Low-Carbon Luxury – 4 – Stop Competing

It’s been a while since we posted in our low-carbon luxury series.  If this is new to you, you can start at Part 1.  We are currently on tenet six — stop competing.



My daughter recently attended a birthday party at an arcade with tickets and trinkets.  We had fun, but when we tallied up, we discovered we only had enough for some worthless lumps of plastic — until I saw that one of those lumps was a jumping frog.  We had enough points to get five or six frogs, but we just got one.

And it jumped far!

My daughter loved it.  She  showed it off proudly to all the other kids.

Blue Frog
If you compare this frog to other toys, it might seem worthless.  But if you play with it — press it, bend it, watch it leap — it can provide hours of pleasant surprises.

But then, as I buckled her into our cargo bike, she noticed that one of the other kids had more plastic goo-gaws than she did.

“Why did he get three things and I only got one?”

I explained to her that someone else probably got even more than him and someone else got more than that person and that if we compare ourselves to others we will only make ourselves miserable.  Instead, it is better to focus on what we do have.  On its texture and heft, on the way it makes us feel, on the way it leaps through the air in a delightful arc.

I don’t blame her for comparing her wondrous frog to those three inert lumps of plastic.  Sometimes it feels as though we are pre-programmed to compare ourselves to others.  In a very different world, Moses also found it necessary to remind us not to ‘covet’ our neighbour’s things.

The sixth tenet of low-carbon luxury is to stop competing.

At work, we chase the sales leader or nervously review a coworkers C.V..  On social media we compare likes and follower counts.  At home, we might find ourselves ‘keeping up with Joneses’ comparing our old car to their brand new Audi.

Sometimes we win these comparisons and feel a little spark of triumph.  Sometimes we lose, and get dragged down by a pound of self-doubt.  But there is a more insidious problem here – the more constantly we compare ourselves, the more we become just a height rather than a full body rich with tones, textures, sensations and density.  All our comparisons and contrasts are fundamentally empty.  They are a hall of mirrors, a house of cards, a cacophony of chalk lines that prevent us from seeing within ourselves.

You are not a height or a resume or a collection of possessions.  You are a human being.  An immeasurable symphony.  An endless sea of thoughts and feelings and memories.  Every thing you are aware of in this wide, wide world is actually a thought within your mind, a feeling within your soul.  All of it exists again within you.

‘Not Competing’ is two concepts in one.  In addition to letting go of comparisons, it also encourages us to start cooperating.  ‘Not competing’ means sharing.  Do you need your own drill or could you just borrow one?  Sharing things lets us simplify.  It lets us spend less time maintaining our possessions.  Sharing our insights, skills and favourite meals allows us to build community and social connections.

It is so strange to me that our society is built around competition, when cooperation makes us so much happier.

In my own field, academia, there is a hyper-competitive pressure to publish or perish.  Even as a student, I know that if I don’t publish more and present at more conferences, my chances of landing a job are slim to none.  This tallying of publications and presentations leads many academics to focus on their quantity of output rather than its quality.  One encounters slightly different versions of the same article in different journals.  People openly admit they are giving presentations or working on papers they know little about.  All this despite the fact that most people feel there are already too many articles and papers to keep up with.  And yet our brightest minds are whipping themselves to keep churning out more.  With a child and precarious mental health, I have decided to ignore this pressure as best I can – and accept the consequences.  And it’s a damn good thing, otherwise, at this very moment, I would probably be re-writing an essay on the comparative publicness of public libraries instead of doing climate organizing.  The university, which seeks mainly its own growth and prestige, will pay for me to fly around the world tooting my own horn, but it won’t fund my climate organizing.

And if I had chosen to keep my nose to the grindstone, I would have to give up other unquantifiable goods like having emotional discussions about parenting with my colleagues, in order to publish, publish, publish.  But those conversations have made me a better parent and made the university a slightly more human place.

And it is not just universities that have fallen prey to our obsession with competition.  Look at Toronto’s relentless desire to become a ‘world class city.’  We built the UP Express straight from downtown to the airport while our public transit collapses.  We have a fabulous new fountain of ceramic dogs on Front Street, in a neighbourhood that was already overwhelmingly beautiful, while public parks in the inner suburbs are barely even mowed.  Municipal governments are eager to pump tax dollars into stadiums and international sporting events before they house their own homeless, just so they can keep up with the Tokyos or Londons of the world.

