Arriving in Resolute

July 30th, 2010

If I like the sound of a private jet, does that make me a bad environmentalist? Not really a trick question, cause that’s the way we arrived in the Arctic. And no matter how I justify it — the plane was going anyway, how else could i get here? — i know that there is some co2-karma to pay here.

And the karma circle came round quickly. As the jet circled Resolute Bay, the fog was so thick that we could not see any ground at all until the very end. Of course pilots use instruments and don’t approach visually, but as a passenger, i do confess to sweaty palms and the idea that i didn’t really know these people well enough to land in minimum conditions.

But land we did but the charter plane from Yellowknife got stuck in Cambridge Bay. it looked like they would have to stay the night and their pilots were threatening to leave (for another charter the next day). But suddenly, one hour later clear sky and the other plane eventually landed. But no going out to the Louis that day/night so we bunked it in Resolute Bay. Not much to the town but the Bay was cold and beautiful. Things are changing here.

We heard that there is no more multi year ice left here and that the Bay itself has not had ice even in the last three years. Local Inuit also say that the wind current has changed so much in Lancaster Strait that they’re afriad of overtipping in their big canoes, so they’re trying to figure out when is the best time to go to their hunting site on Somerset Island. They’re asking if climate change will keep on going and if that means they’ll have to make much bigger changes.

Seems so. But resilience comes not from steady states but from adapting to the unexpected. And local people here are good at that. We get reminded of this when we go to visit the Thule whalebone camping site — unbelievably old relics just outside the town probably 500-800 years old. Families have lived here before in different conditions. Can they continue to adapt? They’re have to be pretty resolute to stay in Resolute.

A Mom’s Trip to the Arctic Ocean

July 17th, 2010


Wow.  Amazing news!  I’ve been invited to participate in a scientific journey through the North West Passage of the Arctic on the ship Louis St. Laurent from 27 July to 3 August, 2010.

The voyage is organized by The Institute of Arctic Oceans in Canada in support of the International Polar Year Project called ‘Canada’s Three Oceans’ or C3O. The objective is to use science-capable icebreakers to collect physical, geochemical and biological data as a sort-of ocean climate baseline around northern North America from Victoria in the subarctic Pacific to Halifax in the subarctic Atlantic; a ship track of over 15,000 km, to collect data from top to bottom and at biological scales from bacteria to whales. There are 40 PI’s involved, and 149 researchers have gone to sea 2007-2009.


To make this study meaningful to a wider audience, the Institute has organized what is now called a “Philosopher’s Leg” as the ship transits the Northwest Passage. About a dozen people, are drawn from as broad a spectrum as possible; from science to policy to social leadership. One of the participants last year compared the experience to being put in the Hadron Collider, just to see what happens.

I’ll be going in my professional capacity as a business professor.  But as Eddy Carmack said in his invitation to me, “PS – You can also work on your ‘Mother’s Guide to Climate Change’!  Good idea. 



Expect new blog updates soon!

Leaving on A Jet Plane

January 4th, 2010

Leaving on a jet plane does not sound like a good way to start the scientific chapter for a Mother’s Guide to Climate Change. But here I am, leaving Rotterdam for a small island off the west coast of Canada for a scientific meeting of the Resilience Alliance. The RA is a multidisciplinary group of scientists that explore the dynamics of complex adaptive systems – they’re trying to figure out how to save the world. The bottom line is that I want to help save the world too. I want this, for more than any other reason, because I am a mom.

I’m going to Gabriola Island, hoping that some of my research on the role of companies in our climate problems might have some bearing on how to fix Armageddon. I also decide to use the meetings as fodder for the Mother’s Guide. These scientists are on top of things, I think. I’ll try to see what might be relevant for moms.

It’s also hard to deny that going to the beautiful west coast of Canada sounds like a dream. Maybe some time for myself?! But predictably, when I leave, I am sweating over the thought of being separated from my kids. My sons don’t make this any easier. Max, at 7, still doesn’t like me to go away.

Over lunch, on the day I’m leaving, he barely looks at me. “You always go away,” he says grumpily. While not factually true, I also feel anxious. I wonder why I am going?

He really rubs this in. “You love your job more than you love me.” Definitely not true. But he is adamant: “That’s why you’re going.” I try to explain. “Maxi, I’m going to a scientific meeting. I’m trying to find out what’s wrong with the Earth.”

