Part of me was nervous about the awkwardness that comes with adults crying in the vicinity of each other, and part of me really wanted them to fully experience the grief.

I handed my father my iPhone, stood back, and let him take it in. He gasped, and made a few subdued “oh no’s”… and carefully held back tears. I only know this because anyone who watches and does not cry is holding back. Or they’re not human.

And then I cried. I cried and gave him and my mother the permission to do the same. And they did.

What followed was a conversation that went much deeper than any we previously had about sustainability or waste or climate change. The pattern had changed from the typical shallow back and forth rant on “yeah, the environment is in trouble, people suck, I recycle, there’s not much more we can do…

It went to:”wow, this really matters; lets talk about why and explore the grey areas and really dig into the how…

When we are defending against vulnerability, we often take on an adversarial mindset. Things are more black and white and we draw imaginary lines that protect our worldview. And so often we defend against vulnerability because it is hard and we are trained to respect strength.

But without grief, we cannot grow to face reality. We do not open ourselves to experience positive change and the resilience that comes with it. That leads to real strength.

Tears are an acceptance and expression of vulnerability. It is okay to cry and to give others the permission to do the same. We must feel the grief necessary for change.

Building Sustainable Communities Conference: closing thoughts & thanks

Wow. Where do I even start. I suppose I should just express some gratitude for a full size keyboard after tweeting my finger tips off the last four days from my iPhone! (Find the crowd-sourced micro-blog here.)

This last day kicked off with a keynote by Peter Comrie of Full Spectrum Leadership, who appropriately used our supremely heroic and passionate conference organizer, Joanne de Vries, as an example of someone who is taking full responsibility for her life’s experience and impacts. Joanne is someone who asks “what more can I lovingly contribute?”  We could all stand to be a lot more like Joanne.

My favourite quote Peter provided went something like:

In times of change learners will inherit Earth, while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

– Eric Hoffer

This plainly strikes me as beautiful. Perhaps because I consider myself a learner, and it feels like a pat on the back… but also because it summarizes the imperative that Dr. William Rees spoke to: that we must re-evaluate our current worldview and associated paradigm. That a reality where we can infinitely grow our economy, and derive ongoing well-being, does not exist.

Hard knocks, for sure. But us learners will get over it.

A very close second was along the lines of:

In the sands of time, one who sits idle will not leave footprints… and who wants to leave butt prints?

I spent the last couple years questioning my commitment to footprints, due to an influence of “knowers”. I let the judgement and expectations of people close to me steer me away from a passion and true sense of self…

I respect everyone’s right to their own world view (which does conflict at times with the urge to give a littering bigot a somewhat violent shake), but I feel compelled now to re-acquaint myself with mine. This conference gave me a fresh outlook on this.

I will not leave butt prints. I will take full responsibility for my life’s experience and impacts.

What makes me feel even better about this, is that I am not alone. The 5th BSC gave me the opportunity to admire a variety of footprints, of all shapes and sizes. I’ll share a few here in brief, and hopefully will find time soon to elaborate more on each in future blogs.

  • Midway.  I have a hard time typing that without a throat lump and tear.  Want to be one of the first to see the catalyst for a movement that will change the way we live every day? http://www.midwayfilm.com/
  • Wes Kmet. This friendly Kelowna citizen shared with me his passion for holding his local government accountable. How does he do it? He gives away business card sized contact lists for all city council members… and encourages citizens to be responsible for their lives impacts 🙂
  • Youth need space. Eric Brown from Sustainable Cities International shared some insights for youth engagement. A striking irony for me: youth don’t have the funds to patronize commercial and other public spaces, so are driven out (“no loitering”), and forced into dark basements with video games… then criticized for it. Youth need safe public space!
  • Bus me there, Scotty. Public transit and active transport routes really are the future – for significant health, environmental and economic reasons. Lots of smart people working on this.
  • Sustainability needs a succession plan. There are variety of gaps in the workforce needed to deliver sustainability solutions.
  • Food security. It really is as critically important as I have been going on and on and on about for years. Next: to explore my potential contribution.

