The following is a transcript of an address given by Elizabeth May upon receiving an honorary doctorate in the humanities from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The address was given as part of the university’s convocation ceremonies on May 12, 2000.



MADAME CHANCELLOR, MADAME PRESIDENT, CHAIR OF BOARD OF GOVERNORS, HONORARY DEGREE RECIPIENTS, FACULTY, GRADUATES, FAMILY, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:

I AM SO DEEPLY HONOURED TO RECEIVE AN HONORARY DOCTORATE, PARTICULARLY FROM SUCH A WONDERFUL INSTITUTION. I WANT TO CONGRATULATE THE UNIVERSITY FOR ITS RECENT DECISION TO STOP USING TOXIC CHEMICALS FOR THE FRIVOLOUS PURPOSE OF ERADICATING DANDELIONS. THE CITY OF HALIFAX MAY SOON FOLLOW SUIT! AND ESPECIALLY IN THE COMPANY OF AN OLD AND DEAR FRIEND, FELLOW ACTIVIST BETTY PETERSON WHO HAS CONTRIBUTED SO VERY MUCH TO THE PEACE MOVEMENT AND ABORIGINAL RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT!

IT IS ALSO A GREAT DAY TO REMEMBER AS MAY 12TH IS THE BIRTHDAY OF TWO WONDERFUL PEOPLE WHOSE LIVES HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE , FARLEY MOWAT, AND FLORENCE NIGHTENGALE. SO ACROSS THE MILES I WISH FARLEY A HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AND ACROSS THE COSMIC SPACE THE SAME TO FLORENCE NIGHTENGALE, WHO ALTHOUGH BETTER KNOWN AS THE FOUNDER OF NURSING, WORKED TIRELESSLY IN A VARIETY OF PUBLIC POLICY FIELDS, SUCH AS INVENTING PUBLIC HEALTH CARE, AND SPOKE OUT AGAINST USING THE THAMES AS A SEWER.

I WOULD NEVER HAVE IMAGINED RECEIVING AN HONORARY DOCTORATE, BUT AS MY GRANDMOTHER’S SISTER USED TO SAY, “LIFE HAS MORE IMAGINATION THAN YOU OR I.” IN MY LIFE, I’VE BEEN A WAITRESS AND COOK, A CHIMNEY SWEEP, SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR TO THE FEDERAL MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENT, A SINGLE MOTHER, A LAWYER, AN AUTHOR, HEADED SIERRA CLUB OF CANADA AND MOST RECENTLY BEEN A FACULTY MEMBER AT DALHOUSIE UNIVERSITY, WHILE HOLDING A CHAIR CREATED IN MY NAME. ALL THIS WITHOUT THE BACKGROUND THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE, A UNIVERSITY DEGREE.

MANY OF THESE EXPERIENCES WERE NOT REMOTELY LIKELY. A NUMBER WERE FLAT OUT IMPOSSIBLE. MY LIFE HAS BEEN VERY IMAGINATIVE, AND I ALWAYS WONDER, WHAT WILL I DO WHEN I GROW UP? WHAT I WANT TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT TODAY IS JUST THAT — LIFE, AND HOW YOU LIVE, FOR YOUR LIFE WILL CHANGE THE WORLD. BECAUSE WITH OR WITHOUT INTENDING TO DO SO, WE ALL CHANGE THE WORLD. THE KEY IS TO INTEND THE CHANGES WE MAKE.

THE LIFETIME OF THIS PLANET DWARFS OUR OWN, NOT JUST IN TERMS OF OUR INDIVIDUAL LIVES, BUT IN EVOLUTIONARY TERMS. PICTURE THE HISTORY OF EARTH ALONG A TIME LINE ONE KILOMETRE LONG. HUMAN EXISTENCE WOULD OCCUPY THE LAST 2 CENTIMETRES. THE INDUSTRIAL AGE, THE LAST 100 OR SO YEARS OF REMARKABLE HUMAN TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS WOULD OCCUPY THE LAST 8 1/1000TH OF A CENTIMETRE. OVER A 3.8 BILLION YEAR PERIOD HUMANS HAVE BEEN A MERE BLIP. BUT OUR ENORMOUS INGENUITY, CREATIVITY AND ADAPTABILITY HAVE ALLOWED US TO THREATEN THE SURVIVAL OF OUR OWN SPECIES, AS WELL AS THE TEN OR SO MILLION OTHER SPECIES FOR WHOM EARTH IS “HOME.”

