Like most Vancouverites I’m enjoying the best summer I can remember! Day after day of clear skies, warm sun and beautiful outdoor times.
Unfortunately, this recent lengthy bout of consistently dry, sunny weather is the result of cataclysmic changes in global climate — cataclysmic changes that may very well spell the end of our species on this planet.
But before I get to the global perspective, let’s take a quick look at a few specifics around the world. California, a major food basket for the United States and Canada, is now experiencing its worst drought ever. Crop damage is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. And climate scientists are predicting that rather than getting better, things will actually get even worse in the years to come.
In India, temperatures are hotter than they have ever been, resulting in a staggering daily mortality rate. To make matters worse, the poor are disproportionately affected as only the rich can afford life-saving air conditioning. Around the world, from China and India to France and the U.S., two new studies just released by NASA confirm that the majority of our planet’s biggest underground aquifers that provide water for irrigation, drinking and more are past their tipping points. That means water is being used faster than it’s being replaced by rain and snowfall.
On Friday, June 12 I listened in apprehension as Rick Clough interviewed Guy McPherson on CBC Radio’s The Early Edition. Dr. McPherson, a scientist and professor emeritus of natural resources, ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona.
In his view we are now almost certainly past the point of no return with regard to global warming, due to the fact that we have set in motion massive self-reinforcing feedback loops. For instance, the Arctic melting, which we have caused through global warming, is now releasing huge amounts of methane gas. This methane gas release — even without adding further human-made carbon emissions — will result in runaway global warming.
Dr. McPherson has determined that average temperatures on Earth will soon surpass the hottest temperatures that have ever existed since humans first appeared. The carrying capacity of our planet will simply no longer be capable of hosting even a fraction of our current 7.3 billion population.
As ecosystems begin to unravel and collapse, so too will the economy. In very short order, the fertilizers and pesticides we’ve come to rely on to produce our food and even industrial civilization itself will disappear.
While I have to admit to enjoying every hour of this spectacular early summer weather, I must constantly remind myself it is, in fact, a very ominous omen of dark clouds just around the corner.
With Dr. McPherson’s warning still ringing in my ears — and other scientists agree with many of his points — let me wrap up with a few broad-brush ideas that I believe are long overdue and must be implemented as soon as possible.
The ability of cities to grow the food we use could be enormously improved if we recaptured much of the space that we currently set aside for vehicles. Imagine every back lane and most of the parking space in our city closed to vehicles, torn up and replanted as gardens.
Let’s go even further and imagine every residential street narrowed from the current width. Typically, Vancouver’s residential streets have four lanes, two for travel in either direction with a parking lane on each side. Keep in mind the average garden is the equivalent of one lane wide. So if every residential street was narrowed to one lane for travel in a single direction and no room for parking — meaning if you insist on owning a car and want space to park it, you’ll have to do so in your own yard — suddenly we would have a huge increase in arable land.
But reclaiming space currently set aside for cars is not nearly enough — we must get rid of the car itself. Our planet can simply no longer support the luxury of private automobile use.
It is time the City of Vancouver purchased from TransLink a universal pass for all Vancouver citizens. This would remove the farebox, massively increasing the use of public transit.
And, last but not least from my idea toolbox, with the cost of solar power plummeting we have finally reached the point where we can eliminate all reliance on fossil fuels for the production of electricity.
California is moving in this direction in a very big way, with Governor Jerry Brown issuing an executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Germany’s Angela Merkel has also shown this kind of real leadership — making two politicians who aren’t afraid of doing the right thing. It’s time we did the same.