Today let’s explore the idea that we are driven by necessity and that the choices we make are those we consider necessary. Thus, to change, both as individuals and as a society, all we have to do to change is re-order our “to do list” to put what is truly necessary for our survival at the top – and that does not include a new SUV. This is only possible once we have realized, usually painfully, that our choices are actually always life and death choices, perhaps not immediately or physically, but always choices between more life or more death.
I choose Life. I choose Necessity.
On December 5 I returned from a lost battle with City Hall (trying to argue against a proposed mega-warehouse in the village of North Gower which is not zoned for such an activity) in a contradictory mood. On the one hand, my 30 co-presenters and I had expected that result; on the other I was struck how the charade was a dance where one side – the City councillors – only saw the necessity of finding more tax dollars that this project would provide, while the other side – the people like me who will have to live close to the proposed monstrosity – are driven by the necessity of seeing our quiet country life annihilated by politicians who think of rules simply as words to keep the little people in their place and for them to manipulate to meet their agendas. Does this sound a little harsh? Well, maybe a bit, but if you have gone through a similar experience I think you will agree with me.
Then, once I was back home reading my emails, I was struck by this quote from debate going on the Cacor climate group:
Person One said: “I have a quibble-about this quote: The sum of individual actions by ordinary people can provide at best some 10% of the cuts in carbon emissions we need. The rest requires local and national governments, supra-national bodies and international agreements to pull in this direction.”
Person two responded: “Attempting to tag a 10% reduction on individuals is a gross understatement. Individuals make up everything in our society so one individual can have energy efficiency influences in many places.”
Somehow this chat connected the dots in my head between our Pathways Project, my attempts at living net-zero Carbon, my experiences as a candidate in the last election, and the idea quoted above about individual vs. large scale government action on the Climate Crises. So here is my feeble attempt to connect the dots – using the idea of Necessity as the underlying theme.
First, when we make “choices”, they are seldom totally “free choices” – they are dictated by circumstance, external pressure, expectation, family histories, biological urges, etc. Also, the ‘choice’ we act upon is selected from a list we have in our head that we have prioritized. Every day I make a list of things I want to do (this, happily, includes napping) and I only get the items from the top of the list done. I want to do them all, but cannot. Those near the top had higher priority, I considered them more necessary, so they got done.
Now, given that it is 10 am and this article is due by noon, and I have a massage at 11, you can imagine that I am now being driven by the necessity of this deadline to get this article done – because if I don’t, Art will be very upset with me! Yes, necessity, a deadline, is controlling me, so much for free will.
Now, here’s the point. Rather than being upset by this, I am, in my old age, happy with this. Why? Because necessity and deadlines keep me on the ball. They keep me sharp. They keep me from getting sloppy. They make me a better man. As the Book of Proverbs says:
Iron sharpens Iron.
Necessity is that iron.
Deadlines are that iron.
My wife reminding me to call my son on his birthday is iron.
Challenge is iron.
Pain is iron.
War is iron. (mind you, usually not helpful iron – but, sadly, it is true that a lot of 20th century technology developed because of the wars)
As for the CACOR email exchange about individual vs. group action I, as a chemical engineer and chemistry teacher I love the metaphor of crystal growth when discussing social change. To grow a large crystal you being with one single invisible crystal lattice, and, IF THE CONDITIONS ARE RIGHT, the crystal will, as large as the supply of chemicals and size of container permits. You are that see crystal. I am that seed crystal. Every individual is a potential seed crystal. So, yes, you actions matter. The only question is, do we, as a society, have the right conditions for those seed crystals like us trying to see a different necessity, a necessity based on the recognition that we are destroying our own futures?
Finally, we return to our friend the polar bear pictured at the start of this article. Why was he there? Because some of us see acting on environmental catastrophes like climate crises or the 6th mass extinction as catastrophes – in others words – that a response is necessary or we risk pain and death – while other – like the City councillors I mentioned – do not. Response is optional. It is not so bad. Why panic? We have more important problems – like balancing the City budget or getting the LRT working properly.
So, some of us respond by trying to live net Zero Carbon and voting for political parties trying to transition us to meet our Paris Accord targets – and others of us want more pipelines – because they seem as necessary to keep them employed and wealthy. Why the different perceptions? While that would required a PhD to answer it certainly has much to do with each person’s unique life situation and needs; if you are hungry today – you think food today is necessary – and some abstraction like the climate crises can wait. True enough. So, perhaps, because we in the CDN. Assoc. for the Club of Rome have the luxury of being well fed and do not risk losing our jobs or pensions if the “needed’ pipelines are not built and thus can ponder the longer term necessitates – the necessity of a stable climate for our children and grandchildren – perhaps that is why we see a different necessity than those working in Fort MacMurray. I would bet, if you were 30 and working there you too would want a pipeline – different circumstance – different necessity.
However we all know that this short term, focus on me, focus on now, focus on here type of thinking is myopic and thus dangerous. It is a form of blindness that does sees the want, rather than the need, sees the tree, but not the forest. To survive we need to follow this advice of Goethe, the great German poet and writer:
The iron hand of necessity commands, and her stern decree is supreme law, to which the gods even must submit. In deep silence rules the uncounselled sister of eternal fate. Whatever she lays upon thee, endure; perform whatever she commands.
— Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
So, dear friend – if you consider a response to the Climate Crises necessary, act upon it. Here is a movie clip ( https://www.necessitythemovie.com/ )from a group of people in Minnesota who have decided to act and risk breaking the Law for a great justice – for Climate justice. They asked, and I ask you:
In a climate emergency, is civil disobedience a necessity?
The time to reflect and learn is over, this is the time to act. Surprisingly, the idea that what we do is more important than what we say, comes from a Catholic Saint by the name of St.Anthony, a Franciscan preacher. I was attracted enough to the Franciscan way of thinking to become a 3rd Order Franciscan because I, like St.Francis, have seen to many well intentioned people say nice things but not act. Why pray for a starving man and then fail to give him a piece of bread?