God Save The Bou: 5000 Emails for 5000 Caribou

Feel Good Click of the Day: 5000 Emails for 5000 Caribou

That's what a new online campaign I'm helping to promote is hoping to achieve in Ontario by December 31, 2009.

The same Woodland Caribou that appears on the quarter in your pocket is quickly disappearing from the southern Boreal Forest of Ontario (just 5000 remaining), despite a promise from Premier McGuinty, over two years ago, to protect the animal’s habitat.

Don't Be Shallow

Social media is often accused of being shallow and all about self-affirmation, well why not go deep and affirm the right of Ontario's Woodland caribou to survive by sending an email to Premier McGuinty today, directly from the petition page ( before joining our Facebook community at www.facebook/savethebou and tweeting your good deed (there's the self-affirmation part!) and hopefully re-tweeting the campaign's feed at

Remember to invite interested friends to become fans of the FB page.

Save Caribou and Protect Our Climate

Canada's Boreal Forest is the largest terrestrial storehouse of carbon on earth, making it a vital regulator of global climate. When caribou habitat is logged, carbon is released into the atmosphere. When caribou habitat is preserved, trees and soil can absorb more carbon and keep it in the ground where it belongs. A 50% reduction in logging in the Boreal would reduce global warming pollution equivalent to taking all the passenger cars in Canada off the road. An Early Christmas Present For Ontario's Caribou?

With only 5000 caribou left, and 76 days remaining before the end of 2009, every day that passes without a credible caribou conservation strategy means another flip of the coin for the survival of Ontario's caribou. If Premier McGuinty isn't persuaded to do the right thing by Dec. 31st, new logging plans for caribou habitat will be drafted in the new year and that means more logging and fewer caribou by this time next year. 

Give these critters an early Christmas present.

Every little click helps!

The "Feeling" Social Media

Since revamping my site and choosing to publish content on a more frequent basis, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the value of social media...actually that's not true...I've spent more time feeling about the value of social media. Seeing folks visit from across the country, sparking conversations and building new understandings and a sense of community with old friends and acquaintances, using posts to organize and test out thoughts and feelings about life stories, questions, news, "art" and whatever else tickles my fancy (apologies for that expression) - all of it has been an exercise in feeling. One of the biggest criticisms of blogs and other forms of social media is that everything they do is "meta," that is, after the fact, or in abstraction to some primary piece of news or information. Because of this initial modus operandi (historically and today a lot of blogs still rely on mainstream news to spark their conversations), the mainstream media like to claim (especially when their own relevance is questioned) to be the lifeblood of the "bloggosphere." They caution that the death of newspapers and traditional media outlets will cause social media to dry-up. I'm not sure that's true.

I think we all have some sense that mainstream news is often vacuous - a race to report every societal "car crash" in the most graphic terms as quickly as possible before finding the next one, first. Ambulance chasers etc. A quick example: Yesterday I was on the bus and one of the local news radio stations had a story about 7 people being found dead in a mobile home in the southern U.S. state of Georgia. No context, nothing. Great. Thank you. My life and understanding of the world has been greatly enriched. Now I know it's possible for 7 people to be found dead in a mobile home, in the state of Georgia. God forbid we should actually connect any dots, attempting to explain why this happened. The same holds true for that recent story about the reality TV show participant who murdered his ex-wife before hanging himself in a hotel room in B.C. Any chance the mainstream media entertained a conversation about mental health, or obsessional jealousy? It's not in their DNA to do so (and while there's an argument that perhaps it doesn't need to be, the fact that their license to operate depends on access to public airwaves points to the possibility that as a society we could ask for something more), but that's also why they're becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Reflection has become an end in itself. Demand is at an all time high. As an end in itself, the primary news on which it is predicated is far less important. Fodder for reflection can come from first person experience, second-hand anecdotes, stories from organizations and businesses dealing directly with social issues and transactions, and various other forms of media and sources of information. We don't lack primary news as a's happening all the time, it's what life is. What we're lacking is the means to reflect, to not just make sense of our world, but to make new meaning that makes the world a better place. That's where the feeling part of social media comes in, and that's where I see its value.

The loss of traditional media reporting should concern us as much as the loss of any other stream of social information, but it's not critical.

I'll try and offer more reflection as I continue to feel my way through this new medium.

