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Climate in Crisis Journey - 2006
Dorothy Cutting's Journey Through British Columbia and Yukon
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We are not frogs

Dorothy Cutting, June 19, 2006

While it is commonly understood that the targets set by the Kyoto Accord for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions fall far short of what is necessary to prevent an ecological calamity, it is astounding that Mr. Harper’s government has announced that Canada cannot meet even this goal. Instead, funding for valuable programs to combat global heating has been sliced. If this is any indication of what the “made-in-Canada” plan is going to look like, our country, and indeed the planet, is in a great deal of trouble.

Sometimes just a small amount of a substance can kill you. Ask anyone who is allergic to bee venom or penicillin. Carbon dioxide has only increased 100 parts per million since the start of the industrial age, but the implications for climate and ecology are dire. The CO2 in our atmosphere has reached almost 380 ppm. In another ten to fifteen years, at 400 ppm, the green plants we have on which we have depended to clean our air of this gas will no longer be capable of dealing with the increased amounts and may in fact even begin to return CO2 to the atmosphere – turning from a sink to a source. They will also begin to lose their ability to absorb nitrogen, which will compromise their ability to grow and thrive. (http://www.earthsky.org/shows/show.php?date=20030916) (http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=106861&org=NSF&from=news)

To add to this, the very soil plants in which grow is being affected by increasing temperatures. As the soil warms, more bacteria grow and spread in the soil, and the decomposition of organic matter they cause emits more and more CO2. From the 25 years from 1978 to 2003, there was a loss of carbon from the soil of England and Wales that was “equal to the entire amount by which the United Kingdom reduced emissions during the same 25-year period.” (Cameron Smith: The climate change melody in my head, Toronto Star, June 17, 2006)

Even at the present level of CO2, our oceans are beginning to become too acidic to fully support life. Coral reefs and tiny, shelled organisms in the plankton are crumbling. Ultimately, the entire food chain will be affected. Marine life in the northern waters will be especially vulnerable. (http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/)

At present levels of CO2, the summer ice in the Arctic may melt away in as few as ten years (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,,1774815,00.html). Spring 2006 in the Canadian Arctic has been the earliest and warmest ever recorded, thus severely affecting the wildlife of the North. By the time the caribou reached their calving grounds this year, the vegetation they on which they depend for food had already gone to seed. (http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/life/story.html?id=5d59a05e-5dd6-4522-af0c-974feb9be7ca)

The glaciers on Greenland are melting and sliding into the sea, twice as fast as they were just five years ago (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11385475/). The loss of the entire Greenland ice sheet would cause a sea level rise of seven metres, and if we allow the Earth to warm more than 2 degrees Celsius on average, this outcome is considered more and more certain. Even a small fraction of that sea level rise would force the evacuation of 7 million people from Bangladesh. Coastal cities around the world will be flooded, including Vancouver (http://www.sierraclub.ca.bc/). The Antarctic ice sheets are also in danger. Complete melting of these ice sheets along with those of Greenland could lead to a sea-level rise of about 80 meters – and it was raining there just the other day.

In Siberia, the melting permafrost contains 500 million metric tonnes of carbon, twice what scientists previously believed was there. http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/091104G.shtml). Canadian permafrost alone contains 48 billion metric tones of carbon, which, if released by global heating could make a further contribution of up to 4 degrees Celsius of temperature rise. Were this to happen, our planet would experience an abrupt temperature rise levels it has not experienced in literally millions of years. Further warming will be caused by the release of gigatonnes of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, as the Polar ice and permafrost melt.

Given these scenarios, how can it be that even governments complying with the Kyoto Accord are following strategies that would allow the global average temperature to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius, and CO2 to rise beyond 450 ppm? What can they be thinking? It is widely recognized that we must keep the figure below 2 degrees – an achievement that requires immediate actions that far exceed the requirements of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol.

Here in Canada, our government has refused to attempt to reach even the modest standards of Kyoto, inadequate as they are. Has Mr. Harper no imagination? Twenty years from now our fisheries stocks will be drastically depleted, our prairies will be turning to dust bowls, our coastal cities will be flooded and many thousands of environmental refugees from all over our planet will be streaming across our borders. Are we to build a wall to keep them out? What insanity.

Every one of us must do everything we can right now to call the attention of Stephen Harper’s government to this crisis. And if they still refuse to listen, we must throw them out of office. We may not be scientists, but neither was Darwin. This didn’t prevent him from searching for and discovering the truth. We, the people of Canada, are fast learning the truth about the climate crisis, and we will act as citizens to protect our species and the life of our planet.

The “made-in-Canada” plan is no “solution.” Each one of us, whether we be trade’s people, business executives, government officials, teachers, scientists, environmentalists or retirees, has an inescapable moral imperative to do all he or she can to lessen the impact of the present climate crisis. And we have just ten years to do it.

We are not frogs. We are all in the same big pot, and someone has come into the kitchen and turned up the stove. The water is getting hotter and we can feel it. And we have the good sense to leap out before it’s too late.