Is our weather a sign of the future? - Keith Roulston editorial
As I started to write this column early Monday, we hadn’t seen significant rain at our place for weeks. Since the column was about the drought and we then got more than an inch of rain in the afternoon, my farmer neighbours probably wish I’d written the column much earlier.
Still, depending on whether we get more rain by the time you read this, the rain we got is nice, but we need more to catch up.
As a reminder of how things have changed, handily on view out my kitchen window is the flower garden we planted, where the old dug well was located; it’s more than 20 years ago when the well went dry. Nearby is the top of our replacement well we had drilled back then, since our first grandchild was about to visit and we’d been hauling water for weeks as we hoped the rain would come and replenish the well.
Out beyond our property line is the silo that was once attached to a barn filled with cattle, horses and pigs that all depended on water from the dug well that was now dry, despite the fact it only needed to support a couple and their one child still living at home.
I don’t know if our current lack of water is indicative of a changing climate, since I remember dry summers way back when I was a kid, but I must realize how much more water we use than people once did. Sometimes, as I run the tap to flush soap suds down the kitchen or bathroom drains, I get an image of those African women who carry water for their families in clay pots on their heads for two or three miles from a well and I realize how wasteful I am.
But at least I know water can be precious. The majority of North Americans have no connection with the source of their water. They just turn on the tap, and it’s there, supplied by the municipality.
I’m also increasingly aware, being old, that we have a house (and a basement!) full of possessions accumulated over nearly half a century since we moved here that must be sorted through and disposed of either by us or, after we die, by our family. Many of the things that are precious to us, including a library’s worth of books, will mean nothing to our children. So many of the earth’s resources have been used for items that will, eventually, fill a landfill.
And we have used many fewer resources than many people. Jill enjoys watching the Home and Garden Channel, even though (thankfully) it doesn’t encourage her to buy more herself. Recently she told me of a family expecting their fourth child, who felt they had to renovate their kitchen to have two stoves, dishwashers, etc. and a huge refrigerator. How did we raise four kids with one of each appliance – and no microwave? And we had only one bathroom!
One of the big stories of my years covering Huron County Council, was the search for a new landfill site to be used county-wide because existing landfills, such as the one at Holmesville, serving Goderich and Clinton, were nearing the end of their capacity. Millions were spent trying to find safe sites for our future waste and there were heated meetings with vociferous opposition from local residents. In the long run, the provincial government changed and rewrote the rules for landfills and citizens adopted things like blue boxes to reduce the need for new landfills.
But part of that solution wasn’t really a solution at all. Supposedly we were recycling plastic bags, etc., sending them to Third World countries to be processed for re-use. Eventually we found out we were just adding to the problems of poor countries because that plastic waste wasn’t being reused. Now my plastic, at least, is going into the landfill again.
My generation of North Americans has a lot to answer for from an environmental point of view, not only with waste but with the changing climate. Our desire for more and more household goods, more and more travel – both by cars and by airplanes – and more and more easy comfort, has helped to bring about the climate crisis we now face.
So far my children’s generation has, for the most part, continued or even increased the bad habits of my compatriots. But they are also paying the price – with more wildfires across the northern prairies, British Columbia and down the coast to California, more hurricanes most years in the Caribbean, Mexico and the U.S. and more flooding along significant waterways throughout North America. Some governments are trying to change the future with new rules to reduce fossil fuel use through incentives and penalties while others, like our provincial government, and many consumers, resist.
Typically, people resist until they can no longer ignore the problem. If we have more summers like this, if a reliable supplier of food like Ontario becomes unreliable, these people will demand that government solve the problem – but it may take generations to correct the harm.