Renaturalizing Ecological Politics

This post's title is the literal reverse of Andrew Biro's "Denaturalizing Ecological Politics" but I believe it's written at least partly in the same spirit as his work (though I'm just starting his book), namely the effort to make ecological politics accessible to as wide a swath of the world as possible and to reframe society's alienation from nature.

The inspiration for this post comes from having just read Henry David Thoreau's "Walden; Or Life in the Woods" (you were allowed to have two titles back then..something we should bring back), one of the seminal texts of the environmental movement, and when combined with Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience," forms a body of work that has inspired the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a beautiful, beautiful, book that I plan to return to over the course of my life. Thoreau writes so beautifully and he channels the same unadulterated passion for nature that has marked my own relationship with it (one that is very much a construct, but that works for me). His social observations writing in the mid 1800's are just as relevant today as they were back then.

New England and Western Environmentalism

The spark for this post comes from an insight produced by the pairing of the two books that has implications for modern environmental communication, particularly with respect to communicating climate change, my currently chosen field of study. In reading "Walden" I was constantly struck by the minute observation with which Thoreau surveyed the world of Walden pond (from the way winter ice mirrored the geological formations of the shore, to the exact depth of the pond, to the precise moment when he heard the Spring's first sparrow) and his consistent drive and willingness to develop hypotheses about local natural phenomena that might have universal application. Indeed, throughout the book Thoreau is comparing and contrasting the ecology of Walden Pond across years and against neighbouring ponds in time with what he perceived to be the very predictable natural rhythm of the New England environment.

Indeed, it is this "stable" New England environment (specifically the temperate Western environments of Britain and New England) which Mike Davis traces as playing a key role in the formation of some modern political sensibilities and not just with respect to nature:

"For Davis, the view of the earth as a 'conservative, steady state system without historical directionality' itself does a certain amount of ideological work, in that it finds confirmation in nature of a moderate, reformist view of history and thereby universalizes the conditions found in Britain and New England: 'In these temperate and forested lands, energy flows through the environment in a seasonal pattern that varies little from year to year. Geology is generally quiescent, and it's easy to perceive natural powers as orderly and incremental, rarely catastrophic.'" (Biro, 2005, pp.19).

Nature vs. Nurture in Political Evolution

I find this fascinating. How does the ecology of a society's local environment affect the ecology of its political beliefs? Are people more progressive or at least open to change when they live on the edge of a volcano as opposed to the rolling hills of geologically benign New England? What consideration does local ecology and climactic history deserve when Western-derived institutional definitions of climate change come knocking on the doors of India or other nations accustomed to historically more dramatic and less predictable weather? As western environmentalists we need to trace our political thought, assumptions and blindspots back to the historical and current ecologies that have (and are) informed (informing) it, and to be mindful of those influences when communicating with other cultures and nations.

Walden Pond on LSD

In Biro's first chapter, titled "Ecocentrism and the Defence of Nature," he contests the claims of Devall and Sessions who contend that in contrast to its contemporary, over-populated condition, California was, 'preserved in its natural state for 15,000 years' by Native Californians. And while I don't agree with some of Biro's critique here (I don't think there's any denying that Native Californians, if only by shear scale alone, lived with a lighter ecological footprint than today's current population), his use of Davis' following description of California is illustrative of the ecological diversity that could inform the cultural and political beliefs of a people: David describes California as 'Walden Pond on LSD' complete with "...major wildfires, two-hundred year droughts, and severe earthquakes" punctuating "periods of relative stability, with each of these equilibrial periods having very different 'norms' in terms of climatology and biotic diversity."

Some political junkies take vacations to observe the political processes (elections etc.) of other nations. I'm thinking some trips to diverse global environments to trace the evolution of various societies' respective relationships with their local ecology might be a new hobby.

What's So Great About Stability?

The title is meant to provoke, but there's a serious point to be made. With the recent political events here in Canada and the almost certain prospect of a coalition government, a national first of sorts, political talk is rife. One concern I've heard expressed by progressive folks, and often the root of their unease or even opposition to the idea of a coalition government, is the need for "stability" in the face of an economic recession.  Setting aside strong arguments that the new coalition will likely be more stable than our current minority government and better for the economy, the instinctual pull for "stability" is something I want to briefly challenge or at least encourage folks to think about critically.

