Apocalyptic Times in Canada

Sometimes I envy people who stay on a permanent media blackout. It must be blissful to be unaware of the catastrophes affecting the human condition. This summer seems to be a particularly bad one for Canada in terms of disasters, natural or otherwise.

It started with the flooding of Calgary, Alberta in June. As the climate change models had predicted would happen, a weather system parked itself over that part of the world and dumped a couple of months’ worth of rain in a couple of days. Rivers overflowed. Neighborhoods were evacuated and flooded. The downtown was shut down for days.

Toronto got a similar dumping a few weeks later when about130 mm or more than a months’ worth of rain fell at the airport in several hours. Storm sewers were overwhelmed. Roads were flooded. A passenger train was stranded for hours and people had to be rescued. Power was out.

We experienced a horrific heat wave that ended with some powerful storms and tornado watches throughout Ontario. Afterwards hundreds of thousands were without power, some for days.

This is the new norm. These “100-year floods” are now happening regularly. And of course we will continue to rebuild in the same flood plains as if they’ll never happen again.

Then on July 6 there was a horrific train derailment and fire in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that killed close to 50 people. The train, loaded with crude oil, was left unattended, miles from town after a fire in the engine, and somehow started to roll. Eventually it barreled into town, derailed and exploded.

The timing was bizarre. We are in the midst of a huge debate over building new pipelines, which seem to keep rupturing and leaking of late. A huge amount of crude is now being shipped by rail and suddenly we’re faced with the hazards of this.

We’re all implicit in this. We all use or benefit from fossil fuels. They make our lives infinitely easier and yet, they carry this huge risk. And these risks like leaks and fires are just the easy-to-see, in-your-face consequences. The far more dangerous, far more insidious risk they pose is the carbon they release when we burn them. The buildup of carbon is what’s triggering these other weather events. And yet we still aren’t having a conversation about our reliance on them.

Andrew Nikiforuk, a writer for the Globe and Mail (newspaper) from Calgary, was helping with the cleanup of the floods, as so many people did. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/after-the-flood-reflections-from-writers-one-week-later/article12893983/?page=3

He heard the expression “tar sands karma” in several households. Calgary is the financial center of our oil industry, where financing for things like the tar sands happens. Apparently some of the people who owned the homes that were flooded “get” the connection and are willing to talk about it.

The logical course of action for Canadians, and the species at large right now, is to call on our federal governments to take a leadership role in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, not just hand out money after the disasters hit. Instead they continue to be committed to pushing through new pipelines and increasing oil production from the tar sands. For what? Good jobs of course! So we can all buy nice houses that get clobbered by climate change. Yup, no shortsighted behavior happening here.

The species has a choice. End our addiction to fossil fuels or perish. One option is to be in control of the process of de-carbonizing our lives and our economies. It won’t be easy. It will be jarring, but it will be by choice.

The second option, if we choose not to take the first one, is that these events will become the norm, and we’ll all just hope ours isn’t the house that gets blown down by high winds or gets flooded. We’ll just buy a generator and pretend like all these events aren’t really happening. Go on a media blackout and cross our fingers.

This is not a human trait I quite understand. After living off the grid and creating my own energy for 15 years, starting while the technology was in its infancy, I learned that it was far better to be proactive and correct a potential problem before something catastrophic happened and plunged us into the dark.

I’d love to think climate change might go away if we ignore it, but I don’t think it will. A mature, rational government would engage its citizens in a discussion of the risks we face and the tough choices we have to make. Our government is like one of those “jelly fish” parents who just give the kids what they ask for, keep ‘em happy, even if it turns them into spoiled brats with bad outcomes later on. To tell citizens what they want to hear may keep you in power for a while, but it’s cowardly and will not be a legacy you look back on with pride. What our species requires is a debate about this. A vigorous, honest debate about consequences … and soon. We have the technology to deal with. I would hope we have the maturity to deal with it. I am grateful there is a Green Party to keep this discussion going in the public arena.

9 Responses to “Apocalyptic Times in Canada”

  • j:

    Cam, what about supply and demand?

    When you reduce the consumption of a resource (by becoming more efficient or otherwise), the cost of consuming that resource goes down – which in turn results in even greater consumption.

    Fossil fuel consumption is determined by supply and demand; oil (or gas, or coal) use will only start declining when the price of extracting it becomes prohibitive (due to declining energy return on investment).

    The result of reduced energy consumption? Economic collapse, starvation, death, etc. Seems to me that we’re doomed, and there’s nothing positive government can do.

  • Jennifer:

    I have to agree with Glee. Each of us is responsible to be the change we want to see in the world.

  • “We’re all implicit in this.” Absolutely! Yet the conversation, if it can be called that, fails to address this fact and the (very) difficult choices we need to face- but there are choices and we’re lucky to still have some. I applaud your ongoing efforts Cam (and Michelle).

  • CJ:

    Also – great post!

  • CJ:

    “reducing our reliance on fossil fuels,”

    This, to me, is the sticking point. What exactly does this mean? Can we pave roads for electric vehicles? Can we mine cooper, aluminum, iron ore, rare earth metals to build windmills and PV systems and batteries? Can we ultra purify water to produce silicon? Can we produce rubber tires for bicycles?

    Which processes can still use fossil fuels and which ones cannot as the supply dwindles? Who will decide?

    I certainly don’t have any answers and I haven’t heard of anyone who does as of yet.

  • Gerrit:

    Very true Cam. As an ordinary member of the Green Party, I am sure happy that you are standing for the legislature. We need practical fighters in there along with Elizabeth May. Best wishes to you and Michelle from us.

  • Glee:

    I agree with you, Cam, except for one point: expecting our government officials to be wise and practical is futile as Bearly There points out. The way these problems get solved is by people like you and me and your other followers making the changes in their own lives and in the lives of the people around them that provide sustainable long-term solutions. If we are successful in our own tiny back-yards, then maybe we can spread the idea like a virus until it takes over the planet.

  • Neil:

    There have been times when I have “turned off” and taken no notice of the news. Usually, it is when I am away somewhere for a trip and I make a point of not tuning in and not going to my usual sources on the web. Sometimes, I am able to consciously do this once I get back home…at least for a little while. But then I get sucked back in to the news cycle once more and I am sad for the peaceful naïvety I have lost. In this day and age, “ignorance is bliss” may be truer than Orwell may ever have intended. Quoting another famous writer (Marx), if “religion is the opiate of the masses” then the news is akin to crappy wine… providing a cheap thrill at first but ultimately leading to feeling depressed and a big headache 😉

  • Bearly There:

    The corporations and banks have a stranglehold on politicians. Follow the money, profit always trumps compassion in the boardroom. While I agree that we can all do better, cost effective options are not made available to the public. Innovative ideas, and working models are shelved and the brilliant developers of these solutions are either bought off, tied up in intentional government bureaucracy or just disappeared. I applaud your entry into politics and the Green Party, Elizabeth May is a fighter, I just wish more people were paying attention. Fight the good fight Cam, in the meantime the raccoons are waiting for the corn to ripen.

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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