“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.” —Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy would be saddened by the current state of that link between the planet and humankind. From every corner of the globe come glaring images, reports and statistics with evidence of ecological disaster on a scale once reserved for science fiction. Devastating proof in the form of severe weather events like catastrophic hurricanes and forest fires, unbearable heatwaves and unimaginable flooding. Irreparable loss to wildlife, such as Sudan, the world’s last northern white male rhino, that died last year, effectively making his species extinct. These are ongoing incidents of destruction to the earth’s ecosystems, and yet there are people who deny climate change exists or that it is the result of our negligence.
Then there are those whose work, like that of Jane Goodall and Canadian David Suzuki, has inspired us to do better. From that same generation came Greenpeace, which defined the modern environmental movement for many and was founded by Canadian and American activists Irving and Dorothy Stowe in 1971. There are also the next-generation of eco-activists such as Paul Nicklen and his group Sea Legacy, whose mission is to keep our oceans “healthy and abundant,” Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Con-servation Society and Allan Thornton, whose group, the Environmental Investigation Agency, conducts undercover investigations into illegal forestry and wildlife trafficking. Across the globe, men and women work tirelessly at grassroot non-governmental agencies (NGOs) and non-profits to preserve wildlife habitats, forests, fresh water and oceans from pollutants of all variety – plastics, chemicals – and to protect endangered species from poachers.
There is much to be done. Each successive generation will need to step
up and continue the fight. They won’t have much of a choice — as new reports and eyewitness accounts continue to blast warning calls — it’s a matter of
survival. As we enter an election year, the Trudeau government is already making the environment part of their campaign. Here is a recap of the major climate change issues facing the planet.
We May Not Always Have Paris
The Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 by 195 countries with a united goal starting in 2020 to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to ensure that global warming will not exceed 1.5 degrees C. At the time, the agreement was hailed as a win for the planet. But since that historic moment, countries such as the United States have threatened to pull out. A withdrawal of big polluters (the U.S. is the second largest producer of greenhouse gases; China is the first) would weaken the abilities of other nations to achieve the agreement’s goals. The U.S. is not alone; other right-wing governments around the world are also limiting their nation’s focus on clean air and water in the name of jobs. President Trump’s announcement of his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement came in June 2017. However, with the timetable set out in 2015, pulling out would not be a reality until 2020, before the next U.S. election, which does give a window of hope that our neighbours to the south could stay the course. Canada remains a signatory to the agreement.
Crisis on the Clock
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report in October 2018 that laid out a future of worsening food shortages and wildfires, mass die-off of coral reefs and other grim prophesies to occur as soon as 2040 – within the lifetime of many of the current population. By that year, the atmosphere will be warmed by approximately 1.5 degrees C, causing waters to rise and flood coastlines, droughts to increase in duration and size, among other major changes. The report stated that avoiding such damage would mean altering the world economy at a rate and scale that has “no documented historic precedent” and beyond what was set out in the Paris Agreement.
Another report echoed the first. This one, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, written by American scientists across 13 federal agencies, was released over the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend (critics argued the timing was deliberate since its findings oppose the current administration’s policies) and warned that the American economy could drop 10 per cent of GDP by 2100 due to climate change.
They Take Our Breath Away
In December 2018, the U.S. Environ-mental Protection Agency (EPA) announced changes to the levels of mercury from coal emissions it would allow energy companies to release into the air.