MY FATHER’S FAMILY emigrated from Romania to Canada in 1929. They were descendants of some of the many Germans who went to Romania starting in 1763 by invitation of the Russian tsarina Catherine the Great. Germans settled in Russian territories with promise of land, freedom of religion, and exemption from military service.
But by the time World War I came, promises were forgotten, and my grandfather was conscripted to fight. He went on to fight in another regional war as well. By 1929, their oldest son was 15 years old and was to be conscripted as well. My grandparents made the decision to emigrate.
It was a sound decision. From 1907 until the end of World War II in 1945, Romania was continually in conflict. Millions of soldiers and civilians died in Romania. Then, at the end of World War II, Russian troops gave ethnic Germans 24 hours to leave Romania. Some still chose to stay. Distrusted by the Russians, the ethnic Germans who made the decision to stay were deported to gulags in Siberia.
There was warning after warning that things were getting worse. War after war. Mounting civilian and military causalities. My grandparents heeded the warnings and left in 1929. Yet many of my grandparents’ relatives remained, and ended up in gulags, never to be heard from again.
As we live through another smoke-filled summer, I feel like we are again having another warning. A warning of the consequences of climate change.
It’s not the first smoke-filled summer. Or the second. And it is probably not going to be the last. At least if we keep up doing what we’re doing (or not doing).
We have had warning after warning of the dire consequences of climate change. The effects of climate change have been discussed again and again. We have had more than warnings. We have experienced stark reality: catastrophes that have cost people their lives, possessions and livelihoods.
Canada is good at talking, but not so good at action. The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) ranks Canada at the bottom of 61 countries in terms of climate change performance. Only Saudi Arabia and the United States rank lower on actions for climate change mitigation such as greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, overall energy use and climate policies.
We are not watching climate change impacts from a distance. We are enveloped in it every day. And every year, we brace for another brutal summer of fires.
Some years, things aren’t so bad, and all we have to do is complain about the rain. Both 2019 and 2020 were relatively quiet years for forest fires. Maybe we forget about climate change impacts.
We forget that 2018 was record-setting for area burned in B.C. Or that 2017 is remembered as one of the worst years on record for forest fires in B.C. Or that 2015 was above average for areas burned. Or that 2014 saw the third highest area of forest destroyed by fire in our history.
We may have forgotten that 2003 was the most catastrophic (to date) fire season in provincial history.
Here we are, enveloped by smoke, thinking of what we should do. Should we be moved to action and demand more than ineffective, last-place responses to climate change. Or should Canada take its wealth and know how, and use it to be one of the leaders in climate change mitigation.
Maybe next year will be better, and we’ll decide to postpone action once again.
I think about my grandparents. They were prosperous farmers. But war after war took its toll. They chose to leave behind what was a relatively good life, for uncertainty in Canada. They might not have known what to completely expect in Canada, but they had seen enough war to know what could possibly happen if they remained. They chose action. And I think of their relatives, who, from 1929 until 1945, with continually escalating war, chose to remain.
Action or inaction. We have the same decision today.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.