About Don Shafer

I'm a broadcaster, community activist and pretty average guitar player. I studied English & Psychology at the University of Texas and Communications & Journalism at the University of Southern California. I completed my MA at Simon Fraser University in 2018 and in my 3rd year with UBC working on my PhD with the Social Justice Institute.. My research explores the words we use and how people talk about climate change and its interconnectedness with settler colonialism, white supremacy, and other intersecting social justice issues. I'm interested in how people talk about climate change and its psychological, cultural, and political components in other areas of daily life. His work explores these intersections and how these conversational ecosystems influence our thinking and meaning-making. I argue that many of these issues sit on the same foundations and that there are tipping points in conversations that open up or shut down how we talk across difference, which include race, gender, culture, politics and climate. I hope to find out if we can learn to speak to individuals and communities from different social, economic, religious, political or cultural backgrounds and fill structural holes where we can build trust and bridges of understanding.

Fire, Denial, and Hope

Othello Canyon, British Columbia.

As the west coast burns and fires erupt around the world, news headlines paint an eerie landscape of our future as smoke chokes the planet. Experts are confident that these events are just a glimpse of what’s to come as we get ready for more extreme weather conditions, unreliable rainfall, violent storms, reduced agriculture, and increasing deaths. As if this wasn’t enough, we also face a long list of social, economic, and political issues.

Homelessness, racism, and isolation are just symptoms that indicate something is very wrong and getting worse as more people around the world are thrown into uncertainty. It doesn’t help when Paul Gilding tells us to stop worrying about climate change and that we need to brace for impact, or when David Attenborough and Jane Goodall tell us that the earth would be better off with less than a billion people, or when the U.S. Department of Defense predicts confidently that there will be more climate change induced wars in the next 15 years. Is there any wonder why so many people are anxious and in denial?

We have a growing list of global problems and one of the largest is that we require about fifty percent more earth to sustain our current way of life. Distribution is only part of the problem. While we talk a good story about how we can gently transition to a highly efficient, knowledge-based economy transformed by science and technology this is likely magical thinking. It seems more likely that when the carbon bubble bursts, financial markets will spiral out of control, there will be more wars, collapsing governments, shortages of food and water, and huge unemployment around the world. While Project Drawdown may provide the blueprint, significant change is not likely to occur until something awful happens. Perhaps Rilke is right that great sadness brings us closer together.

While climate changes become more severe the instability of our world is no longer out of sight and out of mind as we run out of resources and one billion people come looking for a new home. We shake our heads and wring our hands over growing homelessness around the world, refugee camps and children in cages, but we tolerate them to the degree that they become normalized. The path ahead is indeed a daunting one. Perhaps David Whyte is correct when he says that “denial is underestimated as a state of being. Denial is an ever-present and even a splendid thing when seen in the light of its merciful and elemental powers to cradle and hold an identity until it is ready to move on. Faced with the depth of loss and disappearance in the average life, a measure of denial is creative, necessary and self-compassionate: children are not meant to know they will one day die and older adults are never meant to tell them. Refusing to face what we are not yet ripe and ready to face can help us to live in the present.”

It’s easy to understand why many people embrace denial rather than give in to fear and hopelessness. That denial comes in many shapes and sizes or “faces” is not surprising. Whyte believes that most human beings are at war with reality at least fifty percent of the time. He speaks of walking into our lives fully, and that when we do so we start to realise that we have manufactured three abiding illusions; that we can somehow construct a life where we are not vulnerable; that we can somehow be immune to all the difficulties of ill health and losses of the natural world; and that somehow we can plan our way to the end. These illusions can be for ourselves as well as our community, whether locally or globally as denial is pervasive.

Climate change is only one pathway that may invite new conversations. Climate change, colonialism, capitalism, racism, poverty, hunger, overconsumption, and other issues are all part of what Naomi Klein calls a “five-alarm fire.” The anxiety and stress that comes with how to fight these fires and our inner dissonance and denial can be overwhelming. Can we save ourselves without something disruptive happening that forces us to change? What must occur within each of us first before we turn our attention outward?

While disheartening, it seems that the public needs to be presented with a different message to be moved to action. Conversations with many different thinkers and activists speak to an urgency, as well as a need, to change our divisive discourse from liberal or conservative, right or wrong, good or bad, and broaden the edges of these dialogues. Meg Wheatly urges people to get more involved in their communities and get to know their neighbours. While the doing is important, finding entry points into a conversation that open hearts and then minds seems an essential part of this process. Paul Graham suggests in The Hierarchy of Disagreement that while divisiveness has spread throughout our society there is a way to move public debate forward without invoking anger and shutting down conversations. His Hierarchy of Disagreement provides an outline of understanding in what happens in conversation’s and how to recognize new entry points.

