Category Archives: Ecology

“Rising Tides + Skin Boats” Summary

A huge thank you to artists Erica Grimm, Tracie Stewart and Sheinagh Anderson for facilitating the “Rising Tides + Skin Boats” community eco art gathering! This event arose out of the work of the “Inspiring Sea Change” project.

Thank you to Surrey Libraries and the “Community Shift Coalition” for the venue space, and to the City of Surrey for funding. This event was also part of the City of Surrey’s “Environmental Extravaganza.”

Thank you to folks from the City of Surrey Climate Adaptation Strategy, Surrey Urban Farmers Market, and Burns Bog Society for bringing information tables about the important work that you are doing!

Aaron Schulze with BCIT Magazine produced this excellent introduction to the project and event. Thank you Aaron!

The gathering began with an exploration of these three questions:

  1. What do you know about the ocean?
  2. What do we know about how the ocean is changing?
  3. What do we need in our boats going into a changing future?

As responses to the questions were shared, we tossed a ball of red yarn back and forth across a large six foot coracle, creating a beautiful visual, cultivating curiosity about ocean change and its implications, and setting the stage for deeper conversation.

Sheinagh then led the group in a soundscape experience, skillfully orchestrating us to create the sound of an ocean.

The evening finished with free time for participants to process what was learned through a variety of artistic mediums. Some people made small coracles out of dust masks of surgical masks. Others worked together to make larger coracles out of twigs and branches.

The artwork is on display at City Centre Library until mid-June. Stop by and check it out!

2017 Surrey Earth Walk Gratitude

A huge thank you to everyone that contributed to today’s 2017 Surrey Earth Walk, especially the folks that joined us for the first time!

We invite you to follow some of the links below and get to know some of the individuals and groups that are making Surrey a more sustainable community.

A special thank you to Ellen from the Surrey Blue Dot Group for all the work planning and organizing, and to Suzanne and her crew from Amazing Tutors Foundation for the support along the way and for providing gifts of appreciation to the venue hosts along the way.

Thank you to Teresa,  Cora, Elder Amy and the whole crew at the PLOT Sharing Garden for the beautiful blessing and opening ceremony. Oh, and for having the tent up when the hail started to come down!

Thank you to Councilor Vera Lefranc and the Surrey Urban Farmers Market for your help and contributions to the opening ceremony.

Thank you to Ev and Gemma at Zaklan Heritage Farm for being our first rest stop, and for the tour and the fresh hazelnuts.

Thanks you to Henry and Linda from Roots Ecovillage Cooperative for hosting and providing the lunch stop at Henry’s Permaculture garden.

Thank you to Chris from the Green Timbers Heritage Society for providing a guided tour through Green Timbers Urban Forest.

Thank you to Chris from the Surrey Nature Centre for providing a tour of the grounds.

Thank you to Kate and Ron from the Gro Cart Project for introducing us to the amazing Gro Carts.

Thank you to the City of Surrey’s Environmental Extravaganza program for the support.

And thanks to Steve W for being awesome.

If you like what these groups and people are doing in our community, we encourage you to connect with them, support them and tell them how much you appreciate them!

If you participated in the Surrey Earth Walk and have feedback on how to improve it for next year, please let us know.

Earth Day Pilgrimage to Burns Bog

The Earth Day Pilgrimage to Burns Bog took place this year on April 23, 2017.  Scroll down for a summary submitted by speaker and participant Acharya Dwivedi. You can read a summary blog on the Burns Bog website here.

Earth Day Pilgrimage to Burns Bog
By Acharya Dwivedi

The Burns Bog Conservation Society has been working hard to protect and preserve it from the greedy developers and anti-environmentalists. The Society creates awareness by organizing several events. Earth Day Pilgrimage to Burns Bog is an annual event and this year it was held on April 23,2017. The event began at
2.00PM. Pilgrimage helps to remove barriers, brings people together from faith, spiritual and environmental groups, and presents a united front on issues and concerns.

