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At What Point?

Apr. 18, 2007

Recently, Gwynne Dyer, international journalist and columnist, dropped by our school on his way between two more important engagements to talk to our senior students. His address was centered on the topic of global warming and its implications for international relations in the future.

Doug ThomasBasically, his research indicates that while coastal flooding and other seemingly serious events may make the best headlines at the moment, they will not be the real cause for concern. According to his research, the real problem will be with the global food supply.

The convection currents that cause desert conditions at about 30º longitude north and south of the Equator will travel farther if more energy is added to them in a global warming scenario. This will result in the desert areas expanding into the food-producing areas of the U.S., Southern Canada and Europe -- the current breadbaskets of the Northern Hemisphere -- and into northern India -- the breadbasket for that populous nation.

This, combined with our increasing population, will cause major food shortages and potential strife as Northern Canada and the U.K., for example, continue to have plenty of food for their own populations, but not necessarily enough to replace the lost crops.

All of this seems to be demonstrable with current data. Indeed, more people seem to be accepting the notion of global warming as a reality. My question is, "At what point do we, as the only species on the planet that seems to be able to project the future, move away from our self-centered activities and consider making serious sacrifices to ameliorate this problem?"

Someone recently pointed out that we have in the near past made significant sacrifices in the face of threats to our way of life. Canadians, for example, turned over most of our economy to the World War II effort. Personal sacrifices were the order of the day as rubber was rationed and other ways of saving material needed to fight the Nazi threat were implemented.

Indeed, those personal sacrifices involved massive mobilization of young men and women from a nation of about 12 million people at the time. This resulted in 25 percent of the people involved in D-Day being Canadian in spite of our population making up only about 12 percent of the total population of the three major allies -- the U.S., Great Britain and Canada.

Today, Canada is among the worst of the developed nations in terms of accepting and meeting the "green" challenge. The Liberal government that signed the Kyoto agreement proceeded to do absolutely nothing for seven years toward its implementation besides a few public relations rebate grants.

Our current government views the reduction of our environmental impact as a huge expense to be avoided at all cost. A few months ago, Harper’s Conservatives brought their "Clean Air Act" into the House of Commons. Basically, it set up a schedule for partially meeting Kyoto by about 2050 -- a few years after global warming has turned the food basket of the Mid-Western United States into a desert.

After some compromising, the Clean Air Act was sent to parliamentary committee for amendment. The Conservatives, as a minority government, are in a minority on the committee as well and, as a result, the new environment bill that emerged from the committee was much more aggressive in its approach to reducing green house gasses.

John Baird, the Conservative Minister of the Environment, is furious. He is the poster boy for industrial resistance to any environmental changes. Under Canadian parliamentary rules, he can simply sit on the amended legislation until the house adjourns and it will die on the order paper. Unfortunately, it may also die as a news item and he will get away with delaying effective environmental legislation for some time.

The good news is that the Canadian people are finally beginning to get it. The environment has crept up from sixth or seventh place among Canadian priorities until it is now in first place, superseding health care and eliminating of the national debt. At the same time, the Liberal Party, under the less-than-charismatic leadership of Stéphan Dion, has crept up to a favorable rating of 31 percent among voters compared to a faltering 34 percent for the Conservatives. The NDP has slipped to a 15 percent favorable rating and the Green Party of Canada has crept up to 11 percent in the Decima Poll.

This news is even more heartening when one considers that the Liberals and the Greens are almost natural allies on environmental issues. You see, Dion and the Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, have a history together. When he was in the environment ministry in the dying days of Paul Martin’s government, she was his major advisor on environmental policy. At the time she was the president of the Sierra Club of Canada.

This alliance has shown itself already with the Liberal Party refraining from running a candidate in the election in which May will take on Peter McKay, Harper’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. This has caused considerable comment in political circles, and one wonders whether the 10,000 or so Liberal voters will vote for May or support the local NDP candidate in protest.

Whatever the outcome, this Liberal-Green strategy may signal a change to more co-operative, if not coalition, government. Should Harper’s Conservatives be returned with another minority, but with Green and Liberal seats across the house, things may change considerably.

Perhaps most encouraging is the rapt attention and intelligence given by the students to Mr. Dyer’s hour-long, microphone-only presentation.

Doug Thomas is an English teacher and novelist, an agnostic member of SOFREE (Society of Ontario Freethinkers), and a Canadian nationalist fanatic who has written a Humanist version of O Canada in both official languages. His novel, The Bloody Boy, is available through Keltoi Publishing..

Appignani Bioethics Center