Future generations hang in the balance - Keith Roulston editorial
The season changes from summer to autumn, and yet, the wildfires continue to burn in northern Canada and the lower mainland of British Columbia in the worst fire season we have ever experienced.
For most Canadians who live to the south of the area that’s burning, the forest fires are mainly something that took up the news, day after day, for weeks, before the earthquake in Morocco, the flooding in Libya and the hurricane in the Maritimes nudged them aside. Other than that, a few days when smoke from the fires drifted into populated areas were the only effect most Canadians felt, despite Canada losing millions of acres of forested land.
For some people in places like Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories, the tragedy has been worse and thousands of people have only recently been allowed to return home after weeks of living outside the city, at great expense, worried that their homes would be destroyed.
We have a niece living in the southern area of B.C. that faced danger in the last few weeks. As her husband volunteered for long hours fighting the fires, she complained bitterly about the inadequacy of official efforts to combat the fires.
It’s typical, really. Not only in southern Canada but in heavily-populated areas of the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, life goes on and people keep spending in a way that helps promote the effects that are contributing to climate change. The federal government keeps bringing millions more people into Canada and the provincial government plans to allow more farmland and forest to be paved over for homes along the southern-most area of the province, on good farmland that is only available in the south.
As long as we keep spending, and buying things (whether we really need them or not), as long as we keep flying off to this tourist destination or to giant tour boats, we will continue to waste resources and, through ignorance – either real or simply convenient – support the climate change that is putting continued pressure on the forests of Canada.
One day, if we keep this up, there may not be softwood to build all the homes needed, or food to feed all the people we attract into our country.
My pioneering relatives, on both my parents’ sides, came to Canada on sailing ships. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side broke land just north of Highway 86 as a 17-year- old. He cleared land, contributing eventually to global warming, but also making it possible to feed many people. Eventually, he became comfortable enough that he served as Warden of Bruce County in the late 1800s.
But he never went back to his homeland in the British Isles. Many of the first Canadians to return to Europe did so as soldiers helping fight in two World Wars, as my father did in Italy and Holland. My mother flew to Holland, not long before her death, to visit the land her husband had helped liberate – her only foreign excursion.
Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, meanwhile, go off on vacations to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America or Australia regularly, often once or more a year. Modern jet aircraft make it fast and convenient, not like the sailing ships of my great-great-grandparents that took weeks to make the crossing, or even my father’s trip to Europe as a soldier in World War II - but not as environmentally cost-efficient either.
Our niece straddles both sides of the modern situation, her husband battling the forest fires while he worries about losing his elegant home, or other properties they also own. Most of us live on one side of the great divide, enjoying a good modern life of comfort with only the minor inconvenience of drifting forest fire smoke now and then.
If we want to see an alternative, we need only look a few miles away to our Amish and Old Order Mennonite neighbours who contribute very little toward the global warming crisis. They heat and cook with wood, usually grown on their own farms. They burn a little oil to provide light, They are nearly self-sufficient. They cheat a little now and then, accepting rides in cars or buses, but if we all lived as they do, we would not face the problems we do.
My generation takes the blame for this problem. We built the comfortable and uncomfortable lives we now share, with more convenience, indeed luxury, than ever before. We have taught our children to expect this lifestyle. I can’t help wonder what my great-grandparents would say if they could see the lifestyle that I enjoy today,
I’ll soon leave this life, but I wonder what my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will experience because of the lifestyle I helped teach them. Will the effects of global warming get worse? Or will some new technologies change our demands?