Cli­mate cri­sis: Fu­ture hangs in the balance

Lat­est IPCC re­port warns we have 12 years to limit cli­mate catas­tro­phe

The Peterborough Examiner - - Arts & Life - DREW MONKMAN

"Never doubt that a small group of thought­ful com­mit­ted cit­i­zens can change the world; in­deed, it's the only thing that ever has." Mar­garet Mead

Mon­day's dire In­ter­na­tional Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) re­port weighed heavy on my mind as our fam­ily sat down for Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. While my three grand­chil­dren gig­gled and squirmed on their chairs with in­no­cent joy, it was hard not to feel deep sad­ness and anx­i­ety for their fu­ture.

The in­ter­na­tional cli­mate sci­ence com­mu­nity has just raised the threat ad­vi­sory of cat­a­strophic cli­mate change from or­ange to a pul­sat­ing scar­let red. If the planet warms by much more than 1.5-de­grees Cel­sius

(we are al­ready at one-de­gree of warm­ing), the re­sult will be soar­ing death rates, huge waves of cli­mate refugees, dev­as­tat­ing coastal flood­ing, the demise of all coral reefs, and un­prece­dented planet-wide species ex­tinc­tion. The pre­dicted eco­nomic cost is counted in the tens of tril­lions of dol­lars.

The re­port does pro­vide a glim­mer of hope, how­ever: Lim­it­ing warm­ing to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius is still pos­si­ble. To get there, green­house gas emis­sions would have to be cut by 45 per cent from 2010 lev­els by 2030, and then brought to zero by 2050.

Last week, I of­fered a hope­ful vi­sion of what Peter­bor­ough and the world could look like in 20 years, if de­car­boniza­tion of the world econ­omy was to be­come a re­al­ity. The vi­sion in­cor­po­rated every­thing from elec­tric ve­hi­cles, di­etary changes and more en­ergy ef­fi­cient homes to can­celling any new fos­sil fuel projects and ac­cept­ing a car­bon tax with rev­enues re­turned to the cit­i­zens. With this vi­sion in mind, I want to fo­cus on what we as in­di­vid­u­als can do right now. But first, let's get some real-world in­spi­ra­tion.


On a per capita ba­sis, Cana­di­ans emit 15.6 tons of green­house gases, which is just slightly less than Amer­i­cans. Look­ing at coun­tries with a cli­mate sim­i­lar to ours, the Finns only emit 0.09 tons, Swedes 3.86 tons, and Nor­we­gians 6.87 tons. Clearly, it's pos­si­ble for Canada to do much bet­ter.

Scot­land has al­ready cut its emis­sions al­most in half from 1990 lev­els. China and In­dia are mak­ing huge leaps for­ward in de­ploy­ing green en­ergy, and the cost per kilowatt/hour for pro­duc­ing so­lar-gen­er­ated elec­tric­ity has fallen by 80 per cent since 2009. Wind power is also show­ing sim­i­lar steep de­clines in cost. Af­ford­able tech­nol­ogy is avail­able right now to vastly im­prove Canada's per­for­mance.

In­di­vid­ual ac­tion

As much as re­cy­cling, driv­ing a fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cle and re­duc­ing meat con­sump­tion are im­por­tant, they will not be enough. Chang­ing so­cial norms and tak­ing po­lit­i­cal ac­tion are key.

1. Vote wisely: At this, the 11th hour, a mean­ing­ful re­sponse must be led by all lev­els of gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing our lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils. On Oct. 22, I will be vot­ing for a mayor and city coun­cil­lors who un­der­stand the is­sue of cli­mate change and are ready to act ag­gres­sively.