The Burns Bog is treated as the “lungs of the lower mainland”. It is the largest domed peat bog in the world which covers 40 square kilometers of land but small portion of this area is accessible now to public on the eastern side called the Delta Nature Reserve.
The major characteristics of Burns Bog are that it is wet, acidic, peat forming. It regulates water, prevents flooding and releases water in dry conditions. Burns Bog is habitat of more than 300 plant and 175 bird species.

The bog sequesters carbon emissions that cause climate de-stabilization. Moreover, it clears our air, water and plays an important role in our local ecosystem .

The Pilgrimage participants were welcome d by the President of Burns Bog Society followed by Imam Tariq Azeem’s speech. Aline la Flamme and the Daughters of the Drum, South fraser Unitarian Congregation and Susan Summers and the Sacred Web Singers gave musical performances. Closing blessings were given by Acharya S.P.Dwivedi. More than hundred pilgrims of different ages and sections of the society walked together to enjoy and relate with nature.

Members of the South Fraser Unitarian Choir performed along the Pilgrimage route:

24-hour vigil draws attention to the cost of throwaway culture

The follow article by James Smith appeared in the North Delta Reporter on April 20, 2017. The original article can be viewed on page 5 here. See here to learn more about the work that Rob is doing in North Delta. Photo credit: James Smith.

24-hour vigil draws attention to the cost of throwaway culture

As North Deltans lined their streets with detritus in anticipation of this year’s Spring Clean-up, one resident took it as a sort of call to arms.

Inspired by the waste he saw around him, Rob Copeman-Haynes decided to hold a 24 plus hour vigil at the North Delta Social Heart Plaza to raise awareness of the cost we’ve all paid for our disposable culture.

“It’s always bugged me… but what sparked it was on Tuesday evening I saw the truck coming around our cul-de-sac again and putting in all kinds of stuff that shouldn’t have been going to the garbage. It should have been recycled in some way, at least,” he said.

Copeman-Haynes was further motivated by the comments on a post about Spring Clean-up on the North Delta Community Corner Facebook page. He said around eighty per cent of the 300 or so comments were supportive of the event, but 10 per cent denigrated the people who go around and collect stuff they can reuse.

“Nowhere in that conversation could 1 hear, ‘Why do we have so much stuff, and why is the only thing we can do with it is throw it out?’” he said. We can make connections from there to why do we have disaffected youth, why do we have fewer jobs in Canada, why are the jobs making that stuff somewhere else, who’s making the money from those jobs being somewhere else, why is it that stuff is so cheap and breakable and irreparable, and why are there no repair jobs here?”

Copeman-Haynes held up a pair of boots he found at the side of the road during Spring Clean-up four or five years ago as an example of what’s been lost to our modern throwaway culture.

He took them to now-defunct Antonio Lorenzo Shoe Service at 84th Avenue and 112th Street and had the proprietor fix them up. Copeman-Haynes recalled Lorenzo bemoaning how he couldn’t find someone young to take over the business. These days, what Lorenzo did for a living is rapidly becoming a lost art.

“The truth is, there just isn’t enough work anymore,” he said, “He used to be able to do leather ballet slippers, leather hockey gloves, all that stuff that was repairable just 20 or 30 years ago. And now that’s all made of plastic, it all comes from China and it can’t be repaired, so it just gets chucked.

“This was the very last job that Lorenzo did before he closed up his shop. They used to be beautiful ski boots. You can see inside that they’re made in Canada, Eaton’s Canada, probably hand-made — on a machine anyway… And now repurposed as my street theatre shoes.

“And for me, they just represent everything that’s wrong with the way were doing our stuff now.”

Copeman-Haynes hopes his vigil will start a conversation and get people thinking about the impact our choices as consumers have on our local economies and our natural environment.

Institute for Sustainable Food Systems

On April 19 Dr. Kent Mullinix presented on the work of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS).

ISFS is an applied research and extension unit at Kwantlen Polytechnic University that investigates and supports regional food systems as key elements of sustainable communities. The project focuses predominantly on British Columbia but also extends to other regions.

