Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 6, 2004
Heed this dire weather report
Global warming is here, it's real and it impacts your life
By SUZANNE ELSTON
It is a phenomenon that I first heard my mother describe. During the Second World War, she served as an anti-aircraft gunner during the Battle of Britain. Her father and four of her siblings also served in various other branches of the British Armed Forces. When one of them did manage to get home on leave to visit my grandmother and four youngest siblings, it was usually to a different house than the previous visit.
Thanks to the London blitz, mom's family was bombed out of three homes. What is so remarkable about their story is none of them ever let fear stop them from doing what they had to do.
What my mother's family, and so many millions of others experienced during those dark and dangerous times enabled them to carry on. They survived because they refused to acknowledge that they were in constant danger. This ability to ignore peril was clearly a good thing in this case.
Unfortunately, this isn't always so. For more than five decades we have ignored the scientific community's warnings about climate change. While the initial scientific data was open to interpretation, by the 1992 Earth Summit we'd pretty much reached a global consensus that the burning of fossil fuels, coupled with the destruction of huge sections of the rainforest, was altering the climate at an unprecedented rate.
Unlike the random bombings that my mother's family endured, global warming is peril that we can do something about. But we won't, because we refuse to see it as a peril that threatens our planetary existence.
While some might criticize this statement as being overly dramatic, consider the findings that were presented last month at the ACIA International Scientific Symposium on Climate Change in the Arctic. Appropriately held in Reykjavik, Iceland, the evidence presented didn't predict some distant danger, but rather reported that a way of life that has existed for more than 15,000 years is disappearing. The polar ice caps are melting, and the local wildlife that has sustained a society a hundred times longer than Canada has been a country, is vanishing.
For those who think that the decline of an indigenous way of life has little or no impact on our modern civilization, consider this: this obscure society existed more than 10,000 years before the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built. We have no idea what a profound effect the demise of this culture will have on humanity because we simply can't relate to it.
So imagine this instead. You wake up tomorrow morning and get in your car to go to work, but you can't make it out of the driveway because the roads are breaking up in front of you. You try and off-road it for a while, but even the land itself seems to be disintegrating.
You manage to walk to the nearest grocery store to get something to eat, only to find out that the store is completely out of food. Tired and hungry, you make the dangerous trek back to your home, and discover that it too is breaking up. You crawl in through what was once your front door, to hear the telephone ringing. It's your boss telling you that you no longer have a job, because he no longer has a company. The raw materials that it once used to manufacture products are extinct.
The polar ice caps are melting, and the local wildlife that has sustained a society a hundred times longer than Canada has been a country, is vanishing.
Miraculously, CNN is still broadcasting, so you turn on the TV and listen to some fresh-faced reporter who is clearly a long way from the current total destruction of life, as you know it, reporting on your cultural demise. Never mind, the reporter, says, you can always relocate.
The question is, where? While the impacts of climate change are most dramatic in the High Arctic, the results are being felt everywhere. Foresters no longer know what trees to plant, because by the time seedlings have matured, the climate may have altered to the point that the young trees cannot survive.
Rising sea levels will eventually inundate most of the coastal areas of the planet - areas that are inhabited by billions of people.
So where do they go? Where do we all go when the experiment called climate change has finally played itself out?
The findings presented at the ACIA International Scientific Symposium on Climate Change in the Arctic posted on the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program website at www.amap.no.
For more on global warming, visit the National Academies Press at www.nap.edu/collections/global_warming/index.html.
If you actually want to do something about climate change, take the Government of Canada's One Tonne Challenge. Go to www.climatechange.gc.ca/onetonne.
Letter to the Editor - 12/20/04
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