HUMANITY NOW HAS A BIGGER IMPACT ON THE PLANET THAN NATURAL FORCES. WE UNLEASH MORE ENERGY EACH YEAR THEN THE SUN, DIGGING AND PUMPING UP FOSSILIZED SOLAR ENERGY AT UNIMAGINABLE RATES. AND THERE’S NEVER ENOUGH. WE BURN SO MANY FOSSIL FUELS THAT WE ARE ENDANGERING ESSENTIAL CARBON BALANCES. GLOBAL EMISSIONS OF CARBON DIOXIDE ARE NOW FOUR TIMES HIGHER THAN THEY WERE IN 1950. THE RATE OF GROWTH IS CONSTANT. EVEN AS SCIENTISTS WARN US THAT WE ARE DESTABILIZING THE PLANET’S CLIMATE SYSTEMS, AND THREATENING SURVIVAL OF LIFE ON EARTH ITSELF.

IN 1988, AN INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE WARNED: “HUMANITY IS CONDUCTING AN UNINTENDED, UNCONTROLLED GLOBALLY PERVASIVE EXPERIMENT WHOSE ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCES ARE SECOND ONLY TO GLOBAL NUCLEAR WAR.”

THE RISK OF GLOBAL NUCLEAR WAR PERSISTS, AS MY FELLOW HONOUREE BETTY PETERSON WOULD BE QUICK TO POINT OUT. WE TOY WITH THE PLANET’S LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEMS, DESTROY OUR FORESTS ONE HALF OF WHICH ARE NOW ESTIMATED TO BE GONE (U.N. REPORT), DESTROY THE HABITAT FOR OUR FELLOW CREATURES CREATING A BIOLOGICAL MELTDOWN AND AN EXTINCTION RATE UNKNOWN SINCE THE EXTINCTION EVENT THAT TOOK OUT THE DINOSAUR, ALL THE WHILE POISONING OUR OWN NEST — POLLUTING OUR FOOD, WATER AND AIR — THE QUOTE FROM THE CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE IS SOBERING IN SUGGESTING THAT WE ARE CONDUCTING A VAST EXPERIMENT, AS THOSE WITH SCIENCE TRAINING WILL NOTE, ANY EXPERIMENT NEEDS A “CONTROL.” BUT WE HAVE NO CONTROL.

PLANET EARTH IS ALONE IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM AND THE KNOWN UNIVERSE IN SUPPORTING LIFE. ITS BLUE GREEN COLOURS SWIRLING IN A COLD DARK UNIVERSE ARE CREATED BY LIFE ITSELF. IT IS THE LIVING SYSTEMS ON EARTH THAT SUSTAIN LIFE, AND CREATE CONDITIONS IDEAL FOR HUMAN LIFE. YET, OUR SPECIES HAS ADOPTED A REMARKABLE ALLEGIANCE TO THE NON-LIVING. ONCE LIVING THINGS ARE CONVERTED TO DEAD THINGS, THEY HAVE VALUE.

ECONOMIC GROWTH TRUMPS ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS EVERY TIME. BUT WE CANNOT MAKE AIR, WE HAVE NO WAY TO MANUFACTURE A FOREST. WE CANNOT EAT MONEY. BUT STILL, WE WORSHIP IT. DAVID KORTEN, AUTHOR OF “WHEN CORPORATIONS RULE THE WORLD,” COMMENTED THAT THIS GENERATION IS IN AN EPIC STRUGGLE. IT IS NOT A CLASH BETWEEN POLITICAL SYSTEMS — CAPITALISM VERSUS COMMUNISM. IT’S NOT EVEN LEFT VERSUS RIGHT. IT IS LIFE VERSUS MONEY.

THE WORSHIP OF MONEY IS DENIED, OF COURSE, AS WE CONTINUE IN A SECULAR WORLD TO PROFESS OUR FAITH IN THE CREATOR. THE HYPOCRISY OF OUR WEALTH-ADDICTED WORLD WAS SKEWERED IN A RECENT COLUMN BY DALTON CAMP (TORONTO STAR, APRIL 26, 2000). IN IT HE RECOUNTED WHAT HE TERMED “MY EPIPHANOUS MOMENT IN AMERICA” FOR THE WEEK, WATCHING THE COVERAGE OF MEMORIAL SERVICES FOR THE VICTIMS OF THE COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTINGS, BROADCAST LIVE ON CNN.

AS HE TUNED IN, THE GOVERNOR OF COLORADO WAS ADDRESSING A LARGE CROWD OF MOURNERS GATHERED IN OUTDOOR SERVICES. THE GOVERNOR WAS READING PSALM 11: “IN THE LORD PUT I MY TRUST: HOW SAY YE TO MY SOUL…” “AS THE GOVERNOR CONTINUED,” WRITES MR. CAMP, “THE CAMERAS EXPLORED THE CROWD, GIRM-FACED, SOME WEEPING, ALL SOMBRE IN BEARING. IN THE LOWER RIGHT HAND CORNER OF THE SCREEN, CNN WAS ALSO REPORTING THE MARKET RETURNS FROM WALL STREET.