American Journalist and author, Krista Tippet, suggests that there is an art in starting new kinds of conversations that create new departure points and outcomes. She urges that we let go of old habits that are ingrained in establishing winners and losers. This may have its place and value in civil society, but it can get in the way of caring about each other. Alternately, exploring the world with generous listening and asking better questions to start new kinds of conversations can change hearts and minds. When we ask beautiful, heartfelt questions we open up a conversation and reach beyond veils of doubt and defences.

The silver lining in the irrationality that has descended on the U.S. has sparked a growing movement to promote scientific evidence and science-based solutions through thousands of daily conversations and initiatives around the world. As technologies change, fossil fuels, mining exploration, government corruption, social justice, and human rights are coming under more scrutiny. Nuclear power costs more to build and operate than to decommission while renewable energy sources are gaining momentum, albeit slowly. As humans become more self-aware it seems more important than ever to get off the couch and join movements large and small, to march, walk, talk, and get busy changing conversations in homes, workplaces, schools, houses of worship, and perhaps most importantly, our hearts. These conversations are not just about climate change but about how we treat each other, animals, and our planet. Regardless what the face of denial may look like, it would seem that the way to reach it is not just with facts and figures or more information, but with a genuine curiosity and caring through deeper conversations. Jonathan Haidt, Andrew Hoffman, and others suggest that asking beautiful questions that open conversations may allow us to build bridges and move from denial to action changing each other and our world.

There are unsuspecting movements, acts of bravery, activism, and love that may carry the day. The chaos theory deals with complex systems whose behaviour is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions where the smallest alterations can give rise to great consequences. Similarly, we know from history that social, cultural, or political change does not work in predictable ways or on predictable schedules. Humans don’t know what is going to happen, or how, or when, and in that uncertainty, there must be room for hope. There have been great moral causes that have advanced humanity’s prospects that have all been based on hope and fundamental truths that were resisted and denied and fought against. Some examples include the abolition movement, the women’s suffrage movement and the broader women’s rights movement, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the effort to stop the toxic phase of the renewed nuclear arms race, gay and trans rights, and more recently, the gun control demonstrations that started in Florida.

Is it possible to prepare for climate change and avert the worst effects of it? Perhaps, but to do so, we need to understand why climate change is happening and to make informed choices as individuals and communities based on scientific evidence and our ability to reframe a new definition of the good life. We need to be able to confront our frailties and be open to challenge our beliefs. Information alone is not enough for us to choose appropriate policies and strategies to prepare our society for the changes that are well underway. Without understanding the basic causes and various complexities of climate change and ourselves, we will be unable to make informed decisions that will affect generations to come. This crisis is about much more than the science. Humans are being asked to go deeper, to find that existential part we play in change and how all of us can make a difference.

One of my first and, ironically, last interviews for this project was with Tzeporah Berman. She is a Canadian activist known for her work in Clayoquot Sound and Burnaby Mountain, former Greenpeace director, and author of This Crazy Time. She shared a story about returning from the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009 which was a “disaster” as countries could not reach a global agreement, and scientists and experts from around the world were crying as the latest reports about the earth’s climate were devastating. She pointed out that the UN Secretary-General opened the conference by saying that “we either do a deal here, or we are sentencing humanity to oblivion!” Returning home depressed and thinking we are doomed, she wound up spending time with her ninety-year-old grandmother and shared her disappointment. Her grandmother smiled warmly and reminded her of how much the world had changed in her lifetime and that she was confident that the world will change even more in hers and that these issues can be addressed. Tzeporah admitted that when she gets overwhelmed, she is reminded of this loving moment with her grandmother. She is now certain that when she speaks to her grandchildren “about this crazy time in history,” she is convinced that “they won’t believe her, as the world will be such a different place from when we dug in the ground to get oil, chopped down the last old growth forest to make catalogues, or that we actually filled our cars with gas.” Prior to turning the microphone off as our second interview came to an end, I asked Berman if she was still as optimistic as her grandmother while demonstrating against the Kinder Morgan pipeline and she replied, “more than ever!”

“Hope is the story of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the risk involved in not knowing what comes next, which is more demanding than despair and, in a way, more frightening. And immeasurably more rewarding.” .