And all this competition, all these races to nowhere, are taking up the time of our best and brightest, preventing them from addressing our climate crisis.  People tell me they have to fly for work or stay late at the office or invest in oil companies ‘to beat inflation.’  Look very carefully at the choices you are making and be certain that the work you are doing is about more than points or paying mortgage payments for a home that is bigger than your needs.  There is other important work to be done of course – we must fight oppression and educate and care for one another.  But if you are mainly working for imaginary points of one kind or another – I urge you to let those points go.  What would happen if you asked to work four days a week?  Or requested an unpaid leave?  Maybe you wouldn’t even use that time to fight climate change – you might just use it to build closer ties with your friends or family or take care of an aging relative – but just that simple choice, to choose people over points, will improve your life and slow the pace of our relentless rush towards extinction.

‘Not competing’ doesn’t mean slacking off or accepting mediocrity – it means evaluating your performance against your own standards.  Not competing means taking an assignment seriously, it means wrestling with tough ideas and actually learning something, rather than parroting back the professor’s viewpoint to get the easy A.  When you stop competing, you will be happier because you will stop beating yourself up with someone else’s yard stick.  When you stop competing, you will be more satisfied because you will spend your time doing the things that you think are important.

If you still have a few moments to linger here, I have included a video of Gou Miyagi – a Japanese skateboarder who doesn’t give a crap about jumping further or higher than other skateboarders.  His videos are a joy to watch and have made him rightfully famous.  Because it is always a joy to be around those who refuse to compete.

An Open Letter from an anti-pipeline protester to pro-pipeline protesters


Before Christmas, pro-pipeline protesters gathered in Alberta, worried about their jobs and their families.  The week before, I was at a protest in Toronto opposing a pipeline in British Columbia because I’m worried about the climate and my family (especially my 4-year-old child).  Both pro and anti-pipeline protests have continued into 2019.  The people at these competing protests have more in common than we might think.  We all want good jobs with decent pay and a chance to raise our families in a safe and beautiful world.  And we’re all mad, because we can see that Justin Trudeau’s flowery words are designed to please everyone while his policies let us all down.  I want to propose something to pro-pipeline protesters, something that might seem strange at first, so I am asking for you to hear me out.

Here is my idea: we have a better chance of shaping a world with decent jobs and a safe climate if we start working together to demand a well-planned transition away from the boom and bust cycles of oil and gas and towards an economy built around stable new jobs in renewable power and energy efficiency.  In the United States, they are calling this project The Green New Deal (and a majority of Republicans support it), in Canada it has been called a ‘just transition’ — but the idea of a Green New Deal is starting to catch on here as well.  Many people credit the first New Deal — a huge program to put Americans to work building vital infrastructure for their fellow Americans — with helping to ease the United States out of the Great Depression.  A carbon tax and dividend might be part of that transition — but on its own, it leaves many individuals and businesses in a lurch without any good job and lifestyle alternatives to turn to.

           A just transition to a low-carbon economy is both necessary and possible, but workers in the oil and gas industry will have to face the biggest changes.  I’ve been in a lot of climate action organizing meetings lately and I can tell you that activists are talking about how to ensure that the men and women working in the oil patch don’t have to suffer.   There are young people in our meetings who have moved to Toronto for school or work and they are telling us about their experiences out West, out East, up North – they are telling us that if you don’t get a job with Irving Oil or on a rig or offshore oil platform, you don’t get a job at all.  And we hear them, and we talk about the need for new jobs, we talk about the challenges of retraining, we talk about temporary ways to fill in the gaps.

Climate justice means respect for indigenous sovereignty and the impacts climate breakdown is having on coastal communities – but it also means justice for oil workers who have worked long hours in thankless jobs so that the rest of us could live a life of luxury.  When climate activists fight pipelines or launch divestment campaigns we are not trying to hurt oil workers.

The student activists who occupied the offices of Liberal MPs last year are demanding a million new green jobs.  The Green New Deal is all about jobs.  Climate activists want a just transition, but the only tools available to us are blunt and cheap.  We can shout and hold up signs and we can shame oil companies – so we do. If oil companies and the government worked together they could design a low carbon economy that benefits oil and gas workers.  But oil companies don’t want to transition.

           The oil industry’s shameful open secret is that it is not really about jobs, it’s about profits.  Labour productivity is at its highest in Canada in the oil and gas sector:


This is Statscan data, sorted by labour productivity.¹

           An oil workers’ labour is worth $765 dollars an hour.  Are you making $765 an hour?

There are real benefits to high labour productivity – but if your goal is to create jobs, it’s not an exciting number.  Labour productivity tracks how much you can make off each worker and it gets higher as you automate to reduce your labour force.  Most Canadians don’t care too much about profits – if we knew it was just about the profits accumulating in global hedge funds we would have shut down oil and gas expansion years ago.  

