Daniela Ginta writes for The Armchair Mayor on Fridays.
COLUMN — Last Sunday we drove to Vancouver and, after what felt like a crazy rally on the Coquihalla, and after being part of a slow moving car caterpillar (think 10k per hour over a fair distance), we were finally greeted by the big city. Except that we could not see it.
Everything was enveloped in smoke. Vancouver never looked so milky white and lost as it did that day. We drove to Locarno beach to meet family and friends and could see nothing past some ghostly ships barely visible through the ash-loaded air. Christmas in July, the sad kind.
The sun, an orange-red round pill, got swallowed by the smoky skies half an hour after we got there. The next morning the car smelled like smoke and so did our clothes. Our Vancouver people kept shaking their heads. ‘This has not happened here… not like this…’
The news that poured in that morning brought some more chagrin. British Columbia was well above the average number of 320 fires per year at an alarming 850. Alaska had 391 fires and while that is still on track according to the Alaska Fire Service, the danger lies with the melting of the permafrost, which could happen given the overall increased temperatures. The melting of permafrost would release a lot of carbon in the atmosphere which accelerates climate change. A really bad joke if it wasn’t real. Fingers crossed for the permafrost everyone.
As of now, the B.C. Wildfire Service has responded to 941 fires, according to an early report by the AM News.
It is hot and the country is burning. As much as people want to look like they can be troopers and continue to do their thing while the air quality decreases – people were running, cycling and playing soccer in Vancouver – we each have to look past the personal level of comfort and seek the big picture.
I can breathe, and I can even run if I have to, yet my asthma-prone son makes me wonder about so many people who have it much, much worse when it comes to breathing and quality of life in general. Pollution was, as of last year, classified by WHO as carcinogenic to humans.
If the forests are burning, it is not just the bad smell and temporary blurry horizons that we have to worry about but the mad expansion of fires that refuse to be contained, the increased volume of water that has to be used to help put out the raging flames and the ever increased risk of more fires (19 reported over one day!)
While we do not have a serious water problem, not yet anyway, restricting the use of anything that is not related to need (green lawns are not a need!) should become a priority as the summer is still underway and there is much heat to battle still.
The big picture includes so much more than fire and water, though. It requires us to reassess the destructive reliance on fossil fuels, which is bad news on many levels. Aside from a yearly increase in cars on the roads, the demand for goods in general, much of which are plastic – some so useless it hurts – increases with every national holiday and/or change of season.
Dollar stores report increased sales and the oceans becomes the liquid grave not only for the plastic itself but also for the creatures that eat it. It is worth mentioning that as far as food chains go, we are at the top of it so yes, even the finest porcelain plates will contain some plastic at the rate we’re going.
And the big picture is not even half painted. The gist of it all is that everything is connected to everything else. That is bad news, but also good.
The good news is that there is still time. Many country leaders – hopefully Canada will follow in those steps soon – are urging for action on climate change and more and more people can see for themselves that things are shifting in the wrong direction.
Turning off lights, recycling or reducing water use might seem too insignificant to bother at an individual scale, but the impact adds up because of the mind shift that the small daily actions and awareness create in each of us.
We cannot afford not to be mindful. Not anymore. We can no longer pretend or afford not to see the (burning) forests for the trees. It’s all the same landscape and we are all part of it, whether we accept or deny climate change.
I often tell my sons that once a mistake has been made there is no reason to just look at it and shake our heads but get something good out of it, even when that seems like the farthest possibility.
We have made mistakes, and some big enough to make us look downright irresponsible (how else can one define the on-going extinction process humans have caused in the last 70 years or so, or the possibility of drilling on the Arctic, or build pipelines when risks are too high) but all is not lost. All it takes is to open our eyes and see. And if we cannot see or breathe past the smoke, we have to seek action, finding our way past denial and into hope.
Mahatma Gandhi once said ‘Your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.’ What’s ours going to be? There is still time to choose.