Rebecca Solnit

Dialogue, discourse, disjunctures: Building critically affirmative politics in radio

Minelle Mahtani
University of Toronto Scarborough and Roundhouse Radio, Canada

Don Shafer
Simon Fraser University and Roundhouse Radio, Canada


In this short commentary, we dissect shrouded dialogues of complex negotiation that are produced and consumed in public media spheres. We explore the possibilities and limits of dialogue by investigating how the medium of radio creates a geographic space for us—a professor of geography, and CEO of a radiostation—to engage in more productive dialogical practices toward anti-colonial representations.

dialogue, discourse, epistemology, geographical knowledge


Climate Change And The Many Faces Of Denial

Simon Fraser University GLS Thesis/Project: Defended July 16th, 2018


Despite growing evidence, there seems a general reluctance to accept the seriousness of climate change or that human activity is a prime cause. While there needs to be a substantial change in humanity’s relationship with the Earth, evidence confirms that we have done very little about it. For many, this reluctance manifests itself as a kind of denial. For others, their reluctance is embedded in cultural, religious, or tribal beliefs. This human ability to ignore those things that conflict with one’s values and beliefs, or that are so unimaginable that one can’t deal with them, as they can often increase our anxiety.

This project explores the inaction around climate change, as well as the impact of that inaction on people and communities. It explores why some people are in varying degrees of denial about climate change, and how climate change relates to social., political and economic issues. While it may not be hopeless as some experts suggest, it is deadly serious.

This is a narrative-based inquiry that considers the narrative or storytelling format as a non-neutral, rhetorical account that aims at “elocutionary intentions.” This approach follows a recursive, reflexive process of storytelling that subsumes a group of approaches that in turn rely on the written or spoken words or visual representation of individuals. This approach utilizes field texts, stories, journals, interviews of over seventy experts, and personal observation and experience as the sources to understand this complex topic better.
Keywords: Climate Change; Denial; Culture; Religion; Capitalism

Available in the SFU Library: http://summit.sfu.ca/item/18305

Asking Beautiful Questions

This is a draft proposal for a project that I am interested in researching from my work in media and studies at SFU. I would appreciate your comments and feedback as well as any suggestions to help improve it.

Whether news about our climate charged with the impending apocalypse or politically and socially charged events that challenge our cultural and tribal beliefs, they are all part of the “five-alarm fire” that Naomi Klein talks about in a shrinking and ever more challenging media landscape. We need more narrative or literary based inquiry and engaging, heartfelt conversations and storytelling that unpack the difficulties of our age and encourage citizenry to become active participants in our future. Where our public forums should be open and honest, media on all platforms is challenged with a toxic mix of polarised rhetoric, propaganda, and miscommunication. Thus the need for more creative ways to share stories that make a difference, that can compete with the trivial, and constructed through a particular lens and arrangement of events that begin by asking questions that touch our hearts and heads.

A beautiful conversation is an expression of the human heart. Like precious works of art, they bring us closer together as we share stories about ourselves or a particular time in history that can leave an indelible record behind of humankind. Painting, sculpture, music, weaving, mosaics, storytelling and other arts are thought to be the soul of society’s collective memory and very much alive over the centuries. Our conversations allow people from different tribes, cultures and different times to communicate with each other with ceremony, ritual, and imagery. It’s no wonder that our conversations are more important than ever in our interconnected world.

Jonathan Haidt wrote that “morality binds and blinds us. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” This project will assist in helping us find new ways to ask important questions that want to be asked in different ways by identifying our personal biases and embedded beliefs. By identifying our own triggers and psychological distancing that can get in the way we can bring our conversations, interviews, and stories alive, reaching hearts and minds, and encouraging positive social change.

Rationale / Background:
Many believe that we have lost touch with each other and that important stories are replaced by trivial distractions or the latest Trump tweet. Media on all platforms is challenged to find those spaces to share untold stories. As public relations expert Jim Hogan points out in I am Right and You’re an Idiot “a dark haze of unyielding one-sidedness has poisoned public discourse and created an atmosphere of mistrust and disinterest.”

As a broadcaster, researcher, and student of media, I have learned that the best conversations are those where the ability to listen and to ask generous questions brings out the best in those asking, as well as those answering. Being able to move beyond a public discourse of certainty or absolutism and understanding why achieving common ground does not have to be the goal. By letting go of the smaller questions and enlarging our language by going deeper, becoming more vulnerable, the conversation warms and opens as it goes below the surface. A beautiful question then is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we feel, perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about positive personal and social change as we share the stories of our time.

