Earth Day 2013

Addressing our multiple pressing environmental problems starts with education.

We are facing multiple environmental crises. Above all, we face irreversible climate change, and a cascading series of related human catastrophes--- drought in agricultural zones, rising sea levels flooding out cities and entire countries, the loss of drinking water for hundreds of millions of people as glaciers disappear and rivers dry up---if we don't act quickly. Scientists tell us we can only avoid those calamities if we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in a meaningful way by 2020, and almost entirely by 2050. That will require a radical shift in how we produce and use energy.

And yet, we remain woefully uniformed about climate change, especially in Canada. Scientists are muzzled, not allowed to talk to the public. Long-term monitoring of pollution in lakes near the tar sand is discontinued, for fear of what the evidence will show. The Canadian media seems hamstrung with a pro-tar sands framing of the proposed Keystone oil pipeline, to the point that Americans are better informed about the issues than we are.

Closer to home, the provincial government is embarking on a major re-wiring of our electrical system, putting all its greenhouse gas reduction eggs in the same basket: hooking up to a hydroelectric generator at Churchill Falls in Labrador. But have we considered the full environmental effects of that proposal?

Meanwhile, the already threadbare Department of Environment is seeing its budget slashed still more, raising concerns that we citizens won't have basic information about environmental issues.

Deepak Chopra tells us this week that the solutions to these problems are all personal. We merely need to each become enlightened. People who work on changing our environmental policies, however, say that's a hopeless endeavour. Better to help people understand the practical benefits of making small changes, than to try to save their souls.

No matter where you focus, one thing's certain: all of us need to become better informed, if even just a little. The fate of the earth is in the balance.

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