Oil companies are using their workers as human shields while they dig in their heels and fight to hang on as long as possible. And it works, because Canadians know that there are decent people working those jobs and we don’t want to see them suffer.  The very real distress of oil and gas workers is being amplified because their feelings are useful to bankers, executives and hedge fund managers who are trying to defend oil sector profitability.  Conservative politicians are getting in on the game too.  Jason Kenney was recently elected by promising he could turn back time by tearing up environmental regulations and attacking environmentalists — but the global economy is moving on with or without Alberta.

Oil and gas workers and oil and gas investors might seem like natural allies – but investors don’t mind boom and bust markets, they can ride it to the top and get out quick with a lot of their profits.  Workers on the other hand want stability – they want gradual growth with steady jobs. Global oil markets – especially with climate change looming – are the opposite of stable, they are a roller-coaster of geopolitical risks.


Fossil fuels are a thing of the past.  We don’t light our homes with whale oil lamps anymore and soon we won’t use crude oil either.  Wind and solar get cheaper and cheaper every year.  EVs are rapidly gaining market share. Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, recently declared its entire shipping fleet will be net-zero by 2050.  And Canadian Oil workers will also have to come to terms with the fact that EVEN OIL COMPANIES are moving away from unconventional sources like the Tar Sands as they work desperately to reduce their carbon footprints.  

If the carbon bubble bursts suddenly, it is oil workers who will suffer most.  But a just transition can be good for the planet and good for oil workers.  Jobs in a low-carbon economy will be more stable because they won’t be so closely tied to global commodity markets.  Jobs in the low-carbon economy will be safer. Jobs in the low-carbon economy will be more evenly distributed because electricity doesn’t ship well.  For workers who have travelled to Alberta from the Maritimes and workers who have to choose between spending months away from home and uprooting their family to get closer to new oil fields – this will be good news.  Some oil workers are already making this transition. Iron and Earth is a group of oilsands workers committing to increasing their skill set and building renewable energy projects so they will be more adaptable in a changing economy.  And the jobs in renewables are real. A partnership of major companies and Alberta First Nations launched a 1.2 billion project to create over 1000 jobs in Fort MacLeod, Medicine Hat and other areas of the province.  Many of these jobs don’t even require significant retraining.  Both oil well clean-up and geothermal power will create jobs for people who are familiar with drilling technology, a field in which Canadian oil workers lead the world.

If oil and gas workers help us plan a just transition, Canada will do a better job of understanding and preparing for the challenges ahead and opportunities ahead.  It is still possible to save our economy and our planet while creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, but if activists like me are forced to choose between our economy and our planet – we will always choose our planet, the cradle of all life.  

If climate activists must continue to fight alone, we will just keep pounding away with whatever blunt instruments are in reach.  As the situation grows more desperate, our tactics will as well. Activists both indigenous and otherwise have fought pipelines before and will continue to do so.  And our numbers are growing. Without meaningful climate action from our government, I can easily see large disruptions like those orchestrated by Extinction Rebellion in the UK or Ende Gelände in Germany happening here.  We don’t want to spend our days blocking roads and getting yelled at – I would much rather spend time with my child at the park – but many of us will if we have to.  So let’s put our heads together and develop a plan for a just transition that meets the needs of both oil and gas workers and climate activists, so we can all go back to spending quality time with the people we love.

FURTHER READING: 350.org on a Green New Deal for Canada.


This post was cross-posted to Toronto350 — the group where I heard those passionate young people speak about the tensions between climate action and workers in their hometowns whose livelihoods depend on the fossil fuel industry.


View at Medium.com

[1]  I deleted some rows about very similar industry to make it clear how profitable oil and gas is compared to sectors like telecom and real estate that we typically think about as profitable.  (And I know labour productivity does not exactly equal profitability but in a world where labour is a major input it is an important factor). Excluding one small sector called “Other non-profit institutions serving households” which includes grant-making institutions.

[2] Relying on profitable staples without upgrading those commodities is called the ‘resource curse’ or the ‘staples trap’ and it is an idea that goes back at least to Harold Innis’s work on the Canadian fur trade in the 1920s.  It is often the right choice for wealthy investors in any given moment, but it’s bad for a nation’s economy.


ALLemailsALL Sample Emails


On April 22, we’re calling on EVERYBODY to email EVERYBODY they know with a personal message about our Climate Crisis.  We don’t want to provide an email template — because we want people to share their own views and emotions.  But we will share the emails we are sending so that you can get an idea of how you might approach it.

Our Co-Founder Myrtle is planning to hit her friends with something punchy and personal:

Dear … ,

As you may or may not know, I’ve been getting more involved in climate organizing lately through Climate Pledge Collective and the Fridays for Future rallies. I never thought I would do this. And it is still uncomfortable for me.

If you know me even a little, you know that protests, and generally broadcasting my views, is not something I do. I started out making personal changes like learning vegan recipes, we already preferred biking to driving, using LED lights, using reusable mugs, that kind of thing.

