As we face the oncoming Winter and grope our way towards the promise of Spring, by February, the cold and snow will seem to have been here always. But we know that the seasons change and soon we will forget the negatives of winter and be relishing the heat and the freedom of Summer. Or at least some of us will. There are those who love Winter and can’t wait to strap on skates or skis. But this year we can’t be sure exactly what Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter will bring, because the fact is that the climate is changing and the old patterns are not as reliable as they once were. There has been heated debate as to how much, if at all, human activity has added to the extent of climate change over recent decades, but that fact is that we know from history that such change is a cyclical phenomenon. Once, a few thousand years ago, the Sahara desert was a lush savannah. Europe went through what is termed a mini-ice age between about 1550 and 1850, which saw major rivers freeze in winter.
More and more often over the past decade, it seems that many parts of the world have been hit by an almost continuous series of major storms which has resulted in unprecedented flooding throughout the country, accompanied by widespread power outages as trees were felled by heavy winds. In France and Ireland, parts of the coastal areas may be permanently lost to the sea because of rising sea levels. It sounds quite apocalyptic, doesn’t it? Situated as we are in the middle of a continent, we may not be threatened by rising sea levels, but we are certainly affected by changing temperatures and weather patterns. Should we be worried?
Because it’s not just floods, is it? Hurricanes, wildfires, drought, not to mention the impact Covid has had on everyone’s lives, all have changed how we look at the world, Nature, the future itself. There is a television show called “Revolution” which is set in a world where all electricity has been disabled. The result is a collapse of government, the rise of militias and anarchy, and a complete breakdown of society. It is a little extreme in its negative view of how people would respond to such a situation. The human race has adapted to changing climate and technology for thousands of years. But there is no doubt that we have become completely dependant on electricity since the early years of the last century, and recent power outages, especially the Ice Storm of 1998 in this area, have brought home quite vividly how much our lives would change without electrical power.
One of the things we should be concerned about as a society is the degree to which we are planning for the future with the assumption that everything will remain pretty much the same. We assumed we would be able to continue driving our cars to centralised shopping areas where we would find big stores filled with goods trucked in from distant locations, food supplies grown all around the world and transported here by ship, train and truck. New residential areas would be located further and further away from shopping and business areas, requiring commuting to work, school, stores and facilities. These new residential developments have no local stores, very little green space, and, in some cases, not even sidewalks. Now we think about how to deal with more people working from home. Shopping malls are in danger of becoming obsolete, many of their stores unable to survive the current lockdowns.
Is this just scare mongering, or is there a real possibility that we face genuine challenges in the future? Will people still be willing to move to areas outside the main cities, if the cost of commuting to Ottawa every day for work increases dramatically? House prices have risen tremendously in rural areas recently, and housing stocks are not keeping up with demand. Which way will things go next?
There has never been a greater need for people of vision and imagination to make decisions on our future together. Should we just remain helplessly hoping that things turn out all right, or are there steps we can take to prepare for whatever comes? For example, we could focus more on promoting local food producing, processing and distribution. We could ensure that whatever local stores we have left are given the support they need to survive against the big boxes. So many small villages and hamlets have lost their General Stores over the past decade. Shop locally needs to be more than a nice slogan: it is already part of the answer to our dilemma.
We have an aging population that lack sufficient resources. We need more affordable rental accommodations. We need local jobs, well-paying and not just minimum wage. We need greater access to social services locally. We need to prepare our children for a harsher world than they have known. But all of those issues are for another day. Let’s start the conversation at least.
The saying that: “You are the change you’re looking for” may seem a little simplistic, but it really does start with each of us. Social media and the pandemic have shown us how nasty and brutal people can be. There has to be more to us than that, surely. Less cynicism, more optimism? Less anger and negativism, and more activism and hope? Helplessly hoping? Maybe. But I think we have to try.