Confirmation bias can often get in the way of how we share these stories as it says much about human behaviour and reasoning. Humans have a tendency to look for or accept information that’s in line with their existing beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. These beliefs can get in our way before an interview, or a conversation begins. Our overall progress as a society is predicated on our learning and how to control these emotions and make decisions based on facts. However, it would appear that fact-based decision-making has not made as much progress in our society as it deserves because many decisions are overwhelmed by emotions or other dynamics such as our genes, ideologies, or beliefs which are substituted for facts.

Understanding our own bias and those of others can allow for new departure points within conversations and build bridges to more engaged storytelling and narrative or literary based inquiry. This project strives to illuminate the heart of an issue or point of view, and that place between science, fact, and embedded beliefs. Do we have the capacity to disagree with someone in a way that isn’t designed to shut them down? Can we find a common language around values and beliefs around particular issues that open up a conversation? Can we learn to speak to communities that can’t speak to each other and fill what Andrew Hoffman calls those “structural holes,” where we can build bridges and understanding? This project will allow me to explore how we build those bridges in our conversations and interviews.

This project will: (1) look at specific types of narrative-based inquiry and storytelling. (2) Showcase the best practices on different platforms and formats and explore who does it well. (3) Illustrate the many types of conversations and questions that close or open a dialogue. This work will go deeper reviewing the work of Paul Graham who has developed the Hiracaary of Disagreement derived from heated social media conversations; Dan Kahane and the Cultural Cognition Project who examine the impact of group values on perception of risk and related facts and how these impact our conversations; Andy Hoffman, Krista Tippet, David Whyte, Johnathan Haidt, Katharine Hayhoe, Naomi Oreskes and others who all have something to offer about the art of conversations and learning how to ask generous and often difficult questions.

The challenge it seems with the changing voices and platforms in media is how to find more bridges between science, logic and fact-based journalism and to reach beyond various cultural and tribal beliefs, the left or right, winners, and losers, that get beyond right or wrong. This project will provide that opportunity.

Anticipated outcomes:
This project lends itself to lectures, as well as interactive seminars and workshops. This work will benefit anyone who wants to get better at having deeper conversations whether personal or professional. Anyone who feels uncomfortable discussing difficult issues with another person; and anyone wanting to develop the skills to ask beautiful, generous questions with a view to expanding the trajectory into the heart of a story/conversation!

Identifying key works, best practices, findings from research and field experience. This will be compiled from hundreds of hours of personal on-air interviews and examples from some of the best journalist’s/interviewers in the world on various platforms such as Associated Press, The Toronto Star, National Public Radio, BBC, CBC, and others.

Interactive courses/discussions that can be designed in modules to review: The psychology of questions, formal and informal styles of communication and when to use each. How to develop empathy, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; the power of silence and when to use it. Understanding and identifying manipulative and persuasive questioning techniques, the various channels of communication and how to recognize which channel is appropriate. How to recognize multiple persuasion styles, how to work and manage virtual teams, how to communicate cross-culturally. How to build bridges with words and pictures!

To facilitate open, spacious workshops that invite discussion about existing projects within various cohorts and working groups to overcome obstacles or existing barriers and to provide deeper pathways that assist in bringing the project and story alive.

Suggestions? don@donshafer.com


A drive around Lake Okanagan reminded me of the edges between the year that was and the one that lies ahead as it’s always been an interesting time for reflection.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “edge” as a noun or a verb, and often described as the outside limit of an object, area or surface. It`s that place next to the steep drop; The point before something unpleasant or momentous occurs, as personal as an epiphany at the beginning or ending of a self-realized moment, it can be subtle and sweet, or as large as the economy, perhaps our world teetering on the edge of a recession or a country or civilization at the edge of collapse; An edge is also the sharpened side of the blade of a cutting implement or weapon; A thin linear thread or a thought that holds the edges of time between this and that, then and now; The line along which two surfaces, real or imagined, meet. The forest edge or the rocky shore are examples of ecological edges which are rich in diverse resources as are the edges in time, those magical moments between one period to another.

These edges are transitional or “liminal” spaces that exist in everything known. They occur every day and in every moment, and they have throughout time. They are often unannounced as they gently take shape around, as well as within us, often unconscious as we often don’t recognize them at first, sometimes decades. Others make a momentous entrance defining the beginning or end of something such as a birth or death, a change in a relationship, the end of war, hunger, poverty, or in this case, the edges between the ending of the old year and the beginning of a new one.

There have been centuries of discussions regarding humankind and the many wonders of our world. Every new decade, a spokesperson surfaces with a poignant opinion and is provided a place in history to proclaim their particular point of view regarding the many attributes and complexities of the world we live in. These queens and kings, philosophers, holy women and men, even politicians throughout time have witnessed us at our best and worst. Concurrently, with all of this wisdom and enlightenment, it would seem that populations have become less concerned with each other, animals and nature, as they have grown faster than our planet’s ability to sustain them as carbon fueled capitalism and consumption levels soar at unprecedented rates changing the face of our world, perhaps heading to the edge of something that only a few want to acknowledge.

