Dear CARP members,
The burden of our generation
“Progress” has always seemed linear and forward-moving. The narrative of our culture has been that each generation’s future will be brighter, healthier, more secure than that of its parents.
And it is that which ends with us. The boomers have been enjoying the last of the one-time only blow-out of cheap and abundant energy. We have been consuming at never-before imagined levels of comfort and convenience. We have run up a very large debt on somebody else’s plastic. And that is what we leave behind. Unless, we refuse to slip off this mortal coil condemning our own kids and grand-kids to an unliveable world.
I know as I write these words that some may see it as hyperbole. I have been working in the area of climate science, as a non-scientist, since 1986 when I became Senior Policy Advisor to the federal Minister of Environment. In June 1988, in that capacity, I helped organize the first international, comprehensive scientific conference on the looming threat of climate change. The conference, co-hosted by the Government of Canada, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, was titled, “Our Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security.”
The consensus statement of the over 350 scientists from around the world began “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment, whose ultimate consequences could be second only to global nuclear war.”
Since then, the evidence of the impacts of the crisis has shifted from warnings of future events to the pages of our daily newspapers. The growing food crisis is the result of extreme weather events — from the extreme heat and fires of the summer of 2010 in Russia and its impact on grain production there to heavy flooding. Droughts have plagued China for the last many months leaving millions of acres of farmland desiccated and unproductive.
The growing number of environmental refugees reached to the millions in the last twelve months alone. Extreme flooding events displaced millions from Pakistan to Argentina, while low lying island states contemplate relocation of their populations.
Water scarcity, food shortages and the competition for resources are all set to increase exponentially as greenhouse gas levels rise. 2010 was the hottest year on record, but still some radio shock-jocks claim the global temperature is going down. And 2011 has been one of extreme events in Canada, from the Slave Lake fire (and then flood) to melting permafrost, to extreme flooding and storm surges from coast to coast.
The imperative of our retirement years is to become politically engaged and mobilize to save our children’s future. I do not use the word “political” to suggest partisan activity. All parties and all politicians must be held to account. There is still time to unleash the creativity and technological genius that has typified our age to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy and to achieve massive improvements in energy productivity. We still have time to join the growing list of nations that are on track to carbon neutrality.
We have just barely enough time, if we focus our energies and our resources on the most important legacy of our generation — that we bequeath a liveable world to the next seven generations.
Elizabeth May, O.C.,
M.P. Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands,
BC Leader of the Green Party of Canada
Keywords: environment, plans