See here for more information on the project, and scroll through the presentation slides below. (It may take a few moments for the slide show to load!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

‘Stacking functions’ with gardening

Spring is finally here! Several Surrey high school clubs are  getting busy outdoors which is great to see. Gardening (and related activities)  is something that Permaculture refers to as ‘stacking functions’. It provides solutions and benefits on many levels, here are just a few:

  • Many hands make light work. To mix mulch and spread it in my yard, alone, takes a few hours. To do it with a school garden takes minutes. And that communal activity feels good!

Local Development Club members at Fraser Heights Secondary, preparing mulch

  • Social enterprise ideas, from building planters to sell, to possibly growing microgreens or salad greens to sell locally and in school cafeterias.
  • Building soil increases the carbon it can hold, thus is a low-tech form of ‘carbon sequestration’ that kids and teens can be directly involved in and feel good about.
  • The food produced can be used in many ways: as ingredients for cooking (and therefore learning another skill), or drying herbs to sell as a fundraiser (same with seeds for easy-to-harvest plants like cilantro and spinach). Or maybe the focus is allowing people to come and freely pick what they need, particularly in low-income neighbhourhoods.
  • On a personal level it keeps us more physically active. That was apparent last week while I watched students from Fraser Heights secondary hauling tarps and wheelbarrows full of soil up a steep, slippery slope to where 12 raised beds were waiting to be filled.
  • Becoming more responsible in a very direct way: learning to grow a bit of what we eat. After all, eating is an activity everyone does but only 1-2% of the population does it on a commercial scale. That’s not very resilient!
  • Experience first-hand the time and labour it takes to produce food. Planting carrots in the spring but not harvesting until fall gives students in the classroom a real sense of time scale. You cannot plant something when you are hungry – planning way in advance is required! Even salad greens take 6 weeks to reach a size worth eating.

       Johnston Heights Secondary club members checking out
the school garden in August

  • Practice food security by learning to save seeds and grow produce that can be stored (such as some squashes, carrots, potatoes, dried tomatoes, pickled vegetables).
  • Learn about new foods you may not have tried before. That includes wild foods and things we call ‘invasives’ such as blackberries, dandelion and plantain.

Dandelions are not native to BC, but now an important
source of pollen for bees

  • Over the seasons, learning to watch and observe the natural world. When pollinators are in the garden, what plants are happiest side by side, what happens when you neglect to water and what plants survive, Reading a book or watching videos about gardening and cooking can be interesting and provide a foundation, but then you have to do the activities and learn, often, from making mistakes.
  • Thinking in whole systems, a very useful life skill: soil, water, wind, seeds, sunlight hours, warmth, pollinators, companion planting, composting…the cycle of life!
  • Learn about different plants and how to harvest, store, prepare and eat them. Also, how to ensure plants are part of the larger ecosystem, not just human needs. Pollinators help with at least 35% of the food we eat.

Quinoa, grown locally. Easy to store, keeping some
to sow the following year.

So when you are hot and sweaty in the garden,  frustrated by seeds that did not germinate, or realize that you planted nowhere near enough of something your community needs….just remember it’s a life-long set of skills that are being built, and a fundamental part of what makes us human.

Given that 99% of what we eat is not from native plants, we have to carefully plan how we use the land, what we grow, how to replenish the soil, and learn what plants work well together. The goal is not to provide the majority of our calories from gardening, but to build skills and realize the potential of urban land, suburban yards, community gardens, and “normalizing nature’ in our lives. It puts us back in touch with our daily needs and how we choose to fulfill them.

Check out ‘the Plot’ in Newton sometime!

Oh, and gardening sure makes you appreciate buying fruits and vegetables from the store once you understand just how much work went into that food production. Thank you, farmers!

 

 

Community Listening Circle

Earlier this month we hosted a “Community Listening Circle” as part of our “Community Shift Series.” It was one of the most transformative events we have hosted for a while.

The power of community circles has long been recognized by First Nations cultures, and recently by author Parker Palmer in his work with “Circles of Trust”:

“If we are willing to embrace the challenge of becoming whole, we cannot embrace it alone—at least, not for long: we need trustworthy relationships to sustain us, tenacious communities of support, to sustain the journey toward an undivided life. Taking an inner journey toward rejoining soul and role requires a rare but real form of community that I call a ‘circle of trust.’”

