Thursday, 23 June 2016

Climate Change and Life on Earth. When Will the Treadmill Stop?

Below is a letter I just submitted to several newspapers, mostly in Manitoba.
Larry
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Dear Editor,
An old man is rescued from epic floodwaters - Calgary, Canada. 2013. Photo credit-RAF-YYC 
A lot has happened to Mother Earth since I wrote my last letter about our changing climate. 

A state of emergency was declared in Dawson Creek, B.C. last week after heavy rain turned the creek, which runs through the middle of town, into a raging torrent. It cut the community in two. They got as much rain in a day (90mm) as they normally get in a month. People living there say they’ve never seen anything like it. One called it “the worst in living memory.” Homes were flooded, streets and vehicles swept away. Many residents were stranded and had to be rescued. Premier Clark warned Canadians to expect more of the same, as global warming (caused by the burning of fossil fuel) spawns more extreme weather events like this. She pledged millions of dollars to help “flood-proof” her province.

Even as Dawson Creek struggled to get back on her feet, a heat wave described as “rare, dangerous and deadly” descended upon California, Arizona and Nevada. Temperatures in the high 40s C (113 F) are being recorded there. (Pardon me, but isn’t that “fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk” kind of heat?) As I write this, nine million people in the region are under “heat alerts.” Terrible wildfires, fuelled by the heat, rage out of control along the central coast. Six people have died so far, as the infernos continue. 

As if that weren’t bad enough, almost 30 million California trees which haven’t already been consumed by fire, are believed to be dying. Why? Because the drought is so severe and prolonged (4 yrs.), it’s rendering them vulnerable to bugs such as the pine bark beetle. Remember them? Aided and abetted by warmer winters brought on by climate change, they’ve also been eating their way through vast pine forests in B.C. and eastward for years. Trees that die in this way are providing ever-drier fodder for ever-more-intense wildfires, as we speak. 

All of this, of course, comes on the heels of wildfires which scarred Alberta communities in May and drove 90 thousand unfortunate citizens from their homes and businesses.

So are ominous events like these happening just “here and there,” in North America? Hardly! The table is already set for lots more of the same, already happening both here and abroad! Drought and wildfires have been an even worse scourge in Russia for years, burning over vastly larger areas than in Canada. Because of this, thirty people perished in the forests of Siberia just last year. Images on Russian TV are eerily similar to those from Alberta last month. Even Sicily is suffering a searing heat wave. There, arsonists with the Mob are preying on the tinder-box conditions, lighting terrible fires and causing misery for many.  

To get a broader understanding of just how this can be happening, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (The U.S. weather service) reports that, in 2015, Earth’s surface temperature was the hottest it has ever been since official records began in 1880; And by the biggest margin ever recorded, one year over another!

And, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, in February, sea ice in the Arctic shrunk to its lowest extent since satellite records began more than 30 years ago. In Antarctica, it was the 9th lowest. 

So, are our politicians rising to the challenge of all of this? Some, such as Premier Clark, seem quite aware. For others, like Manitoba’s new Premier, Brian Pallister, not so much.  

His government is now hinting it might halt a major power corridor, already being built on the west side of Lake Winnipeg, and re-route it down the east side. This would clearly place plans for a huge World Heritage Site on that side, years in the making, in jeopardy. That’s because a huge swath of Boreal forest would need to be cleared for the right-of-way, right within the boundaries of the site! Until Pallister stepped in, the project seemed headed for final approval later this summer!

One thing seems clear. Neither Pallister, nor his staff, spend a lot of time reading scholarly journals such as “Nature.” Because a recent article there reminds us that forests help provide us with clean water, reduce flood damage and conserve biodiversity and wildlife habitat. “Forests are also a large carbon sink,” reads the article, “and play an increasing role in mitigating global warming.”

Make no mistake, we humans (and all other creatures we share this planet with) are now caught up on a deadly treadmill which may become irreversible if we (and folks like Pallister) don’t help find the “off-switch” soon. 

Larry Powell lives in Neepawa where he publishes www.PlanetInPeril.ca

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