But the more I read about the IPCC report, sought information on indigenous opposition to fossil fuels, and heard what young people all over the world are striking for, I began to understand how terribly all our systems will unravel in about 10.5 years (some estimates say this is a generous time frame). I began to see that we are actually already living through climate change effects – heat waves, forest fires, animal extinction, mass human deaths, increased lyme disease.

Please help the next generation out, my daughter, your child, our planet by doing these few simple things:

  1. Say the following out loud to yourself: “We only have about 10 years left to make changes in our personal lives, the businesses we support, and in our government(s). If we do not, in about 10 years, we will not be able to stop food shortages, increased lung disease (including cancer), heat waves, flooding. I will be dead when the worst of it hits, but the next generation, [insert your child(ren)’s name(s), if you have them] will suffer worse hardships and the risk death.”
  2. Follow these accounts on social media:
    Twitter and Instagram: @gretathunberg
    Twitter: @MichaelEMann
    Instagram: @dad.is.sorry
    Instagram: @ourclimatevoices

Read something about climate everyday until the reality of it finally sinks in…

Our other Co-Founder Matt, is aiming to reach out to the people who understand the problem but are putting off taking action because it seems too overwhelming.


For Earth Day, I’ve decided to email everyone I know with a message about climate change, because it’s time we stopped pretending this crisis doesn’t exist.

You probably don’t want to read an email about climate change. It’s not a pleasant topic. I understand. A year ago, I would close Facebook or switch off the radio at the first mention of climate or air travel or forest fires. I couldn’t bear it.

The truth is though — and it took me a while to realize this — it wasn’t climate change itself that was causing my reaction. It was an internal dissonance, my own unease at the fact that I knew human civilization — our music, all of our children, our breath-taking cities, everything I loved — was at risk and I wasn’t doing anything about it. I wasn’t stepping up to fight for what I loved. And why not? It wasn’t because I was incapable — or even afraid — this isn’t a physical fight we’re talking about. I wasn’t doing anything just out of inertia, just because no one else around me was treating climate change like the emergency that it is, just because of an idiotic herd instinct.

In first aid training, they call this the bystander effect. People are more likely to leap into action and save a life when they witness a dangerous situation on their own – or when they see someone else trying to help. When there is a crowd, we see other people failing to react and it paralyzes us all. And people who have been frozen by the bystander effect have to live with their inaction for years, wondering they were rooted to the ground in that one pivotal moment. But climate change is an ongoing emergency, we get a new chance to break the inertia and rewrite history every single day.

Part of you wants to rise to the challenge, part of you knows there is more to life than just going through the motions of modern existence — but the rest of you is paralyzed, hypnotized by those same empty gestures. And so you look away, you put it out of mind, when you have free time, you try to distract yourself with netflix or a fancy restaurant. But whenever you look away, the itch gets worse and the next time you hear about climate change it bothers you more, you are frustrated with people who bring up an obvious truth, because they’re spoiling the illusion.

But here’s the weird thing — and I can tell you this from experience — the moment you commit to fighting climate change with everything you’ve got, the fear goes away. Because it isn’t climate change that is particularly scary — all of us will die of something or other eventually — it is living a lie in the face of a historic challenge that is terrifying.

Some Canadian doctors are now prescribing climate action for eco-anxiety.  So, if you feel uncomfortable when people talk climate, here’s my prescription for you:

1. Complete our online pledge system which gives options for reducing your personal footprint and getting involved in collective action.
2. If you live in Toronto, sign this petition calling on city council to declare a climate emergency.
3. Commit to reading more climate news — sign up for an e-newsletter from The National Observer or follow climate organizations on social media. The more you read, the more real the problem will come — and the more you will understand that solutions are at hand.
4. Forward this email to everyone you know. It will seem awkward, but you should do it anyway, because that thin veneer of awkwardness is preventing us from talking about one of the greatest dangers in human history.

This is just a low-dose of medication… you will need to develop your own regime depending on your responsibilities and capacities.  If you have savings, you may want to take some time off work. I know a few people who have done this — and they seem so alive! The next two or three years may well be the most important years in all of human history.  If you want to talk more about how you might get involved, I’ve been thinking about this 24/7. I don’t have a clear answer about what’s the ‘best’ approach, but I’m happy to share my thinking — send me an email and we can meet up or arrange a call.

If you’re in Toronto, you can come out to Climate Picnic on May 5th to enjoy food and music and talk to climate organizers and local residents in a casual setting.

Together we can rewrite the future!

Matt Lie-Paehlke

How will you phrase your letter?  What action or actions will you suggest?

Start drafting your emails today and get ready to hit ‘SEND’ on April 22.

If you’re on Facebook, you can register for our event: https://www.facebook.com/events/448622085876182/.  If not, just send those emails.

