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2007-12-14 - 8:28 a.m.

...a little lecture that turned into a bit of a rant...

I woke up this morning and realized that I have little to say about my own life - except perhaps to dwell more on swelling, aches, spaciness, heartburn, and fatigue. I think we've heard enough of that.

So perhaps I could talk about the abysmal performance of two North American countries at the Bali talks... I have found it interesting to note how the big "neighbor to the south" is normally the easy target on this one - both in general conversation and in the press up here. But of course, if you look at per capita emissions, the "neighbor to the north" is right up there with them and getting closer to them every year, with production in the good ol' tar sands making up about 10% of their national emissions, and probably contributing substantially to those high per capita emissions in the south.

I am disappointed but not particularly surprised by the Maple Leaf Country's alignment with the USA and essentially sabotaging any effective agreement in the climate talks this week. CA is definitely a resource nation, with an ever-growing dependency on these resources, particularly in the north. And the behavior of its population, in terms of consumption, is pretty much the same as the US. I am hard pressed to find differences between the countries when it comes to malls, SUVs, and the rampant consumption culture of suburbia. CA is pretty much an equal in terms of its per capita production of useless waste, it is just that the population is ten times smaller, and so it appears less of a culprit on the international charts. And it is difficult for me to be optimistic on this one. I see this country's consumption record getting worse rather than better.

One only has to look at the temperature projections for the next 50 years - projections that are now based on emissions projections that we have globally EXCEEDED - to see how this region is likely to suffer.

And frankly, I don't see people grasping the notion of how different this world is going to be within our lifetime, and definitely during our children's lifetimes. "Different" doesn't always mean catastrophic, but it will NOT be the same. In some situations I expect that adaptation will occur. In many ways it will not.

Something like 80% of the BC pine forest is expected to be devastated in the next 10 years, as a result of the mountain pine beetle infestation - an infestation that has hopped the mountains and is now chewing its way eastward. A large part of the problem is that these forested regions are no longer getting the necessary winter freezes to kill off the pest. And when this loss is coupled with climate-induced changes in the range of forests, the range of pests, and the already-documented increase in fires...we are talking major changes to an industry that has supported quite a few western populations. Canada already spends half a billion dollars per year on fire suppression efforts. Given population expansion, changes in hydrology, and increases in fire frequency? I don't see that cost decreasing.

So then we can consider water resources in some of the western provinces where agriculture and tourism are major industries. So in the next 40 years, let's couple major population booms with the loss of snowpack and glaciers in glacier park, and the projected 10-25% decrease in precipitation and runoff during the summer is not surprising to learn that several scientists have projected a water shortage in the prairie provinces and further west. I don't think we have much ahead of us in the way of skiing season - a problem already confronted in the Alps. Heck, the Canadian prairies were settled during one of the wettest periods in climatic history. The mid-continent has historically experienced some major "mega-droughts" in the last millennium. Now we are just adding to the problem. But it's not a place I'll want to live.

Shall we move northward? I tend to think that this year's record Arctic sea ice minimum - which requires a picture to grasp how extreme it is - is likely to recover slightly in the short term (over the next 2-3 years). But the Arctic ice cap will be pretty much gone in less than 50 years. In some ways this one may be a boon to resource-savvy Canadians if they can (a) protect their rights in the NW passage, and (b) afford the infrastructural modifications that will be needed to support the collapsing roads, degrading coastlines, and buildings that were previously supported by permafrost. And then of course there is the possibility that the North Atlantic cod industry will simply migrate northward with these warmer waters, allowing this industry to expand into the Arctic.

But of course, so much for northern ecosystems, and so much for traditional lifestyles of the Arctic region, and so much for the caribou and polar bear. Do we care? Perhaps we would, if we realized how those climate changes are likely to affect our climate and coastlines further south. A meter sea-level rise in the next 50-100 years is really not out of the question, based on the current projections. So what happens to the subways in NY and London? What happens when those extreme storm events hit the already denuded coastlines? What happens in countries like China, Vietnam, and Guyana, that have placed major industrial centers on these coastlines?

Catastrophes - be they climate-induced landslides, hurricanes, wind storms, whatever - have occurred in the past and will continue to occur in the future. But our contribution to and lack of preparation for this global problem means that we are indeed stacking the catastrophic dice. But there is no need to think strictly in terms of catastrophe - as I said before, the world is going to look DIFFERENT.

I foresee having conversations with my children about the way the world looked when I was a kid. These changes may not be catastrophic, but my kid's world will not have the same trees, flowers, ecosystems, climate patterns. And although I tend towards optimism in these things - societal adaptation will be possible for some lucky individuals born in the right place at the right time - my kid's generation will be coping with the natural and human systems that CANNOT adapt to the changes, however those changes manifest themselves.

I guess it still frustrates me to see that, apparently, the human species is not able to think even on the time scale of 50 years. When faced with the facts above and the figures of economic loss, infrastructure loss, habitat loss, and the huge inequity that we 'developed' nations are imposing on the rest of the world, we choose to ignore the fact of those losses. And instead we argue about whether the appropriate "discount rate" was used to get at the correct economic values. We listen to the reports and shake our heads and think, "what a shame" as we get into our SUVs and drive off to get a gallon of milk, or we drive off to the dollar store to get a cute piece of plastic crap that was manufactured in China and shipped halfway across the world for our pleasure. The dollar we pay for that item has nothing to do with its price in carbon that was added to the atmosphere. But we want to have it until it breaks and then we can throw it away and buy a new one.

Nope. I am not feeling particularly optimistic today. Not feeling optimistic about what our governments are doing, not feeling optimistic because we as individuals are behaving like underachievers. We need a Pete Seeger or a Howard Zinn for Climate Change, and we need to feel like we can do something useful.

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