Grandmother grapples with climate change

Dorothy Cutting may only have 10 years left to live. In some ways, she counts herself lucky. The 75-year-old grandmother won’t see polar…

Dorothy Cutting may only have 10 years left to live.

In some ways, she counts herself lucky.

The 75-year-old grandmother won’t see polar bears become extinct, ocean waters rise and displace millions of people, forest fires ravage huge swaths of land and carbon dioxide saturate the air and the soil.

In short, she won’t see the dramatic effects of global warming permanently transform the planet, as we know it.

“With global warming, we keep hearing about the worst case scenario, then two or three years later it becomes the status quo and we reinvent the worst case scenario,” said Cutting.

It’s Tuesday morning and the elderly lady is drinking a latte and nursing a fever.

“I must have picked something up on the Alaska ferry,” she said.

Outside the coffee shop, Cutting’s Honda hybrid sits championing her cause.

“I’m driving my hybrid car to give my grandchildren a future,” proclaims the message posted on her bumper.

On Canada Day, Cutting left Saltspring Island, BC, and started driving north to raise awareness about global warming.

“I thought, if a grandmother does this, that’ll have some meaning to people,” she said.

“And maybe it’ll inspire other older people to get up out of their chairs, put their knitting down for a little bit and do something actively to help the planet.”

In a soft, gentle voice, Cutting proceeded to paint a shocking picture.

The polar ice caps are melting faster than anyone suspected, she said.

Scientists measured surface area to gauge the melt-rate, but did not take into account the thickness of the ice.

“But the US Navy was up there cruising around in submarines measuring the ice’s thickness for security reasons and deduced that 40 per cent of the ice caps have already melted,” she said.

So, in 10 to 15 years, the ice caps will be gone, water levels will rise and the polar bears will become extinct, she said.

The polar ice caps also reflect the sun’s rays, acting as a heat shield, she explained.

So, when they’re gone the water will become a heat sink and the planet will get really hot, really fast.

The glaciers in Greenland are already melting twice as fast as they were four years ago, she said.

Melting permafrost is making it harder for the caribou to reach their calving grounds and, when they do, many of the plants they rely on for food have already gone to seed.

And the people who depend on these animals for food will suffer,

said Cutting.

“It’s horrible for the people in the North, but it’s also horrible for the whole planet,” she said.

“And I’ve realized we’ve really been lied to about how serious the whole situation is.”

On her trip through BC, Cutting saw forest fires running rampant, tearing through dead forest ravaged by pine-bark beetles.

“My car was covered in soot,” she said.

“And as it gets warmer, these beetles will travel further north — you already have spruce beetle problems up here.

 “We’re in for some difficult times ahead.”

Flooding, severe storms and drought sparked by warming will displace millions of people in the next few years, warned Cutting.

“Look at what happened with Katrina,” she said.

“There are people living in trailers who will never be able to move back to their homes, but when you compare that to something like Bangladesh (population 147 million) flooding ….”

There are going to be lots of refugees in the next 10 to 20 years, as it continues to get less hospitable further south, she said, noting that Washington State is already significantly warmer than BC.

Worse, the Canadian government is doing nothing to turn down the heat, said Cutting.

“I’m going to assume (the government’s) just ignorant — it’s the kind thing to do,” she said.

On her journey, Cutting is urging people to call Stephen Harper, though she’s disappointed he doesn’t have a toll-free number (it’s 613-992-4211).

“I want him to get hundreds of phone calls urging him to honour Kyoto and take huge steps beyond that,” she said, admitting she was shocked when Harper cut the EnerGuide program earlier this spring.

“And I’m assuming (Environment Minister) Rona Ambrose has been given some very bad advice,” added Cutting, who plans to meet with Ambrose after her trip even if she has to camp out on Parliament Hill.

Right now, politicians are “just sitting around filing their nails,” she said.

Although the future looks bleak, Cutting has hope.

“I think we’re worth saving,” she said.

“We’re the only species who can recognize love and make beauty.

“We may be the only species in the whole universe who have this ability.

“My cats look out the window at a beautiful sunset and wish they could paint,” she said with a smile.

But to save the species, some major changes have to be made, and it all begins with knowledge, she said.

“We have to have knowledge of the problems, and knowledge of how delicate our ecosystem is, because if we know the truth, we’ll make the right decisions.

“We have a built-in will to survive and it may be hard and complicated, but industry is beginning to turn around.”

Insurance companies are also becoming very aware of the costs associated with climate change, added Cutting.

“US Defence is pumping all this money into starting wars and killing people, over $5 trillion, and if they just redirected this money they could change everything.

“Humans have an advantage over other animals on the planet,” she said.

“We have incredible technological knowledge, so if we believe we can do this, we can.

“If I didn’t believe we could save ourselves I would have stayed home,” she added.

“Because it’s not easy for a 75-year-old woman to make this trip.”

Cutting is especially interested in connecting with young people and has already met with the Arctic Youth Network.

“I want to be able to communicate with youth and help them in any way I can, because this is their future we’re talking about,” she said.

On Thursday, Cutting will meet with six First Nations elders to learn how climate change is affecting their lives.

She hopes to arrive in Dawson City in time for the music fest and then plans to continue north to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.