Sunday, 8 November 2015

Step 14 in Going Green: Dealing with Activism Brain Freeze

You know how it is when you want to make an important point but it comes out garbled?

But then an hour later you've perfected what you wanted to say (in your mind) only the moment has passed and now no one is around to hear your perfection?

Yeah, I hate that!

When you take up environmental causes, knowing when and how and what to speak suddenly becomes its own art form. 

When: You have to know when to pick your moments. Not everyone is receptive to what you have to say! 

How: Come across too strong? You sound like you're selling used cars!

What: Locating all the necessary facts and examples from your brain  requires the precision skill of a brain surgeon!

Speaking up about a damaged and polluted Earth is a huge responsibility. 

Of course we want to get it right!

But one cannot aim for perfection. The best one can aim for is a connection.

Even if I don't get it all right the first time around, I'm sure my concern and care and worry about the future health of our planet shines through. You can't deny my impassioned plea, even if all I do is sputter.

Sometimes its not about words anyway. 

Feelings can jump between two people. Body language, tone of voice. These alone should tell you:

I'm concerned about this...and you should be too. 

And in the meantime, the more I talk, the more my words will catch up with that what I know in my mind matches what I feel in my heart...and what I finally say with my mouth!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Step 13 in Going Green: Maintaining #climatehope

So recently, one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded hit the coast of Mexico.

I saw its image from the space station. It looks like a scene in a disaster movie.

So real life is looking like CGI from a doomsday flick.

And astronauts are peering out the window at the earth and seeing things that make them think 'holy crap, that's not good'.

Doesn't it make you wonder: when is enough ENOUGH?

Are we just supposed to accept this as a 'new normal'?

If you've been paying attention, record breaking extreme weather events have been happening all over the $%#^-ing place.

Crazy 'historic' rainfall in the Carolinas!
'Record breaking', rampaging fires in Washington State!
'Mind boggling' heat waves in the Middle East!

I went to the Climate Reality Leadership conference in July and only a few months later, I've a ton of NEW extreme weather examples to put into the slide show.

This should be worrying people.

It worries the heck out of me.

I don't know why each time I hear of a new extreme weather event, I'm surprised.

Knowing the science of climate change as I do, I should know better.

Of course there are going to be massive super storms, heat waves, forest fires... along with a whole score of other 'symptoms' of an over-warmed planet.

Well, duh! That's the way it works, dummy!

Every incident is at once an impetus to act and a moment of mourning.

Here's a typical inner conversation:
  1. What?! Another extreme weather event? 
  2. That's horrible! 
  3. Think of all the living creatures affected!
  4. How could we let it get this far? 
  5. Why do we do this to ourselves? 
  6. When will we get our act together?
  7. We must take action! 
  8. Switch to renewables! 
  9. End the burning of fossil fuels!
  10. Yay! Lots of people are taking action!
  11. What?! Another extreme weather event?

And so on...

It can be a challenge to keep a steady emotional course.

It can be a challenge emotionally to stay attuned to what is going on, to bear witness, to give voice...and for those who are directly impacted, to endure.

One almost needs a warrior spirit to keep hope when faced with the constant evidence of our mis-direction, our mis-use, our environmental abuse which we are all complicit in.

Bad news: we created this mess. 
Good news: we can fix it. 

Granted, it might take considerable collective effort to fix it.

But that doesn't mean it can't be fixed.

I guess as long as we keep aligning with #climatehope, all is not lost.

Fellow humans, join me in maintaining your #climatehope!

Because, what's the alternative, really?

I really do not want to see the hashtag #climatedespair trending any time soon.

Let's. Just. Not. Go. There. Please.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Step 12 in Going Green: Make Art to Communicate the Need for Climate Action Now

I met this wonderful artist when I was at the Climate Reality Conference in Toronto this past July.

Her name is Suendrini Goonesekara and she is an up-cycle textile artist. She makes AMAZING landscapes out of recycled textiles.

But this September she is applying her skill towards a similarly AMAZING climate change art installation that will be displayed at the NewWaves Music Festival held at the Sandbanks Provincial Park in Ontario.

This installation is going to inspire those who see it. It is interactive & thought provoking. There's a great description of it on the festival website. I highly encourage you to read up on it, and GO to the festival if you can. If not, the write up helps you to envision her creation.


Reading this, you can see that not only is it going to be an evocative piece of is also an invitation to passerbys to explore the implications of climate change...and to realize the solutions.

Those with a creative bent definitely have a roll to play in the name of Climate Action. 

Suendrini has kindly offered to include mention of my blog/comic on her art instillation. A wee bit of artist-writer collaboration...which is just SO COOL.

Both of us are using our respective skills to draw attention to climate change and the need for action now.

There are so many impacts to consider...extreme weather events, changing ecologies, loss of habitat and animal species...

Health risks. 

Have you looked up the health implications of climate change? Food and waters systems will be impacted.

Just, you know, the things we need to live on.

But there are also unsettling disease implications. 

Al Gore talked about this at the Conference. He noted how with the increased warmth, disease vectors change. Mosquitos, ticks, viruses--these guys find this new warmth sooooo delicious. They'll go farther afield, live long and prosper...bringing negative health impacts along with them...

The ticks made the news this season, didn't they? Because they'd increased their range.

Why was everyone so surprised? That's Climate Change, folks!

And JELLYFISH. Jellyfish are going to be really happy, too. 

I realize that jellyfish don't carry disease, per sea, and I actually think they can be kinda pretty, floating as they do all gelatinous and dreamy...

