On the world’s climate emergency, we should be more afraid than we are

Bob Ezrin Contributed to The Globe and Mail Published 6 hours ago

Wildfire smoke fills the air in Gates, Ore., on Sept. 16, 2020. Kristina Barker/The New York Times News Service

Bob Ezrin is a guest lecturer at Trent University, a board member of the Canadian Journalism Foundation, an inductee of Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and a fellow of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

Finally: Climate change is now being addressed seriously by some of Canada’s most consequential news outlets. But still, I remain concerned. In terms of quantity or quality placement, the media industry’s coverage of the climate emergency doesn’t come close to matching the topic’s degree of importance to our lives right now, not to mention to our future as a country and people.

Media coverage, of course, at least partly reflects public interest. So what the tenor of our public discourse offers up is a dim view of our society – that we have yet to wake up to the stark reality that humanity is hurtling toward creating an uninhabitable planet.

Maybe that idea is just too big to get anyone’s head around, even for the truth-sayers in the media. Maybe that’s why we tend to devote focus and attention to the issue in small ways, so that we can feel like we’ve done enough to protect our children’s futures. Many people and corporations alike no longer use plastic straws, for instance. Many of us are eating less meat, or driving and flying less. Going green is in fashion. But like too much of the coverage of the issue, it’s ultimately inconsequential.

The reality is that 2020 is on track to being one of the hottest years on record. The western United States is burning, and the flames are moving northward; the smoke from the fires led Vancouverites to experience some of the unhealthiest air in the world. But while the photos from San Francisco and Portland may have looked like the end times, it’s not even the worst of what’s happened this year. The polar caps and Greenland’s ice sheets are melting away, and so the seas are rising and warming everywhere; that has led to the flooding and potential erasure of entire coastal communities, which will have even more dire consequences for Canadians. Hurricanes, meanwhile, are becoming more frequent and powerful. Insects carrying viruses and parasites are working their way north as the climate warms; dengue fever is suddenly on the rise in North America, and leishmaniasis – a terrible and painful disease that is highly lethal if left untreated – is following closely behind. And just this month, the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report declared that since the 1970s, more than two-thirds of the world’s wildlife populations have disappeared due to human activity like deforestation, pollution and overconsumption of natural resources. Where are the screaming headlines about that? Where are the Big Announcements from Ottawa?

Tragically, our inaction thus far has meant that we’re now past the point of being able to completely stop climate change. But we still have a chance to fight back against the advancing climate emergency and potentially even reverse the worst effects of it through changing our social practices. That won’t happen until we come to terms with the immediacy and significance of the threat of carrying on as we have been. Instead, too often, we’re content to write or read a few articles, give or hear a few speeches, and shake our heads about how terrible it all is while putting on a serious face – before we carry on doing what we’ve always done, which is to say, continue to march toward extinction.

Are we really so comfortable with what is happening all around us that we’re still willing to be proper and careful with what we say about it? How can we be? This is war – either we fight, or we’ll die – and we don’t even seem to realize the enemy is approaching. Our governments and our institutions need to reflect this urgency – starting with what I hope will be an unambiguous declaration of war against the coming climate emergency in the Liberals’ coming Throne Speech.

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