Friday, April 17, 2015

Humanity's autistic behaviour toward other animals

                Why do we seem to have an epidemic of “autism”? Many people wonder -- what is autism, anyway? The definitions are slippery, but the one from the Oxford Concise Dictionary seems to capture the basis: “morbid self-admiration.” The word comes from the prefix “auto” which means self-propelled, as in automatic, autobiography etc. (self-driven, self-written …), and which contrasts with “alien” – other.
                We’re all part of the living world, our bodies sustained by the water, oxygen, minerals of Earth herself, just as the bodies of all animals are. With them, we share the same deep ancestry and the same anatomy and physiology (read Your Inner Fish, by J. Shubin). Separation is a mirage. Selfhood is a dance of relationship: we are each like a cell, bounded by a membrane but a porous one that lets nourishment in, that communicates with the energetic environment around it. For children not to be aware of this, to imagine themselves too much in a separate world, leads to a species of mental illness.

                So how can we become aware of our connectedness with the living world, and maintain a state of sane mental balance? Growing up in cyber-space (finding entertainment, data and safety by looking at screens all day) makes the problem worse. Only by getting out in nature, into the flow of it, of weather, vegetation, tides, seasons, other life forms can we find mental health and hardiness. Cities without nature are incubators of mental illness. Research has shown that autistic and ADHD children are helped by handling and communing with animals. (Read the works of psychiatrist Aaron Katcher.) Life without companion animals and the proximity of wildlife is unbalanced, anorexic, autistic.
                “Fear and distrust of the alien (others) leads to withdrawal into self, and to building barriers and controlling self through rigid, repetitious, habitual behaviour. Is this autistic-child behaviour not exactly what we see the human race as a whole exhibiting toward other species? Except for pets … we have squeezed other animals and their habitats into almost no space on the planet …” and we have made not only them but ourselves impoverished and crazy as a result. (from Childhood Pastorale: Children, Nature and the Preservation of Landscape. See for availability)
                Many environmental groups are trying, but we need a wider stronger world-wide movement to preserve habitats on every continent, to value animal life forms and the landscapes and aquatic environments which they cannot be separated from. We need to sustain our home in nature, and realize we are not the only ones in it. We have to recover from the autism that curses our species.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Johnstone Strait belongs to the whales

Here's another reminder that "alternative energy" is not necessarily benign: unbelievably, the provincial government of B.C. is said to be entertaining the idea of permitting the use of tidal turbines in Johnstone Strait between Vancouver Island and the Mainland. This would make this prime orca space, the place of whales' feeding, gathering, and rubbing beaches completely unusable to them, filling the channels with underwater noise, machinery, increased risk of pollutants and fuel spills.

As if the spill from a freighter this week in Vancouver harbour wasn't enough of a reminder of how wanton we are with this unique coastline -- one of the world's most biologically rich. This tidal turbine idea is not an appropriate way for government p.r. to convince the public they are "environmentally responsible." It's an insult, to anyone who has ever cared about or worked for preservation of whales. The only "alternative" that counts in the alternative energy field is an end to constant economic and (human) population growth. The real alternative is population reduction. Nothing easier to do, in terms of methodology: just breed less. But in terms of motivation and comprehension ...? That's another thing.

Meanwhile, let's keep some sanctuaries for the nonhuman ones ... such as Johnstone Strait.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ending the shark fin soup harvest -- one reform we could make with quick surgical precision

MP Fin Donnelly is still trying to end the appalling cruelty of shark fin harvesting in Canadian waters (cutting fins off live sharks to make soup). It takes many years for a Bill to get passed that the public supports, yet much less for an unpopular one about bombing other countries or criminalizing environmental activists, is would seem.

So much about international politics and terrorism is intractable, but some  sufferings could be stopped dead with an easy choice like banning something as unnecessary as shark finning. Any controversy over that one would die down fast enough. Some ethnic traditions, after all, include smoking and drinking alcohol, yet we've been able to accept that these can be inappropriately deadly. Why not chopping of body parts of live animals?

