Our changing climate has taken up a fair bit of the oxygen in the public media and we all talk about it. Here in Toronto, while much of the world experienced record warmth, we just survived our coldest winter in forty years. The last two summers we had torrential downpours that knocked out the subway and flooded streets, freeways and homes, causing $100s of millions in damage.
This is all the outcome of climate change: While some of us freeze, others among us bake. While some experience terrible drought, others see terrible flooding. And on low-lying islands, everyone looks out to the rising tides with increasing nervousness.
As humans, we are cooperative, social creatures. For millennia we lived together in tightly-knit tribes and clans. In villages and towns, people still relied on their neighbors for their safety and security. Even in today's growing, impersonal cities, during times of crisis, the citizens band together to help the weak and vulnerable.
We have always been good at reaching out and helping those we see in need. It is part of our nature. What we are not so good at is reaching out to those unseen and personally unknown to us in their hour of need.
This is not to say that the United Nations, the Red Cross, and various national governments have not stepped in when large-scale calamities have struck - the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the 2010 flooding in Pakistan, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2014 Ebola outbreak in west Africa, and so on. These organizations are dedicated to disaster relief and the people who work for them are especially attuned to the needs of the afflicted. Moreover, we support the work done by these organizations indirectly through our taxes, our donations, and our overall recognition of the value of what they do.
Climate change today however presents a new challenge for all of us: the challenge of learning and developing new attitudes and behaviours helpful to our fellow human beings spread far across this planet, mostly in places we are unlikely to ever see or inhabit. Not only are most of our fellow humans mostly strangers to us, but the help they (and we) so desperately need is not a matter of a week or a month of assistance: the calamity posed by man-made climate change will likely require all of us to change our habits of living for the rest of our lives.
Moreover, if we are to be successful at our mission, we had better cultivate a whole new attitude of helping because a campaign of this magnitude and seriousness is liable to make all of us a little anxious and depressed unless we learn to accent the positives and celebrate our daily victories, large and small.
Where do we begin? Let's just grant that the best way to start is simply to start - anywhere. Any beginning is a good beginning because at least it means you are going someplace rather than standing still, or more likely a case like climate change, going backwards from your inactivity.
That being said, let me propose three simple ways forward. Doubtless, there are hundreds.
1) Do not let your elected representatives - local, regional, or national - run for office without telling you their plan for fighting climate change. And if it is not a focused and reasonably ambitious plan, don't vote for them.
2) Help create linkages across the planet. Make a Facebook friend in a place with a threatened environment like the Seychelles, the Philippines, California, Mali or Nunavut (in Canada's Arctic). Granted, some of these places are not well linked with the internet and will be challenging to connect with. You can also press your city representatives to twin your city with an afflicted city like Tacloban (Philippines), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Dhakka (Bangladesh), Yuba City (California), or Iqaluit (Nunavut). Encourage cultural and scientific exchanges between your cities.
3) Research and put into practice the many Earth-positive practices you can find - and tell your friends about them. Don't forget to include stress management as a helpful practice. As the sun beats down or the waters rise or they dry up altogether, there is sure to be a lot of stress and anxiety worldwide. Now is the time to learn (and teach) yoga or meditation or t'ai chi to keep yourself and others cool and focused in the times ahead.
Climate change presents us all with a vital challenge and a terrible opportunity. It is terrible because if we miss it, there is a probability of large-scale loss of lives, human and otherwise, from disastrous changes in the water, on the earth, and in the air. War over scarce water and arable soil is a looming possibility. It is also vital because goodwill, networking, and coordination at unprecedented levels hold the key to our entering a new era where humanity really means humanity.
Love to all! Peace to all! Life to all!