Instability is Beautiful

In the grand history of social movements, instability is the hallmark of social change. Look at what just happened in the US, or go back further in the history of that country or any other. It is in tough times, and times of social upheaval that society gives birth to dramatic change. Granted that change can, depending on the ideas available at the time, turn ugly, and outright material desperation can bring out the worst of human nature, but here in Canada and many other places, we're no where near those levels of material poverty and the ideas available to us are pretty darn good.

A Canadian "First"

Talk of political ego and power-grabs aside, what we have here in Canada is a chance to set new democratic precedents. Our parliamentary system has always allowed the prospect of coalition governments (an expression of democracy operating in its ideal form) but it has never been a real possibility in the social history of the country.

Regardless of how the coalition performs (and I honestly think it will be far superior to what we currently have with respect to the values and issues that matter most to Canadians) the fact that it will have come into existence, even just symbolically, changes the game from here on in. The aggressive and divisive tactics and mentalities that brought us here have been greatly diminished. The ability to craft unifying visions and to earn the support of diverse constituencies will, imagine that, become the qualities valued in future leaders.

Action on Global Warming

People will say it's ironic, but I'd say it's perfectly natural that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has given birth to Prime Minister Stephane Dion. The man who has done the most of any world leader to sabotage international efforts to combat global warming has, through his own short-sighted ideology, handed the reins to a politician who has worked very hard to rally Canadian action on global warming.

I have spoken to people who have worked with Stephane Dion, and while they conceed he is not the consummate politician, he is the consummate policy wonk with a heart, always briefed on his files and ready to do the heavy lifting required to achieve consensus and real solutions (policy problem vs. policy vision is a larger discussion I'll tackle in the future...interested readers should check out the Breakthrough Institute's online essay, "The Death of Environmentalism" as an important primer).

Indeed, the coalition (which has also been endorsed by the Greens) actually plans to do something about global warming. While coalition policy instruments won't include a carbon tax (an important policy tool who's time will come someday), there's early word that they will include a cap and trade system, and there's further bipartisan talk of including folks like Elizabeth May in some kind of advisory role with respect to other environmental issues. Calm After The Storm

After a period of instability society reforms, reorganizes and reasserts itself. We should be thankful for the opportunity to mirror the role-out of Obama's administration and his new ethic of bipartisan cooperation. The "Coalition for Canada" is Canada's admittedly smaller, less sexy version of what's happening down south. It is a symbolic exercise, and an important one that has the potential to change politics in this country for the better.

Here's to the occassional bout of instability!

Awareness Is Not Action

To be sure, awareness is the prerequisite for informed action, but it's not an end in itself (or at least not a very productive one).

Yesterday's municipal election outcome was something to celebrate: The first two pledges out of our new mayor's mouth were to end homelessness and to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world.  The results of the election however (especially given the issues we face as a city), in terms of turnout, were disappointing: 26%, one of the lowest on record.

Even before E-day, I was concerned by talk of "voter apathy" and "voter burnout." In making calls for Vision Vancouver, I spoke with a woman who said she wasn't going to vote, having spent her democracy budget following the US election, and despite having heard good things about Gregor Robertson from her close friends.

The fascinating and frightening thing about this (and we all fall victim to it), is that we intensely watch history making (e.g the Obama victory) over which we have no control, and when it comes to our own local municipal election, our own personal slice of existence (an election with arguably far more tangible and significant impacts over which we have far more control) we don't get out to vote.

Check Your Output

What the woman was expressing, and what I've since seen in related media coverage and even in the Facebook posts of friends in the aftermath of the election ( "I wish I had been more involved etc.") is something similar to "armchair environmentalism" a social phenomena observed in cognitive processing studies:

“...studies suggest that as people become more informed about environmental problems, their behaviour becomes more passive...supplanting one cognitive element – behaviour that may have lead to environmental action – with another – information about the environment. People thus redefine their obligations to solve environmental problems as simply being informed about the issues.” (see link below, Coppola, 1997, p.10).

If you replace "environmental" with "civic" or "democratic" we're witnessing the same phenomena. Awareness is not action, a fact that news junkies like myself need to be more mindful of. On more than one occasion I have found myself conflating awareness of issues with somehow being actively involved with them. That's where it's important to check your output. How does it compare with the information you're taking in? Is it balanced?