To un­der­stand how Peter­bor­ough can re­duce its car­bon emis­sions, I highly rec­om­mend read­ing the Greater Peter­bor­ough Area Com­mu­nity Sus­tain­abil­ity Plan, which is posted at sus­tain­ablepeter­bor­ The plan shows us how the in­ter­de­pen­dence of en­vi­ron­ment, econ­omy, so­cial life and cul­ture must all be con­sid­ered when gov­ern­ment plans for the fu­ture. As vot­ers, we must ask our can­di­dates to ex­plain how they would im­ple­ment the poli­cies in the doc­u­ment, and elect those whose un­der­stand­ing of what needs to be done is most con­vinc­ing. For a list of can­di­dates in your ward as well as con­tact in­for­ma­tion, visit Peter­bor­

I also urge ev­ery­one to con­sult the "City Coun­cil Re­port Card"

(at to see how lo­cal can­di­dates com­pare when it comes to sup­port­ing sus­tain­abil­ity. Based on past vot­ing pat­terns (for in­cum­bents) and the re­sponses to a sus­tain­abil­ity ques­tion­naire each can­di­date re­ceived, the most pro­gres­sive voices in­clude Diane Ther­rien, Dean Pap­pas, Kemi Akapo, Jane David­son, Jim Rus­sell, Gary Baldwin, Keith Riel, Sheila Wood, Don Vas­sil­iadis, Char­maine Magumbe, Kim Zip­pel, Stephen Wright and Zach Hat­ton.

2. Phone your elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives: Sim­ply pick­ing up the phone and talk­ing to your elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive or their of­fice is hugely im­por­tant. I re­cently heard that one rea­son the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion is such a pow­er­ful force in the U.S. is be­cause they make sure politi­cians' phones ring off the hook when leg­is­la­tion is pro­posed that runs counter to their (mis­guided!) in­ter­ests.

Call the of­fice of MPP Dave Smith (705-742-3777) and voice your sup­port for ei­ther a mean­ing­ful price on car­bon in On­tario or reg­u­la­tions that will ac­com­plish the same amount of green­house gas re­duc­tion. In­sist that the Ford gov­ern­ment do its part to hon­our Canada's Paris Ac­cord prom­ises. Let MP Maryam Mon­sef (705-745-2108) know you sup­port the Lib­eral's pol­icy of im­pos­ing a car­bon tax (with rev­enues di­rectly re­funded to house­holds) on prov­inces that do not have their own. Tell her you op­pose new pipe­lines. If you live out­side of Peter­bor­ough County, con­tact your elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, as well.

3. Talk about cli­mate change: We need to spread so­cial norms that are pos­i­tive to so­lu­tions. One of the most im­por­tant ac­tions we can all take is to sim­ply talk about cli­mate change with friends and fam­ily. Right now, many of us don't even want to broach the topic. How­ever, we're of­ten wrong in "what we think oth­ers think." Most peo­ple are far more con­cerned about cli­mate change than they ever ac­knowl­edge pub­licly. The more that peo­ple hear con­ver­sa­tions on the topic, the more so­cially val­i­dated these con­ver­sa­tions be­come. Show­ing your con­cerns and per­sonal ob­ser­va­tions about the cli­mate makes it eas­ier for oth­ers to open up, as well.

You don't have to be an ex­pert. You re­ally only need to say that 97 per cent of cli­mate sci­en­tists agree it's hap­pen­ing now, it's caused by hu­mans and it's go­ing to get ter­ri­bly worse if noth­ing is done. Men­tion the lat­est IPCC re­port. You could then add, "I be­lieve the ex­perts. If they were wrong on the fun­da­men­tals, we'd know it by now." By sim­ply stat­ing, "I'm ter­ri­bly wor­ried about my kids' and grand­kid's fu­ture," you are com­mu­ni­cat­ing a mes­sage that oth­ers can relate to. Em­pha­size the so­lu­tions, nearly all of which are avail­able now. Talk about the ben­e­fits to our health and to job cre­ation. Most im­por­tantly, stress the im­por­tance of act­ing im­me­di­ately.

