Plan B isn't Planet B

No Planet B is the title of a current post from the Parliament of World Religions. They are aunching a webinar series entitled Faith and Climate Webinar series and you can find out more about that here.

Their Climate Action Program is also launching a special "WebForum" page on the Parliament's website to provide background about the Faith and Climate Webinar Series and begin a discussion of webinar topics ahead of time. The WebForum will feature a lead essay by a panelist from the upcoming Faith and Climate webinar, with written responses from other panelists and invited experts from the field, as well as comments and questions from readers. Each WebForum topic will include background information about the specific webinar topic, with links to further reading in anticipation of the webinar itself.

Plastics - A mini-history


To take on plastics is to take on consumerism itself:

 For some time we have agreed that too much is bad – but without doing anything about it.  Scientists, though were aware of it much earlier.  The current focus on microplastics – tiny bits entering the food chain – has increased awareness. As well as the perceptions changed by images of waste islands at sea or suffering animals, there has been a shift from seeing plastics and other waste as litter to understanding of it as a dangerous pollutant.

 Climate change is hard to understand – but plastics are everywhere in front of our nose.  I believe I share basic ignorance with most around me.  What is plastic, who makes it and where does it come from?  I turned to an article by Stephen Buranyi in the Guardian published last November for some basic information. It’s comprehensive, thorough and quite long so I am summarizing with some direct quotations:

  • ·Plastic is a global industrial product.

  • ·Plastic is a catch-all term for the product made by turning a carbon-rich chemical mixture into a solid structure.

  • The raw materials come from fossil fuels, and many of the same vast companies that produce oil and gas also produce plastic, often in the same facilities.

  • The story of plastic is the story of the fossil fuel industry – and the oil-fueled boom in consumer culture that followed the second world war.

  • To make it requires coal, water and air

  • By developing new plastic products – like Dow’s invention of Styrofoam in the 1940s, or the multiple patents held by Mobil for plastic films used in packaging – these companies were effectively creating new markets for their oil and gas

  • Thin plastic wrapping was introduced in the early 1950s, displacing the paper and cloth protecting consumer goods and dry cleaning. By the end of the decade, DuPont reported more than a billion plastic sheets sold to retailers.

  • At the same time, plastic entered millions of homes in the form of latex paint and polystyrene insulation.

  • Soon, plastic was everywhere, even in outer space. In 1969, the flag that Neil Armstrong planted on the moon was made of nylon.

  • The following year, Coke and Pepsi began replacing their glass bottles with plastic versions.

  • Plastic did more than merely take the place of existing materials, leaving the world otherwise unchanged.  It actually helped kickstart the global economy’s shift to disposal consumerism.

  • Plastic meant profit – but it also meant rubbish. A backlash started in 1969 heavily opposed by the industries that produced it.

  • Rather than blaming the companies that had promoted disposable packaging and made millions along the way, these same companies argued that irresponsible individuals were the real problem.

  • Household recycling was later seen as the answer – a solution pushed by the manufacturing industries as simple and effective. The problem with these rosy predictions was that plastic is one of the worst materials for recycling.

  • In the intervening years, global plastic production has rocketed from some 160 million tonnes in 1995 to 340 million tonnes today. Recycling rates are still dismally low.

  • Plastic isn’t just an isolated problem that we can banish from our lives, but simply the most visible product of our past half-century of rampant consumption. 

What prompted me to do more research on this was after reading the article on bioplastics (materials based on plants rather than fossil fuels) in Paul Hawken’s Drawdown, a book that I highly recommend in my book section here on the site. You can also go to the related Website.

I like the idea of a Drawdown challenge after just completing one. I want to be sure that a future one related to plastics makes me learn more about the industrial side and question its impact - not just my personal use.

The Ont. Endangered Species Act


I’ve been very favorably impressed by the newly named Broadview, a publication that was formerly known as the United Church Observer. The national monthly print publication is now available in newsletter format and subscribers can read excellent articles on a number of issues that concern us all. A recent article deals with proposed changes in the Ontario Endangered Species Act and you can read it here.

Most of us are much too absorbed by our personal concerns to pay attention to the fact that we are living in one of the most massive animal extinctions that have taken place for millions of years. A few concerned individuals and groups do care and monitor public policy. Proposed changes by the Ontario government are problematic. Your local MPP should know of your concern when you voice it.

On Earth Day


I’m almost embarrassed to admit that this is the first Earth Day that I have taken seriously – but at least there has been some good preparation.  It includes encountering the writings of Thomas Berry and his students and followers last August and becoming immersed in the works ever since.  It includes attending the 2018 Parliament of World Religions and meeting the diversity of faith-based groups head on.  It includes attending book launches, student research presentations and a day long Symposium on reducing our carbon fossil fuel dependency. It includes encountering the Deep Time Network and joining it.  Finally it includes reading two recent books – Tony Clarke’s Getting to Zero, Canada Confronts Global Warming and Paul Hawken’s Drawdown – the latter that encouraged me to join the Toronto team this past month.

 Clarke knew about the change of government in Ontario but the recent election in Alberta would be concerning when it is so opposes his case for reframing a Canadian economy hugely dependent on extracting bitumen from tar sands with its subsequent effects on economy and ecology.  He faults the national government for its oxymoronic aims to protect the planet and grow the economy.  He does provide a clear strategy to wean ourselves from our fossil fuel addiction,  but cautions how much that depends on a bottom-up advocacy from a consortium of citizens’ groups.  I admire his emphasis on dealing with the human side of the economy to drive the process.

 I am convinced nevertheless that the greatest challenge faces traditional religions because what is required is a drastic re-framing of their cosmologies to include what we now know from science. Western Christianity has played a key role in both encouraging the growth of science and technology but also by ignoring it. As Thomas Berry says:

 The solution then is not a case of restoring a religious, spiritual, moral or humanist tradition. It is a case of reordering the human in its entire relationship with the planet on which we live, a mission for which Christians are not especially suited, since we have seldom shown any extensive regard for the creation process, dedicated as we have been since the thirteenth century to a primarily redemptive task.                                    (The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth)

 There are a growing number of people who accept global warming and its implications for climate change and the active advocacy of the young is a sign of hope.  There are a much smaller number that recognize the need for a new role for religions.  Theirs is a crucial role – and they must encounter one another with humility and work together to create that role.

Double messages


Fossil fuel corporations are now faced with push back from those who recognize that they cannot foster impressions that they support environmental campaigns while continuing to pollute the atmosphere. We’re getting full page advertisements of how necessary oil sands industries are to our country - remember that they used to be called tar sands.

As we approach a crucial election in one Canadian province, we all have choices to make. Some in other parts of the world are responding to duel messages and you can read about one of them here.