But I don't think we want the oceans to be filled with more jellyfish swarms. Ick.

I'm not a visual artist, but I'd like to propose someone starts putting jellyfish images all over the place, Banksy-style. With signs that say: The Jellyfish Era.

Because that's where we seem to be headed: The Jellyfish Era. It seems an appropriate warning. Kind of dystopian/sci fi. The Rise of the Jellyfish! The Jellyfish Swarm!

Like the Borg from Star Trek, only...without the mind control...and gooier.

Coming to clog an essential nuclear power plant water pipe near you!

Or perhaps it will be: jellyfish for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

In any case, fellow creatives, it's time to use your talents to get the word out. Write poems! Write stories! Write blogs! Make art! Put it on the web! Take it to the festivals!

The Road to Paris is coming up. World Leaders will meet Nov-Dec to discuss Climate Change.

Artists are also participating in ARTCOP21. In Paris, there will be a city wide climate festival of art!

You don't have to sign up to join in on this idea.

The entire fall season needs to be a Climate festival! This festival of united hearts and minds can take place anywhere!


This is the time for climate change art awareness!


PS. Since publishing this blog post I have since found out that Suendrini's submission to ARTCOP21 has been accepted!

So now her art installation will be a part of the global art movement, centred around the Paris Climate Change talks.

And I get to vicariously experience this through her...and a little bit of me, via my comics, gets to join in! SO EXCITING!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Step 11 in Going Green: Deal with Your 'Green Guilt'

We've created our societies in such a way that 'going green' is 'alternative'. It is 'other'. It is not the standard.

That means to go green, you must go against the grain.

Of course, we are all starting to realize the inherent MADNESS of our current way of doing things.

I just read recently that, collectively, in the world, we have used up all of our yearly resources for 2015.  We are taking more than we can replenish. We are in 'ecological' debt.

This was the actual headline on the Weather Channel: We've Used up Earth's 2015 Resources in Less Than 8 Months!

This was on the Weather Channel, a mainstream media outlet, not some so-called hippy-dippy-Earth-lovin' (I use those words with respect) blog site (like mine, hee hee).

So you can see just by that, that environmental consciousness is becoming less 'other' and more standard.

But it still is far from mainstream.

Solar panels are still a novelty. My car still runs on gas. So does my furnace.

We may recycle, but the things we buy typically come with WAY more packaging then is necessary. Set in plastic, wrapped in plastic, sometimes even stuck in a plastic bag (though that is changing, most people around here bring their own cloth bags, at least to the grocery store).

I didn't even think to question these things until a few months ago. Lots of people still don't question the inherent 'rightness' of gas furnaces and Shell stations.

But once you've realized the high ecological price that comes with those 'conveniences', every time you use will feel 'green guilt'.

There is an overwhelming sense of responsibility that comes with an awareness of our ecological mess.

A need to do the right thing. 

Doing the 'wrong thing', even though it may be necessary at the moment because there aren't a lot of options (or any option) other wise, still feels 'wrong'.

I say embrace this sense of wrongness! Embrace the guilt! It is what will motivate you to gravitate towards other choices and step outside the circle of convenience, as you are able.

It isn't a comfortable feeling.

But it is useful. 

Soon, as more and more people make similar gestures, that which is inconvenient will become convenient. That which is 'alternative' will become mainstream.

The shift will happen. It is happening.

Those who aren't paying attention will wake up in five years to find solar panels on top of Home Depots and on airports...wait, I think that's happening now!

There is still power in individual actions. I know we live in a cynical age, but I do believe that inherent power still exists.

Individual + individual + individual + individual = a crowd.

Crowd + crowd + crowd = country.

Country + country + country = world.

Societies are created by humans. They can be changed by humans.

We are an ingenious species, awash with creative power. 

We can change things, if we want to. We can also make it easier for others to change, too.

By being the change we wish to see...

(I've been waiting for a blog post to reference that quote!)

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Step 10 in Going Green: Write a Letter to the Editor!

Today I wrote a Letter To The Editor about Climate Change...and sent it off to 4 different newspapers.

When you become, as I did, a Climate Reality Leader, writing a letter to the newspaper is a suggested form of activism.

As a writer, I'm amazed I hadn't thought of this before. I'm a writer. Of course I can write a letter communicating the need for climate action NOW!

Naturally, I had to see this as a challenge to my writing abilities.

Could I write succinctly? (150 words, 250 words). Could I reference the relevancy of the Pope's recent Encyclical, President Obama recent climate change plan, and Al Gore's Climate Reality conference? Could I appeal to voters of the upcoming national election in Canada? Could I come across as rational, persuasive, even, perhaps, a little funny? (For this is a serious topic seriously lacking in levity and perhaps the seriousness puts people off?)

Could I use eye catching words like 'zombie hoards'?

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking ZOMBIE HOARDS do not have anything to do with climate change. And of course, technically, you are right.

When it comes to the effects of climate change, zombie hoards are not on the list.

Let me repeat this just so I'm clear: climate change does NOT create zombies.

However, if you consider the amount of cultural and social anxiety that currently centres on zombies--the TV shoes, movies, books, and blogs that fret and worry about the sudden onset of the zombie apocalypse, how we would survive such an apocalypse, etc...

Doesn't it make you wonder?

Are we sublimating our panic, fear and worry about a REAL, scientifically proven catastrophe currently sitting on our doorstep (climate change) by pouring our attention into a hypothetical, fictional scenario about a zombie-based catastrophe?

