Solar Flares: A Year in the Life

I am not generally prone to tooting my own horn. Having worked in theatre since before I could vote, I got used to seeing my name in newspapers and on marquees. Bragging about it seemed redundant.

Every year or so, I list my achievements in a diary or notebook. And of course I update my résumé, which is basically a professional brag sheet. But this year has been unique in my life, so maybe it warrants a new approach.

About one year ago, I took a weekend retreat in Halifax to ponder my future. I read Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, and I thought long and hard about the best way to direct my energies in 2019 and beyond. At that point, I’d known for about 9 months already that global warming was rapidly spinning out of control, but the recent publication of the 2018 UN IPCC Report had pressured me to make a choice.

Do I spend the latter half of my life writing plays for tiny audiences, and teaching Drama for tiny classes? Or should I do what I can — whatever it is, whatever it looks like — to raise awareness about a gargantuan threat?

Here comes the horn-tooting: a record of what I’ve done in the twelve months since I decided to fight for my planet.

  • I organized and moderated four “Climate Cafés” for people to meet and share their feelings about the climate crisis
  • I developed and helped produce my script, Good Animals, which encourages environmentalism through empathy with all creatures
  • I produced and directed two one-act plays about climate change: Greenland and Faroe Islands by Nicolas Billon
  • After signing up as the local coordinator for Extinction Rebellion, I delivered “The Talk” three times, recruiting more Cape Bretoners to the climate cause
  • I helped organize and moderate two “Green New Deal” town halls to discuss systemic alternatives to climate collapse
  • Working with colleagues from CBU, I created and delivered “Blue Sky Heroes,” a program to get high schoolers involved in climate action. Altogether, we visited 7 schools and presented to over 500 students (in English and French!)
  • I worked behind the scenes to get a “state of climate emergency” declared by the Cape Breton Regional Municipality City Council
  • In May, I organized and led a climate march and rally to demand more action from CBRM’s Mayor and City Council
  • I also participated in similar marches and demonstrations in Halifax and Antigonish
  • I helped a friend work through Nova Scotia’s Restorative Justice system after he was arrested at the CBRM protest
  • I organized and participated in a TrashMob along the Sydney waterfront, picking up single-use plastics while dressed in single-use plastics
  • In August, I led a protest against Andrew Scheer and his local Conservative candidates
  • Online, I worked with XR members from across Canada to develop, promote and implement a coordinated national action strategy (BridgeOut)
  • In September, I organized four eco-themed events for the International Week of Action, including a workshop on Non-Violent Direct Action…
  • A Picnic for the Planet…
  • An evening of Carbon Zero Theatre…
  • And another rally at CBRM’s Civic Centre
  • I helped coordinate a local candidates’ debate on climate and the environment
  • I wrote, produced, and starred in Bear Witness, an environmental choose-your-own-adventure outdoor promenade play
  • I purchased solar panels for my house (still awaiting installation)
  • I planted two trees
  • I wrote letters, articles, and blog posts
  • On chilly mornings, when I felt like there was nothing else I could do, I walked down the Boardwalk along the harbour, trailing a pole with sidewalk chalk attached, meditatively tracing the line where the shoreline is expected to reach by 2100.

My boast should not imply that any of this was easy, although likely much of it came more easily to me than it might to others. That’s because I played to my strengths and my skill set as an artist, project manager, networker, promoter, educator and public speaker. But I also stepped outside my comfort zone — a lot.

And, as you can imagine, I pushed myself hard — too hard, it turns out, because I’ve been one kind of sick or another since August. The work has taken its toll on my family too, and my other close relationships. And maybe it has harmed my mental health, though honestly I think I’d feel much worse knowing what I know yet doing nothing.

I wrote out my list of achievements for two reasons. One, I wanted a record somewhere so that, if/when I feel helpless, I can check back in to prove to myself that I am anything but. Cheerleading one’s future self is a tricky business, but if Present Scott doesn’t do it, who’s going to? (Not Past Scott… that guy was a jerk!)

The second reason is you. I believe that you already do your part to help the environment. In fact, you are helping the cause just by reading this, because it gives me one more reason to keep fighting.

But I bet, at some level, you’re wondering if you shouldn’t be doing more. The uncomfortable answer is YES. The time is nowwe’ve only got about 10 years to make enormous changes to our economy, our energy infrastructure, our very way of living and understanding the world — or it’s game over. Civilization, if you define it as human units helping to provide and care for one another in an orderly way, will end. This is not alarmism. These are the facts.

I’m not suggesting you need to exceed my boast list. But if there’s even one item on that list that you could do, or could learn to do, then please do it.

I know you don’t have time. We’re all trapped in a system that affords us very little spare time. Challenge the system. Make the time.

I know it’s outside your comfort zone. But “comfort” is already a rarity in many, many parts of the world, and with every 0.1 degree of warming — with every extreme weather event — with every nationalist, denialist government elected — it’s going to get less and less comfortable. Take charge.

I know it feels hopeless, overwhemling. You’re grieving for a dying world, and grief takes time. But we don’t have time. It hurts to force ourselves to accelerate beyond denial/anger/despair and into tactics. It’s going to hurt much, much worse if we don’t.

If you don’t like any of the actions on my list — no worries! There are SO many other things you can do. Most of them are easier (and more fulfilling) when you work with others. So find your local Extinction Rebellion branch, introduce yourself, and ask them where you fit in.

I need a couple of weeks off, to recuperate and research. I look forward to finding out about all the great work that’s been done in my downtime. Please send me your brag-lists!

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