“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel …” pretty shitty about it, to tell you the truth. The current generation of adults in the developed world have presided over a massive wave of economic, industrial and ecological change that may literally leave nothing for future generations.
The human imagination has always provided us with doomsday scenarios, warning of a coming Apocalypse, Armageddon or End of Days. Today, however, it is not priests, mystics or prophets who are trumpeting the very real possibility of ecological collapse, it is the world’s top scientists. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have grown increasingly gloomy and increasingly certain that human activity is the cause of the change and that we need to take drastic measures to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases if we have any chance of slowing the juggernaut.
Others believe it’s already too late. Melting permafrost is releasing massive amounts of methane trapped over many millennia, which helps explain why the Arctic is heating up at twice the pace of the rest of the planet. That will, in turn, release even more methane, which is a much more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And as the North gets hotter, more forest fires are burning out of control, releasing even more CO2.
Climate change deniers take the opposite view, essentially accusing the scientific community of engaging in Chicken Littlism in order to get more grant money. They like to point to a tiny minority of scientists who argue that the changes are part of the natural cycles of the Earth, so don’t worry, keep digging up and burning all the coal and oil you like. In Pythagoras’s age, these were the guys who thought you’d fall off the edge of the Earth if you sailed too far west. Today, these are the guys that get equal time on Fox News.
As deniers race to their laptops to try to poke holes in prevailing climate theories and projection models, temperatures in the North continue to increase in a very visible and measurable manner, unconcerned with who gets grants and who’s going to be a guest on Fox & Friends. The boreal forests continue to disappear, Canada continues to increase its carbon output largely thanks to the Alberta tarsands, our governments continue to subsidize oil and gas exploration despite huge questions over the safety of fracking and transportation and the possible impact on the environment.
We are in a mad race to reach the bottom of the oil barrel, too afraid to pull our heads out and look at a future that must inevitably be one in which fossil fuels play no role. The jobs we are creating in the Alberta oilfields are as temporary as those of the cod fishermen who helped drive that species to the brink of collapse. We consider them to be “good jobs” because they pay well, but we are the ones who will pay for them down the road thanks to the massive waste and pollution that oilsands production entails, not to mention the destruction caused by extreme weather events.
It’s tempting to react to the overwhelming threat of climate change by shrinking back into our own little shells. After all, what can we as individuals do to stop the Stephen Harpers and Suncors, Syncrudes, Imperial Oil and TransCanada Pipelines of the world? Even federal scientists, the ones we pay for with our taxes, have been muzzled by our government when they aren’t simply laid off and their studies shelved or even burned.
That’s a problem concerned citizens face the world over, as the economic clout of corporations reaches deep into the crevices of government, stopping any attempts to initiate change that could affect the corporate bottom line.
Making personal choices about what we buy and who we vote for can certainly help, but that’s because those actions become part of a larger movement, one that rewards those who listen and punishes those who don’t. But to initiate real change, our anger over what is being done to the planet has to become much more visible, much louder. It needs to be done in unison with our families, our neighbours, our fellow denizens of planet Earth.
That’s exactly what organizers hope will happen a week from this Sunday (Sept. 21), at a unprecedented environmental rally in New York and around the world called the People’s Climate March. Coming on the eve of a UN-sponsored environmental conference involving major western world leaders, the group hopes to pressure invited governments to adopt a much more aggressive plan to cut greenhouse gases when they meet again in Paris in 2015.
“Our goal is to mobilize the largest climate change mobilization in history and the indications are we’re going to get there,” Ricken Patel, the Canadian who is executive director of digital campaign group Avaaz, told The Guardian newspaper.
In Montreal, the local march is slated for 1 p.m. at Parc Lafontaine and I, for one, plan on being there. Not because I’m convinced that change will come if I march, but because I’m convinced it won’t if we don’t.
We’ve tried inaction and it hasn’t worked; it’s time to try something else. ■
UPDATE: The Sept. 21 march starting point has been changed from Dorchester Square to Parc Lafontaine, at 3933 Avenue du Parc la Fontaine.