It's easier to deal with pretend worlds, after all. Easier to plan our pretend zombie survival kit then to consider the real impacts of climate change, some of which we are experiencing drought, wild fires, super storms, flash floods, and so on.

Is that perhaps why zombies are so popular right now? Climate change anxiety narratives posing as zombie fiction?

Now, I love zombie tales and I would never suggest writers stop writing them.

But I would suggest that perhaps we turn our attention away from The Walking Dead et al for a moment...and face the real crisis on our hands 'dead' on. (Get it? ha ha. Further attempts at 'levity'. I'm trying.)

Otherwise we will all be like that poor group cornered by zombies in the shopping mall, scrambling together a strategy on the fly...

I don't know about you, but I certainly do not want to be scrambling about for a solution after the crap has hit the fan. Especially, when, with some effort and fore thought, we can stop the climate change catastrophe in its tracks right now.  (Namely, stop the fossil fuels, switch to renewal energy).

We don't even have to reach that point of scrambling in a corner.

Plus, we know what usually happens to that group in the shopping mall, don't we?

Just think of that analogy if you're wondering what to do about climate change. What more impetus do you need? Demand climate action now!

By the way, here's the long version of my Letter:

This November, in Paris, world leaders will meet to discuss climate change.

Climate change is a pressing issue. I’m amazed more people aren’t talking about it in their everyday lives, given it could change the world as we know it on so many levels. It is right there with zombie hoards in terms of apocalyptic impact—but, alas, unlike zombies, it is not fictional.

It is a scientific reality, one that is fast becoming ours. Not just for the ‘future generations’. This impacts everyone, world wide, right now.

It’s uncomfortable to consider environmental catastrophe but evidence of climate change related extreme weather events are happening now, all around us, hurting humanity.

The Pope recognized this in his recent Encyclical. President Obama recognized this when he recently debuted his plan to fight climate change. Al Gore presented numerous examples of climate change related devastation at his Climate Reality Leadership Conference I went to this past July in Toronto.

Search the Internet for the science of climate change, you will see for yourself.

The good news? It can be halted. But urgent action is required. We need strong leadership and commitment on all levels of government to stop fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy sources.

Climate change is not going to go away and I’d rather have someone at the helm with a plan, than someone scrambling to create one once it’s too late. We need climate action now.

Consider this when you cast your vote at the upcoming national election. 

Here's hoping one of the paper's publishes it! And doesn't edit it beyond recognition!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Step 9 in Going Green: Make Connections, Use Your Strengths

In the aftermath of the Climate Reality Leadership conference held in Toronto this past July, I have been experiencing a rather dramatic creative renaissance.

I love it when I get a creative flashes. They are extremely satisfying.

I have them in teaching, in writing, and now, in my foray into environmental activism.

Usually, it starts with the mental line: wouldn't it be cool if...

And then an idea comes to me. In a rush. It feels like a rush, too. I get mental goosebumps. I sometimes freeze in motion like a dog picking up a scent. Then I might jump up and down mentally, like a toddler that has to pee...

Often, once the idea takes shape, I will experience a type of 'well, of course'. Like it was something I knew but had forgotten. It feels like it was built into the fabric of the universe and utterly 'meant to be'.

Okay, getting out of the realm of the metaphysical...and into the practical. Here are the ideas that came to me, in order of their appearance...

1. Teachers Connecting to Environmentalists

When I was at the conference, I kept asking people I met: 'would you consider being a guest speaker in my classroom via Skype?" I received enthusiastic yeses to my requests.

But when I got home I realized...this could be so much bigger.

I only spoke to a handful of people. There were 600 attendees at the Toronto conference. Maybe they would like to be a guest in my classroom? Or any classroom?

Maybe other teachers besides myself might like to talk to them?

How can I get them all to meet one another? Wouldn't it be cool if...

  • There was digital space with a list of environmentalists from all walks of life who were interested in connecting digitally with classrooms...
  • Teachers could use this site to find interesting people, 'ordinary' people who are doing extraordinary things...
  • It could have wide application across grades and across curriculum...
  • I could add some lesson plan suggestions on how to facilitate this...

As such, my Eco-Teacher Network idea was born! It is still in the planning phase but my ultimate goal is to create a digital document (website?) that will facilitate this teacher-eco community connection!

2. Environmentalist Connecting to Readers
At the Climate Reality conference, there was moment when we all got to share our stories at the table groups, stories about how we came to be interested in environmental action, how we came to be at the conference. (I wrote about these a bit in a previous post).

I got inspired by this. Wouldn't it be cool if...

  • I could interview this diverse group of interesting people and document those moments of 'green awakening'? 
  • How did they become environmentalists? Was there a catalyst? A defining moment?
  • Was there an inner shift that happened inside when they realized the importance of the environment and that action must be taken?

I could turn this into an anthology! 

How inspiring to read about people making changes in their life! It's the very embodiment of what this 'going green' blog is about, just writ larger and wider!

And so my Green Awakenings Anthology idea was born! I'm currently in the process of interviewing and writing up entries! It might be a blog, a book, or both! (Probably a blog, first--so stay tuned!)

The entries don't necessarily have to relate to climate change. I intend for it to reach beyond Climate Reality Leaders. So I am eager to find other 'ordinary people' who are similarly green inspired!

(If this strikes your fancy, and you think you would be a good candidate, please email me: or contact me on Twitter: @julieejohnsonn)

3. Environmentalists Connecting to Viewers

Fast on the heels of the above idea came this:

Wouldn't it be cool if...