Whatever the format or motivation, listening circles give people a chance to say what they are thinking and feeling and can help engender mutual understanding and support among people in stressful times.

Our gathering was facilitated by Sukhvinder Vinning and Rev. Samaya Oakley.

Sukhvinder Vinning is a past president of the World Sikh Organization. She is actively involved in a number of social justice issues, including work with Reconciliation Canada.

The Rev. Samaya Oakley currently serves as the Minister for the South Fraser Unitarian Congregation. She is also a co-chair of a task force of the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Reflection Guide, a task force that is creating reflection guides for Canadian Unitarian congregations around issues of the Indian Residential School system and its impact.

Both Sukhvinder and Samaya have years of experience in creating safe and sacred listening circles in diverse communities.

Rev. Oakley explains her commitment to supporting community listening circles

“When it comes down to a basic level, as human beings we all have the same worries, joys, and cares about what kind of state we are leaving the planet in for our children, and how we need a healthy, thriving community in which to live. I’m passionate about creating opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds to come together to listen respectfully about what’s on our hearts and minds.”

A number of participants expressed an interest in participating in future community listening circles. What do you think? Is this something we could do more often in Surrey? What role would you like to play to make it happen?

Let us know what you think, and let’s make it happen!

“Thanks so much for organizing the Listening Circle. I wish all neighbourhoods held these circles regularly.

In participating it was strangely comforting to hear others’ concerns: shared worries could mean also shared goals & solutions. We all seem to care deeply about the planet and its inhabitants. If everyone had a habit of meeting like this, we could likely resolve some basic concerns within our own communities.

What struck me most was that, despite the complexity of some of the problems discussed, there are still simple everyday actions we can take in our communities: smile and greet strangers and neighbours in the street. “ – Kate Elliot

“A wonderful forum to share concerns and fears about the humanity which leads to better understanding and respect for each other.” – Musa Ismail

“I think the more we can talk and communicate about what we can do to make the world a better place the better. I think it is healing when people in fear or pain can find others who have same feelings.” – Niovi Patsicakis

Artists for a Change

The Arts Hub at Alex House is seeking artists to participate in their “Artists for a Change” project!

Read on for more information. Contact Neil Fernyhough, Manager of Community Programs at Alexandra Neighbourhood House for full application information.

What it is…

  • AFAC is an initiative of Alexandra Neighbourhood House, supported in part by a grant from the Vancouver Foundation, to create a collaborative arts hub for South Surrey and White Rock. Funding for this project runs through the end of 2017; but we hope to secure further funding to continue it.
  • We are looking to gather up to twelve artists, ages 16 and up, representing diverse media, to create one or more projects highlighting one or more issues of social concern.
    Any installation/performance/exhibition will be publicized through media platforms; and occur at our venue or a venue secured through us.
  • An assessment team of established individuals from the local arts community will review applications and select the artists, identifying one who will act as a focalizer, ensuring that the project runs smoothly and to liaise with Alex House.
  • The artists will work individually; but also collaboratively in a dedicated space at Alex House (the Media Room). The topic(s) will be chosen in consultation with Alex House.

What we do…

  • We will provide the space for the creative team to work, and have a budget to purchase supplies and equipment to assist in the development of the project.
  • We will supply a modest honorarium of between $300 and $350 (depending on number of artists chosen), which can be used to assist them in purchasing their own supplies.
    After-cost ticket sale revenue will be divided between the artists.
  • We will provide advertising for the event(s), secure a venue, provide refreshments, and recruit volunteers to assist.
  • The event(s) will be followed up with a program of community engagement; in order to translate the inspiration of the artistic event into grassroots advocacy and activism to help create change around the issue(s) addressed.
  • We will provide letters of reference to the artists to acknowledge their participation in this project.

