11/12/2013 07:58 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

We Must Tackle Climate Change Together

Whatever you think of the causes -- man-made (through CO2 levels created by the burning of fossil fuels), natural (as part of a solar cycle) or divine (as part of a plan to destroy the world) -- Canada's climate is changing. And Canada isn't alone: Conditions around the world are being altered much faster than was formerly predicted. The cost of the resulting destructions to homeowners, taxpayers and governments is slated to go through the roof, not to mention the lives that will be lost.

One of the predictable results is famine, as crop yields decrease due to heat or flooding, water sources are polluted, new pests and diseases attack, and arable land undergoes desertification. And famines are often accompanied by social unrest, even war. This is why the Pentagon -- along with other government agencies -- has been paying so much attention to climate modelling.

Novelists, filmmakers and other creators have been registering these changes for some time. There's a new term, cli-fi (for climate fiction, a play on sci-fi), that's being used to describe books in which an altered climate is part of the plot. Dystopic novels used to concentrate only on hideous political regimes, as in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Now, however, they're more likely to take place in a challenging landscape that no longer resembles the hospitable planet we've taken for granted. Whether fictional or factual, the coming decades don't sound like a picnic. It's a scary scenario, and we're largely unprepared. It's not that we weren't warned, but it was easier to think of such things as happening elsewhere: As long as we're not affected personally, we don't like to dwell on bad news. That's simply human nature. Even recently, people have said they "don't believe" in climate change, as if it is akin to Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. But chemistry and physics are not beliefs; they are ways of measuring the physical world. They don't negotiate, and they don't hand out second chances.

What are we to do? Canada will be among the luckier locations, we're told, but everything's relative. Among other measures, we should stop building houses on floodplains and cutting trees off hillsides. Buffer zones of plant life -- along seashores and riverbanks -- will break the force of waves and allow the soil to absorb excess rainfall. In cities, depaving could help. Reforestation, especially in tropical countries, is said to be the cheapest, quickest way of sequestering CO2 and thus cutting emissions. Reducing speed rates on highways and reskinning old buildings to keep them from leaking heat would help a bit.

But unless governments -- federal, provincial and municipal -- acknowledge that there's a problem, little will happen. That's where citizens should play a part. It's not longer a question of green versus commerce: We really are all in it together when it comes to air, water, earth and fire. We're in the soup. It's a shared soup and we'll have to work together to get out of it.

Air, water, earth and fire were once known as the four elements, and they're still the things whose extreme fluctuations stand to affect us most -- and not in a good way.

Reprinted with permission of the author. Originally published in Canadian Living, October 2013.


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