“Well, I dreamed I saw the silver spaceships flying, In the yellow haze of the sun, There were children crying and colours flying, All around the chosen ones… Flyin’ mother nature’s silver seed, To a new home in the sun…” Neil Young’s lyrics from “After The Gold Rush”, recorded 50 years ago, have been rattling in my brain for a few weeks now.
On July 20, the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, took a trip to space just because he can. Meanwhile, Northern Ontario is burning. North Grenville has been issued several air quality warnings over the past few weeks. From space, I’m sure Mr. Bezos couldn’t see the tint of the sun and the moon as I see it, from here on my farm in Oxford Station. My early morning and late night barn checks have been illuminated by an orange glow. The air pollution from the fires up north have cast this eerie hue on the moon and the sun while they hang low in the skyline.
The Buck Moon, or July’s full moon, usually reads as orange due to its position in the sky. But I have never seen it orange like this. Unfortunately, it would seem that most people do not look at the moon enough to keep track of these changes. They may notice “the moon looks orange tonight!” But this observation is a one-off occurrence, not an observation rooted in years of looking up at the moon at the same time and place.
To be fair, if I didn’t have livestock to tend to – I wouldn’t either. It is much more comfortable on the couch, curled up watching Mr. Bezos’ own Amazon Prime. I’m exhausted. Keeping up with work, family, friends, and domestic chores have me running most hours of the day. I know I’m not alone. We drive too fast down our rural roads. We regretfully tell our neighbour “I would love to stop to chat, but I’ve got to run.” In the few quiet moments I have, I want to relax. Not wander around outside, looking up at the moon, considering the relationship between society and global warming. But the luxury to not think about it is a privilege: one that is quickly drying up.
The orange moon, the fires, the air quality, the heatwaves — these are no longer understood as extreme events. Rather, they seem routine. We are rapidly becoming desensitized to them, but we would be remiss to forget that they are, in fact, extreme. The smoke from Canada’s fires are detectable in Europe. 815 people in BC died due to the June heatwave.
We are experiencing climate change that is not an incremental rise in temperature, or shift in a weather pattern, as we may have imagined it several decades ago. The climate patterns that seem to be developing are not really a pattern at all: weather events seem unhinged, non-linear, wild. This is, to me, the most terrifying part of the situation. The environment is meant to function as a system: one in which patterns of events shift and adapt over time to the benefit or the detriment of any number of species who must also shift and adapt. But it seems, increasingly, that the regulating pattern is dead. With the industrial revolution, it has become harder and harder for the environment to acclimatize to human life.
This is an emergency. And yet, for most of us here in North Grenville, it is an emergency that is not overtly felt. We wait out the worst of the heat or smoke in our climate controlled homes. We recycle, we eat less meat, we reduce our use of single use plastic. We are aware, concerned even: but we are not living our lives as if we are in a state of emergency,
even though we are.
How could we? None of us, except perhaps the richest of the rich like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, have the power to do what is necessary to change what is happening. Now is not the time to be merely considering the reduction of carbon emissions. There are functional renewable energy models, and yet, due to lack of both public and private investments, only 16.3% of Canada’s energy comes from renewables. On a world stage, we are doing better than most. But it’s not enough. Worldwide, we need to be close to 100%. And yet here we are.
Climate change and the technologization of human living are deeply interwoven. Since the industrial revolution, humanity’s dependance on machines have led to overextraction, pollution, waste, environmental destruction, and disease.
Further, the resulting social classes create conditions in which billionaires hold the power to save themselves by colonizing space. I’m not kidding. Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars. And Jeff Bezos actually said, “We have to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build a future.” Make no mistake, the “our” in “our kids” is not inclusive of everyone on planet earth.
Technologization has also taken its toll on the emotional and psychic wellbeing of most people. We all work so hard, and generally feel that our political voice does not matter. This directly produces apathy and avoidance. We simply do not have the energy to fight. It’s true that there are no individual solutions to collective problems. To beat climate change, some of our foundational social institutions are in need of rethinking. But we can’t sit around and wait for that to happen. We can, right now, get involved locally.
Our Municipality’s Environmental Action Advisory Committee is sparsely attended. Public involvement from people who care is necessary to ensure this committee does the most good it possibly can for North Grenville. North Grenville needs agricultural methods and lands that can withstand the oncoming haywire climate. But some of our lands best suited for the job are slated to be paved over as a prison. Our local anti-prison groups CAPP and JOG are fighting to save these lands. They need support.
We can, also, vote differently. Doug Ford has been a disaster for the environment: fighting the carbon tax, gutting the Conservation Authority Act, and pushing Bill 197 to forego environmental assessment, just to name a few. Might I add that if everyone I hear expressing a desire to vote differently, “if only such and such a party really stood a real chance,” actually took that chance, we could very well realize a significant change in representation.
This is not a time for moderate solutions. All too soon, the situation will be one that we can no longer avoid.