“The Earth’s not sick,” he says. “If it was, then we’d be sick too cause we’re in it.” He has a point. It’s glorious day in Rotterdam. He looks outside with a smirk. “See, the Earth looks fine.”

He’s right: it does look fine, at least from where we’re sitting today. I don’t want to alarm him – I’m his mother, not a monster. But I want to explain that I’m going away only because I think it’s really important, “Well honey there are a few problems. We just can’t see it right now. And I’m going to find out more.”

As I try to simultaneously hug him, reason with him, and feed him home-made chicken noodle soup, he resists everything. He won’t even walk me to the train station, when my husband and other son return from swimming lessons. So I say goodbye at the house, excruciatingly nervous to leave, and wave to my husband fixing his bicycle (his only mode of transportation since he doesn’t drive). Brix, my five year old, yells from the door, “I’ll miss you mom!”

It’s sunny and I keep looking back one last time. All these guilty thoughts roll into one: Should I be flying today? Should I be doing this? Leaving my kids, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions? Will anything I do make a difference?

Dressed in jeans, hiking boots, and Kuyichi T-shirt, I look more like my imagined idea of an eco-warrior-mom than a management professor going to a conference. It is not enough to dress the part, I tell myself sternly. I have to earn my low carbon talk. I had better make this trip worth the CO2e .

From Faux Pas to Low Carbon Living

December 1st, 2009

When I was growing up in Ottawa, Canada, climate change was not exactly something my friends and I thought much about. When I was in high school, my neighbourhood’s environmental literacy only stretched as far as the “no ‘butts’ about it” litter campaign.

But in my University days in the early ‘90s, everything changed for me. I was studying physical geography and environmental science, learning about pattern and process in Earth systems. I was one in a small minority of people who were studying the threat of climate change and other environmental constraints that threatened to substantially alter the world as we knew it.

At that time, we didn’t have terribly sophisticated predictive modelling tools or the wealth of data that today help us get a picture of what impacts we can likely expect, but it was enough to generate a substantial sense of doom on my part.  It was hard to hold this knowledge when most people dismissed it as the hysterical babblings of granola-eating environmentalists. “Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” I was told on more than one occasion. Doom morphed into hopelessness. “How could I ever bring a child into this world?” I often asked myself.

Over time, I managed to build the support and connection I needed to more constructively engage, in particular meeting my playful and brilliant husband, Adam, and landing in the lovely community in rural Northern California.

Together with 20 adults and six children, we live in 80 acres of redwood, bay and oak forests and diverse organic gardens.  We explore sustainable living on a personal and community scale.

Sure, there’s the odd composting toilet experiment-gone-wrong, but there are also acres of organic gardens where we daily harvest our food, rambunctious goats and chickens who help supply the lacto-ovo component of our diet, an impressive solar array and micro-hydro power generator, and a delicious pond that provides for many fine afternoons of summer fun — in addition to supplying irrigation water for the gardens.  And through many hours of meetings, we have worked out the structural and decision-making models that are necessary to make it all work in the long-term.

From a canvas yurt next to our tiny, beautiful home, I also work as a consultant to non-profit organizations building resilient food and farming systems.

Three years ago, I gave birth to my daughter, Sabine. There is no denying the fundamental and instantaneous transformation that takes place when we step through that elemental doorway of childbirth. There was a moment about 30 hours into my labour, when my contractions were stalling out, I was growing exhausted, and everyone started to get that anxious look, when all my doubts about being a mother to a child growing up in this time, came flooding into my consciousness. “I don’t know if I’m ready to be a mother,” I confided, wild-eyed, to my husband as we crouched together in the corner of the bathroom. A few bags of IV fluid and some inspired coaching later, I managed to connect with my strength (and with the long parade of mothers who came before me), and I got back to the business of bringing that baby safely into the world.

In those precious moments after Sabine’s birth, as I held my newborn girl to my breast for the first time and felt that life-giving connection, I thought of the world outside and felt, viscerally, the responsibility I had to do whatever I could to make things good for her. I feel a much more profound obligation to deal with the climate problem – no longer can I even pretend that it doesn’t exist.

The reality is that today, the basic elements of life – food, water, shelter – can no longer be taken for granted, even for the relatively affluent in our society. Since Sabine’s birth, I haven’t again felt that intensity of fear, but when those doubts come to me, as they do, I try to tap into that same place of power and shift into a more connected, productive, and constructive gear.