DAILY LIFE: Changing the Climate Organizing Game

This recent tweet from the stellar climate writer Eric Holthaus pretty much sums up both the mental state and mission statement of Climate Pledge Collective.

holthaus tweet

I wouldn’t personally go so far as to say nothing is working.  Climate organizers have had a lot of successes — public perceptions of climate risk are changing rapidly, renewable energy is growing fast, relentless pipeline protests are actually keeping tar sands oil in the ground and divestment campaigns have oil companies running scared.  But when we consider the scale of the challenge, these small successes virtually disappear from sight.

Eric’s thread careened through a raw and powerful list of climate successes and anxieties and ended on this courageous note.

holthaus tweet2

The solutions to our climate crisis exist — I know people in government bureaucracy who say they could bring emissions down rapidly if the government was willing to put up the money and tell them to do it (although freight transport and air travel remain very hard to decarbonize) — the problem is building the policital will to force governments to act.  And that requires numbers and determination.  It’s not enough that most people are loosely on our side — we are up against something that economists call ‘regulatory capture‘ on a massive scale.  We hear a lot about the ‘tragedy of the commons’ — but we should also be aware of the ‘tragedy of the corporation’, a world in which we have created blood-sucking institutions that will defend themselves from regulation even if doing so threatens the future safety of their own employees.  Regulatory capture is a common phenomena because businesses, beef farmers for example, care a lot more about cattle regulations than the average person does.  They will put up money and make calls and join forces to lobby very, very hard for regulations that protect their profit margins.  Fossil fuel companies are spending millions on lobbying and earning billions more in subsidies in return.

lobbying fossil fuels companies

So what can the climate movement do differently?  Why haven’t we succeeded yet?  It is my view that we have to recognize that climate change is part of our daily life, just like fossil fuel regulations are part of the daily life of fossil fuel executives.  This is not a new idea — important voices on climate twitter like Dr. Vive and Katharine Hayhoe are calling on us to talk climate on a daily basis.  Nor am I confidant it is the best idea — part of the path forward has to be different people trying different things — but I think it is worth taking a closer look at how daily life and climate organizing connect — or fail to connect.

What does it mean to open up climate organizing to peoples’ daily lives?  We don’t think much about this — partly because many activists are rightfully suspicious of proposals that suggest individual actions as a response to a collective problem.  But we have to remember that collective action is the statistical and sometimes chaotic sum of billions of individual actions — patterns and customs within daily life shape those actions as much as any individual law ever will.  This is not my own insight — it is a common view in relational sociology (see for example Deleuze and Guattari, Anthony Giddens or Eiko Ikegami).  Other research shows that social movements like workers’ movements and the civil rights movements are most effective when they are built out of the raw material of people’s daily lives.  Manuel Castells’ (1983) work on social movements makes the case that the most successful worker’s movements happened in places where the workers lived close to one another.  In particular, he highlights the role of women in organizing strikes and uprisings.  When workers lived together, their wives were able to organize their social networks around a common cause, organizing even while they prepared meals, provided childcare or went to the market.  Historically, women have done the work of daily life.  When women alter their routines, change comes very rapidly.  Others have suggested that while racial ghettoes are terrible for many reasons, they have often made the work of political organizing easier.  Climate change is an issue that impacts everyone and we need to start organizing along our regular networks — where we are already known and trusted — and during our regular routines — so that we have sufficient TIME to organize.

Climate Pledge Collective is committed to finding ways to help people integrate climate action into their daily lives.  This is one of the reason our pledge system includes individual choices like food and transportation — because people talk about their daily lives A LOT — and talking about a change like eating less meat or riding a bike is more natural than talking about carbon tax policy or scientific findings.  When we change our daily lives, people notice and we seed the ground for more change.

One event we’re working on is a campaign to get everyone to email everyone in their contact list about climate on earth day — in the hopes of smashing filter bubbles and tipping the ‘availability cascade’ (see below) further in our favour.

I’m also working to find ways to make climate my number one response to stock questions like ‘how are you’ or ‘what have you been up to’ — working on climate a lot makes this easier, but it’s still hard sometimes.  Another thing that can help is bringing along a team.  At a recent high school reunion, I emailed a few friends in advance and asked them to commit to talking about climate change — together we seeded the room and it felt like every little circle I stepped into was a conversation about climate.  People want to talk climate — but they don’t always feel comfortable bringing it up.