Okay, I really could go on… but it’s getting late. I think in closing, I’ll share a tweet stream of some random food security concerned tweeters that stumbled upon in the #5thBSC feed:

@NYFarmerNYFarmer

Looks like a good conference going on in Canada under #5thBSC Discussing food security, agriculture, sustainability, great topics
@shmeedieEdie Irons

.@NYFarmer Thanks for that! I’ve been looking for good Canadian food and farm tweeps to follow, and #5thBSC is a treasure trove.
@NYFarmerNYFarmer

@Schmeedie We hit the motherlode of info with #5thBSC Edie @arzeena @RealEstateFdn
To a new world waiting,
HB

Kyoto, the Dodo, you are ruining my Mojo (#COP17)

I’ve been a little grumpy lately. Time to reflect on why.

I’ve just spent the last couple weeks away from my usual work engaging citizens and focusing on solutions to climate change… and immersed myself in the international climate talks at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa. Now, before I go on writing the rest of this blog, let me just get this out of my system:

AAhhhhhhhhhahsdfasldroe FUc#skldfuas SHi*sdytsdfh DAM sdfhnfe hasirhle A$$ hsodiflsdkhhgds !!!!

Somehow, that still doesn’t make me feel better. Well, perhaps I’ll try my usual shtick…

Okay, if you are a newbie to the climate file, here’s all you need to know:

I realize its not quite the same as spilled milk (Canada didn’t fail by accident), but we certainly need to move on from Kyoto. Even then, I do feel the need to mourn it.

You might be wondering why someone would pay me to pay attention to this nightmare of a situation. Quite simply, while national governments have proven their inability to put the human race ahead of national “interests”, regional governments and some businesses are making progress.

British Columbia is one of them. (If you want to know why, check out our Climate Action Plan, or look at your gasoline bill next time you fill up).

So, the Minister of Environment, the Honourable Terry Lake, decided that we should go and join peers like California and Quebec, and tell the world about the near heroic things BC is doing to fight climate change… with the hopes that others will gain the courage to do the same.

My role in this was to help prepare him: to arrange meetings with smart and influential people, write guidance for what he might say at speaking events, and to understand the general situation and advise on a potential strategic approach BC could take to support climate action around the globe. He arrives on Monday, and you can follow along with his travels on twitter: @TerryLakeMLA

However, for as much as I am proud to say BC really does have reasons to show off and claim “leadership” in the file… I AM TIRED.

I am tired of the politically muted urgency of this issue.

I am tired of the conflicting/competing approaches to making progress.

I am tired of people that claim they don’t believe it should matter to them.

I am tired of seeing the stress and worry of people who know better and really do care.

I am tired of being angry at the Canadian Federal Government, and more, the Canadian public, for not demanding more.

I am tired of trying to imagine how I can prepare my young son for a world I would not wish to an enemy.

Time for bed. Good night, Kyoto.

To a new world waiting,

HB

#Occupying the locker room

The locker room is a great place for conversation in the morning. The mind and body are alert, fresh with oxygen and blood flow. And I thoroughly enjoy my daily chat with the ladies who also generally share my ethics on active transportation, as we all cycle or walk to work.

We are also all employed. We have fairly stable, decent paying jobs with benefits. Some own homes. Others are struggling to get into or stay in the market.

The topic of conversation lately has been the occupy movement and the varying degrees of support we feel towards it. You could say we are occupying the locker room – with thoughtful awareness and dialogue over the issues occupy seeks to raise.

That protest sites are being shunned for attracting the most marginalized people, such that the movement appears not to be representative, is of little consequence. The movement is everywhere. #Occupy is moving people to think in new ways and beyond the constraints of the current (broken) system. It is inching us closer to an awareness that eventually will pinch hard enough to shift the majority towards new norms.