What we are looking for…

  • We are seeking emerging and established artists, ages 16 and over, representing diverse visual, literary, and performing arts who have the ability to work collaboratively towards a shared vision.
  • We invite applications from those who have a passion about creating change in our community around equality, justice, inclusion, and the environment.
  • A demonstrated ability to work with minimal external direction, in a collaborative environment, especially an artistic one, is an asset.
  • We encourage applicants who represent traditionally marginalized or vulnerable communities.

Next steps…

  • Applications are due no later than April 1, 2017.
  • Applications will be reviewed by an external team of artists and arts professionals.
  • Successful applicants will be contacted no later than April 20, 2017.
  • Project will launch on or before May 1, 2017.

For more information:

Neil Fernyhough
Manager, Community Programs
604-535-0015 (ext 236)
communityprograms@alexhouse.net

Mother Nature vs. Human Nature

Permaculture is a design system which focuses on how people interact with the rest of the natural world. David Holmgren, the co-founder of permaculture, describes twelve principles, with the first being ‘observe and interact’.

By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation. The icon for this design principle represents a person ‘becoming’ a tree. In observing nature it is important to take different perspectives to help understand what is going on with the various elements in the system. The proverb “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” reminds us that we place our own values on what we observe, yet in nature, there is no right or wrong, only different. [i]

There is an uncomfortable reality for us to consider: we judge plants and animals almost completely on their usefulness to humanity, with a tendency to try and control or eradicate that which we don’t think belongs. Hence the use of the term ‘invasive’ species. We use the word invasive to describe:

a plant, fungus, or animal species that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species) and which has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health. [i]

Notice that two of the listed concerns are about impacts on humans. As for invasive species damaging the environment, the number one cause for environmental damage is humans (habitat loss is the #1 cause of native species declining). The number two is so-called invasive species, which are almost always introduced by humans. So I’d like to play devil’s advocate and suggest a different approach to thinking about the biodiversity that exists in our local ecosystems. This is not to say that there are not some real problems and impacts related to non-native plants and animals dominating an ecosystem, just that the solution – more human intervention – is not going to help.

The reality is that about 97% of species entering a new ecosystem either do not survive, or else only in small numbers.  For those that are more successful, the cause is usually human related; disturbed or contaminated soils, cleared areas, steep slopes.

Non-native species rarely displace a native species completely, meaning that new species increase biodiversity and enrich ecosystems in the majority of cases. Likewise, the cultural diversity in Canada is created by immigrants arriving here from many different countries.

Back in the 1970s we had no problem
using the word ‘alien’ to describe other humans.

Right now we seem particularly proud of Canadian immigration practices: there was an article this week in The Guardian’s international edition about the planned protest [Tuesday February 28, 2017] in Vancouver over the newest Trump building:

…the addition of the Trump name to the skyline of a city [Vancouver] where nearly half the population is foreign born has prompted widespread anger. For many, the name conjures up the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, vows to temporarily ban Muslims from the country and reversal on transgender rights. “We want to push back against this emboldening of hatred and misogyny and xenophobia and racism,” said Mathew Kagis, one of the organisers behind the Trump Welcome Party, a day-long protest being planned.

Now consider the wording on the Invasive Species Council of BC’s website and replace the word ‘species’ with ‘humans’ and gauge your reaction:

Have you heard about the harms of invasive species? You can help! Invasive species that enter and establish in British Columbia bring harmful impacts to our environment, economy, and society. You can help to reduce their impacts and make a difference to support healthier communities!

[Richmond News  2016] May the “force” (May 4th) be with the City of Richmond in battling an army of invaders that have come to seek the destruction of Lulu Island’s empire.


       Make the problem the solution? Goat eating blackberry bushes.

The language we use towards plants is often strident, protectionist (native species at all costs) and militaristic. ‘Us’ versus ‘them’. Yet when Trump uses the same attitude, trying to close America’s borders and remove illegal immigrants, people become extremely upset. You may feel that comparing human beings to plants is offensive. Nevertheless, the language we choose to use when discussing both humans and other species is controversial.

