Last Friday, on September 20, 2019, millions of people from all seven continents of the world, took part in public marches to raise awareness of the precarious nature of the health of our planet and to demand immediate action to start rectifying the situation. In Canada, there were no major marches that day. Instead, Canadians will show their concern this Friday. The biggest march is predicted to be the one taking place in Montreal. Greta Thunberg is scheduled to appear and help lead the march. Leah and I will be travelling to Toronto and participating in the march there. So far, an estimated 20,000 people will be there. I expect that number will be larger.
As the date of the Toronto Climate March drew closer, we began telling our friends of our intentions to attend the event. I was surprised that many of them did not know about the march or, worse still, they were not even that familiar with the issue of Climate Change and the consequences for us as a species. Let me assure you that this issue isn’t political spin. It is very real. As I type these words, the Amazon Rainforest is burning. I read a news article this morning that claimed that Alaska is ice free along its coastlines. You can easily search sites, such as YouTube, for video evidence of glaciers melting and collapsing. The Ozone Layer has been thinning for years. Our pollinating insects, such as bees, are becoming endangered. The list of calamities is unfolding, seemingly, in slow motion but, from an ecological point of view, we are rapidly approaching a “tipping point” from which recovery will be next to impossible. When the young Climate activists speak these days, they all say that, as a species, we are at the early stages of the sixth mass extinction. That sounds bad because, well, it is bad. Mass extinction means an entire species disappears, never to re-appear again. Let me tell you a bit about one of the most famous mass extinctions. This is a story I used to share with my students when I was still teaching. It is the story of the Dinosaurs.
The story of the Dinosaurs is more complex than I will present it today. I am keeping things simple. While there are several theories as to what happened to cause almost all dinosaurs to become extinct, the most widely held theory involves a meteorite crashing into the Earth. It is said that the meteor was large enough and the hit was direct enough to cause a massive dust cloud to fill the air for years, blocking out the Sun. This set off a chain reaction of the Earth’s temperature cooling which, in turn, caused plant life to wither, which caused the plant-eating dinosaurs to lose their food supply and starve which, then, caused the meat-eating dinosaurs to lose their food supply and starve. In short, the climate of the Earth changed, setting off a chain reaction of events that the dominant species at the time were unable to reverse. The living conditions of the dinosaurs became unbearable for them, they lost their food supply and then, vanished into the History books of Time. Just like that. Poof! Gone! The biggest, brawniest, most massive creatures the world has ever seen……extinct.
Mass extinction doesn’t happen with the snap of one’s fingers. It takes time to die off completely. But, once essential elements begin to fall into place, it doesn’t take much to see how fragile our existence is and how we, as Humans, the smartest, most highly-evolved thinkers of all-time, could easily find ourselves relegated to the History books of Time, too.
I make no claim for having all of the answers necessary to reverse the negative consequences of Climate Change. I am not a superhero, nor is anyone in my family. But, as a family, we have made some deliberate changes as to how we live our lives; changes that, we believe, will help the environment and will lessen our impact upon it. None of these decisions, by themselves, simply because of us, will solve the issues that require solving. But, collectively, if we all take steps to do right by Mother Earth then, maybe, just maybe, we can slow our death march down and start to restore the health of Planet Earth.
For example, there used to be a TV show that we liked called CSI or, Crime Scene Investigation. My wife had a fangirl crush on the lead character, the head of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, Gil Grissom. As part of his back story, he studied bees and other pollinators and often spoke to his other actors of the importance to our world of these pollinating creatures and how they were becoming endangered because of pesticide use, habitat loss and so on. Grissom had being a Science-wonk engrained into his on-screen character’s personality. It was over a decade ago that he spoke of the fragility of our food supply because of the potential loss of bees and other pollinators. In that time, the MacInnes Family has changed how we use our own property. We have expanded our gardens and paid more attention to their composition; adding in flowers that are bee and butterfly friendly. We have done this for several years now and, this summer, we noticed more bees and butterflies than ever before. Whether this was just a lucky fluke, I can’t say. But, I can say that more and more families have planted milkweed (for the Monarchs to lay their eggs on) and planted flowers such as zinnia, daises, butterfly bushes and so on. As a family, the girls has raised and released 16 monarch butterflies. We have one more in a chrysalis in the living room and then, that will probably be it for this season. As a town, Cobourg has established pollinator-friendly gardens along our beautiful beaches and, as you can see from the photo above, the butterflies, in particular, have never been more plentiful.
