I’m back in Toronto after a Christmas-family-tour. One stop was to visit my Gomma and Pappa (the names us grandkids call my dad’s parents for reasons that have never been clear to me), who gave me some new clippings. One was all about polar bears, and highlighted the fact that over the past few decades the thickness of the ice in the arctic circle has thinned by 40%.
I read a lot of statistics and, recently, I’ve just been letting them wash over me like noise. Otherwise, they become overwhelming and even debilitating. My Pappa’s disbelief, however, caused this one to stand out. Actually, you might describe his reaction as outraged. I was somewhat surprised to hear this man in his 80s demand to know why SUVs aren’t illegal. He kept asking me to write a letter to the Globe and Mail, “telling Canadians to wake up.”
I tried to comfort him with the good news that, in fact, we now see daily stories and op-ed pieces about the climate crisis. Exactly one year ago, I told him, I was in an election campaign where I felt like I still needed to convince people that climate change was real. If we had another election campaign today (or, say, in March), I’d be able to assume that most people recognize the threat and move on to advocating for specific solutions. That’s a huge step forward, I argued. Pappa remained unsatisfied that we’re moving quickly enough.
Today’s announcement by U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that he agrees with my Pappa and believes polar bears are “threatened,” and that this threat is a specific result of climate change, is a good sign. It’s also an embarrassing one, since it means that the Bush administration has now done more to acknowledge the science of climate change than Stephen Harper.
It’s not Canadians that need to wake up, it’s our government.
The good news in all of this is that in our next federal election you’ll see all four national parties making the environment an issue (something that none of the three status quo parties did effectively in the last campaign). The environment has (finally!) become an issue like health care and education, in that everyone can agree it’s important (critical, in fact). It won’t be enough for a party to say they “care about” and “want to protect” the environment. Politicians will have to demonstrate they have solutions that work. That’s where I believe the Green Party has credibility the other parties lack.
We’ll have to move quickly though. Not just because we’re running out of time, but because my Pappa deserves some good news.