2013, a year for radical awakenings

Published December 24, 2012 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” goes the well-known quote attributed to Edmund Burke.  As 2012 bids us adieu, perhaps more good men and women may reflect upon that line, and then resolve to do something – really do something – in 2013.

A rough year
From the twin perspectives of the environment and environmental politics, 2012 qualifies for what the queen might call an “Annus horribilis”. 

Climate change rages on, casting ominous symptoms of a vastly different future for our kids.  Globally, 2012 will go down as one of the hottest years on record. In September, the ice cap over the Arctic Ocean melted to its smallest size ever.  In the US, more than 33,000 heat records were set in 2012 and a massive drought reduced corn yields by 25%.  Across Atlantic Canada, over 125 new heat records were set, versus only five new cold records.  A week of record heat brought record flooding to Perth Andover last March.  A just-leaked draft of the next UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report reaffirms that what we are experiencing is not a natural process but a direct consequence of human activities.

Globally, emissions were higher than ever in 2011, breaking the previous record set in 2010.  Scientists tell us that if we wish to limit climate change to less than 2°C, we need to limit total future emissions to 565 gigatonnes of CO2 – a carbon quota we are on track to burn through before children born in 2012 reach university age. 

In the meantime, Canada has weakened its already-modest emission reduction goals and pulled out of the Kyoto Accord – an imperfect agreement, but the best hope we have at this point.  In August, Environment Minister Peter Kent declared that Canada is halfway to reaching its 2020 targets – a misleading announcement based on mystery math. 

Canadians have learned the meaning of the word ‘omnibus’.  The Fisheries and Navigable Waters Protection Acts have been gutted.  The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy has been shut down (because, some suggest, it dared to suggest that a carbon tax is good policy).  The federal government has abandoned globally-renowned research centers like the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario and the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory in Nunavut.  Scientists who haven’t been cut loose have been muzzled.  And our leaders continue to extol fracking, pipelines and tar sands without even mentioning climate change, as if it didn’t exist and didn’t matter. 

The only thing necessary for bad things to happen is for good people to do nothing. 

Time to stand up
If you’re like me, you’re probably uncomfortable taking strong public stands on issues.  But if there is an issue that warrants an exception, this is it.  To quote astrophysicist Carl Sagan: “Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water.  Don’t sit this one out.  You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.”

And maybe this line from musician Kathy Mattea speaks to your heart as it speaks to mine: “I am and have always been a reluctant activist.  I don't wanna rock the boat.  But the Universe keeps putting this stuff on my plate, in a way I cannot deny, and I don't want to play small in my life any more, in any area.” 

If you’ve played small on climate change and the environment, make 2013 your year to break out.  Youth: it’s your future; use your energy and creativity to be a driver of your destiny, not just a passenger.  Seniors: remember Steven Covey’s four life imperatives, Live, Love, Learn and Leave a legacy?  It’s legacy time, and you are very powerful when you choose to be.

Start with something simple like a phone call to your MLA and, especially, your MP.  Write letters to the editor.  Join on-line communities like LeadNow, 350.org, the Climate Reality Project and Avaaz.  Support organizations like the Nature Trust of NB, the Conservation Council of NB or the David Suzuki Foundation however you can.  And – let your lifestyle be your leadership by example.

Martin Luther King said, “The greatest sin of our time is not the few who have destroyed but the vast majority who sat idly by.”  Let’s make 2013 the year we stood up and resolved that that would not be our epitaph.