No suggestion is made on the BC invasives website about how to reduce the impacts of humanity, the single largest problem. Humanity instead targets specific plants and animals to eradicate and spend billions worldwide trying to deal with species that we moved into a new area, either intentionally or unintentionally. And by now we know how well human intervention works (meaning unintended consequences). Sometimes we choose the opposite by protecting a species that is non-native, or changing our minds about a plant that was once seen as helpful but is now ‘dangerous’.

In his book The New Wild, author Fred Pearce illustrates many examples of how humans try (and fail) to deal with changing ecosystems.

Quoting from a book review:

Pearce acknowledges that there are horror stories about alien species disrupting ecosystems, but most of the time, the tens of thousands of introduced species usually swiftly die out or settle down and become model eco-citizens. The case for keeping out alien species, he finds, looks increasingly flawed.

As Pearce argues, mainstream environmentalists are right that we need a rewilding of the earth, but they are wrong if they imagine that we can achieve that by reengineering ecosystems. Humans have changed the planet too much, and nature never goes backward. But a growing group of scientists is taking a fresh look at how species interact in the wild. According to these new ecologists, we should applaud the dynamism of alien species and the novel ecosystems they create.

In an era of climate change and widespread ecological damage, it is absolutely crucial that we find ways to help nature regenerate. Embracing the new ecology, Pearce shows us, is our best chance. To be an environmentalist in the 21st century means celebrating nature’s wildness and capacity for change.

Is grass used for lawns not invasive simply because we planted it and it doesn’t tend to self-seed? Even though it covers thousands of acres in each city, acts like a monocrop, and displaces plenty of native species?

You’ll find a lot of ‘invasive’ on edges: of roads, railway tracks and riverbanks, where humans have already left their mark. Edges are where biodiversity is the richest, and there are plenty of edges in urban environments. Both humans and plants tend to clump together with their own kind; it’s normal to do so.

The bigger question is whether natives would fill a niche left behind by removed non-natives. One of the reasons we have species like Scotch Broom spreading across cleared areas is that is fixes nitrogen in the soil, stabilizes the soil through its deep roots, and is a pollinating plant. Oh, and we introduced this ‘invasive’ in the first place back in 1850. The argument is made that Scotch Broom “competes with native species for available light, moisture and nutrients, especially on disturbed sites.”[i] That’s because it takes root quickly. The fastest wins. In reality, nature’s traits are transience, dynamism and contingency rather than stability, permanence and predictability, argues Fred Pearce.

We fear that invasives will displace natives (again, uncomfortably like Europeans displacing First Nations people here in BC). Native species are judged as better. Why? Because they evolved here due to circumstances that favoured them. If those circumstances change – such as due to habitat loss and climate change – why are we fighting the plants and animals that move in, rather than questioning our own motives that allowed for those changes in the first place? That’s a huge challenge, so we focus on something we can do: battle the non-natives. Even though virtually everything was an invader at one time, given that this region was covered by glaciers 10,000 years ago.

Perhaps there is some guilt involves? We radically change landscapes and then try to deal with the changes to the urban ecosystems that result. Even when natives succeed, such as animals that come closer to human settlements, such as cougars or bears, we’re not happy with that, either.

In fact, the most diverse ecosystems seem to be forming within our city boundaries:

The migration of wildlife from back country to downtown is a continental phenomenon, one of the fascinating developments of the 21st century.

Scientists call it “synurbization.” It refers to a growing recognition that cities themselves represent a new evolutionary trend, what one researcher has described as an explosion of new and strange types of artificial environments in the natural landscape to which wildlife adapted over millions of years. A century ago, more than 80% of us lived rural lives, intruders into the habitats of wild creatures. Now, fewer than 15% of British Columbians are rural inhabitants and it’s the wild that intrudes into the domesticated spaces most of us inhabit.[i]

Of course, we don’t battle against honeybees (brought here by Europeans) which we need to pollinate all the non-native plants we grow. 99% of our diet is comprised of genetically altered/ domesticated food sources. We also don’t try to eradicate earthworms, brought by farmers to work the newly tilled, thin forest soils.