Demand Interaction

In a recent paper I wrote for school (be gentle, sometimes you've just got to get a paper done), titled, "The Constituents of Reconciliation" I suggested that, "Revolutionarily, and in line with Enzensberger’s vision, the prospect of decreased citizen activism and the further entrenchment of “armchair actors,” begs the need for a re-balancing of reception vs. transmission." I went on to suggest we need to re-design our deliberative environments so that they demand interaction (read the paper to better understand my use of the word "demand"). And while I offer several high-level design considerations in the paper, the most important thing I feel we need to do as a community, is to generate social capital (keeping issues local and on a scale that people feel socially obligated to take part in, rather than slipping into the easy luxury of of the reasons parties like the NPA are against Wards systems) and creating opportunities to experience taking action:

"Once barriers to local political and deliberative environments are cleared, the first and best step we can hope for, assuming that an engaged, educated and emboldened public is desirable, is the small scale achievement of collective action: 'When individuals have been able to use their ability to overcome the collective action problem in small settings they may then be able to deal with more complex dilemmas.' (Rydin & Pennington, p.161). Rydin and Pennington go on to cite Ostrom in pointing out that, '…when smaller units have managed to overcome the collective action problem, the marginal cost of building on that organizational base is considerably less than the cost of starting with no prior base.' (p.161).

Give the Gift of Action

And while we should be dissapointed with voter turnout this election, there are at least two (and of course far more) promising developments coming out of it:

1) Vision Vancouver and the rest of the progressive unity slate (COPE & Greens) brought A LOT of new people, young and old, from across the cultural and religious spectrum, into the political process. I saw them, I worked alongside them, and I was one of them. This was a new and diverse community that had the chance to experience taking action and generating social capital together. That base and community will be ready to act in the next election and they know they can make a difference.

2) Action is contagious: By the end of our conversation the woman who had told me she wasn't going to vote, decided she would. Just the simple fact that we had had a friendly conversation, and she knew I was donating my time for someone I didn't know too well, but that I believed in, was enough to turn her around. She said I renewed her faith in democracy and the responsibility of voting (cool!). I also had this experience knocking on doors in Little India on election day. Despite language barriers, I exchanged knowing smiles and feelings of community building, just by simply reminding people it was election day. They were positively touched that someone was reminding them to fulfill their civic duty.

To my friends in Vancouver, I hope you'll jump into the political process next time around. We've got lots of time to do whatever else it is we do in our lives. Elections are an important and increasingly revitalized (because I've been turned off by them too) avenue for making change and making our mark on the world.

Build Awareness. Take Action.


That's the name for the new progressive political force behind the Obama phenomenon, or so says David Eaves, a guy I've had the pleasure of playing a hand or two of poker with in the past (I won't comment on David's playing style, except to say he's an "all in" kind of guy). In an essay

in last September's Literary Review of Canada, David and Taylor Owen chart progressivism's "end" and they single out how the entrenched interests of the traditional Left have contributed to a progressive politics that is "out of touch and ineffective." The NDP's recent attack on carbon taxes would be a prime example of this.

They go on to observe that the creative class in cities is finding avenues outside of traditional politics to make progressive change, and what's more, David and Taylor cite my own favourite employer, ForestEthics

, as being an organization leading the neo-progressive approach when it comes to the environment.

I agree with a lot of the essay, and though I'd be hesitant to label myself as "neo" anything given the historical baggage of the term, I remember the concept resonating strongly with me when David and I talked about it at this past year's Social Change Institute, a place where the tension between the traditional Left and "neo-progressives" was palpable, and not necessarily bridged, though we all left with a resolve to do better.

Here's what David and Taylor say about Obama:

"Obama recognizes that giving voice to a neo-progressive agenda holds the potential to form the core of a new governing coalition. Like progressives at the turn of the 20th century, he not only speaks to Democrats but also actively reaches out to pragmatically driven Republicans and independents. Specifically, he appeals to those who neither fear markets nor see government as a panacea, but who value a society that provides equal opportunity. Obama is not governing from the middle: he is capitalizing on a transformation of the ideological spectrum."

I recommend reading the full essay. It's a handy read for attempting to conceptualize the political changes we're all sensing but can't quite put our finger on.