Bringing up climate change in ordinary situations isn’t always easy — the tyranny of politeness makes it hard to bring up a truth as horrible as our current ecological crisis at a birthday or brunch or water cooler.  Small talk won’t be successful right away — but it can gather momentum quickly.  The psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about ‘availability cascades’ — basically, topics we hear about often come to mind more easily — this is why everything connects to climate for people who follow climate news and nothing connects to climate for people who are still safely ensconced in a bubble of pre-chewed infotainment.  Once we start breaching the topic of climate change in daily life, others will start thinking about it more often as well and eventually will see the issue in the same way we do.  But we have to bring up the issue EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME.

Movements like Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion are working to bring the issue into public space (and I’ve been right there with them here in Toronto) — but we can’t protest all the time — we have daily errands that we must attend to.  Luckily, there are many other smaller spaces of daily life that we need to occupy as well.


This sign is above my doorbell.  It doesn’t have a profound impact, but imagine seeing these three or four times a day?  The availability of the topic in the front of your brain would start cascading like a tsunami.


And this is my hat.  It promotes Climate Pledge Collective’s first in-person event — a day in the park with food and scientists and musicians and climate organizers — which was designed specifically to fit climate organizing in alongside daily needs for nourishment and self-care.  Climate Picnic will take up public space, but it will not be oppositional.  It will take time, but it will hopefully allow people to also do things they would have done anyway, instead of burning their energy.  This is a particularly important point — and one that was explained to me during my Masters’ Degree in Community Development.  Most people don’t have time for political organizing, but they need to eat three times a day, so if you can combine organizing with meal times, and especially if you can provide food, you open up a whole world of opportunity.  Hats, front door signs and picnics may seem trivial in the face of a problem of this scale, but there are hundreds of millions of people who want action on climate change — if we lower the barriers to participation we can engage them all and then the availability cascade will become an overwhelming flood.


Stone Soup — One simple project that I’ve been planning to try, but haven’t found time for, is a vegan stew and climate chat in my home.  I will make a few litres of my favourite sweet potato chickpea coconut curry, invite all my neighbours and just talk openly about climate change and climate organizing.  Of course, I will be careful to invite a few other people who are supportive of meaningful climate action, so I don’t get swamped by deniers — just as I planned a group approach to my high school reunion.

My dream for Climate Pledge Collective is to open a restaurant based on the stone soup idea — it would serve a simple menu of vegan soups and stews, but mostly it would be a climate organizing hot spot — a place that people could drop into for a quick, cheap, healthy meal and receive a side-order of solidarity and climate news or maybe a documentary screening or a music night or a petition or a phone campaign.  Imagine getting more involved in the climate movement was as easy as popping into a shop to by a bowl of soup!  And from there, once people had a place to connect, it could grow, perhaps also stocking a small selection of ethical, sustainable clothing — meeting more and more of people’s daily needs in a manner that minimized the endless variety of material consumption and highlighted the broad array of weightless, no-footprint cultural products that we truly need to sustain us.

If we can combine food, self-care and climate organizing into a single package — we will become an unstoppable cultural force.


Works Cited

Castells, M. (1983). The city and the grassroots: a cross-cultural theory of urban social movements (No. 7). Univ of California Press.

Kahneman, D., & Egan, P. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Toronto Climate Action Review (YELP for activists)

Last summer, I decided to stop quietly freaking out about the climate crisis and start acting.  I don’t know how best to approach such a complex problem — so I’m trying everything, including attending a lot of climate organizing meetings.  Here’s what I’ve learned about what these meetings are like and what the groups are focused on.  These are first impressions from one point of view, so take them for what they’re worth.

1 Porcupine Warriors This group has been involved in some amazing and huge unis’to’ten solidarity rallies that shut down different parts of the city.  I don’t know if they have any open meetings or formal volunteer uptake though.  You should definitely follow them on Facebook, attend their protests and offer support.  https://www.facebook.com/porcupinewarriors/

Earth Strike  I have only attended one Earth Strike meeting — but it was organized and productive and even finished slightly early (which is rare)!  They are aiming to organize a General Strike in September and planning a number of smaller events in the lead-up to build awareness.  They are a smallish group and could really use help — especially if you are in a union, have connections to unions or have enough pull at your workplace to close shop for a day.  They are very focused on the September strike, so don’t attend if you don’t want to work on that specific project (email earthstriketoronto [at] protonmail.com to get involved)

3 XRToronto  Extinction Rebellion Toronto is quite new and is still formalizing its meeting process.  I’ve only been to two meetings — the first one was kind of chaotic, but the most recent one went smoothly and was really productive and exciting.  They are trying to deploy the UK Extinction Rebellion model of spectacular, but peaceful, civil disobedience in Toronto.  They have a big event coming up April 20 and need all hands on deck.  Weekly Meetings are at OISE on Sundays at 6:00.  252 Bloor St. W. Room 2211

Facebook: (https://www.facebook.com/groups/525229444611827/)

