Monday, July 15, 2019

Humanity is Beginning to Face Up to Global Environmental Breakdown

Earlier this week, I walked with my kids down to the main beach at Bell Park, so that they could splash around in the water.  Although the sun was sinking below the horizon, the evening remained hot, and the lake was pleasantly cool.  It was just about as perfect a summer night in Sudbury as anyone could have dreamed of.

I looked up at the moon, just beginning to glow in the darkening sky, and was reminded of the fact that it was 50 years ago this summer that the Apollo 11 astronauts first touched down on its surface.  For me, that’s just history.  But at the time, through innovation and tenacity, the Apollo program was truly a giant leap forward for human-kind. 

As my kids hunted around for interesting rocks buried in the sand, I began to wonder how many people alive 50 years before Apollo would have believed that humans would walk on the surface of the moon in just 5 decades.  I suspect there might have been some, but not many.  Looking ahead in time to where we might end up can seem like an exercise in futility.  But sometimes it seems that too many of us don’t spare a lot of thought about what the future might hold.  And when that happens, contrary to the evidence of human history, the future unimaginatively ends up looking a lot like the world we live in today.

Perhaps it was the sunset that roused my soul that night – or maybe the cheerful sounds of my children horsing around in the water.  Whatever it was, as I watched the dragon boats glide across Ramsey Lake, I was filled with a sense of hope about the future, rather than the dread that I have often felt. 

I confess that it has been hard for me to remain hopeful about the future in the face of wholesale environmental destabilization, manifested by topsoil loss, the degradation of our oceans, the obliteration of plant and animal species, and the growing scarcity of fresh water.  With more extreme weather events fuelled by global heating, future political and economic upheaval seem inevitable (see: “'We Have Entered the Age of Environmental Breakdown': Report Details World on Edge of Runaway Collapse,” Common Dreams, February 12 2019).  That’s why the advice given by the world’s leading climate scientists, who have laid out why we have only 12 years to take meaningful action to avert catastrophe, has really resonated with me and so many others (see: We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN,” The Guardian, October 8, 2018).

And therein lies my own hope. There is still time to turn things around, if only a small amount. Although I am often confronted by family and friends who, for example, can’t contemplate a world without the internal combustion engine, I am lifted by my own confidence in the capacity of humans for innovation and our ability to come together to overcome a crisis. More and more, people are starting to realize the true extent of the multiple crises which are upon us.

Wading in the cool water of Ramsey Lake as the night crept in, listening to the gleeful sounds of my children playing, thinking about how the world has changed since humans first walked on the moon 50 years ago, I felt optimistic about the future for the first time in a long while. I can sense that humankind is on the verge of making another leap.

Standing still isn’t a choice. We humans are not a suicidal species. History teaches us that we have within ourselves the capacity to change.  We have never been limited by the dreams of the least among us. At this time of global crisis, I take comfort – for the sake of my children – knowing that the tide of history will not be held back.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: Humanity starting to face up to environmental breakdown," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday July 13, 2019 - without hyperlinks.