Canadian climate change opinion is polarized, and research shows the divide is widening. The greatest predictor of people's outlook is political affiliation. This means people's climate change perceptions are being increasingly driven by divisive political agendas rather than science and concern for our collective welfare.
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I'm often introduced as an environmentalist. I prefer to be called a father, grandfather, scientist or author, as these terms provide insight into my motivation. Environmentalism isn't a discipline or specialty like law, medicine, plumbing, music or art. It's a way of seeing our place in the world and recognizing that our survival, health and happiness are inextricably dependent on nature. To confront today's environmental crises, everyone—garage mechanics, construction workers, dentists, politicians and judges—has to see the world through an environmental lens.
I recently attended an event with a panel of outstanding athletes and artists who had become activists on various environmental issues. The moderator asked what role awe had played in their commitment. Their answers revealed how inspiring it is to experience that sense of awe in the face of nature's beauty.
Bigger isn't always better. Too much of a good thing can be bad. Many anti-environmentalists throw these simple truths to the wind, along with caution.
You can see it in the deceitful realm of climate change denial. It's difficult to keep up with the constantly shifting—and debunked—denier arguments, but one common thread promoted by the likes of the Heartland Institute in the U.S. and its Canadian affiliate, the misnamed International Climate Science Coalition, illustrates the point. They claim carbon dioxide is good for plants, and plants are good for people, so we should aim to pump even more CO2 into the atmosphere than we already are.
When the Aztecs founded Tenochtitlán in 1325, they built it on a large island on Lake Texcoco. Its eventual 200,000-plus inhabitants relied on canals, levees, dikes, floating gardens, aqueducts and bridges for defense, transportation, flood control, drinking water and food. After the Spaniards conquered the city in 1521, they drained the lake and built Mexico City over it.
The now-sprawling metropolis, with 100 times the number of inhabitants as Tenochtitlán at its peak, is fascinating, with lively culture, complex history and diverse architecture. It's also a mess. Water shortages, water contamination and wastewater issues add to the complications of crime, poverty and pollution. Drained and drying aquifers are causing the city to sink—almost 10 meters over the past century!
Are we entering a new Dark Age? Lately it seems so. News reports are enough to make anyone want to crawl into bed and hide under the covers. But it's time to rise and shine. To resolve the crises humanity faces, good people must come together.
It's one lesson from Charlottesville, Virginia. It would be easy to dismiss the handful of heavily armed, polo-shirted, tiki-torch terrorists who recently marched there if they weren't so dangerous and representative of a disturbing trend that the current U.S. president and his administration have emboldened.
Aug. 2 was Earth Overshoot Day. Unlike Earth Day or Canada Day, it's not a time to celebrate. As the Earth Overshoot Day website explains, it marks the time when "we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year." That is the definition of unsustainable and means we're using up the biological capital that should be our children's legacy. We would require 1.7 Earths to meet our current annual demands sustainably.
It doesn't have to be this way. "Our planet is finite, but human possibilities are not. Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future," said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that uses UN statistics and other sources to calculate when overshoot day falls every year. This year marks the earliest overshoot date yet.
People who deny that humans are wreaking havoc on the planet's life-support systems astound me. When confronted with the obvious damage we're doing to the biosphere—from climate change to water and air pollution to swirling plastic patches in the oceans—some dismiss the reality or employ logical fallacies to discredit the messengers.
We've long known extracting oil and gas comes with negative consequences, and rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, increases the problems and adds new ones—excessive water use and contamination, earthquakes, destruction of habitat and agricultural lands and methane emissions among them.
Grizzly bears venturing from dens in search of food this spring will face landscapes dominated by mines, roads, pipelines, clearcuts and ever-expanding towns and cities. As in years past, they'll also face the possibility of painful death at the hands of trophy hunters.
Science isn't everything. But it is crucial to governing, decision-making, protecting human health and the environment and resolving questions and challenges around our existence.
In an effort to cool the atmosphere, Harvard University will inject aerosols 12 miles into the atmosphere, leading the charge on the largest geoengineering study to ever take place.
Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario has had to boil water since 1995. "We're over 20 years already where our people haven't been able to get the water they need to drink from their taps or to bathe themselves without getting any rashes," Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias told CBC News in 2015. Their water issues have yet to be resolved.
They're not alone. In fall last year, 156 drinking water advisories were in place in First Nations in Canada. More than 100 are routinely in effect—some for years or decades. According to a 2015 CBC investigation, "Two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade."
Water advisories vary in severity. A "boil water advisory" means residents must boil water before using it for drinking or bathing. "Do not consume" means water is not safe to drink or consume and a "do not use advisory" means water is unsafe for any human use.
Is Your Tap Water Safe to Drink? https://t.co/9leXqSIw0J @WaterAidUK @waterforpeople— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485731105.0
Water on First Nations reserves is a federal responsibility, but "severe underfunding" (in the government's own words) for water treatment plants, infrastructure, operations, maintenance and training has led to this deplorable situation. Canada has no federal standards or binding regulations governing First Nations' drinking water.
After years of pressure from First Nations and Indigenous and social justice organizations, the Liberal party promised in its 2015 election campaign to end all First Nations' long-term drinking water advisories within five years of being elected. In 2016, the new government's budget included $1.8 billion over five years, on top of core funding for First Nations' water infrastructure, operations and management. Funds have gone to help Neskantaga and other communities, but money's not enough. If the federal government is to fulfill its commitment to ending advisories in five years, it must reform its system.
The David Suzuki Foundation and Council of Canadians have published a report card rating government's progress on meeting its commitment in nine First Nations in Ontario, which has the highest number of water advisories in Canada. The Glass half empty? report found advisories in three communities have been lifted or will likely be lifted within five years.
Efforts are underway in three other communities, but uncertainty lingers about whether they'll succeed within the five-year period. Three others are unlikely to have advisories lifted within five years without reformed processes and procedures. And in one community that had its advisory lifted, new drinking water problems emerged, illustrating the need for sustainable, long-term solutions.
It's unacceptable that so many First Nations lack clean water and face serious water-related health risks—especially for children and the elderly—in a country where many people take abundant fresh water for granted. The United Nations recognizes access to clean water and sanitation as a human right and Canada has further obligations under the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Oil Pipeline Spills 53,000 Gallons on First Nations Land https://t.co/VaOHFwfb3Q @NoTarSands @1stnations— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485313228.0
The report card concludes that the system for addressing unsafe drinking water is overly cumbersome and must be streamlined, First Nations must be have more decision-making power to address community-specific drinking water issues and government must increase transparency around progress and budgetary allocations. It calls on government to redouble its efforts to advance First Nations-led initiatives, fulfill its fiduciary responsibility to First Nations, respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ensure the human right to safe and clean drinking water.
The federally funded Safe Water Project is one example of a First Nations–led approach. The Keewaytinook Okimakanak Tribal Council started the initiative in 2014 in response to long-term advisories in four of six member nations. The project keeps management at the community level and includes training and certification of local water operators, operational support while local water operators pursue certification and remote water quality monitoring technology.
The project's success illustrates the benefits of a local approach. Community-specific, traditional and cultural knowledge are integral to developing lasting solutions. Because the federal government holds the purse strings, it calls most of the shots and often overlooks knowledge held by community members. This needs to change.
Clean drinking water on reserves is not just an Indigenous issue. It's a human right and it should concern all of us.
If you fly over a forest and look down, you'll see every green tree and plant reaching to the heavens to absorb the ultimate energy source: sunlight. What a contrast when you look down on a city or town with its naked roofs, asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks, all ignoring the sun's beneficence! Research shows we might benefit by thinking more like a forest.