  • I could also interview environmentalist live, on the web, on a webcast, and, using my Twitter skills, introduce them to my 1900 followers?

It would be a half hour show, an informal chat between myself and my guest. We could talk about how they came to be interested in the environment, what steps they've taken to 'go green', what environmental action others can take, what specific environmental issues are they concerned about...

Then I would send it out into the internet to inspire others!

And so my weekly Hill of Greens Webcast idea was born!

(Looking for guest speakers! Please let me know if you are interested!)

Sooooo...pretty awesome, eh?

Have you noticed a thread running through all of these?

I am a green match maker! 

Not in a romantic sense, but as in: 'I am an operator at the switch board of ideas'.

I want to take the eco ideas from as many diverse people as possible and connect them to as many diverse people as possible.

What an amazing realization, that:

Sharing and connecting on a personal level is in itself a form of environmental activism!

This caters to my strengths. As a teacher, I am used to facilitating conversation, zeroing in on concepts, bringing them to the fore. As a writer, in the written venue, I do that, too. I know how to edit ideas down to its essence.

I had no idea these particular facets of myself could be put to use this way!


I remember what Al Gore said at the conference.

"We can live lives with an extra layer of meaning"

This is how this feels to me. Like a new layer of myself has been discovered (or, rather, it was built into the fabric of the universe and utterly meant to be...I just had to find it...)

Al Gore also said:
I feel that truth force. I want that truth force to flow through me and beyond me and through others and into others...

I spoke with a fellow CR Leader Nan Foster via FB this week about this and she said somethings that really resonated:

The activism all comes from conversation. That authentic connection between people...that is our strength.

I can feel the inspiring power of connection. This is how you counter Climate Change insomnia and the like. By joining up and joining in and just plain joining.

Ok, I just got mental goosebumps again!

PS. The other ideas that I have are creative writing pieces:
-my cli fi mystery, which I started in the Spring
-a graphic novel version of my sitcom idea from this comic: a group of activists, striving to make change...

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Step 8 in Going Green: Remain Calm! Remember Al Gore: 'Despair is not an option'!

Since attending the Climate Reality Conference in Toronto in early July I have experienced, a couple of times now, a particular kind of insomnia I have decided to call CLIMATE CHANGE INSOMNIA.

This is what's happening: I can't get to sleep because I'm worrying about climate change.

Once you have fully opened your eyes to the facts of climate change--which, to put it frankly, is apocalyptic in nature, right up there with nuclear Armageddon and zombie hoards--it is hard to 'forget it'.

It's there. In your brain.

I will never, ever forget as long as live the vibe in that conference room in Toronto on July 9 when Al Gore, master of the slide show, gave his presentation.

If you've seen An Inconvenient Truth (which you must, it is right up there with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring as part of Environmental Activism 101), then you will get the gist of it.

What I saw in Toronto was the revised version, updated for 2015. This includes lots and lots of current examples of how climate change is happening NOW.

Not in a few years, not 'in the future'.


He starts his presentation with a view of the Earth from Space. Several views of it. Our precious home. Our 'pale blue dot'. Look at it! That's all we've got.

Then he shows you: see how thin the atmosphere is? Like the peel on an apple. That is what protects us.

Then: a systemic, scientific look at how global warming works.

How the proliferation of green house gases in the atmosphere work to trap in more and more of the sun's heat (infrared radiation), thereby trapping in more and more warmth.

How temperatures have been steadily rising over time, how those temperature's correlate to our increased carbon emissions (with a specific focus on fossil fuels).

How that temperature increase affects various aspects of the Earth's systems, resulting in extreme weather events (each one relentlessly clarified, and explained, and backed by examples, earth wide):

Floods, droughts, wildfires, big storms, melting ice and rising seas, increased health concerns, food and water scarcity, rising food costs, climate refugees, regional instability!

"Human sacrifice! Cats and dogs living together! Mass hysteria!"

(Sorry, had to put that Ghostbusters movie quote in, in a attempt to lighten the mood!).

Al Gore is a good natured soul. He knew this part of his presentation was gloomy and sad. He told us at the beginning to hold onto our hats: the good news was coming at the end! The last half was about the progress being made! So just wait: it ends on a high note!

But, as he was walking us through this first part, it was like the air had been sucked out of the room. 

The seriousness of what we were facing, the depth and breath (indeed, the global scale) of what we were facing, the damage and devastation already wrought--I know I was not alone in thinking:


There was no getting around the fact: damage has been done.

Al Gore even said that: Damage has been done.

He's been working tirelessly, devotedly, all these years on this, trying to get people to see what's happening right before their eyes...

How frustrating to have to admit that, so far, humanity can't get its act together enough to save itself from its own destruction!'s the good news! 

His presentation switched gears to show the progress being made: the decrease in the number of coal plants in the USA, the increase in renewable energy sources world wide, how those increases were surpassing their projections, similar to the way cell phones have grown way past their projected levels of use...

Renewal energy is on the rise! The days of fossil fuels are numbered! 

The future trajectory was quite clear. Things are changing!
But...and here's the kicker: will the change be soon enough?

The fossil fuel industry isn't going down without a fight, that's for sure. It's quite clear the whole grumbling around 'is climate change true?' comes from their deeply lined pockets.

It must take some seriously heavy-handed sugar coating on their behalf to swallow that particular pill and not have any after taste. Don't they like awake at night, wondering: what if we're wrong?

