During the past nine weeks, I have undergone a remarkable experience.
Every Saturday morning, be it in driving rain, or under a bright sun in a blue sky, I have joined 200 other silverheads at the lecture series presented by Comox Valley Elder College.
The co-ordinators had recruited an assembly of professionals to address the topic, The Climes They Are A-Changing: The Climate And Us.
The breadth of their presentations emphasized that much more than rising temperatures will accompany future climate change. Almost all directed their material to the B.C. situation.
• The series opened with Bob McDonald of CBC renown, who emphasized the certainty of the science, the guarantee of positive feedbacks along with the uncertainty of the timing of their impacts, or their severity.
Despite a number of these that are well underway (such as melting of the Arctic in summer, which causes more warming, and thus further melting), McDonald was optimistic that humankind would find a solution.
Other lecturers covered water governance in B.C.; achieving local climate projections from the larger-scale global models; adapting B.C.’s forest management to future changes — guaranteed overall, but uncertain in their geography or intensity.
It was encouraging to me that researchers are working on these issues, trying to produce flexible adaptation policies for this uncertain future.
• Local farmer and ecologist Thierry Vrain spoke forcefully of the problems we inflict on soil organisms in our attempts to increase food production and “manage” pests and weeds.
Thierry, like many climate scientists, is much less optimistic than Bob McDonald, particularly with the effects of drought and floods on food production. Humanity, he says, is engineering “the final solution” — for all of us.
• Brian Kingzett, manager of the Deep Bay marine research centre, painted a grim picture of future seafood supplies, suffering increasingly under rising ocean temperatures and increasing acidity (also caused by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide).
The acidity makes ever more difficult the formation of shells (not to mention vital corals). Tiny shelled creatures form the initial food supply for salmon, whose average return weight in Alaska is down by one pound — an indication perhaps of inadequate food sources.
• Kyle Aben of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions outlined some of the proactive policies of the B.C. Government in recent years, which have gained kudos around the world.
And yet, worldwide, carbon dioxide continues to rise, despite the Kyoto Accord, despite commitments outside that Accord. (Instead of reducing levels towards the 1990 levels initially targeted, Canada’s have continued to increase.)
• Why this is so was addressed by the final speaker, John Anderson, an academic psychologist from Seattle, who titled his presentation: Our Impact On Earth’s Climate: Why We Aren’t Getting It?
He proposed that there was a tendency in human interactions to see others’ communications through a “barrier,” with physiological reactions akin to the ‘flight or fight’ response. In these conditions, we truly do not ‘hear’ each other.
Sadly, the federal government is systematically removing avenues by which the government and the public can inform themselves. Having recently disbanded the Round Table on the Environment and Sustainable Development, the government has this week made the Round Table’s publications difficult to access.
I myself am particularly disturbed by these actions, because I had the privilege of observing some of the Round Table meetings. I was immensely impressed by the energy, and positive, co-operative attitude of the participants — from government policy planners to scientists, to business community leaders.
And so, this most pressingly urgent issue of our time has been shut away in some dingy closet, whether for Dr. Anderson’s reasons, or simply because economic growth and oil industry pressure are overwhelming rational thought.
A friend did an informal survey of about 20 attendees at the lectures, and found almost all to be deeply disturbed by our present situation. Some seemed paralyzed.
Carl Sagan wrote, “It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
It’s time we grew up and stopped deluding ourselves.