Out of the cold and into a warming climate: A call for action
Apr 17, 2019
The conversation about climate change needs to broaden to address the reality that people are facing the impact right now.
Written by Darcy Knoll, communications specialist for CARE Canada
It’s mid-April and still my yard is half covered in snow. It’s the last bastion waiting to fall and reveal the mangled lawn I ignored last autumn.
After enduring winter in a city Canadian weather guru David Philips said should be awarded a gold medal for misery, I’m craving warmth. I’m sure most of us are. Spring is coming. Like, I mean, it must, right?
You may have joked about this with your friends. Wishing climate change, could do its thing a little quicker. In your darker moments, say during a snowstorm nearly a month after spring was formally declared, you looked out at the white mess and wondered if leaving the car engine running a little longer might just boost things into action.
Sadly, things are already happening. Ever so slowly it may seem, but the impact of a changing climate is increasingly being felt across the globe. And it’s not pleasant, to say the least.
But it’s still cold outside, says the denier.
Before we continue, let’s come to terms with one key piece: weather and climate are different. They’re connected, yes, but we’re talking about different things.
Says NASA, “Weather refers to atmospheric conditions that occur locally over short periods of time—from minutes to hours or days. Familiar examples include rain, snow, clouds, winds, floods or thunderstorms. Climate, on the other hand, refers to the long-term regional or even global average of temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns over seasons, years or decades.”
So, when we’re talking about climate change, we’re talking about shifts in long-term patterns as the global temperature increases. In some parts of the world, this could mean shifts in rainfall patterns, extended dry spells or delayed planting seasons and harvests. This could also mean forest fires, drought or intense storms.
Earlier this month, the Canadian Department of Environment and Climate Change released a startling report that did not receive the attention it deserved. The report notes Canada is already warming at double the global rate, which could make bad weather much worse.
“In the future, a warmer climate will intensify some weather extremes. Extreme hot temperatures will become more frequent and more intense. This will increase the severity of heatwaves, and contribute to increased drought and wildfire risks. While inland flooding results from multiple factors, more intense rainfalls will increase urban flood risks,” states the report.
Said CBC columnist Neil Macdonald, “it's beyond grim. The details trigger thoughts of hoarding and maybe selling the house and moving to higher ground. To a millennial, the findings should inspire naked fear.”
It may be easy for the skeptic to dismiss such talk as hyperbole, but the Canadian government report follows in tandem with mounting scientific evidence. For example, in October 2018, a UN special report outlined the severe and irreversible impacts of climate change – including on efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce inequalities – if global temperature rise is not kept in check before 2030.
Fortunately, youth around the world aren’t happy with the heated planet they will inherit. High school students skipped class last month to march for climate justice and are leading the advocacy charge with new strikes planned.
This has been refreshing to see and I hope the momentum continues to build. But if I were to quibble with one point, it must be the narrative that climate change will be a problem for the next generation to face.
Let me be clear: climate change is real and the impact is being felt right now.
Talk of this as an issue for future generations to deal with only breeds complacency and inaction.
Teenage activist Greta Thunberg nailed this sentiment perfectly: “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
Like any crisis, it’s those who are already vulnerable that are being hit hardest. Indigenous, coastal and rural communities across Canada share this in common with their counterparts in the South Pacific islands, the arid Sahel and the relatively poorer breadbaskets of Southern Africa and Asia.
A year ago I travelled with CARE to southern Zimbabwe, a region facing poverty and prone to drought. It seemed telling that some of our most popular training was in climate-smart agriculture – which includes farming practices that use less water because you could never be certain when the rains might come.
“Our fathers used to follow the rainfall pattern. It was consistent, it didn’t change. You would know that the rains that would come in a particular month were the rains we would plant in,” Samson Woyo (top photo with his wife), a 70-year-old farmer, told me.
“Now, if you want to follow the pattern of the rain, it has changed. So if you try to follow it, you won’t harvest anything. It’s no longer consistent.”
The conversation about climate change needs to broaden to address this reality. Yes, calls to curb emissions and lower the rate of temperature increase must continue. And we all can do more to reduce our carbon footprint.
At the same time, we need to help families both in Canada and around the world adapt to what a changing climate will mean for their safety and access to food, clean water or job prospects. This also means helping people adequately prepare for forest fires, drought or severe storms.
A problem as large as climate change can feel overwhelming and beyond the capacity of one individual to address.
Unfortunately, we may not be able to dramatically soften the transition from winter to spring. But together we can keep the momentum growing.
We can ask politicians stumping for votes this summer not only if they have a plan for climate change, but whether this plan will do enough.
And yes, we can let our kids skip school to call for climate action. Only next time, let’s join them.