Because if it turns out climate change scientists are wrong then all we get is some clean air and a more responsible ethos towards the environment...but if the climate denial-ists are wrong...then, oh boy, things are going to get freakishly terrible around here...

Surely they must have their own form of insomnia?

Don't they realize that as they lie awake in denial and I lie awake in despair we are all lying awake on the same planet? 

We live here together.

"Despair is not an option." Denial isn't an option, either.

Let's get it together, people!

Environmental consciousness can no longer be a choice. We no longer have that as a luxury. 

Let's accelerate the shift to renewable energy! Exercise your democratic rights! Urge your elected leaders: stop subsidizing fossil fuels! Stop investing in it! Promote greener, cleaner technology instead!

So at last I can centre my insomnia back on more mundane matters, like interpersonal anxieties, routine parenting concerns, work quibbles, existential questions, and why the heck can't I find a literary agent for my Regency mystery novel?

Enough with this apocalyptic stuff!

PS. Having undergone the Climate Reality Leadership training, I am now authorized to present Al Gore's slide show to interested parties! I can do this via the web or in person! Please let me know if you are interested! Twitter @julieejohnsonn

PPS. If you are interested in becoming a Climate Reality Leader, please go to find them on Twitter @ClimateReality

PPPS: I tried to 'live tweet' the event, quoting speakers and Al Gore as they happened (I've included a few samples above). Search back in my Twitter feed to get a feel for the event! @julieejohnsonn

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Step 7 in Going Green: (Re) Connect with Nature! (Plus more thoughts on Al Gore's Climate Reality Leadership Training)

I feel like the English language is lacking in nuance when it comes to nature.

The romantic poets on the nineteenth century had one term for it: the sublime.

But they were talking about that sudden burst of spiritual transcendence-ecstasy that occurs when faced with nature's magnificence. The dramatic view that would send you to the 'ever lasting universe of things' (as Percy Shelley puts it in Mont Blanc).

  • What about the open curiosity one experiences while heading into the woods on a hike?
  • What about the quiet contemplation that occurs when staring out to open water?
  • What about the excitement/fear of being in an open field while a storm is heading towards you and you can smell it on the air?
  • What about the serenity of gazing at the moon in the sky? Or the quick leap in the pulse when it emerges from behind a cloud?

Look! The moon! Tonight it's a sickle moon and sharp as a knife point!

We need more words to describe these moments!

This idea came to me when I was reflecting upon my experience a few weeks ago at the Climate Reality Leadership training in Toronto (hosted by Al Gore).

At one point in the conference, we were encouraged to 'share our stories' with our table mates. That is, share our stories about why we had come to be at this conference.

This was a very interesting exercise! Like me, every one there had experienced an inner shift at some point in their lives. Something inside that said 'I need to do something about the environment'. I need to protect it, speak about it, paint it, write about it, advocate on its behalf.

Everyone had their own story to tell about what had caused the shift inside.

Perhaps the most dramatic example that I heard came from one of the conference speakers, who used to work for the oil and gas industry but became so upset with what was going on that he switched careers. He now works for the David Suzuki Foundation.

As to my table group, what really struck me was how many of us expressed a connection to nature. 'I grew up in nature' 'I like being in nature' 'I want to protect nature'.

I paraphrase, but it was a concept oft repeated: nature is important to me,

I kinda always knew that for myself but I hadn't really said it out loud before.

I grew up in a variety of small towns in Ontario. Nature was literally at my back door. I played outside all the time, riding bikes, making forts out of sticks and pine needles or snow. We lived along side lakes, rivers. I spent every summer at a beach, in the water.

Even when we moved to a (mid sized) city, it was on Lake Ontario and our house was steps away from a natural beach.

Oh, the many days of my adolescence, walking that beach, staring out into the wind at the water, and thinking deep thoughts about the latest high-school drama!

(That experience in itself needs its own term. What word can we create for a teenage form of nature-soothed-angst?).

When I think about it, all my life nature has been there, a consoling presence in the background.

This past Spring, around the time I started this blog, I also started taking what I call the 'nature pic of the day' and posting it on Twitter. I started looking around me, really looking, and snapping photos with my phone of whatever aspect of 'ordinary nature' struck my fancy. The sky that day, a tree trunk, the view from the lake (yes, again I live near a lake).

I hadn't made the connection to this blog, I just started taking photos 'for fun'--but now I realize: my appreciation of my natural environment and this blog are the same impulse differently realized.

With words, with images, I feel the need to document how an average, ordinary person (ie: me) can appreciate the ultimate preciousness of our natural world, and thus, promote that compulsion within myself--and perhaps within you?--to see it properly safe guarded.

That moment of realizing the preciousness of our natural world? That inner shift inside that calls one to take action on its behalf?

 We need specific words for it!

(I propose eco-empathy for the first, green-epiphany for the later. What do you think?)

PS. Recent studies have shown the importance of nature on our psychological well being. Science is documenting that which has long been known. Nature is awesome!

PPS. If this post hasn't made it clear yet, go outside and make friends with nature!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Step 6 in Going Green: Take Action: Go Petitioning! (Al Gore's Climate Reality Project)

So I was at the beach with my family today and beyond thinking normal thoughts like isn't this a nice day and I wonder what I'll make for dinner I'm thinking:

I wonder if anyone here would sign my petition?

