Good News Shows We Can Change

Sometimes, just when you start feeling that everything is hopeless, something will happen to reaffirm your faith in humanity and our ability to get out of tight spots. Last week was just one of those times.

Sometimes, just when you start feeling that everything is hopeless, something will happen to reaffirm your faith in humanity and our ability to get out of tight spots. Last week was just one of those times.

Lately, there has been plenty of depressing news about the planet and the future quality of life of everyone living here. For example, there was the release of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. The Arctic has always been expected to be on the leading edge of feeling the effects of a warming planet and this report, the most detailed ever done on a region, tells us that changes are already underway and shows that temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the global average.

What does this mean? Well, it means ice may soon not cover the Arctic in the summer. That would be devastating for some species, like polar bears, which require ice for hunting. Not to mention the impact on Inuit people, who also rely on hunting for sustenance and as part of their culture.


Then last week the World Conservation Union, comprised of 800 non-governmental organizations and 10,000 scientists, released its Red List of endangered animals - a list that now numbers 15,000 species (that we know of - and we only know of about 15 per cent of the total). Unless action is taken, one in eight known bird species, almost one in four mammals and one in three amphibians will likely disappear. Scientists say such a rate of extinction has not been seen since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago.

But the dinosaurs' undoing was a massive meteor. This extinction, like global warming, is being caused by us. That means we can do something about it. And that's where the good news comes in.

First, Russia officially started the Kyoto countdown last week by presenting its Protocol documents to the United Nations. In less than 90 days - on February 16, 2005 - the Kyoto Protocol will enter into force. For Canada, that means we will have a legal obligation to reduce our heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming to six per cent below 1990 levels. That's not much. Many scientists say that to stabilize our climate, we'll have to reduce those emissions by more like 60 per cent.

Still, it's a start. It's a process of engagement that puts us on the right path. And it will encourage innovation in the renewable energy and energy conservation sectors. That means more jobs. It means cleaner air and health care costs too because we'll be burning less fossil fuels. It's an opportunity to change the way we produce and consume energy in a way that will improve our quality of life.

The other good news is also about energy. Earlier this year, the federal government conducted a public review process to determine what sort of public support there was to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling along the B.C. coast. Not much, as it turns out. In fact 75 per cent of the British Columbians interviewed said they didn't want offshore oil drilling.

The panel's final report, released last week, noted many clear problems associated with offshore oil drilling including: impacts on First Nations rights, pollution, effects on existing industries like tourism and fishing, damage from seismic testing and many more. It's now up to the federal government to decide if it will listen to the wishes of British Columbians or ignore them and lift the moratorium anyway. The language of the report suggests the former.

This is an important step forward, because the federal government could have simply appeased the provincial government and lifted the ban. That still could happen. But Environment Minister Stéphane Dion has said that he believes the next industrial revolution will be in clean energy and conservation. That's where Canada should be investing if we want to be a world leader tomorrow.

When we put our minds to it, we can solve humanity's challenges, but that means we actually have to try new things. We have to think ahead and change our actions for the better. That's when humanity's at our best and things don't seem so hopeless after all.

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Source: David Suzuki Foundation