With so many great thinkers throughout time pointing to the frailties of humanity, the ills of society and the way we treat humans, animals and nature, it’s hard to believe that we could be at the edges of the sixth extinction. This was 2016 for me as it began with a deep dive into Genesis, Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and Seneca showing us how to live and die well. It ended (academically anyway) with Pope Francis, Rachael Carson and Frantz Fanon teaching us about the pitfalls of industrialization, racism and power and more questions than answers about our future.

I have been wrestling with how to make the transition from this apocalyptic scenario to a place of living in relationship with the rest of life and learning as much as I can from the Buddha within, you and many others at home, work, school and on the street. I like the way Rachel Carson frames this in Silent Spring: “We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smoother superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one “less traveled by” – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth. The choice, after all, is ours to make.”

Carson’s reference in Silent Spring for a choice between two roads seems a metaphor for the edges between two points. A choice to continue doing things the way we always have, or a not so gentle tug to look at the world, each other and nature a little bit differently with hope that we might do better. There are daily reminders of our interconnectedness with our own spiritual and religious beliefs, on social media, domestic and foreign policy, and centuries of socioeconomic inequalities around the world whether it be in the Dakota Hills, Burnaby Mountain or Africa. Even Sally Armstrong’s words echo in my head as we approach the US Inauguration, “that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander” and a call for mindfulness as well as individual activism.

I found the edges distracting this year and I had to work my way back to the middle, finding those liminal moments for quiet refection and gratitude in each day. For all that I have learned from the Buddha within, friends and family, teachers and colleagues and many strangers around the world, I am ever grateful. Its easy to get lost in the past or future and miss those important moments like traveling down century old laneways that gave up stories of the people who lived in those old buildings that lined cobblestone lanes. And the many wonderful magical moments with friends and family in Vancouver, Kelowna, Venice and Cambridge watching my daughter (Paisley) get her Masters.

If loss and grief are gates to something better, perhaps we have seen enough to stop and hear the words of those poets that speak to each of us. They have left an indelible mark in history in front of us as we work our way from the shadows to save each other, animal, as well as our planet. Aeschylus with an all too familiar refrain seems a good message to take into our new year “Tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world”.
Thanks for pulling me back from the edge!

With gratitude and heartfelt thanks, Happy New Year!

What Is Wilderness

wilderness2Earlier this year I took an evening course at Simon Fraser University that was called, Contested Relationships between Humans, Ecosystems and Other-than-Human Animals.

I shortened it to Humans, Animals & Other with SFU Professor, Stephen Duguid.

What is Wilderness became a whisper shortly after our cohorts first discussion of Aldo Leopold’s, A Sand County Almanac. The diverse opinion’s and viewpoints regarding what wilderness is or isn’t, started a journey down a fascinating rabbit hole that has led to interesting existential, political and economic discussions involving eco and social psychology, religion, foreign policy and centuries of socioeconomic inequalities around the world.

Professor Duguid and my cohort warned me that this was a very diverse and dense subject and that I should try to narrow this theme. If anything, it just keeps getting bigger. What was originally a dozen pages is now a twenty-page essay and growing weekly. This is an edited version from a recent symposium. Still, in an effort to provide a secure and definitive home for what is wilderness, I opened the door to more uncertainty and more questions trying to define what wilderness is or isn’t, how it came about and what we can do with it or for it as current events will certainly influence this subject.

This journey began with a few basic questions:

When humans enter a space for the first time that has only been enjoyed by other than humans, does that mean that the wilderness is gone? Or, as humans are we part of the larger ecosystem who share all of the planet with all that inhabit it, very much at home in wilderness regardless of where it is or who got there first?

As cities spread out around the world, wilderness seems to be shrinking, and nature is unexpectedly asserting itself. Many animals are not just adapting to urban centres, but actually thriving and, biting back so to speak. Some urban trees grow faster than their counterparts outside of the city which seems to beg the question, is there an urban wilderness?

If you were homeless and sleeping on the street what would be the difference to sleeping under the stars in an untamed forest?

Finally, is wilderness a place or a state of mind that resides deep within each of us?

These themes circle around a definition of wilderness, what it has become, the impact of society, climate change and more…

There are a number of viewpoints and definitions regarding what wilderness might be. One of those is from Gary Snider who writes in The Wilderness Condition that wilderness is a place where the wild potential is fully expressed, a diversity of living and non-living beings flourishing according to their own sorts of order.