When a new species does spread quickly, it can be frightening as the existing ecosystem may be unprepared, causing native species to die off, sometimes up to 90%. This happened in Australia with the spread of the cane toad. But over just a few generations, animals learned not to eat toads (Australian native snakes developed smaller heads so their successors could not swallow them), and the native species have made a come-back.

If you take a walk in the woods, say in Sunnyside Acres in South Surrey, or Green Timbers Urban Forest in North Surrey, there are not all that many species on the forest floor. It’s not that the ecosystem is in perfect balance and harmony, not to be disturbed, but that the current mix of species has worked up until now. When a new species moves in, perhaps shoves some other plants aside, it adds biodiversity and new habitat for other species. We seem particularly alarmed about blackberries and English ivy, to the point where the BC government has debated an Invasive Species Act. But are our fears based on scientific research and published studies? There seem to be far fewer of them around, versus anecdotal comments about how non-natives decrease biodiversity.

This is difficult to discuss, but has to be said: in the past humanity has applied the same attitude about invasive species (undesirables) to our own species.

Eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices focused on improving the genetic quality of the human population. The American eugenics movement was rooted in the biological determinist ideas of Sir Francis Galton (half cousin of Charles Darwin), which originated in the 1880s. During the ‘Progressive Era’ of the late 19th and early 20th century, eugenics was considered a method of preserving and improving the dominant groups in the population; it is now generally associated with racist and nativist elements as the movement was to some extent a reaction to a change in emigration from Europe rather than scientific genetics. [i]

Many people are very uncomfortable with the idea of genetic testing, or stem cell research, or humans trying to create a ‘super baby’ through gene selecting. This is in part because of possible unintended consequences. Just because humans can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

We participate in ‘wildcrafting’, harvesting native plants for our own uses, eradicating large patches of plants that local wildlife used to depend on. We change landscapes and local weather (more pavement, less forests in Surrey have made it warmer and drier), causing some botanists to call Western Red Cedars the ‘Western dead cedars’ as they struggle to adapt. How often is it the fault of an invasive species that a native species is at risk of being lost, versus climate change and habitat loss?

It’s worth noting that worldwide, aboriginal peoples have altered landscapes for their own uses, too (in particular clearing land for agricultural uses). Very few cultures have ever lived 100% in balance with nature. The trend towards ‘rewilding’ is also artificial, given that there are no ecosystems that humans have not already altered. Having a national park or nature reserve, fencing off an area and trying to keep the species there static, is rather like creating a museum.

So perhaps it is time to stop thinking of ecosystems as something that needs protecting and stabilizing, and stand back to observe, then interact, with nature as it changes over time. Is the sixth great extinction[i], which biologists say we are in, caused by species spreading to new areas? Does that mean we worry about biodiversity on a global or local scale? Do we remove species from an area, even when natives have come to depend on it?

And how about a multicultural approach to plants? This article makes an interesting point about nature-society hybrids:

in the late 1980s, I was working as an environmental education adviser in a north London borough. While some of the borough’s schools wanted advice on creating “nature gardens” using native species which they had been told were “better” for wildlife, others wanted advice on creating what I called multicultural or ‘world’ gardens, in which teachers and parents were intentional in selecting plant species from the diverse countries of origin of pupils in the school. These gardens were in effect autotopographies: cultural inscriptions on the school landscape that offered a statement of presence, of recognition, that both humans and nature(s) in cities are increasingly different, diverse and cosmopolitan, and are welcome.

As always, humans have the capacity to do as much good as harm. We can regenerate areas and observe succession in nature when an area is healing. For example, 40 acres in Green Timbers Urban Forest was cleared in the 1980s. Other than mowing the grasses twice a year (and putting in a lake), the parks staff now leaves the area alone. So you can go for a walk each season and observe the different species that have moved into the space, including lupins to fix nitrogen and the ‘Butterfly bush’ (Buddleja davidii). The BC invasives website notes that “Until only recently, this species was celebrated for its robust growth, fragrance and range of bloom colours, and often recommended for its ability to grow in poor soil and to attract butterflies. Unfortunately, the butterfly bush has escaped cultivation in southern BC and is now considered an invasive species.” We frequently change our mind about what is acceptable and what is not. Perhaps a better word to use is ‘successful’ versus ‘invasive’? If we want to control the spread of a species, ask why it is successful in the first place. It’s great to conserve, and to have some native plants in your garden. But there are many considerations regarding the altered ecosystems where we all live. Maybe we can find a way for us all to live together.