For me and my locker room friends, we’ve shared at least one similar observation: that many products are being marketed as though greed, inequality, and over consumption are positive traits we should aspire too. Though I have always found that flavor of appeal distasteful, it stings with extra bitterness now: how can these people promote such ignorance? Aren’t they paying attention to the millions of voices that are speaking to real human/humane values? It makes us sick.

Of course, we aren’t the only ones. The magical twitterverse shared this with me today – very worth looking at: “Public Opinion and the Occupy Movement

To a new world waiting,

HB

Remembrance, reflection and forethought.

This Remembrance Day, we enjoyed and appreciated our freedom: a safe, carefree walk with the dog, indulgence in the comforts of our sanitary and well furnished home,and several nutritious and tasty meals.

We thought about how there were times and places where these things were not taken for granted. And how many people fought and died to provide our freedom, safety and comfort.

Remembrance not only conjures a sense of appreciation for me, but it also evokes reflection upon current times and where we might be headed. It raises questions. Then again, for me, nearly everything does.

On peace, Lester B. Pearson (“The Greatest Canadian”, former Prime Minister, veteran) was a grandmaster, and was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for his remarkable diplomacy. The acceptance speech he gave is an important read on a day like today.

My Great, Great Grandmother and Lester B. Pearson share the same grandfather (so they were cousins). My connection to the Pearson side of the family is in blood only, as I’ve not had contact with the extended family in Eastern Canada. However, I am struck to the core by the resemblance my father has to the images I’ve seen of Lester B, who commonly went by the name Mike. This remarkable resemblance to my father, whom I am very much like, has begged me to learn more about this great Canadian: a true Global Citizen. Could there be anything we share?

In reading a biography, I have learned that Mike Pearson had some significant dealings in agriculture and food policy. He was actively involved in the creation of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which was the beginning of his international career. This organization came to be for several reasons, which are outlined here. This excerpt strikes me exceptionally (my emphasis added):

The two-year, three-month process which launched the FAO occurred when the world was caught in an incredibly destructive global war, to be marked near its close with the drop of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Allied nations and public opinion were strongly concerned with ensuring that global peace be gained and maintained. There was a global sense of despair, hope and urgency — that there would be either one world or none; that nations must and could cooperate to prevent further conflicts; that humanity could achieve global abundance and lasting peace if beneficial science was available to all. And the first issue that the allied nations tackled to meet that end was food and agriculture — a basic need with largely non-political implications and jurisdictions.

Though Pearson had little knowledge of the subject of agriculture, at the founding conference to form the organization he provided “unique abilities as mediator, and his exceptional ability to approach topics with a long-term, forward-thinking view.”

Declaration at the conference that formed the FAO

From reading more about him, I’ve seen that I have many similarities in outlook and in personality, but perhaps, none so strongly as the long-term, forward-thinking view.

I’ve always felt, and been told, that I am different from my peers. Most have suggested that perhaps I’m just more “mature for my age”. Some suggest I have a wisdom or principles that set me apart. Maybe it is this – that seeing wholes, and feeling the need to steward the future, are not common approaches, and people like me and my buddy Mike can serve others with this skill.

My notion, shared with many others, that food security is of utmost importance, touches not only the realm of agriculture, nutrition and food distribution policy, but also of economic stability, social security, and ultimately, peace. I also observe the state of our global environment and human population as threatening the sustainability of our food systems.

I’ve written before about the need to support and aid those regions experiencing the pangs of climate change (foreign aid is also something Pearson wholly supported and directed). And while nations with many more mouths to feed than ours increasingly suffer from the devastating impacts of climate change on basic human needs, can we ignore the political instability this will exacerbate? I fear we are already observing the impacts of the hungry and desperate human element in the Middle East.

In North America, our tunnel vision has us on the tracks to address restoring the economy. To resume growth and prosperity, while competition overseas threatens a previously held “death grip” on wealth and supremacy. Strong words perhaps… but this is what North America stands to lose. So long as we retain faith and buying power, and markets continue to hold water, the economic fabric may well sail the US to the front of the fleet in the future.