Wilderness is usually thought of as a natural place on Earth that has not been modified by humans. Even Wikipedia, Merriman-Webster and many other sources seem to agree that wilderness “is the most intact, undisturbed and wild natural areas that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure.”

Aldo Leopold is considered an important wildlife and conservation figure in the US and one of many naturalists concerned about the welfare of nature and our planet. Leopold was concerned for what he considered the misuse of our planets natural resources and he felt protective of America’s wilderness.

In Wilderness and The American Mind, Roderick Nash says, That for all of its benefits, designated wilderness areas might be regarded as a kind of “zoo” for land. Wilderness is exhibited in legislative cages, clearly mapped and neatly labelled. The unknown is known. Uncertainty decreases. So do risk and fear. Trails, shelters, ranger patrols, and search-and-rescue teams further compromise wilderness. Quotas, permits, lotteries, waiting lists, prescribed itineraries, and campsite assignments devastate the feeling of wilderness.

In The Encyclical of Climate Change and inequality, Pope Francis wrote: Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity.

As cities grow, wilderness becomes smaller and more exploited. Some simply believe that wilderness is a construct and that it only exists in the minds of humans. This seems like a paradox because mostly we tend to think of wilderness as places where there is an absence of human influence. Ironically, it would seem to make sense that in order for there to be wilderness, there needs to be humans in non-wilderness places defining what is wilderness and what it isn’t.

One of people that first struck me outside of our required reading was Mary Catherine Bateson who wrote in Composing a Life, The self does not stop at the skin nor even with our circle of human relationships – but is interwoven with the lives of trees and animals and soil: that caring for the deepest needs of persons and caring for our threatened planet are not in conflict.

As this wilderness theme widens, many believe that there are too many signs all around us of a society and planet in decline. Others are in denial in their busy lives and distracted by the changes taking place. Still, some believe that the technological advances that got us here will ultimately save us. Pope Francis, Carl Jung, Kelly Oliver, Freud and many others have written volumes about this.


As species diminish and oxygen and natural resources including wilderness become scarce, it’s hard not to wonder how we have come to a place where we are destroying the very home that supports all of us, wondering if at this pace – we will ever recognize or care what wilderness is, or worse, what it once was. How do we make the transition from this apocalyptic scenario to a place of living in relationship with the rest of life?

Hopelessness would seem a natural instinct however when I was speaking to students from UBC and SFU on my daily radio program, they were full of optimism and had a refreshing passion committed to saving our planet as well as each other. Each have a vision of a brighter future filled with social innovation and change, measured consumption of our natural resources, a growing respect for nature and all things living, and each with their own interpretation of wilderness. Whether this youthful optimism is enough for younger generations to avoid becoming super consumers like their parents and grandparents remains to be determined.

Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History in 1992. He believed that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism could signal the end of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government. He initially thought that the future would lack any exhilarating struggles believing that life would be “boring”. Meanwhile that same year, the United Nations hosted a “framework” convention on climate change where it acknowledged, “that changes to the Earth’s climate and its adverse effects are a common concern of humankind”. Aware of the role and importance in terrestrial and marine ecosystems the United Nations put the world on notice. It seems hard to believe that less than two decades later countries around the world would be uniting to save our home and protect our “wilderness”, or that a Pope would be leading the world for climate change.

Ecopsychologists study wilderness and the relationship between human beings and the natural world through ecological and psychological principles. As they bump into the harmful use of fossil fuels, displacement of humans and animals, expansion and consumption beyond sustainability and the growing possibility of extinction, this expanding group of professional’s, academics, romantics and friends of the earth seek to develop and understand ways of expanding the emotional connection between individuals, animals and the natural world, thereby assisting developing sustainable lifestyles and solving the alienation from nature.

Carl Jung Carl Jung puts this another way in The Earth has a Soul: Nowadays animals, dragons and other living creatures are readily replaced in dreams by railways, locomotives, motorcycles, aeroplanes, and suchlike artificial products… This express’s the remoteness of the modern mind from nature; animals have lost their numinosity; they have become apparently harmless; instead, we people the world with hooting, booming, clattering monsters’ that cause infinitely more damage to life and limb than bears and wolves ever did in the past. And where the natural dangers are lacking, man does not rest until he has immediately invented others for himself.

Consider that our rainforests once covered approximately fifteen percent of the earth’s land surface and this natural resource is shrinking every year. Nearly half of the world’s species of plants, animals and microorganisms will be destroyed or severely threatened over the next quarter century due to rainforest deforestation. According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), it is estimated that we are losing approximately one hundred plant, animal and insect species daily.

