Summer ’23. Over and out. How was it for you?
A lotta rain in Sowesto, huh? Random torrential downpours. I guess we’ve had it pretty good here compared to the catastrophic flooding in Nova Scotia earlier this summer and now what is happening in places like Greece, China and Hong Kong. Images I saw from Hong Kong showed streets that resembled fast flowing rivers after a major spring thaw.
Meanwhile, the rest of Canada – and the world it seems – was dry, hot. All that mercury busted the thermometer and everything in the vicinity spontaneously combusted. If you were lucky enough to be exempt from fire and flood? Well, you were likely breathing in bad quality air “Blowin’ in the Wind” from those wildfires and not finding any answers at all.
Doomscrolling this summer, I’d flip quickly past catastrophic headlines about the climate crisis we’re in and my stomach would roil up. I’d have these brief moments of joy, teaching my three grandkids to water ski on a calm and tropical blue Lake Huron in early July for instance, and all would be right with the world. Then reality would rear its ugly head and remind me: we’re all doomed! And it’s our own damn fault!!
The late great tropical troubadour Jimmy Buffett might offer this option: “When reality looks too ugly, fantasize.”
Unfortunately, the fantasy would need to birth a family of fast-growing fantasy babies to get us out of this mess: gigatonnes of CO2 vacuumed from the atmosphere, tens of thousands hectares of forest regrown, glaciers refrozen, coral reefs unbleached . . . the list goes on and on.
My BC daughter gifted me Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast by BC writer John Vaillant for my birthday. It’s about the Fort McMurray fire in May 2016. But it’s also a well-researched book on fire and the origins of the Canadian west and the Hudson’s Bay Company.
When Vaillant gets into the origins of Fort Mac he describes the complexity – and humongous expense! – of extracting a valuable product from the tar sands, explaining that bitumen (pronounced bi-chuh-muhn) is to a barrel of crude what a sandbox full of molasses is to a bottle of rum.
Like other experts in the field, Vaillant observes that the warming of Earth by 1.3 degrees C since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900) has resulted in wildfires that burn hotter, faster, higher, and further than previously experienced, while also creating their own monstrous and unpredictable weather systems, like fire tornados. In a 2019 article for e360.yale.edu, Ed Struzik wrote, “Scientists are tracking an increase in a little-known phenomenon in which intense wildfires can spawn their own thunderstorms, known as pyroCbs. Lightning from these storms can spark additional blazes far away and send plumes of smoke and aerosols into the stratosphere.”
Oh and Vaillant points out that we’ve known for a long long time, since the discovery of oil in North America (1858), since the invention of the car (1886), that burning oil, coal and gas is bad for us. According to Energy Post, “The history of evidence of CO2-driven climate change starts in the mid-1800s”. It goes on to say, “In 1895, Swedish Nobel prize winner Svante Arrhenius had suggested that – over hundreds of years – the build-up of carbon dioxide released when humans burn oil, coal and gas might trap so much heat as to melt the tundra and make freezing winters a thing of the past.”
Us humans are hard to convince, and scientists, due to the nature of their constantly evolving work, tend to be unemphatic in their speech. Short-sightedness might be an issue too?
Throughout the summer I listened to a few of David Suzuki’s radio broadcasts from the 80s being rebroadcast on CBC’s Ideas podcast. He worked with Indigenous peoples and found that their way of tackling any big decision for their tribe was to reflect on seven previous generations and then look forward to how it might affect seven generations into the future.
Climate doom and gloom had me thinking perhaps my grandkids’ kids wouldn’t have an inhabitable Earth. And even if I might not be around to experience this personally? It’s immensely depressing.
Then, I heard Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, say this: “Fatalism is a sign that someone is trying to steal your power.” Fatalism is no good, gets us nowhere. Look at what Greta Thunberg has accomplished by not succumbing to fatalism.
(As an aside, my daughter found a teachable moment this summer when her kids came across a bumper sticker that said “F Greta Thunberg”. She talked to them about how Greta is an activist for climate change, her Friday climate strikes inspiring school children worldwide to pay attention to climate and environmental issues. My grandkids ended up feeling bad for the uneducated – and/or perhaps hurting – person who felt a need to put down a young woman making positive change in the world.)
Thankfully, two recent podcasts have left me feeling almost as light as a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” about climate change. Sam Harris did a PSA with US scientist and researcher Chris Field on his Making Sense podcast, asking him such questions as, Washington Post says less of Earth is burning now, is this true? Field says yes, but it’s because there are less brush fires occurring in Africa. Keep in mind, wildfires have always existed – the boreal forest actually relies on wildfire to reproduce – but a combination of poor forest management, climate change and a higher population building in the Wetland Urban Interface (WUI) has exacerbated their impact.
David Wallace-Wells interviewed Kate Marvel, a senior climate scientist with Project Drawdown on the Ezra Klein podcast. Both Field and Marvel are optimistic about the positive effects of the Paris Agreement (even though China’s Xi Jinping has backed off on it lately and also elections in Canada and the US threaten it every few years) and the progress of green technologies. (Biden just cancelled seven remaining oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.) The fact that we’ve kept the warming to just over 1 degree C is good. Some areas will suffer greatly – unfortunately we’ve been witnessing this all summer – but they don’t predict an apocalyptic global collapse as some might have you fear.
Fear is often a good motivator, but a bad companion, hijacking your pre-frontal cortex where rational solutions reside.
In Fire Weather Vaillant writes about Fort Mac’s “dogged loyalty to business as usual” even after the fire. It had me recalling a person’s response at a party years ago to the question, “How’s it going?”
“Maintaining the status quo.” It stuck with me because it was such a warm, feel-good answer. A safe place. Comfort. We all want that. It was shortly after that that my husband died and zwhipp went my status quo for a long time.
New habits. These are the thoughts I have as I walk a vacant wind-swept beach after Labour Day, an abandoned black and white soccer ball reminding me of recent days watching my growing grandkids kicking a ball, romping in the waves and dig, dig, digging with their numerous beach friends.
A threatened environment requires a fresh approach. Like summer’s end.