I am not convinced that the details about climate change actually change people’s hearts, minds or practices.
Many well-intentioned folks claim that the more we know about atmospheric chemistry, solar radiation, the effect of greenhouse gasses on rising average global temperature, the influence of CO2 on ocean geochemistry, the motivations and desperate need of vulnerable climate-change refugees, the deeply entrenched connection between money, power and privilege with environmental practice, none of these alone or considered as a group drive real change and adaptive behaviour; at least this is how I see it.
There is presently so much talk, so much analysis, so much detail about what is really happening in our global and local environments. The UNFCCC* process deliberates, annually and ad nauseum (I have attended two such meetings) creating agreements named for the places where such agreements were wrought: Kyoto; Paris; Glasgow 2021?? Yet so little seems to have really changed. The defenders of current economic and political process are powerful, entrenched and myopic.
Post-Pandemic, and to different degrees in different places, travel including by air will rapidly increase; increased consumption will return pollution to pre-pandemic levels; industry will continue to find the least expensive and restrictive places to work. I hear that “a new normal” will appear, which seems to me an act of faith more than an actual plan of action.
Here in Canada, governments both federally and in most provinces still struggle to maintain business as usual. In my own Province of BC there are great claims made for Climate Action while simultaneously constructing one of the largest liquified Natural Gas projects in history, a project now embarrassed by rising cost overruns and a less-than-positive economic outlook. Present and previous governments did not assess risk carefully or accurately.
More locally for me our City of Kamloops City Council recently adopted, unanimously a bold Climate Action Plan. It is a Big-Moves template for the next five years for which the clock is now ticking (do clocks tick anymore? – actually what is a clock?). This is excellent news, which reminds me that local municipal governments have arguably the best chance of driving (sic) success. The challenge now is implementation which will of course necessitate budget allocation every step of the way.
In last Tuesday’s debate we still heard about costs to taxpayers; well I am also a taxpayer and now a pensioner, so cost is important to me. I think however about the costs of this recent heatwave, in repairs and upgrades to air conditioning equipment and vehicles, costs to farmers with lost crops and struggles around irrigation and water supply, costs which will be passed on to all of us; I think about down-time for construction workers; I think about increased injury and heat-related illness, even death. All these consequences of extreme heat and other weather events cost money. It’s like the Fram Oil Filter Man used to tell us: “You can pay me now or pay me later.”
As for our federal government, well don’t get me going. The current plan is to plan to do something, sometime. Governments love to set targets, while what we need are changes in action and behaviour right now, which hopefully might get us to a good target in future years. Articulating the target alone however is inadequate.
Here in Canada effective measures such as a carbon tax drown in insignificance as we Canadians are co-owners in a pipeline project in an attempt to placate fossil-fuel powered provincial economies, themselves in no mood to receive federal gifts, still dreaming for the good old days which themselves were fiscally great though il-equipped to build a new and realistic future for workers, their friends and families.
So if truthful details, data and analysis will not convince leaders and followers of all sorts, what will? Not all readers of this blog would identify as Christian, or religious. That said, cultures and peoples have been at their own social and environmental precipice before. The prophet Ezekiel writes to the people of Israel:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (36:26)
Jeremiah’s audience needed hope, but also necessary re-direction. Returning to a golden age would not suffice. They needed to do things differently, first as individuals, then as a community.
Religious and secular commentators say similar things about doing things differently. They do so out of personal and professional conviction, in positions carefully considered over time. People such as Mark Carney; George Monbiot; Bill McKibben; I would add Catherine McKenna (though she was put in complicated situations from which she now retreats); Gretta Thunberg . . . the list is growing fast, in both number and influence. They have done the necessary personal work as they have discovered it to be necessary work. Well done folks.
From where I sit, and sweat, in the crucible of the BC Interior, where we have endured record-breaking temperatures in recent days and recoil at images of the smouldering remains of Lytton BC (with the memory of Fort MacMurray still alive). These are incendiary times for many of us in Western Canada, with memories of California, and Australia. This heatwave is the stuff of science fiction, though this is no fiction. It is the emerging new environmental reality.
Scary stuff for sure; but after you move through your own scary moments, let’s get busy; take the details to heart, and allow our hearts to be changed so we can change the way we live – for ourselves, for our descendants, and for creation itself.
*United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change