Start the con­ver­sa­tion where oth­ers are at on the sub­ject - not where they should be. How do you know? Ask them. Lis­ten to their an­swers with pa­tience and in­ter­est. It might be their fam­ily's fu­ture, new dis­eases, se­vere weather events, or some­thing else. Con­nect the is­sue to Peter­bor­ough and the Kawarthas. Peo­ple are most open to ac­knowl­edg­ing cli­mate change when they are able to ob­serve its ef­fects lo­cally. Point out the se­vere wind storms, the count­less trees we've lost, the flood of 2004, the 23 days this sum­mer over 30 C, the longer and more in­tense al­lergy sea­son, and the in­va­sive species chok­ing our lakes and wood­lands. Try to con­nect what you say to the val­ues you share with this per­son love of the out­doors or of fam­ily, for ex­am­ple. Re­mem­ber, too, that the mo­ment at which some­one re­verses a pre­vi­ously held opin­ion rarely hap­pens dur­ing a sin­gle con­ver­sa­tion. The goal is to in­crease the amount of con­ver­sa­tion, not to make con­ver­sions on the spot or keep score. Be po­lite and chal­lenge false­hoods or in­ac­cu­ra­cies gen­tly. In a world where there is al­ready so much com­bat­ive­ness, your com­mit­ment to sim­ple hu­man­ity, com­pas­sion, and re­spect will stand out.

A hand­ful of peo­ple still deny the very re­al­ity of cli­mate change. Many oth­ers don't see the ur­gency of tak­ing ac­tion or don't sup­port a car­bon tax. You might ask these peo­ple the fol­low­ing: How have you come to this con­clu­sion? How con­fi­dent are you in this be­lief ? Are you sure? Do you re­ally think the sci­en­tists have got it wrong? If I showed you stud­ies dis­prov­ing what you're say­ing, would that make a dif­fer­ence? What would make you change your mind? If not a car­bon tax, how else could we quickly wean so­ci­ety off fos­sil fu­els?

4. Be in­formed: For ba­sic in­for­ma­tion on the green­house ef­fect and cli­mate change, I rec­om­mend cli­ and re­al­cli­ To learn how to ad­dress cli­mate change de­nial ar­gu­ments, visit skep­ti­ To stay up to date on the lat­est cli­mate news, sub­scribe to the free Daily Cli­mate newslet­ter at dai­ly­cli­

5. Be ac­tive on so­cial me­dia: Share cli­mate change in­for­ma­tion on­line and start dis­cus­sions on so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as Face­book. You'll be sur­prised by how many peo­ple will en­gage.

Is it too late?

Clearly, time is run­ning out. Hu­man­ity es­sen­tially has 10 years to cut green­house gas emis­sions by al­most half. There's no ex­cuse this time; each and ev­ery­one of us who is con­cerned about our kids' and grand­kids' fu­ture —and the nat­u­ral world as we know it - must act.

My friend, Laura, re­cently shared an anec­dote, which, I think, can give us hope. She wrote, "The sur­vival skills of liv­ing crea­tures are in­cred­i­ble. For me, this re­ally hit home when I res­cued a dy­ing snake plant. I had picked it out of a garbage can - sick, up­rooted, de­hy­drated and leaf­less. I fo­cused on sup­ply­ing the ba­sic needs: nu­tri­ents, wa­ter, sun and love - and then let it be. It wasn’t un­til two months later that the first root sprouted. I was thrilled! Since then, it has ma­tured into a gor­geous, healthy plant. It sur­passed the odds of a sure death. It not only sur­vived but flour­ished." As Laura says, ev­ery life form has evolved to max­i­mize the same out­come: sur­vival and, with time, flour­ish­ing. It's in our hu­man na­ture to do the same. Our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren de­serve noth­ing less. Drew Monkman is a re­tired Peter­bor­ough teacher and co-au­thor of The Big Book of Na­ture Ac­tiv­i­ties. Reach him at dmonkman1@co­ To see past col­umns, re­cent na­ture sight­ings and his other books, go to www.drew­


My grand­son, Louie. What does the fu­ture hold for his gen­er­a­tion if we con­tinue to ig­nore the warn­ings of dev­as­tat­ing cli­mate change


On­tario Pre­mier Doug Ford speaks to sup­port­ers at an anti-car­bon tax rally in Cal­gary on Oct. 5.

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