OPINION: It's going to take more than paper straws to avoid climate catastrophe

It was likely the largest mobilization of humans in both Canadian and world history. In Canada alone roughly one million men were sent overseas. They put their life on hold and left their families behind to fight in the Second World War. Many had never been to Europe, let alone put their lives in harms way to fight for a cause bigger than them. It was an incredible example of not only the sacrifice these Canadians were willing to make but also the degree to which the world could mobilize to protect the larger whole of society.

It seems like there has been a big upsurge in talk around the environment lately. It started with a report detailing the incredible changes we have seen in Canada related to climate change, Canada seeing climate temperature increases at nearly double the rate of world temperature increases. It was not too long ago that the predictions by scientists such as David Suzuki were considered alarmist and radical. Not so now, in fact most of these scientists were very conservative in their predictions, their 50-year predictions of temperature change are now a reality and there is every indication that future temperature increases will be exponential. We are starting to see some of the changes on our island, the storm that severely damaged the government dock in the cove, the three damaged road culverts which will eat up a sizeable chunk of our road budget, big investments in fire suppression. The costs of years of inaction are now showing up in budgets across the Metro region. Bigger storms happening much more frequently was a big topic recently at the regional level. Municipalities across Metro are dealing with costs that few had anticipated and the projections are for many more to come.

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A Bowen father emailed me recently to see if there was interest in a climate strike event at Rockridge School, my son attends Rockridge and understandably their child wanted to make sure she was not going to be the only one walking out of class. I don’t think the event happened at the school but we did have a climate change event at our BICS, “Walk to Municipal Hall” and high school students put on a big march in the city calling for action on this issue. What was so sad, other than the fact that there is an entire generation afraid that they have a bleak future ahead of them, was that I had seen this rodeo before. 

I remember many protests and calls for action decades ago. It seems like we have been spinning our wheels for so long it is hard to know if we will ever get any traction. Even scarier is the talk about adaptation, forgetting about making the situation better, it is happening, let’s just get used to the new normal and accept our fate. I’m not saying we shouldn’t adapt to an ever-changing environment, it is just sad that we may be at this stage, past the point of no return, assuming there ever was one. 

Following the “Walk to Municipal Hall” event I came across a post on Facebook’s Everything Else group which really got under my skin.

 The post was meant to be helpful, supportive of the students taking action. People started chiming in on all the things they were doing to help the planet, that’s what set me off. So many of the changes were, well, pathetic. “I collect all my bottle caps and recycle them at the end of the year,” and “I just set up a mason bee home.” It took until about the tenth post that someone said what was running through my head, are you people serious? Is this what you think is going to fix the problem? It seems like we are all on a sinking Titanic, the kids are screaming in fear and all the adults are in the back fixing a leaky tap. 

I find it difficult to see a clear path forward, it seems like all the talk has inoculated us from action and let’s face a fact, living on Bowen in our current state of wealth has an incredible impact on our environment. While we may only be a few, our individual carbon footprints are large compared to the average human being. How do we reconcile that? How do we as a community honestly face this issue and show our next generation that we more than care about their future but we are doing something about it? Will we continue on the road of looking for technological solutions to this problem or will we do the tough work of changing our behaviors, our expectations and our wants?

If it is true as recently declared by the Island Trust, the provincial government and the federal government that we are in a state of a “climate change emergency” it behooves us to act accordingly. We need all hands on deck, we need to be honest at what the task is going to require from us and we need to then take action, move beyond talk, stop drinking the “every little bit counts cool aid” and show our youth that we are able to act responsibly and appropriately when we are hit by an emergency. But where is this mobilization? Is this how we react to an emergency in this day and age? I suspect a generation past, including my grandfather, who risked life and limb when an emergency hit their generation would just be shaking their heads.

I’m not here to trumpet a solution, I’ve done enough of that over the years to know better. As with any problem in life, understanding the issue and being honest with oneself about the changes that need to be made is step one, a step which unfortunately after four decades of this issue being raised we still haven’t addressed. 

We have become so accustomed to airline travel, owning cars, living in large homes heated to our preferred temperature, eating copious amounts of meat, the list goes on. The lifestyle has just become so normalized that I wonder if we will ever see beyond the lens we have put in front of us, or if we even want to remove that lens. What I do think is so important if this issue is to ever be tackled, is that we as adults need to be honest with our youth. If they are going to take up the mantel, let’s at the very least let them know what that mantel will look like and be forthright with the changes that need to be made. 

It is going to take a lot more than collecting bottle caps or drinking out of paper straws.   

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