4 Toronto Climate Save This is a group that organizes protests and lobbying around climate change with a particular focus on animal agriculture.  If you want to fight climate change and factory farming at the same time, this is the group for you.  I have not attended any of their meetings, but I have met their members at other meetings and they are good people.  https://www.facebook.com/torontoclimatesave/

5 Climate Fast Climate Fast is more focused on traditional lobbying — they have developed a people’s climate plan as a response to Doug Ford’s non-plan and they run deputation training for getting involved with city government.  I haven’t attended any pure Climate Fast meetings, but I have worked with them on some other projects and they are well-informed and compassionate.  Meetings are usually at the Friends’ House at 60 Lowther Avenue.  Sign up for emails about upcoming meetings on their website: http://www.climatefast.ca/

6 Toronto350 Toronto350 is probably the biggest and oldest non-professional climate group in Toronto.  They have tons of experience and knowledge, but their big open meetings can sometimes feel a little slow — but that is the cost of taking everyone’s opinion seriously.  They are currently redesigning their meetings and org structure though and hoping to develop sub-committees that can make decisions more quickly.  Their focus is on pressuring pipelines and banks and promoting indigenous solidarity, but they are open to new ideas and projects.

Meetings are Tuesdays at 6:30 at the Steelworker’s Hall on Cecil St. (https://www.facebook.com/events/2115357528584659/)

7 MobilizeTO is specifically focused on lobbying City Hall to declare a climate emergency and advance the decarbonization schedule of our TransformTO plan.  I have been heavily involved in this group.  Most organizing is by email and Facebook and the people are amazing.  There are occasional face to face meetings between the core organizers that are usually scheduled by email.  Contact form and more detail available here: (http://mobilizeto.ca/contact)

8 Drawdown Toronto If you want to focus more on building change right now and less on lobbying politicians check out Drawdown Toronto which is running information sessions on the Project Drawdown list of climate solutions.  I have not attended any meetings but the people running this program are kind and responsive!  http://www.unifytoronto.ca/connect.html

9 Green Neighbours Network This is the group for you if you don’t want to leave your hood.  With several smaller branches doing different projects within their neighbourhoods — from organizing local energy initiatives and clean-ups to film screenings.  Again, I haven’t attended any meetings, but the people I have met at protests are all super nice. (https://greenneighboursnetwork.ca/member-groups/members-map/)

10 Climate Pledge Collective Right now, the group is just my wife and I (Matt and Myrtle) with some help from friends on specific projects, so we don’t have formal meetings or an intake process.  That said, we have lots of ideas that we want to implement — so if you are a self-starter contact us and we will throw our skills and social media presence behind your work.  We are currently toying with the idea of a Climate Pledge for Restaurants and organizing Climate Troubadours to sing about climate and hand-out pamphlets in public places as well as organizing our Climate Picnic on May 5 (https://www.facebook.com/events/812559672441011/).


Climate Picnic 2019



Stop, Children.  What’s that sound?  Everybody look what’s going down.

The basic plan is this — we are going to gather in the Southeast corner of Christie Pits Park, bring our signs and songs and musical instruments, and then sit down on the grass and eat while we talk about what we can do about climate change.  While protests have their place, this event will be joyful and friendly — we hope everyone walking past will be curious enough to come over and ask what’s going on — and maybe even join us.  Bring guitars or drums or games or vegan cupcakes to share.  Or just bring your questions and ideas!

The first picnic will be May 5 at 11am — but we are hoping to make it monthly, or maybe even weekly.  This would also allow us to move around the city!

Most people now understand that we have to do something about climate change and we have to do it soon — but what do we do?  Individual changes don’t seem sufficient and organizing collective change can be frustrating in the face of so much misinformation.  Our climate crisis intertwines issues of equity, gender, food, environmental racism, indigenous sovereignty and daily life.  There is no single-solution: it will take different people building different solutions at different scales.  We need to make changes in our individual lives — eating less meat and dairy, driving less, flying less — but we also need to organize collective action to support those changes — bike lanes, better transit, renewable energy, new (or older) agricultural practices, macro-economic policies, regulations, divestment and new relationships with each other and our planet.  CLIMATE PICNIC is an open invitation to anyone working on climate from any angle — or anyone who simply wants to learn more — to come out and meet like-minded people, build new networks and enjoy low-carbon luxuries like food, music and good weather.

If you are part of an organization — anything from a school eco-club to an international environmental organization — we encourage you to come out, bring a sign, flyers or just a short pitch about your group.  We organized something similar for the Fridays for Future protest in March and it was a ton of fun.  With better weather — we’ll be able to learn more and hang out for longer.

