Putting a Face on Climate Change this Earth Day
The Green Backpack: Sustainability in Our Community
by Trevor Donald
Writing about the environment is difficult. Never mind the incredible amount of work each story requires from interviewing to meticulously choosing the words you will use to describe a tough subject. That’s the fun part. It’s just after you send the story to your editor, when the story gets published, that things get uncertain. Never knowing if your readers got your message and if they did read your story what did they take away from it. Writing a story promoting Earth Day you hope that your message will have an easier time getting taken away by your readers. Saving the Earth is a tired phrase, but impose this message about respecting the Earth onto the face of a child impacted by climate change and multiply that by a million and we will start having a real conversation on our priorities and values regarding our planet.
This Earth Day, we as Canadians and global citizens of Earth will be marshalling in two milestones. The first milestone is the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the most important long-lived greenhouse gas responsible for manmade global warming, and it is building up in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Once emitted, a single molecule of carbon dioxide can remain aloft for hundreds of years, which means that the effects of today’s industrial activities will be felt for the next several centuries, if not thousands of years. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, such as methane, warm the planet by absorbing and redirecting outgoing solar radiation that would otherwise escape back into space. The second milestone is spelled out in an Environment Canada report revealing the energy sector in Canada has now surpassed transportation as the largest generator of Carbon Dioxide. The report, covering the period from 1990 to 2012, states that oil and gas now account for one-quarter of Canada’s greenhouse emissions. Energy sector emissions have seen the biggest jump since 1990 roughly 70 per cent due entirely to crude oil and oilsands expansion, the report says.
These milestones are further confounded following the recently released report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The grim report gives unprecedented details on the impacts of global climate change to date, as well as potential future effects on human and natural systems. The report depicts a planet already adjusting to increasingly apparent manifestations of climate change, from melting polar ice caps and rising seas to more severe and frequent heat waves.
This Earth Day on April 22nd the theme is to put a face on climate change. Climate change will become real for most people in the way it changes weather and climate extremes. We may not be able to detect the mean temperature inching up, but we will notice more days of extreme heat, more floods and storms, more wildfires and droughts. The human face of climate change will very often be the same as the human face of these sorts of extreme events.
While it’s fairly easy to find scenes of the impacts of extreme events on infrastructure and the landscape like fallen trees and washed out roads, it’s much harder to find a way to capture the devastation they cause in real people’s lives like a family returning to the flood damaged homes. Very little has been done to put a human face on these climate impacts. Who will put a face on the poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming and will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify?
Climate change requires people to work together to achieve goals that anyone’s individual efforts will not be enough. It requires us all to work together for the solution because the problem is too big for any one of us to solve individually. Canada has agreed to cut GHG emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2020 as part of the international Copenhagen agreement, but Environment Canada has acknowledged that goal will be missed by nearly one-third. With the deadline some five years away, the new greenhouse gas report shows that Canada’s emissions are down five per cent since 2005, leaving us far off the target. We need to have start having conversations about the environment and start supporting and voting for those those who recognize we are not all faceless victims of climate change.