You see, I just spent 2 days at the Climate Reality Leadership Corp conference in Toronto. Al Gore spoke, as did numerous guest speakers. It was a revelation. And an affirmation of my new direction, my 'going green' transformation.

I am now officially a Climate Reality Leader and I have the certificate signed by Al Gore himself to prove it!

This is just an amazing turn of events for little 'ol me who started this little 'ol blog a few months ago and you can be sure there will be more blog posts to be posted here about it as I unpack this intense but deliriously fabulous event.

Anyway. But first, let's talk about the petitioning!

After the conference, there was a Day of Action, where upon several attendees gathered in small groups about Toronto and practiced our petitioning skills.

If a year ago, if you would have said that I would be standing on a busy street corner in Toronto calling out to assorted passer-bys: could you sign a petition to help stop climate change? I would have coughed up my water through my nose in startled bafflement.

First, because I haven't asked for petition signatures since I manned the Amnesty International booth in the concourse of my high-school. So it had been awhile.

Second, because a year ago I was in a different head space. I was still recovering from an illness, and the zone of my outward perspective was centred on family, work, and polishing up the final draft of my mystery novel.

Somehow, since then, my mentality has shifted very dramatically. I have gained in good health--the foundation for any enterprise--and have gradually broadened my range--broadened it farther than I ever could have imagined--

I started this blog because I'd reached an internal tipping point, a space inside that said 'I can't just sit here and do nothing'. That spark has now grown into a raging flame because:
  • I just sat in a huge conference room with 600ish people all dedicated heart and soul to improving the environment;
  • I had numerous conversations with people there who shared their stories of how, like me, something tipped internally, prompting them into action;
  • These people come from all walks of life (business folks, educators, artists, parents, students) 
  • Many of them travelled from far away to be there, such was their dedication (from other provinces, from the US, from the Caribbean, from Asia, from Africa...);
  • I heard Al Gore speak, many times in fact, and it is impossible to do that and NOT be inspired by his tirelessness, his kindness, his humour, his vast experience and knowledge, his impassioned plea to enact change, and his relentless optimism re: the positive changes currently taking place (dramatic increases in renewal energy, for example)
  • I heard others speak, like:
    • Ian Bruce from the David Suzuki Foundation
    • Keith Brooks from Environmental Defence Canada, 
    • Glenn McGillivray from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, 
    • Dr. Normand Mousseau from University Montreal and Sustainable Canada Dialogues
    • Chief M. Bryan LaForme, Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation,
    • Dr. Henry Pollack from the University of Michigan
    • Cara Pike, from Climate Access
    • Merran Smith, from Clean Energy Canada
    • Celine Bak, Analytica Advisors
    • Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne
It is impossible to walk away from that kind of intense conviction and positivity and NOT want to stand on a street corner and call out to others with enthusiasm.

And so: off I went with my group to gather petitions from passerby's near the exits of the Bloor/Yonge subway station!

(This was an overwhelmingly positive experience by the way: not everyone signed, obviously, but several who did thanked me for what I was doing, thanked me for taking action.)

This has changed my overall perspective, it seems.

So now, when I'm in a crowd at the beach, the strangers all around me no longer seem like strangers but instead:
*potential allies*

The people at the beach today: would they want to sign my petition?

That lady in the polka dots. Would she sign it? That guy in the black swim trunks? Would he sign it?

(One thing I also realized while petitioning in Toronto: you can't assume based on appearances who will sign it.)

How about that couple tossing the beach ball around? Would they sign it?

How do I know if I don't ask?!

I guess I better bring it next time!

I wonder if I should start carrying the petition around in my purse?!

If I'm in a public space, I can use it!

So I think I need to start using it.


So go and sign it already!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Step 5 in Going Green: Take Action Part 3: Internet Activism!

When you are exploring something new in this day and age, one of the things you must do is...turn to the internet!

The internet has a seemingly limitless supply of media reports that will tell you how bad things are going environmentally.

I used to tune those out because they were so distressing.  Now I see them as a necessary wake up call.

But if you just stop there, at all the dire warnings, you may experience feelings of impotence and despair...and just want to tune them out again...

So it is necessary to find the flip side, and to see how the internet can be a tool of action!

There are an INCREDIBLE number of people actively mobilizing to change things. It is heartening to see the energy, motivation, and action being taken on any number of causes. These are all over social media!

(Go find them! Here's a start: @DavidSuzukiFDN @WWFCanada @350Canada @GreenpeaceCA @ecojustice_ca @350 @HuffPostGreen @algore @climatereality @queenofgreen @CANBarrie and the list goes on...)

I wish we saw more of this on the traditional news outlets.

These people/organizations are inspiring. They make you want to say: I can do that. I will do that.

Many of these causes make it easy for you to support them. You can fill out an on-line petition! It will take you two seconds! You will just have to be prepared to give your personal contact information.

You will have to openly, publicly align yourself.

This is a great move for any newbie greenie!

Typing in your name is a bold step, an affirmation, a declaration: "I SUPPORT THIS CALL OF ACTION! And here's my email address, so you know where to find me!"

This can feel invigorating!

I myself have now sent off several of these petitions and it felt great!

I think my local MP knows who I am now. He is not of a party I associate with Eco activism, but his (form?) emails in response to me are always polite. (Looks like I can strike up a conversation at the next local community event with the words: "I'm Julie Johnson, I keep emailing you about environmental concerns via those on-line petitions...")

However, once you do it so many time over, you can feel a little bit like...can I do more? What else can I do?

Also, you can feel splintered, like your activism energy is being diffused across too many causes...there are so many can start to get to feel overwhelming again...