I am grateful to be able to live a relatively low-carbon lifestyle. Living in such a well-knit and sustainable community helped give me the grounding to become a parent.

But we are not immune from the effects of climate change and living close to the land makes it hard to deny. The recent multi-year drought in California had us trucking in potable water from miles away during the fall months. We wouldn’t be able to grow food securely here at all without the pond. Once-reliable weather patterns have been replaced by eerie periods of mid-winter blooms.

I am hopeful to see that a substantial shift has occurred since the days when talking about climate change was a faux pas. Our children will at least be raised with much better access to ideas, knowledge, and solutions. Many of the right strategies are out there now, but there remains a huge gulf between the current reality, and making these solutions widespread-enough to make the necessary impact.

As mothers, we have the ability to act to make sure that our kids, as well as we, build the emotional and practical resources, and the tools, to organize and take action to build the world that we want and need. There is much work to be done.

Let us begin.

An Idea Ready for an Uprising

December 1st, 2009

Lying in a hammock in my garden doesn’t seem like an obvious place to start an uprising. But here I am, at the end of a sunny day in the fall of 2009, swinging gently in the breeze and listening to the sweet sound of my five year old play beside me. To the outside, we look like millions of other mom-child teams, relaxed and enjoying ourselves. In reality, this is a revolutionary moment.

It is revolutionary, because it really hits me that maybe this really can’t last. If all the science I teach my university students is right – and I have every reason to believe in the facts – then my son may have to find another place to hang his hammock when he grows up. The trouble is that the UN predicts that he will join over a billion other climate refugees. And where will he and his brother go?

My sons are part of Generation C – kids born in the last five or 10 years, and those to be born in the next fifteen or so. For Gen C, climate will be the overwhelming issue of their time.

Admittedly, my family is lucky: middle class, educated parents with dual citizenship.  We can move if we want to.  But many mothers don’t have that option.  And even if we mistakenly believe that we can simply move away from climate change, we’ll find that every country faces its own severe challenges.

It doesn’t matter where you live, what nationality you are: your children are going to face a carbon-challenged future.  And we have to do something about this.

This is not easy for me.  In contrast to my kids, I’m part of Gen X.  We were sick of the baby boom generation but had the luxury of retreating into apathy and alienation. As a Gen X mom, I know that my twentysomething angst is now a thing of the past. With two beautiful boys of my own, I envision a future that is bright. I want optimism and harmony for my children. But as a social scientist working on climate change, I know that I need to act fast.

While Gen C will probably reject the past (as I did), they won’t be able to sit around and listen to Nirvana. They will have to work hard to deal with a carbon-challenged world. And we have to help them.

Easier said than done. Right now, my hammock is swinging in Rotterdam, meters below sea level. Scientists predict that there is a high risk of rise in sea level from climate change. The Dutch government has been told that they will need to invest 1.5 billion euros (2.2 billion dollars) annually to protect this country where 1/4 of the land lies below sea level. Now don’t get me wrong; I know the Dutch are good engineers. But I worry about the massive economic and organizational challenges that will face this country –  and all the others.

I also worry about those very human characteristics – wilful ignorance and apathy. It’s that bury-our-head-in-the-sand tendency that lets us postpone bad news, ignore impending doom, wait until crisis forces us to act. Like most people, I agree that it’s much more fun to lie in the sun. Then I think about my kids, and I get energized.

Despite my preference for hammocks, I know that I have to get out there and start acting. And I have the growing suspicion that those who care the most about Generation C are not to be found in the university classrooms where I spend most of my days. They are to be found in the office next door, in the grocery store, in the street, in the play ground, on the subway, in the doctor’s office, and in all those other hammocks.

It’s a truism to say that every generation needs their mothers. But Gen C needs us for different things. Sure, our kids deserve to have mothers who look after them, love them, who are there with a smile and a hug and a laugh.

But Generation C really needs more. They need mothers, godmothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, soon-to-be mothers, one-day-in-the-future mothers, all of us working together to get the world’s business and government leaders to really wake up and smell the coffee. Generation C needs mothers to unite and step into the climate debate in a big way. We all know that the force of a mother’s love can move mountains. So let’s use that to move the world to a better and more carbon-neutral place.

That’s the reason why we’ve written this book Generation C: A Mother’s Guide to Climate Change.