Of Bears, Dogs, Cows, Chickens, and Fools

April 1st certainly was a fool's day in B.C., and now that it's April 2nd, the foolishness has not stopped of course: the annual bear hunt is on as of yesterday. The average number of grizzlies killed from 1993 to 2012 was 262 per year, and the average number of black bears was 3,965, according to the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations. B.C. killed a total of 5,241 grizzlies and 79,299 black bears over the past 20 years, despite massive public opposition to the hunt as revealed in polls. Of course, a certain number still go, unbelievably, into those ridiculous hairy towering hats worn by the guards around royal palaces in London, England.

You don't think this is appropriate? Tell the Ministry and the Premier -- but wait, you already told them? They're not listening? Sad, but true.

They're not listening to those who want to save the Great Bear Rainforest from any number of insults, and they're not interested in animals generally, at least not the wild or agricultural ones. A Bill has been introduced into the B.C. legislature calling for stiffer penalties against those who leave dogs locked in hot cars. Very good. But why is it a crime to let dogs bake in hot cars, but not to let cattle and poultry bake in overcrowded factory farms? Why is the suffering of one animal acknowledged, but not that of others equally sensitive?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Goodbye Octopi?

Where does the world’s largest octopus live? We are told in The Sea Among Us, by D. Beamish and S. McFarlane (Harbour Publishing), that it lives in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia. There are also 223 fish species and over 350 marine plant species in this strait between Vancouver Island and the mainland -- and all are in danger. Pollution, city outfalls, plastic debris and fishing lines, over-fishing, fuel leakage from transport, cruise and recreational boats and ferries, underwater noise, military naval activity, increasing tanker traffic – all threaten fish habitat and the personal lives of the marine mammals who call the strait home.

The growing cities of Victoria and Vancouver (and its port) spew out wastes plus human traffic, and since governments are encouraging rather than limiting growth these assaults are bound to get worse even as the governments cut back on the environmental departments that could monitor them. People stream in from the cold Prairies and Eastern Canada as well as from the rest of the world, finding this mild and nature-filled region a paradise – thereby eroding it. It’s not the world’s biggest octopus that is putting out the strangling tentacles.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Great Bears and Puny Politicians

Great Bear Wild: Dispatches From a Northern Rainforest, by Ian McAllister (Greystone, 2014)

What is the largest intact temperate rainforest on Earth? It's B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest -- 1.2 million hectares -- and in 2006-7 the provincial and federal governments pledged to protect it. This protection happened largely thanks to Ian and Karen McAllister and their partners. Imagine their dismay that only a few years later, and after their producing much research and gorgeous coffee table books on bears, wolves, trees, salmon and the unimaginable rich array of life forms in the area, the GBR is STILL in danger -- now from liquefied natural gas plants, Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline terminus, trophy hunting, logging, and fish farms.

Government-sponsored money-grabbing is threatening the planet's largest temperate rainforest, which some short-sighted and soul-less politicians and bureaucrats call the "Midcoast Timber Supply Area." Do we Canadians deserve the privilege of 'standing on guard' for this treasure?

Every Canadian, and every school, should get hold of McAllister's gorgeously illustrated books and absorb the information therein, before it's too late. More at

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The cost of killing and the profits in killing

What will people pay to kill an animal? It's $8000 to kill a mountain sheep in the U.S., $1030 to kill a grizzly bear in British Columbia, $7250 for a lioness in Africa. Selling licences, governments are make a killing out of wildlife deaths.

There's big business too for breeders of lab animals. 233 species, from mice to lemurs to dogs to ferrets to primates are used in various kinds of research. Over 100 million animals are killed every year, according to PETA (while more are kept in cruel comfortless lonely cages year after year).

Everyone who cares must find out who gains how much from what in their country, their region -- and stand up and object. Chipping away at the stony monolith of greed takes a long long time, but what else can we do?