IT WENT LIKE THIS: “FOR LO, THE WICKED BEND THEIR BOW, THEY MAKE READY THEIR ARROW…” DOW, UP 36.8 “…UPON THE STRING, THAT THEY MAY PRIVILY SHOOT…” NASDAQ DOWN 87.4 “AT THE UPRIGHT IN HEART. IF THE FOUNDATION BE DESTROYED, WHAT CAN THE RIGHTEOUS DO?” DOW UP 33.7 AND SO ON AND SO ON. AMEN. …. HE CONCLUDED, “I MAY BE THE ONLY VIEWER WHO BELIEVES IT UNSUITABLE TO RUN STOCK MARKET QUOTATIONS ON THE TUBE WHILE, AT THE SAME TIME, TELEVISING A COMMUNITY IN MOURNING. THERE MAY BE A VAST MAJORITY WHO BELIEVE READING PSALM 11 WHILE REPORTING ON THE DOW AND NASDAQ ARE COMPLIMENTARY EVENTS WHOSE CONGRUENCY APPEARS NATURAL TO A SOCIETY THAT BELIEVES IN GOD BUT WORSHIPS MAMMON.”

WE HAVE ELEVATED ECONOMIC ACTIVITY TO THE PRIME AND HIGHEST CALLING OF HUMAN-KIND. GANDHI SAID, “I TAKE IT BY ECONOMIC PROGRESS WE MEAN MATERIAL ADVANCEMENT WITHOUT LIMIT AND BY REAL PROGRESS WE MEAN MORAL PROGRESS.” OUR OBSESSION WITH “MATERIAL ADVANCEMENT” IS REFLECTED IN THAT TICKER TAPE PREOCCUPATION WITH STOCK MARKETS ON BOTH CNN AND CANADIAN NATIONAL NETWORKS. WHAT A DIFFERENT WORLD IT WOULD BE IF WE WERE CONTINUALLY REMINDED OF THE THINGS THAT REALLY MATTER. “STARVATION UP 1.6 BILLION, DEFORESTATION UP, FISHERIES DOWN, “ 15 MILLION CHILDREN UNDER 5 DIE EVERY YEAR FOR LACK OF CLEAN DRINKING WATER. A DAILY TALLY OF THE BODY COUNT MIGHT FOCUS THE MIND, BUT WE ARE TOO PREOCCUPIED WITH THE STOCK MARKET. OUR ADDICTION TO ECONOMIC GROWTH HAS CONTAMINATED EVERY AREA OF OUR LIVES.

WE HAVE HOLUS BOLUS ADOPTED THE LANGUAGE OF THE SO-CALLED MARKET PLACE IN ALL THINGS. SEEING A DOCTOR, IS NOW “THE PROVISION OF HEALTH CARE SERVICES.” THE PATIENT IS THE “CONSUMER”. GOING TO SCHOOL IS NOW ABOUT EDUCATION SERVICES , GOVERNMENT AGENCIES TALK ABOUT THEIR CLIENTS, AUDIENCES ARE “MEDIA MARKETS” CITIZENS ARE “CONSUMERS” AND PEOPLE ARE REDUCED “HUMAN RESOURCES” WHICH, LIKE NATURAL RESOURCES ARE THERE AS FEEDSTOCK TO THE YAWNING MAW OF MAMMON. THE ECONOMIC SYSTEM THAT CAN BE FED ENDLESSLY BUT IS NEVER FULL.

IN AN INSPIRING BOOK TITLED “NATURAL CAPITALISM, “ AUTHORS LOVINS AND HAWKEN, COMPARE THE TREATMENT OF AN OLD GROWTH FOREST WITH THE ECONOMIC SYSTEM’S EXPLOITATION OF HUMAN LIVES. THE OLD GROWTH FOREST, OF COURSE, IS ASSIGNED ZERO VALUE TO THE ECONOMY UNTIL IT IS HORIZONTAL AND MOVING ALONG IN A LOGGING TRUCK. THE MYRIAD VALUES, ECOLOGICAL, PRODUCING WATER, PURIFYING AIR, CYCLING CARBON AND PROVIDING HABITAT, AS WELL THE INTANGIBLE BENEFITS TO HUMANS OF CREATIVITY AND SPIRITUAL RENEWAL ARE NOT COUNTED IN THE GDP AND ARE ALL DESTROYED IN THE ACT OF EXTRACTING THE ONE THING THE SYSTEM VALUES. SIMILARLY THEY WRITE, PEOPLE’S LIVES REFLECT A MYRIAD OF VALUES. MEN AND WOMEN MAY BE LOVING, CREATIVE, RELIGIOUS, CONTEMPLATIVE, CURIOUS AND ADVENTUROUS. BUT THE ECONOMY VALUES THEM ONLY AS FEEDSTOCK FOR THE SYSTEM. JOBS CAN BE SO PUNISHING — THE GRIND SO MISERABLE — THAT OTHER VALUES ARE DESTROYED IN EXTRACTING THE ONE THING THE ECONOMY DESIRES — PRODUCTIVE WORK.