Another thing we did as a family was to plant trees. As many of you know, trees are the “lungs” that help us all breathe. By converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, trees are among the most important weapons we have to fight against the effects of Climate Change. So, as you can see from the photo, Earth Ranger Sophie has planted a new tree in our front yard. But, both girls have helped to plant dozens of trees throughout our town as part of their Brownie and Girl Guide Troops. In one case, they planted trees along a creek, in a riparian zone, to help restore the integrity of the banks of the creek. In other cases, the girls planted trees in abandoned fields and have, as a result, helped create a new wrinkle to the eco-system that had previously existed there.
One of the easiest things we have done as a family to help the earth is cutting back on our use of plastic. (a) Up until this past year, I never gave straws a second thought. Now, in restaurants, we make a point of requesting that they not give us straws with our water or milk shakes. At home, we have purchased straws made of silicone and simply wash and re-use them. (b) When we shop at the grocery store, we always take in reusable shopping bags. Gone are the days when our food was placed in plastic bags. We have, also, purchased reusable mesh vegetable bags so that when we are buying grapes or onions, etc., we no longer need the plastic bags that the grocery store makes available and that we would end up throwing away and/or recycling.
Finally, we do a lot of other Earth-friendly things, too, in ways that make them easy to become good habits. For example, we compost our table scraps and use the enriched soil that is created in our gardens. We, also, use a rain barrel to collect Nature’s water for use in our gardens, too. We have replaced all of our lightbulbs with energy-efficient models. We keep our thermostat a few degrees lower in the Winter and a few degrees higher in the summer. We have upgraded the insulation in our attic so as to prevent unnecessary heat loss. The girls donate unused toys that they have outgrown so that they don’t contribute to landfill sites. We are eating less meat. It goes on and on. Dozens of small life changes to how we live and how we interact with our environment. We are not Champions of the Planet or anything but, we have taken simple steps to lessen our impact on the environment or, our carbon footprint, as all of the cool kids say.
But, we are not perfect, either. If we want strawberries for school lunches and the only strawberries available at the grocery store come from California or Mexico, we will still buy them. Our vehicles still run on gasoline. Our home is heated by oil. We usually remember to turn off lights when we leave a room…..but, not always.
We are not perfect but, we are improving and, if the truth be told, having healthier, more Earth-friendly habits has not been all that hard. I don’t begrudge having to make these lifestyle changes because, the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. Every time I see a dead whale with a stomach filled with garbage, my desire for change is renewed. Every time I see hurricanes and floods and earthquakes ravaging communities for whom these events never used to be issues, my courage to change my ways is plucked up. Every time I hear of an Indigenous community without clean drinking water, my shame motivates me to be a better global citizen.
And so, tomorrow, Leah and I will join tens of thousands of other like-minded people in Toronto and we will march and will raise up our voices in a choir of concern. In my town of Cobourg and our neighbouring town of Port Hope, smaller marches will take place. Hopefully, these marches will become a habit for many and change will arise as a result. So, thank you to everyone reading this post who recycles and composts and makes their yards welcoming spaces for pollinators. Thanks to all of you who have cut down your energy usage. Thanks for making single-use plastics a dying industry. I applaud each and every one of you who thinks about our environment, where once, we simply took it for granted. You are difference makers. You are the heroes whose efforts Leah and I will carry with us tomorrow in Toronto as we walk the walk for Climate Change and for a healthier world for us all.