I think the next step is: finding a focus.

You'll hear more about that in the next blog post!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Step 4 in Going Green: Take Action Part 2: Re-Evaluate 'Green' In Your Daily Life

Of course, everyone knows about the 3 Rs, which has become standard practice around here these days.

Back when I was a kid, in the 70/80's, recycling meant dad was taking his empty beer battles back.

That's it.

And MacDonald's put everything in styrofoam.

Those crazy 70/80's! What were we thinking? *eye roll*

So, evidently, we have come a long way!

Or so you think until you put on your 'green glasses'. Awakened to a higher environmental consciousness, you start looking beyond the 3Rs, seeing trouble everywhere...

Take the average Canadian grocery store.

I unpacked my groceries the other day and realized...they've got tons of FREE plastic bags for you to put your veggies in!

Mindlessly, for years, I have been doing this. Picking up zucchini...and putting it in the provided plastic bag.

Even when I brought my own cloth bags to pack my groceries at the check out, which is now the environmentally friendly custom...I was still picking up my green beans and stuffing them in a plastic bag...which I would then put in my enviro friendly cloth bag...

Here is a picture from my last shop:


And where do they go when I'm done with them? Right in the trash, where it takes years for them to biodegrade.

Why do I use them, you ask? Habit, I suppose. Convenience, I suppose. And they keep my precious veggies from touching the germ infested shopping cart and/or checkout counter.

So let's open the fridge and put those precious veggies away...

Only to realize that most of them have racked up a serious amount of frequent flyer points!

Most of it comes from the USA, burning up fossil fuels along the way.

(But my sweet peppers came all the way from Honduras!)

Now the one time I splurged and bought (crazy expensive) organic sweet peppers at the grocery store...I realized after the fact...that they were wrapped in plastic!

So should I buy the (crazy expensive) organic peppers wrapped in plastic...or the (cheaper) non organic peppers flown in from far away...the ones that I can then put in a plastic bag kindly provided to me by the grocery store?

Which hurts the environment more?

Decisions like that make my head hurt.

It's amazing to realize the extent to which we have created a non-environmentally friendly environment.

Here's where I put on my cranky pants, as I realize how neatly we have put the screws to ourselves.

We have created a society where almost everything we do comes at a high ecological price.

From the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep, every little mundane decision has an environmental consequence.

Gas up the car?
Turn on the lights?
Get dressed?

Every 'ordinary' task takes on a green hue.

I can't even go to the plain ol' grocery store without developing a severe case of ANGST.

I'm not surprised a lot of well intentioned 'going green' people decide to say FORGET THIS.

Daily life seems a grind, as soon as you put on your Green Glasses. Every decision is fraught with significance. Suddenly, its not so easy going green.

Which I guess is the point. We wouldn't be in the mess we were in if we'd aligned our society differently. To change things means to swim against the current, to dig deep, and to think deep.

One day, maybe, it won't be that way. One day, green won't be 'the alternative'. It will instead be embedded in daily life, ordinary.

And future generations will roll their eyes at our time in history, mocking our astonishing lack of green. Really, *eye roll* what were we thinking?

Friday, 12 June 2015

Step 3 in Going Green: Take Action (Part 1): An Appeal to My Fellow Writers/Artists/Creatives

Decades ago, I had an idea for a series of environmental romances.

They would be a Harlequin series, I explained to a friend. 

The romance would play out against a backdrop of environmental calamity. One book would be about deforestation, another the deteriorating arctic ice, another an oil spill in the Gulf, yet another on endangered animals. And so on. 

"Imagine it!" I exclaimed. 

Exotic locales! Dashing (Greenpeace) heroes or maybe dashing CEOs who, thanks to the meddling of the beautiful, caring, clever heroine-marine biologist-animal sanctuary owner-eco minded journalist, has a change of heart. 

The romance genre is littered with high powered business fellas, maybe one of those wealthy CEOs has a (green) heart and decides to cancel that oil pipeline for good?

"It would be fun and educational!" I enthused. You'd get all the allure of a romance novel and, at the same time: environmental awareness!

But my friend was sceptical. 

It didn't sound very sexy to her. 

And she's right. 

Environmental issues are not sexy. Think: swaths of destroyed forest, oil covered sea otters dead on a beach, polar bears stranded on ice flows, elephant carcasses minus tusks. 

It's not sexy! It's sad and upsetting! And it's very hard to write about without devolving into ALL CAPS RANTS!

I shelved the idea.

But now I'm thinking: maybe I'll bring it back? 

'Climate Fiction' (Cli Fi ) is a genre now and there are some environmental romances out there (not to the extent I was imagining, mind. I wanted an entire division at Harlequin. - a signature line: Eco Love. And a designated section in the book store.)

The universe also seems to be telling me to do it. 

I was at a writer's conference at the end of April that also had an environmental edge and a student / scientist got on stage and with great fervour told the writers in the audience to do something. She said that scientists write about eco issues with their mind, but what was desperately needed was writing from the heart.

We need you to put the word out there, move people, make them care, she said (I'm paraphrasing).

I'm not sure my 'Eco Love' series was what she had in mind...but no matter! 

The call has been heeded! I'm ready to pick up my pen for the cause, for clearly there is the need to increase the visibility of eco issues in the mainstream, and this is where the artists & creatives like me come in! We need novels and plays and (more) movies and tv sitcoms about the environment! GO!

Because, this is a PR war, apparently.

