By Jenn Watt
Published July 11, 2017
Dianne Saxe arrived less than two months after a state of emergency was lifted in Minden due to flooding and a day before a wild storm that ripped down tree branches and shut down electricity to many in Haliburton County.
Individual storms and events are not a good gauge of the state of climate change, but scientists tell us that as our earth warms up, we are in for more extremes in weather. More storms, droughts, floods and higher average temperatures.
Saxe is the environmental commissioner of Ontario and she was the keynote speaker at this year’s Environment Haliburton talk in Minden. I’ve been to quite a few talks about climate change in the past, but Saxe’s talk was more forceful than most.
The environmental commissioner’s office is non-partisan. It is tasked with holding the provincial government to account on the environmental bill of rights and must also put out three reports a year on climate change, environment and energy.
It is through writing the report on climate change, Facing Climate Change, that Saxe discovered how far down the path we have already gone.
Her message to the audience on Thursday night was disturbing.
She recounted how the leaders of the world knew back in 1992 that climate change was an urgent problem.
“What did we do?” she asked. “In fact, better than nothing. Look at what happened to our emissions. We’re at the highest level of carbon dioxide emissions in human history.”
We have long passed the 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide scientists had estimated would be the cutoff point to avoid change in the environment. We are now permanently at more than 400 ppm. What does that mean?
Saxe said she didn’t know: “The last time carbon dioxide was over 400 there weren’t any humans.” It was millions of years ago.
We’re already seeing the changes scientists predicted. The carbon spewed back in the 1980s is helping to destroy the coral reefs today through acidification of the ocean. Glaciers are melting. Low-lying areas are flooding.
We are past the point that we can expect the world for children today to be the same as the world most of us grew up in. There are going to be big changes. Most of them aren’t going to be good.
However, Saxe came on a mission. She didn’t come to tell the group to despair – though there was plenty of that feeling to go around. She had some suggestions.
First, look at your own life. Can you cut five per cent of your emissions? Look at your hydro bill, your heating bill, how much you drive your car. How much meat do you eat? Livestock is responsible for a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. There are several online calculators that can help you account for your emissions. Reduce them by five per cent.
Second, start planning for changing weather. Pack that emergency kit with food and water. Insulate your home better. Reinforce your roof. Expect more storms more frequently.
Third, speak up. Have you talked to you MP yet about the importance of battling climate change? Have you written that letter to the newspaper, to your municipal councillors, to the MPP? Make sure they know this is a top priority. If they know constituents are watching, they will respond.
We are in a crucial time period, Saxe said. While we can’t avoid climate change, we can perhaps avoid the worst of it. What we do – how much we can curb our emissions – in the next five to 10 years will set the course for generations to come.
We have to stop talking about it and start making real change.