QUOTE: “INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM CAN BE SAID TO BE LIQUIDATING, WITHOUT VALUING, BOTH NATURAL AND HUMAN CAPITAL — CAPTURING SHORT-TERM ECONOMIC GAINS IN WAYS THAT DESTROY LONG-TERM HUMAN PROSPECT AND PURPOSE. AN OVERWORKED BUT UNDERVALUED WORKFORCE, OUTSOURCED PARENTING, THE UNREMITTING INSECURITY THAT THREATENS EVEN THE MOST VALUED KNOWLEDGE WORKERS WITH FEAR OF LAYOFFS — THESE ALL CORRODE COMMUNITY AND UNDERMINE … SOCIETY.” END QUOTE (AT P 286, LITTLE BROWN)

WHAT I MOST DESPERATELY WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU IS TO UNDERSTAND THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN “MAKING A LIVING” AND “HAVING A LIFE.” DON’T GET SWALLOWED UP IN THE EMPTY PROMISES OF MAMMON. DON’T BELIEVE FOR A SECOND THAT “HAVING MORE” CAN EVER REPLACE “BEING MORE.”

A RECENT GLOBE AND MAIL FEATURE QUOTED A SAD TORONTO COUPLE, WHO WHILE BRINGING HOME $300,000/YEAR AND NEVER FELT SECURE. THEY SPENT MORE AND MORE TO STAY IN THE SAME PLACE. “OUTSOURCED PARENTING” IS EXPENSIVE. VAST AMOUNTS OF TOYS FOR GROWN-UPS AND KIDS NEVER REPLACE THE LOVE THAT’S LOST. AM I TELLING YOU NOT TO MAKE MONEY? NO. THERE ARE ENOUGH SINGLE MOMS IN THIS PROVINCE WHO CAN TELL YOU THAT IT IS NO FUN TO RELY ON THE FOOD BANK WHILE SOCIAL SERVICES DWINDLE.

BUT OUR ABILITY TO SHARE IN THIS SOCIETY MUST START WITH AN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THAT THE CULTURE OF GREED LEAVES EVERYONE POORER IN SPIRIT. KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON THINGS THAT MATTER. FAMILY MATTERS. COMMUNITY MATTERS. YOUR INTERNAL LIFE OF FAITH MATTERS. YOUR ARTISTIC TALENTS, YOUR SILLY IMPULSES ALL MATTER. WRITE NOVELS, BAKE BREAD WITH THE CHILDREN YOU WILL HAVE. YOUNG WOMEN, HAVE YOUR BABY, GO BACK TO WORK AND INSIST ON TAKING YOUR BABY WITH YOU. (WHAT LOONY SOCIETY BELIEVES THAT MOTHERS SHOULD BE ISOLATED AT HOME FOR 6 MONTHS AND THEN LEAVE AN INFANT TO RETURN TO THE WORKFORCE?. WE NEED TO PUSH FOR ACCESS TO OUR BABIES AND YOUNG CHILDREN FROM OUR WORKPLACES.) HAVE A GARDEN. WALK MORE, DRIVE LESS. (AVOIDING OWNING CAR IS A GREAT WAY TO ENHANCE THE QUALITY OF YOUR LIFE, IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH AND REDUCE STRESS.) EARN LESS AND LIVE MORE. BUY A HAMMOCK AND LEARN HOW TO USE IT.

FOR IN LIVING MORE FULLY, WE ALLOW THE EARTH TO LIVE. THE DAMAGE WE DO TO THE LIVING WORLD IS DIRECTLY RELATED TO BUYING MORE AND MORE AND MORE. SUV’S — SUBURBAN ASSAULT VEHICLES — , THROW AWAY EVERYTHING, FAST FOOD AND DISPOSABLE LIVES. CHOOSE YOUR LIFE CONSCIOUSLY. YOU ARE LIKELY TO GET WHAT YOU WANT. SO BE SURE THAT YOU WANT THE THINGS THAT WILL ENRICH YOUR LIFE, REWARD YOUR COURAGE, GIVE YOU PEACE AND MAKE YOU HAPPY. THOSE THINGS ARE OUT THERE. BUT IT IS HARD TO FIND THEM FOR THE DIN OF ADVERTISING FOR THE USELESS THINGS WE ARE TOLD WE CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT.

SO THIS IS THE GREAT CONTEST BETWEEN LIFE AND MONEY. IN ALL THINGS, CHOOSE LIFE. AND GO WITH GOD.