In actuality, in early May I started writing an eco book--not a romance, but a cli fi dystopian comedy-mystery, if there can be such a thing. 

For some reason, I'm choosing bizarre genres for my eco minded creativity. Girly hearts and unicorns. And a laugh track. None of it fits with the severity of the issue. But I want to make it fit. And perhaps that's the point. It needs to fit.

Or rather, all that heaviness needs a counterpoint. 

The situation is grim and you either laugh or cry. Love or hate. I'm choosing love and laugh, thank you very much.

What are you going to choose?

And how are your going to choose to express it?

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Step 2 in Going Green: Learn More...and Don't Panic!

There is a blog post at the end of this comic, I promise. 

When I was eighteen or so I went shopping with a friend in the Queen Street area in Toronto. This was 1989 approximately, and these were the so called 'alternative' stores where you could find unique items, beaded wallets from Thailand, say, or Ecuadorean sweaters, or cool vintage clothes, stuff you wouldn't find at the mall where we lived, the boring Oshawa Centre. 

While browsing I came across a t-shirt with a cute elephant on the front. Underneath it were the words: 

The Environment. It's [bleep-ed]!

(But it used the real swear word, okay?)

I showed my friend, half joking. Should I get it?

Get it! Get it! she egged me on. She knew that while I had a rebel-ish heart I was ultimately a goody goody who would never/will never wear a shirt with profanity on it. Ever.

But the swearing wasn't the only reason for my ultimate NO. I remember staring at for a while, wondering if I could actually wear it and claim such a defeatist statement. It was just too negative. To wear it would be to align with it, to believe it true. I couldn't do it.

But that shirt still haunts me. I pull it off the hanger in my mind every now and then, and consider its message...

I thought of it as I read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

Having decided that my environmental naïveté had to end, I wanted to read more about environmental issues. For my first foray, I chose a book that many consider the starting point for the environmental movement, an environmental classic.

She published it in 1962 and I'm reading it in 2015.

I wonder if it will seem quaint, I thought, cracking it open. You know, being so old.

But a few chapters in I realized the book was not outdated. It's precepts remain true today--with a vengeance. 50+ years on! 

Here is her book in a nutshell: if you put nasty chemicals (like DDT) in the earth, there will be consequences...and due to the interconnectivity of nature, chemicals put in one spot will not stay put, they will move and mingle in unpredictable ways, and mix up with god knows what other kinds of chemicals that have likewise moved around...all with devastating effects through out the cycle of life.

She cites many, many instances where this is so. 

Jump to 2015 and little ol' me reading this while also finding out about the bees & neonic insecticides ...or the toxin-soaking plastic micro beads ...or the triclosan in antibacterial products...

If Rachel Carson were alive today would she not be shaking her fist at the sky, shouting: didn't anyone read my book? 

The t-shirt was right. The Environment IS [bleep-ed]!

Fifty years later and we're still doing the same things. Hopeless!



But Rachel Carson doesn't just document all the (many) ways humanity screwed up the natural world (the one we keep forgetting we are dependent upon). She does list (some) ways in which we got it right. Ways we were more patient in our approach, and gentler, and got the result we were after without killing off creatures and sending shock ways  reverberating thru the cycle of life.

It can be done.

So is there hope or not? Do I wear that t shirt in my mind or not?

Deciding to engage with Eco issues means deciding not to wear that T-shirt. Don't be a downer! Don't go over to the dark side! (This is a Jedi mind set. Absolutely it is.)

Step one: Accept there's a problem. Step two: Don't let it get you down! 

Rachel Carson knew things could change. She saw it when it happened. She wrote her book to show the wrong path vs. right path. There is a right path. The path exists. 

Stay positive. Stay positive. Stay positive.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Step 1 in Going Green: Admit That There's A Problem

On Twitter recently I read that the West African Black Rhino* was declared extinct due to poaching.

And I experienced oh-my-god-did-I-read-that-correctly whiplash.

Seriously. Did I read that correctly?

Why that particular piece of bad news should be the one to push me over my inner edge, I don't know.

It's not like we are lacking in 'bad news' as far as the environment is concerned: dead bees, animal extinctions, ice caps melting, etc. etc. etc. etc.

(Alas, there is so much etcetera...)

Turn that TV off! I don't want to hear about the dying oceans!

Except, now, wait a minute...maybe I do...

I used to have a lot of reasons to justify my avoidance: it's too sad, it's too scary, the problems are too big, I can't do enough, I'm too shy, I don't even know what to do, and it's futile, anyway, so why bother?

But it seems the equation has shifted. 

My personal hang ups < the need for active attention

Or to steal from Casablanca, for which you will need your best Humphrey Bogart voice: 

My personal hang ups don't equal a hill of beans in this crazy world.

It's not that all of a sudden I'm less scared and more confident.  I haven't taken any kind of Green Tonic that's given me a completely different personality. 

I have just decided to let my cynicism or shyness or sadness or fear be as it is...and take action anyways. 

So...I started looking outwards, looking for things I could do beyond the basics. Looking for information instead of hiding from it. 

This blog is to document this 'looking', this learning, but I aim to do so with a light touch... 

And I've done step one: ...going from eyes closed letting them open. 

Now for step two...stay tuned and see my next blog post! 

*the West African Black Rhino going extinct isn't exactly new news...they were declared extinct in 2011...apparently, the recent interest came about due to a replay of an old news report. So while I was mourning its loss, it was already long gone...Check this article out to learn more about that