‘We are in a raft, gliding down a river, toward a waterfall.
“We have a map but are uncertain of our location and hence are unsure of the distance to the waterfall.
“Some of us are getting nervous and wish to land immediately; others insist we can continue safely for several more hours.
“A few are enjoying the ride so much that they deny there is any immediate danger although the map clearly shows a waterfall.”
George Philander tells this simply story as a way of describing the difficulty all of humanity now faces in light of the scientific certainty of global warming.
Since the middle of the last century science has been telling us we must slow down, consume less, pay attention to what we are doing to the environment.
For the most part we have ignored what we were being told.
Now it may be too late. I hope not.
I think about this as I stare out the window of the aircraft at the small Earth below.
At 9,600 metres, I see the curve of the Earth and the pollution hugging the curve.
Just over Toronto, the young mother sitting next to me asks if I can help her get a blanket from her carry-on.
“I think my baby is cold and I don’t want to wake her.”
I ask her how old the child is and she tells me that tomorrow she will be three months.
“I am taking her to Ottawa to show her off to her grandparents.”
I fetch the blanket; she covers the sleeping baby girl and I go back to staring out the window.
I am angry at what my generation has done to the planet and I cannot help but feel a real sense of guilt.
It is this small child sleeping next to me who will pay the greatest price for what I have done and what I did not do.
It did not have to be this way. There was plenty of opportunity over the course of the last 50 years to get a handle on the environmental crisis by making the necessary political and economic corrections.
As a generation, we failed to do so.
Just recently the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy presented to Paul Martin’s government a report clearly stating that the danger to the country from climate change is “perhaps unmatched in times of peace.”
It goes on to suggest, “All Canadians will be touched by climate change impacts that pose new risks to human health, critical infrastructure, social stability and security.
“Dangerous climate change has hit some parts of Canada, such as the North, and is inexorably on the way for the Prairies and some coastal areas.
“But because the federal and provincial governments have so far fumbled the issue, most Canadians are cynical about climate change, taking a wait-and-see attitude.”
The report urges, “Political leaders must move climate change away from being a strictly environmental issue.
“It must be seen as an issue that touches on the foundations of Canadians’ way of life — jobs, economic competitiveness, human health and cultural values.”
Former US President Bill Clinton in addressing the Davos Summit last week declared, “First, I worry about climate change.
“It’s the only thing that I believe has the power to fundamentally end the march of civilization as we know it, and make a lot of the other efforts that we’re making irrelevant and impossible.”
Prime Minister Tony Blair told an audience of reporters over the weekend he has been shocked by scientists’ warnings about the growth of the problem of the rapidly changing climate.
“We will start to notice within reasonably short periods of time real difficulties,” he said. “Unchecked climate change has the potential to be catastrophic in both human and economic terms.”
And James Lovelock, the father of the science of a living Earth, deliverd a most dire warning last week.
“The world has already passed the point of no return for climate change, and civilization as we know it is now unlikely to survive.”
Knowing this is one thing, finding out what to do about it quite another.
The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy suggests that the Canadian government:
• Take personal charge of the climate change issue.
• Address the nation to drive home the urgency of climate change to Canadians.
• Call a first ministers’ meeting to launch a national clean-energy strategy.
• Lead a new public-private campaign to promote measures for adapting to climate change impacts.
“First, we have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realize how little time is left to act; and then each community and nation must find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilization for as long as they can.”
The battle to survive the political, social and economic upheaval as a result of global warming will challenge us in many ways. It will mean a restructuring of the nation’s bureaucracy and a reinvigoration of our local economies.
And, most importantly, it will take both a change of heart and a change in attitude.
Writer Gore Vidal remarked recently that many of the social and political issues we are facing today — including global warming — arise from the “the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority.”
I believe he is right.
Over time we have given our body politic too much authority over the well-being of our communities.
As a consequence, we have placed an inordinate amount of faith in a centralized system that is now much too large and much to sluggish to respond quickly to the issue of climate change.
If we hope to avert a plunge over the waterfall we need to insist that all our political parties heed the warnings.
No matter if you are Liberal or Conservative, New Democrat or Green, the health of our planet must be front-and-centre in party politics. We can no longer afford to allow “environmental integrity” to be the property of singular parties.
The fact is if your party of choice does not have a realistic plan to deal with climate change, it will not be of much use to the future of Canada, plain and simple.
Gregory Heming is a writer living in Haines Junction.