The Party’s Over…The Battle Is On

I know the battle has begun because I have met the troops – and they are a most impressive, energetic group of young Canadians from P.E.I. to B.C. A dozen of them came to our off-grid, ‘sustainable’ house the other day as part of a leadership training program, organized by the Sustainability Network for various Non-Governmental Organizations.

Many of us still remember the untold sacrifices of World War II, but the struggle we are now entering to stave off climate chaos will take much longer than that earlier, epic struggle to preserve freedom. It will require a commitment that the majority of citizens have never known. The ‘cheap oil’ party is over. Yet I’m greatly encouraged – and this is why.

Those of us with grandchildren are realizing what an earlier generation realized in the 1930’s and during the Battle of Britain. If the Nazi’s had been stopped soon enough, the horrors of WWII could have been prevented.

As it was, the survival of democracy is, in large measure thanks to those gallant Battle of Britain pilots who, with 700 Spitfires and Hurricanes, for 82 days held off 2550 German bombers and fighters.

One of the 544 of our pilots who died wrote home to Canada, “the daily losses of friends is bitter to bear, but strengthens our determination to save the country”. Many aircrew were still teen-agers. Some parachuted from their disabled fighters and were back in action the same day.

Can we, today, muster the courage and determination needed to battle climate change and preserve a planet free of catastrophes for our children and grandchildren? Tim Flannery, George Monbiot, Al Gore and others have all made it clear in recent, meticulously researched books: the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. But we can succeed. And in the dedicated young leaders I have met I can see the heirs of those pilots who preserved our freedom in 1940. Of course, across our country there are many thousands of Canadians like them.

The incredibly fast switch in the U.S.A. from manufacturing automobiles to tanks and military vehicles in World War II indicates that moving to a low carbon regime can be accomplished. Much has been achieved already, but we won’t succeed without political will. It took President Roosevelt’s order to completely stop the production of cars – against the will of the auto manufacturers. (Some of us still remember the scarcity of automobiles in the 1940’s.)

In Ontario’s Caledon Hills, a resident recently told the Globe and Mail that in one year it cost him $84,000:00 to heat and cool his new multi-million dollar mansion. Too bad he didn’t visit our house first. We don’t have any heating, cooling or electrical bills (as hundreds of annual Earth Week visitors have seen). But are we Canadians willing to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of our children and grandchildren? The battle we face is largely in people’s minds, and that includes persuading our politicians.

For example, will we severely restrict our flying when we learn that one person on a fully loaded jet flying across Canada and back is responsible for the same amount of greenhouse gases as I produce driving my Prius for a full year? Will we say no to a tempting kiwi fruit from New Zealand in the supermarket when we learn that it causes 5 times its weight in C02 to get there?

The world’s top climate scientists tell us we’re fast approaching a tipping point – perhaps in just a decade. Our carbon-drunk society is not unlike the over-indulged North American who drinks too much alcohol and is fast becoming a statistic. He or she has a choice: either deal with the addiction or face the consequences. Countless Canadians sacrificed their lives in World War II for our freedom. What will our grandchildren say if we continue with our carbon addiction and leave them a legacy of a wasted world?

It’s no secret that if we don’t face the facts of climate change, if global warming gets beyond us, and the Greenland Ice Cap slides into the ocean, the Gulf Stream will shut down (and scientists know this can happen very quickly). All the expertise on the planet won’t be enough to start up the Gulf Stream again – nor like King Canute will we be able to stop whole cities and countries from being flooded – in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.

It’s a numbing shock when we realize the seriousness of our plight, but let me assure you that the young troops I have met from our NGO’s, along with countless others give me great hope. The battle to prevent climate chaos has begun in earnest and it can be won.

Anthony Ketchum and his wife live in the Hockley Valley near Orangeville, ON and in Toronto.

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