However, should a most important foundation, a global system that provides abundant and affordable food, suffer any greater turmoil than it has recently, all bets are off. All indications are that the risk of this happening are high and increasing. Food comes first, and any other GPD growth supporting purchases will fall short of mending the economy.

As a Canadian, I pay respect to the Canadian Veterans especially because I live in a unique nation that has the ability to seek a balance of freedom and social support and that regards the welfare of the citizens of other nations as necessary to global security. I am also keen to keep this identity, and not to have it co-opted. Thank you Lester B. Pearson, for helping to validate this sentiment, though dim in the Canada I see today. Let us pray it will be refurbished without the ills of hunger or the threat of war.

To a new world waiting,

HB

Could it be a sign?

I often find myself in touch with trending circumstances. Or coincedence. Or signs.

Part of me thinks this is just my inner lego block finder (you know, the filter you put on when you want to find a square red lego block). For whatever reason, I decide croissants are important, and then they pop up everywhere (except for in my cupboard, which is where I really want them now that I’ve thought about them).

Another part feels compelled by these observations in a way that drives me to contemplate deeper. What meaning could these observations hold? A warning? Encouragement?

I had a friendly “get-to-know-you” conversation with a good listener this evening. I summarized my “how I got to do my job” story. She smiled. And so did I.

For a brief moment, I reflected upon the fact that from an early time in my career pathfinding, I pretty much knew where I wanted to be. Being paid to think about and act on climate change with people as passionate as I was a dream I held. And now that I am living it, I’m puzzled a little on how I actually got here. I always thought “this is going to take decades, probably a masters degree, and a magic wand”.

Maybe the truth is that there weren’t as many people wanting or prepared to work on this messy problem as I thought. A lack of competition perhaps. Or maybe I was heeding the signs well enough to be positioned favorably…

I won’t list them all, but one stands out in particular. A day like any other, in a stark, white walled hallway a woman that I did not recognize passed by me. Not an unusal circumstance, but for some reason, the hair on my neck stood up. Something about her presence made me very attentive. The image of our crossing paths was burned in my mind. And I remember being puzzled.

During that time, I was in the process of exploring career development opportunities. Temporary assignments across the Ministry of Environment that would break my 5 year stint in a small and insular division, doing work that, quite frankly, is not my forte. Though I had grown to appreciate the work and loved the people, it was time for a change.

A month later, I was accepted for an interview administering a website in a large division. (Web design is a specific skill I honed to temper my generalist nature… which is hard to sell on a resume). I wasn’t sure I wanted the job. Afterall, how would that get me closer to my dream? The only connection was that I could scope out other opportunities in the Ministry and would be directly serving the climate change branch (which I had applied to for jobs in the past, with no success).

And then it happened. The sign. I walked into the interview room and there she was. Silly? Maybe. But it was like a kick in the spirit. An “oh yeah, that’s why, and now I get it – I’m supposed to be here.” I swear it gave me reassurance and confidence that pulled me through the inteview. I came in second, but ended up with the job anyway (previous candidate didn’t work out).

My hallway friend turned out to be an exceptionally supportive manager. And a direct connection to my dream. I circumvented the climate change branch altogether and she suggested me as a good fit at the Climate Action Secretariat to her old boss, who became my Executive Director.

Okay, so maybe career development isn’t just heeding “signs”, perhaps it’s also who you know… but part of me feels like there is more to navigating life, as I said before.

So what trending circumstances have I experienced lately? Here is a short list:

  • Food security matters… as do all nearly certain future circumstances we are not yet prepared for.
  • Authentic voice is effective… I may need to work on mine and tame my insecurities.
  • Music… it is something I have been missing in my life, and it is messaging me.
  • Connection and wholehearted interest in others… a strategy that I am growing into more and more, that is reinforced by my experience and by odd external happenings.

And you? Any zietgiest experiences to share?

HB

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