2011 is already shaping up to be a very interesting year if you pay close attention to climate change issues. The flooding in Queensland is terrifying to me. Partly because I spent a fair bit of time in and around Brisbane in the late 90s, and partly because the Canadian newscasts keep defining the flooded areas as “the size of British Columbia” and Brisbane, as a city of about 2.5 million, is the same size as Vancouver. It’s all too easy to visualize my whole home province underwater, with the water moving in closer and closer to Vancouver until it too is watching helplessly as restaurants and homes sail by.
Yesterday CBC was reporting on the looming crisis in Winnipeg and throughout Manitoba. The ground throughout the province is completely saturated with water. There are feet of snow on the ground, which is normal, but the rivers are up to 2 meters above their normal levels, and the temperatures are up and down in huge swings. Winnipeg is known across Canada as “Winterpeg”, and they’ve got another 4 months of winter yet to go. But authorities can see the writing on the wall: they may be in for the flood of the century. And that’s if nothing takes a serious turn for the worse (ie heavy precipitation) between now and spring.
Yesterday, as I was teaching grammar, we were reading a sentence about Calgary (Alberta) and chinooks. A student asked what a chinook was, and I explained that Calgary is in a unique geographical area where periodically during the otherwise frigid winters, a warm wind blows through and brings spring-like temperatures in for a few days. Then I stopped and commented, “actually, I guess we’re all experiencing that these days!”
I don’t know about where you live, but doesn’t it seem pretty clear that the days of consistent, predictable weather are over?
Now I know, these phenomena are not unprecedented, and I know I’m not supposed to confuse climate with weather. And it’s an El Nina year. But, really, aren’t we there yet?! For years environmentalists and scientists have been telling us about all the terrible things that could happen to us in the distant future if we don’t start to change our ways today. Well I don’t know about you, but I think there’s ample evidence that we’re right smack dab in the middle of climate change disaster. And apparently, it’s only going to get worse: there will be more of these severe weather events, in more places, more often. On the west coast, here, we’ve gotten lucky so far, but I’m starting to realize in a more visceral way that whatever major disaster we might face is coming. It’s when, not if.
Which begs the question, so what? It’s not like I haven’t been working on my carbon footprint for years; I’ve kept up with the science and I know there are controversies. I’ve changed MANY of my household habits, joined groups, had heated discussions, written letters and signed petitions. I teach environmental issues in my classes, even if they are English classes. 🙂
Today, though, I was really struck by another aspect of the problem. I was listening to the radio, and the call-in show was about mining in BC–traditionally a hugely important economic industry here, though less visible on the coast. The Minister for Mining was talking about the trends and technologies that make up mining today. Yet almost every single caller was questioning the environmental issues associated with mining–which are legion and highly destructive.
What struck me while listening was the impasse…the same old problem of two parallel truths and stories that are fighting it out right now. On the one hand, the Minister took a realistic approach. The elements being mined are essential for our lives today. Metallurgical coal, for instance (which incidentally was a major Queensland industry whose incapacitation is having a massive global impact), is used to make steel. You cannot make steel without metallurgical coal. The Minister outlines the very real problem: do we need steel for pretty much everything? yes we do. Is there a substitute for steel? Not many, and many of the substitutes, like plastic in cars, are not better, from an environmental perspective. What’s your environmentally-friendly water bottle made of? Mine’s stainless. So then we ask ourselves, would we rather that this metallurgical coal was mined here, where we have strict environmental and safety regulations? Or somewhere else?
Of course, this is the same argument the Canadian oil industry uses about the tar sands…
The public keeps saying, loudly, NO. We don’t care if it isn’t logical, if there aren’t alternatives, if it hurts the economy. We aren’t thinking about that. We just want our salmon rivers to survive, and we want clean air to breathe, and we don’t want an oil spill in our coastal waters.
It’s hard to tell if that’s the same thing as making progress. I think it probably is in the long term. But in the short term, I’m noticing something interesting in myself. I’m becoming politically more and more disengaged; I’m having fewer debates about most things, and I feel less sympathetic toward any kind of rhetoric. I roll my eyes at the knee-jerk predictability of polarized positions.
We have two leadership races underway, a referendum coming up, municipal elections scheduled, and possibilities of both provincial and federal elections looming. This could be a big year in BC politics. But all I want to do is garden and hang out with chickens.
I think it’s because in my gut, I feel like all the rhetoric and political action is getting to be beside the point. People can keep talking all they like. But the reality is unfolding before us–the world and the weather is changing dramatically. I’m done worrying about the future and trying to change everyone else. The disasters are here, and I’m trying to build a life that can survive and thrive in the midst of them.
And the best part about that approach? It’s fun!
So I hope you’ll pardon this long, serious post yet again. I’m in fact feeling quite energized and excited about this new year. I might not even vote at all! 🙂