Monday, January 20, 2014

Cold Enough For You?
Cold enough for you? This is the familiar ironic, rhetorical question asked at this time of year. This January - after an ice-storm followed by frigid temperatures - it is particularly keenly pondered. These days, it is often accompanied by a dismissive “Global warming, huh?” Sure, it’s cold here -  it is winter, after all -  but this doesn’t mean that a global warming trend isn’t happening. Yes, extreme weather is upon us. But one cold weather system does not constitute a climate trend, and nor does even one cold winter. We joke about it being the new normal, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t, or can’t, do anything about it. Powerful hurricanes, typhoons, ice-storms, snow-storms, wind-storms, avalanches, droughts, floods, heat-waves are all throwing us off our complacent stride. And yes, sea levels are rising, yes, the polar icecaps and mountain glaciers are melting. Is this a conspiracy on the part of governments and the overwhelming majority of scientists is collusion with the mainstream media (as I have always been perplexed to hear from the more opinionated in alternative media)? In this case, I think not. Climate change is everywhere, except in the small world and closed mind of career contrarians.

I have been captivated watching a documentary series on TV called I Have Seen the Earth Change.  Now heading into its second season, it documents the changes in the lives of people who work the land and sea in now twenty countries around the world. These people in diverse landscapes are having to deal with the brutal reality of climate change as it already affects their daily lives. From Bolivia, to Australia, Canada, United States, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Brazil, Namibia, Mali, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Nepal, Mongolia, Vietnam to Japan, the story is the same. Program notes state: “Climate change is forcing farmers, livestock breeders, fishermen, foresters, hunters and others to adapt, and adapt fast. These are the people on the front line who are in daily contact with nature and who depend on it for their living. They face a formidable fight, but mankind’s capacity for adaptation shows there is still hope.”

Smallholders tell how the rains do not come as they used to; how there is not enough water to irrigate their crops as they once did; how the seasons have shifted; how they have to adapt what they grow to more frequent droughts. Small-scale farmers know. They can smell the change in the air, feel it in their bones, see it in their crops, and sense it in the changing ecosystem in microcosm that makes up their farm. I am one of these farmers. We are fortunate in our somewhat temperate climate; we are used to a mixed bag of weather, cast seemingly like a roll of the dice each year. But there is a pattern. We have generally been seeing less snow and more ice and freezing rain, more thunderstorms and fluctuating levels of rainfall. And hotter summers most years. We have had to water more than before, placing stress on our well. Water tables in southern Ontario have suffered under droughts and dry spells. We are mildly inconvenienced, but in some countries, whole villages are forced to relocate, farmers are forced to give up on the crops they have traditionally grown, and displacement as refugees is a new fact of life, just as wars shook up people’s lives in the past.

If we cannot get the big boys with their toys to stop deforestation, dirty oil extraction, toxic pollution, chemical mono-culture of farmland, burning of fossil fuels creating greenhouse gases, all on a mammoth scale, with scant regard for the natural environment or the health of the populace at large, we must at the very least as small communities feather our own nest by growing and eating healthy local food, conserving resources wisely, adapting to renewable energies, setting aside for a rainy (or blisteringly hot) day, and minimizing waste.