With wilderness shrinking around the planet, behavioral ecologist Bill Bateman in an interview with the Zoological Journal believes that the cities of the future may be where wild things are. As their natural homes disappear, many carnivores have rooted themselves in cities as a means of survival. Have our animals become the new cast in a “Hunger Games” type of setting as we observe them being captured, tagged, computerised and watched 24/7, and then managed for the rest of their lives regardless of where their wilderness happens to be? If we are the audience, what can we learn from them as they attempt to teach us to be human?

The National Film Board of Canada released a web documentary by Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes in 2012 about a grizzly bear in Banff National Park, who was collared at the age of three and watched her whole life from trail cameras in the park. “Bear 71,” explores the connections between the human and animal world and the far-ranging effects that human settlements, roads and railways have on wildlife.

Bear 71

According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail Newspaper, conservation officers are reporting a dramatic increase in what they term “human-wildlife conflicts” in the lower mainland. There were over 1,800 human-wildlife complaints in September 2015. Bill Batemen stated that “the red fox, coyote, racoon, badger and other medium-sized carnivores not only survive in cities but have managed to prosper, living off garbage, fruit, rodents, birds, pets, livestock, roadkill and food that people intentionally leave out for them.”

As cites expand into what was once considered wilderness, city trees grow eight times faster than their counterparts in rural areas. The speed of which current climate change is unfolding is making it increasingly difficult for humans and our natural world to adapt. As pointed out by Pope Francis and others, some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable are already the most affected by global warming. Rising sea levels, droughts, floods, storms, heat waves and other catastrophic events are expected to disrupt food production and threaten wildlife and their habitat.

The World Wildlife Federation states that Canada is poised to feel the impact of climate change first. By the end of this century, the Arctic will be a very different place. Temperatures here are warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. Even a slight shift in temperature could potentially result in an ice-free Arctic in this century. As the Arctic warms, it has less ability to cool the planet, posing a threat to the entire globe.


Sigmund Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents believed that the sum of our achievements and the regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors serve two purposes – namely to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relations. Freud suggests that the primal needs of community and civilization are largely responsible for society’s misery and, “that human predisposition to aggression is a consequence of this primarily natural hostility of human beings and as such, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration”. Freud goes on to say that “As men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with little help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man”.

Assuming Freud was over zealous with his comments and that humankind chooses another path, then, what is wilderness really? Is it in our mind or all around us? Are we better off in urban clusters with confronting signs of a society in decline or is there a call for something different, a call for change. As more animals become displaced, homelessness and placelessness has become epidemic in large urban centres for animals and humans alike. While animals search for abandoned buildings and cars as well as parks and alleys for safety and rest, where do our homeless go when shelters are full or are unavailable. Both human and animal interventions are on the rise as police and conservation authorities respond to more calls from displaced humans and animals every year. Our newly urban and unwanted wild, animals and human, seem to have a kinship as they are both victims of a social, economic system that marginalises and controls.

The field of ecopsychology extends beyond the conventional purview of psychology, which had traditionally considered the psyche to be a matter of relevance to humans alone. Ecopsychology examines why people continue environmentally damaging behaviour, and to develop methods of positive motivation for adopting sustainable practices. Evidence suggests that many environmentally damaging behaviours are addictive at some level. Considering Freud for a moment, if civilisation and the loss of wilderness or our own wilding imposes such great sacrifice on humankind and our “aggressivity,” how can we ever be truly joyful if we have just traded our happiness for urban security.

While discussions of denial and hopelessness prevail, at the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Mérida, Mexico, “WILD” in collaboration with other international organizations, governments and individuals, officially debuted Nature Needs Half, a social movement to protect and connect at least half of all nature on Earth, land and water, in order to support the existence of nature and the services it provides. To offer more hope, many Canadian provinces are exceeding WILD’s goals and Norway recently banned deforestation.

Kay Milton shines a light in Loving Nature, towards an Ecology of Emotion: If human beings are truly a threat to life on earth, we shall have a better chance of reducing that threat if we understand as fully as possible the kinds of beings we are.

As we come out of this rabbit hole, climate change, ecological and economic crisis, as well as social unrest, are all signs that our wilderness and our planet is in great distress. There is no shortage of material or opinions regarding wilderness, the many things that it can be, or its interconnectedness with our own spiritual and religious beliefs, domestic and foreign policy, or centuries of socioeconomic inequalities around the world.