Climate Picnic is vegan-friendly.  We recommend that you try to bring vegan food, even if you aren’t vegan. I’m not vegan myself, but I have given up red meat and am gradually reducing the amount of meat and dairy I consume.  If you end up bringing some leftover sausages or your kid only eats ham sandwiches — that is, of course, totally fine.  APIECALYPSE NOW — Toronto’s best Vegan Pizza Joint is right across the street.

Can I start a Climate Picnic near my house?  Yes please!  The wider we spread the better.  Email us if you want advice or just do it on your own!

Is Climate Picnic only in Toronto?  It is for now, but this event is super-easy to replicate.  All it takes is one sign or banner, a few picnic blankets and some outreach to people who are already working on climate in your city.  If it starts small, that’s okay — Greta Thunberg started by herself and has gone global and completely changed the climate policy discussion in six months.  Email us at contact [at] climatepledgecollective.org if you have any questions — but feel free to use the name, concept, anything you like.  We’re a no-ego organization, if you can spread our ideas farther than we can, do it!

Climate Picnic, The Christie Pits and all of Toronto stand on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.  Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit.  The territory was also the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Confederacy of the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes.  It is also important to recognize that indigenous history is dynamic and changing — both before and after the arrival of settlers.  The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was formed from the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nation by the Great Law of Peace (Kayanerenkó:wa) which preceded and influenced the U.S. Constitution — although “some Haudenosaunee say that, in imitating the Great Law, the United States did so poorly, for their constitution neglects some of the most important aspects: peace, the Good Mind, obligations to the natural world, the importance of families, obligations to future generations, spirituality, respect for women.”(Williams, 2018).  We also encourage Climate Picnic visitors to visit Nish Dish, just down the block from Christie Pits, before or after the picnic in order to get a taste of contemporary indigenous traditions. 

Works Cited:

Williams, K. P. (2018). Kayanerenkó: wa: The Great Law of Peace. Univ. of Manitoba Press.


We should consider nuclear power, but advocates shouldn’t pretend it’s perfect.

Lately, it feels like half the discussions about climate change I encounter online devolve into a shouting match about nuclear power between those who support it and those who oppose it, neither of whom are taking a balanced view of the issue.  Instead, as in most situations where intelligent people disagree, advocates and opponents have both latched onto real and convincing evidence on one side or the other and closed their minds to the contradictory facts.  Nuclear power for example, does not solve our problems in one fell-swoop — concrete, land-use, animal agriculture, etc. are all separate problems that still need to be addressed.


  1. Nuclear power is still the cheapest low-emissions form of power.

People who want to see all solar and wind will tell you that nuclear is far more expensive than wind and solar, I myself made this point to a friend who is an electrical engineer working on decarbonization policy for the Ontario government.  While wind is cheaper per kw/hr if you only look at the base price, creating a functioning electrical system with only wind is more expensive for a number of reasons. 1) Wind power is variable, so if you want to have a steady supply for a million houses, you might need to build wind power for two or three million houses to ensure there is power on quiet days. 2) Wind power (and especially solar power) need batteries and, after including the price of batteries, nuclear is considerably cheaper.  Building gigantic batteries all over the world will also have negative environmental impacts of their own.  But it’s not sooo much cheaper that we shouldn’t take a hard look at paying more for electricity to avoid nuclear’s downside.

2. Nuclear power creates radioactive waste and radioactive waste is a big gamble.

Although nuclear advocates will tell you that next generation reactors are perfectly safe, nothing is perfect.  All aspects of the nuclear power supply chain create risks — uranium mining and processing, shipping fuel, collecting waste, storing waste.  It is possible to design safe nuclear supply chains, but nuclear waste lasts effectively forever and the safety of nuclear power assumes a stable enough system of government to preserve safe-handling practices almost perpetually.  As good as engineers may be at calculating physical risks — our political and sociological prediction skills are extremely poor.  My father, who is an environmental political scientist, was part of a committee trying to design safer nuclear waste handling practices about ten years ago and one of the main sticking points was the question — how do we store nuclear waste and mark that storage so that humans ten thousand years from now, speaking languages we have not yet heard, living in cultures we cannot imagine, don’t dig it up out of curiousity.  There was serious thought given to not marking it in anyway, because people love to dig up the ruins of ancient cultures.  Creating nuclear power supply chains all around the world also increases the chances of rogue nuclear weapons becoming a reality.  Climate change is however more dangerous, more imminent and more certain than nuclear disaster — so it is worth considering if nuclear power is the lesser of two evils.

My personal view is that nuclear power should be included in the range of tools that we consider to slow our climate crisis — but that anyone who tells you it is a silver bullet is deluding themselves.  So let’s talk about nuclear power, but let’s all admit that it is a complex question with no obvious answer first.  My personal view is that we should probably pay more for renewables — but I’m not an expert and I’m open to being persuaded on this issue by people who know more about the real costs and benefits involved.