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[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics_in_the_United_States

[i]i http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/05/25/the-sixth-extinction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/_1/

Unedited and Uncensored

cemetery-1688304_1920.jpgWhat do you say to a mother whose son has committed suicide?

There are no words, just regrets, angst, pain, fear and even anger for a society who pushes so much disconnection that kids have no clue where they stand, no anchor to count on, no future to dream about.

Yesterday, the son of an acquaintance took his life. He was the same age of my son, who is also in despair about the world.

What do you say to an entire species who is committing suicide? Worse: what do you say to them if in their suicidal path they are happily taking other species’ lives?

Thousands of books, articles, papers and blog-posts have been written; documentaries been made, marches and petitions been called.

Yet, today Mr President approved the XL and Dakota pipelines; just yesterday, he passed a policy where it makes impossible for NGO’s to get funding for anything related to planned parenthood (I’m not pro-abortion, but without proper planning and education, instead of reducing, this actually increases the number of girls recurring to abortion that would be dangerous and unsupervised)

They say it is not environmentally a big deal, because we certainly have thousands of pipelines around the world. “It is just another pipeline”, right?

Imagine if for each child abused or killed we say “it is just another child”, imagine if for each species going extinct we say “it is just another species, we have many still left” , imagine if for every suicide we say “is just another kid gone, we are overpopulated anyway”…

In the meantime, what I see is divisiveness: are we being black enough, native-American enough, LGTBQ enough, Asian enough, or Muslin enough? What if the last march was whiter than it should, what if Madonna shouldn’t have spoken about revolution because of her wealth, what if the hats were imported, what if permaculture follows Bill, David or Geoff?

I posted in my Facebook wall:

“Please, stop the hurt. Let it stop with you. Stop blaming, shaming, gossiping, judging, hating, name calling, destroying, polluting, trolling, oppressing, abusing, neglecting, not caring, ignoring, hurting yourself and others…can’t you see that all that just perpetuates the hurt? STOP!!!”

No amount of yoga, meditation, prayers, veganism or whatever is our chosen way of escapism will bring that kid back, my sister away from her mental illness abyss or the ecosystems already destroyed or threatened by those pipelines.

At the end of the day, if you were black, yellow or pink won’t affect the outcome.

The only thing that will at least redeem those who have already fallen victims of this madness we call civilization/society is our proactive, intentional CHANGE and ACTION, one individual at a time, one species, ecosystem, struggle at a time.

Starting by how we think, feel and our attitudes, following by what we do every day, what we eat, wear and use for moving from place to place, to the places we inhabit and how we approach others, to the level of our engagement in things that will feel increasingly uncomfortable and even dangerous. And a deep, honest and caring engaging with the Earth and its elements and beings. Not a fake one, not one that choses some and not others, not a “nice and clean” approach but a truly courageous engagement with all…

Otherwise, these are my words, posted today in my wall:

“Then just go home and watch the next TV show, bury yourself in your cellphone forever, drink as many beers as you want or buy the next thing that will bring you temporary “joy”. Do nothing. Take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. Carry on. Because, after all, we already have filled the oceans with plastic, the landscape with garbage, the communities with homeless and addicts, the streets with crime, the peoples of the world with hunger, our workplaces with anxiety and boredom, our homes with dysfunction, our pockets with debt…we have already killed so many species, and sent people to suicide, wars, psychosis and panic attacks…”

I wonder how many may “un-friend” me or just take me as a nut case. I wonder how many would understand that I can be both very compassionate and outraged at the same time.

I wonder, I’m praying (and I’m not religious), WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?! Both in my individual life, my work, my family, my community and the world at large…

What is the next uncensored, unedited next step for each one of us?