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Climate in Crisis Journey - 2006
Dorothy Cutting's Journey Through British Columbia and Yukon
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Climate Change – Mood Change

By Dorothy Cutting

Sometimes, if you’re not very careful, a book can change your life. Robert Hunter’s “2030: Confronting Thermageddon in Our Lifetime” so affected me that I bought a Honda Civic Hybrid off the showroom floor in Victoria in August of 2002 and drove it alone across the country to Ottawa to give a copy of this book to every member of Parliament.

I was 71 at the time, and it was not an easy trip. But I was full of bright optimism when I returned. I truly believed that with the signing of the Kyoto Accord we could begin to control Global Heating.

Notice that I’m using a different term now; “global warming” has too comforting a sound. And “climate change” should be referred to with the term used by Royal Museum biologist Dr. Richard Hebda – Climate Transformation.

Much has happened, however, in the past four years. George Bush had already happened, if think of him as a cataclysmic event, and I do. But I don’t think any of us then knew what an appalling effect he would have on our global environment.

And now Stephen Harper has happened to Canada. And already we are seeing broad portions of Canada’s programs to control Global Heating highlighted and deleted. Under Harper’s “Made In Canada” solution $3 billion less will be spent than had been promised by the Liberal government over the next five years. And this is at a time when we now know that the threat is such that we should be spending billions more.
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My mood turned black. And then it became even darker.

For I started reading another book. It was the “The Revenge of Gaia” by the respected British scientist James Lovelock, a book with such a powerful and disturbing message that I believe it cannot and must not be ignored.

There is much to criticize in Lovelock’s book. In understandable desperation, he advocates the construction of vast numbers of nuclear power plants to satisfy our energy needs and pooh-poohs the idea of wind turbines as an energy alternative solution. There is not even a sentence dedicated to the disposal of nuclear waste, a problem that continues to plague us. Yet if you read this book for Lovelock’s profound understanding of our biosphere and his justifiable alarm that we have put all life on Earth in peril, you cannot help but be moved and enlightened.

Since reading this book, I’ve been devouring as much material about the impending climate crisis as I can. Several more excellent books have recently been published: “The Weather Makers” by Tim Flannery, “The Winds of Change” by Eugene Linden and “Field Notes From a Catastrophe” by Elizabeth Kolbert. Google has been an enormous help. And two powerful TV documentaries have been produced this Spring: the PBS “Global Dimming” and the HBO “Too Hot Not To Handle.” Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” will be in the theatres the end of May. Those who have seen the preview are very impressed by it. Time Magazine, Wired and Vanity Fair have all had impelling spreads on the danger that faces us.

There is good reason for concern. Projections of future trends have to be revised almost as soon as they’re released. This is because of positive feedback loops in weather patterns, ocean temperature, melting ice and greenhouse gas buildup that are interacting ever more rapidly, forcefully and unpredictably. A draft copy of the report by a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases are at the highest for at least 650,000 years, and that the scale of Global Heating is unprecedented in at least 20,000 years. (The Independent Online Edition - http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article361813.ece) or Common Dreams (www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0504-08.htm )

James Hansen, perhaps the most senior climate scientist in the US, has said that further warming of more than one degree Celsius will make the Earth hotter than it has been for a million years, that we have just 10 years to begin reducing greenhouse gases before Global Heating reaches a tipping point from which we may not be able to avert a catastrophe. We need to reduce global CO2 emissions by 55 to 85 percent below what is currently projected, despite a world energy demand that is growing at an unprecedented rate. (www.pastpeak.com/archives/2006/05/james_hansen_a.htm)

I am truly frightened by what I’m learning. It’s not just that the facts about Global Heating are scary. Equally disturbing is the realization that up until now we haven’t been told the whole truth. No man would carefully strap his grandchild into a car seat in his big SUV if he knew that by driving this car he could be threatening the child’s future and very life. He would head straight for the car dealership and get a hybrid. But unless he knows the danger, he’ll continue driving his gas-guzzler.

We have been lied to, often deliberately. Our elected representatives have betrayed us to satisfy big corporations, who can’t see beyond the fiscal year, let alone ten. The media, with a few recent exceptions, print and air press releases and rarely do any investigative reporting, and they tend, as Bill McKibben wrote recently in the New York Review of Books, “to give equal time to both sides of every argument (which is like giving five minutes to those who say the Earth is round and five minutes to those who say it’s flat).” (“When Science and Politics Clash” by Joel Achenbach, National Geographic, May 2006)

And scientists, with notable exceptions such as Sir David King, science adviser to the British Government and NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, cautiously hedge their bets and hesitate to state anything but an indisputable fact.

So it’s up to us – the environmental community. We must see it as our duty to the world’s peoples to inform our membership and the general public of the crisis that awaits us. We must study and evaluate technologies to safely reduce and sequester CO2 and provide effective and environmentally sound energy alternatives. We must demand that government and industry consult us before making decisions that could be wasteful and dangerous. We, unlike many other interest groups, have no profit motive except that of saving our biosphere and our species.

Rather than tell ourselves that we don’t want to be too negative and don’t want people to become depressed, we must recognize the fact that people just aren’t scared enough. Once they know the truth, they will become energized, impelled to take action. We as a living species have one thing in common with all others, and that what is called the life force, an instinct for survival. Look around you at all the people who have stopped smoking.

I’m reminded of a young woman who, camped on the west shore of Vancouver Island, was washing out a pot on a beach and felt a presence behind her. She looked up and saw a crouching cougar preparing to attack her. She backed into the water, but the cougar naturally followed her and got ready to leap. At the last moment, she decided she “didn’t want to die that way.” She opened her mouth and screamed “NO” at the cougar, as loud as she could.

And the big cat slunk away.

We must all shout “NO” to what is happening to our planet. There may be other living beings in our universe, but we may be unique in our ability to recognize and create great beauty. And that alone is worth saving.

As for me, my mood of coal black (ugh) has changed to one filled with light and energy. I’m going to try something to slow Global Heating this summer, something I know how to do, and that’s to get in my hybrid car and go for a drive. This time I’ll head north, alone again, to Inuvik, where the road ends, to witness first hand the plight of the Inuit People and the damaging changes that are taking place in the northern latitudes. I may be able to cut over to Fairbanks and see what changes are taking place there. I want to talk to people about how the irreversible melting of the polar ice cap will affect the entire planet and loudly demand of our government the billions of dollars needed to drastically reduce GHG emissions and provide assistance to environmental refugees who have been displaced because of Climate Transformation. I hope to encourage each person I meet to do something in his or her own way to prevent the impending global disaster.

I will be helped in my effort by the Sierra Club of Canada and the BC Chapter, who as always are ahead of other environmental organizations in recognizing that we are on the edge of a crisis, and then doing something about it. I am profoundly grateful to them.