If it is nature and our personal definition of wilderness that allows us to realise that we are not the centre of the universe and that it helps us reconnect with the voices of our ancestors, can we get free from this trap of a modern world that is reliant on more technology to solve our problems? Is Freud right that it’s our loss of connection with the past and ourselves which has given rise to the “discontents” of civilisation? Can we learn to travel in this world and give equal consideration to human, animal and other – before more species slide into extinction, more forests and wetlands are obliterated, and more lives are destroyed from hunger, war and isolation.

It would seem that consumption aspirations are going to have to change with a radical commitment to equality. As Pope Francis suggests, this will have to be a global initiative, which means the more highly developed countries will suffer the most in order for us to reach any kind of global equality. It saddens me when I see Great Britan and other countries building stronger borders to keep the world out.

Finally, If loss and grief are gates to something better, perhaps we have seen enough – to stop and find the wildness and soulfulness in ourselves as we work our way from the abyss to save each other, animal and human, as well as our planet.


Podcast of Wildlife Essay


The Magic Is In Our Hearts

_WDP1781Families around the world used to gather and listen to what Orson Wells referred to as the “magic inside that little box”. Those gas filled tubes glowed brightly with the news of the day, live music, special events, theater and voices large and small that brought our world a little bit closer. The format was as varied as the talent and we called it “full service” radio. Most days there seems little magic left on the radio with more sensationalism, shrinking playlists, less creativity, less choice and very few stories worth sharing.

I believe the internet saved radio, or at the very least, leveled the playing field so that almost anyone with something interesting to share could reach people with similar interests. With the exception of some very small town radio stations who remain hyper “local”, most commercial radio stations haven’t caught on to what’s happening at CBC, NPR, BBC, campus or community radio stations or hundreds of online storytelling sites that can be really interesting to listen to.

Just over a year ago our small company which is made up of four families from British Columbia and a staff of about 30 was awarded a license to build a new radio station in Vancouver by the CRTC. After what seemed like years of dreaming, endless hours of brainstorming, research, planning and finally writing a heartfelt application for a commercial radio station with a community focus that we call Roundhouse Radio, we set out to build it.

SarahAs our small team celebrates our accomplishments of getting this far in a new digital age – its a great time to reflect on the past year and what lies ahead in the new one. There was finding a building from 42 others, building permits, designs and construction. The painting, staining, furnishing and Yvonne guiding our hiring, look & feel.

Tracey, Monique and Barb in temporary offices at Red Robinson’s planning our web and and social media strategies and hours with Tracey and I meeting at Nelson the Seagull looking for potential team mates one at a time from over 300 resumes. Six applications to the City of Vancouver to find a better transmitter site and a nine month delay, hundreds of community meetings and weeks of rehearsals, 100’s of little things and then finally signing on the air October 13th 2015 with Sarah McLachlan. What a year! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5v2xuFGUGA

Our owners group and advisory boards have been amazing through this crazy “startup process” and a real source of support and inspiration. In my 52 years in this crazy business, I have never seen anything like what is happening at our roundhouse. It’s magic on air, online and on the street, with a stellar lineup of heartfelt and talented hosts and support staff, a steady stream of guests focused on social change and regular people who simply want to make Vancouver a better place to live. It’s a joy to be a small part of such a unique project that is truly making a difference. That’s real magic!

The pace has been quick and I almost became a casualty to our momentum in a car accident driving to Kelowna this December. As my Jeep lost control on the black ice and tumbled into oncoming traffic the first four cars had a nurse and helpful partners who likely saved my life. What’s the chance?

Anne Newlands suggests that there are no accidents in life so…This could be an existential crisis, or more likely, one of those wake up calls that gave the holidays a very special meaning as everything changed for me in a heartbeat.

accident 3

Every moment has become more precious as it clearly wasn’t my time. I am revaluing everything in life and what I am doing with it, understanding and feeling our impermanence and finding more meaning in every moment. https://www.kelownanow.com/watercooler/news/news/Kelowna/15/12/17/Social_Media_Brings_Okanagan_Crash_Survivor_and_Good_Samaritans_Together/

It seems like a good time to wake the Buddha within!

To suggest this has been a bench mark year for me is an understatement as I could write volumes. It’s been as big a a year for my family and friends – old as well as new, at Roundhouse and with a great cohort at SFU. We all became a little bit closer. I am full of gratitude for everyone’s love and support and that I am able to write this and dream about how to make tomorrow even better! It seems somehow ironic in all of this that I will be leading the discussion next semester on Genesis?

I hope you have an opportunity to reflect on the wonderful things you accomplished this past year and consider the new one with optimism, wonder and joy.

Heartfelt thanks!