Thursday, January 11, 2007

Who gives a damn about the environment?

en·vi·ron·ment /ɛnˈvaɪrənmənt, -ˈvaɪərn-/ Pronunciation[en-vahy-ruhn-muhnt, -vahy-ern-] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation

1. the aggregate of surrounding things, conditions, or influences; surroundings; milieu.

It might come as a shock to some of my close friends when I say that I really haven't given much thought to the environment. It's true. For the kid who used to write letters to McDonald's asking them "to stop using stirofoame [sic]in their cups because it hurts the environment," it's been years since I have cared or engaged myself on environmental issues.

Before yesterday, the last time I got concerned about the environment was when I found out that Polar Bears have been declining in numbers because of the rate that ice is melting, causing massive disruptions in the feeding, hibernation and reproduction of the species. I remember the week where the news story was circulating and I did some searching but I couldn't find any organization to donate to, so I gave up.

I'm the kind of guy that last summer, as we enjoyed an especially warm summer, I glibly thanked global warming for the longer summer when making obligatory weather chit-chat in the elevator of my apartment building.

I never saw Inconvenient Truth, and despite attempts to get motivated to see it, just couldn't and still can't bring myself to do it.

This all seems like horrible admissions for a person in my job, and for a person who is known amongst his friends and colleagues as an incredibly passionate guy, a guy who quite literally aspires for nothing more than to change the world.

I suppose (if you'll indulge the metaphor) the clouds began to part for me round about Tuesday night when without warming and whilst still relatively warm out, snow began falling but then, within two hours had almost completely disappeared.

The next morning, we picked up Mr Brown as we do every morning. (We run a car-pool but it's economical not consciously environmental) He starts talking about this article, how 10 blocks of Austin's downtown core had been closed because of birds mysteriously dropping dead from the sky. This, I remember, is how that movie The Core started and then we found out that the earth had stopped spinning, dooming us all until Hillary Swank and that guy from Thank You For Smoking saved the world.

Apparently, birds dropping dead isn't limited to Austin. It's been reported in Australia as well.

I remember being in Toronto just before Christmas (it was warmer in Toronto than in Vancouver) and reading a great article in the Globe & Mail. I wish I could quote it exactly but it went something like "December - 23: In Ottawa where snowblowers are being sold at fire-sale prices and with flowers starting to bloom on Parliament Hill, it comes as no surprise that Prime Minister Harper is starting to take Global Warming seriously."

Throughout the day yesterday, various members of the upstairs team started emailing each other links to various environmental calamities, oddities or outright disasters.

By the end of the day yesterday, as snow began coming down again, we talked of little else other than just how f*cked we might be as a result of environmental damage.

And to be clear, this wasn't just end of the day kibitzing. This was neither dispassionate nor disconnected. This was genuinely a collective moment of several of us finally connecting our hearts and minds to the importance of the environment on our life here on earth. I mean, I don't know how many times I've heard pithy little statements like "we have only one earth" and variations on the theme but hey, we really have one f*cking planet and there is increasingly convincing proof connecting cause (our collective behavior and choices) to devastating effect.

I might be revealing too much of myself by referencing yet another schlocky near-apocolyptic Hollywood movie but in The Day After Tomorrow, Dennis Quaid plays a climate scientist who tries to warn the Vice-President of the US about a potential storm that would essentially create a new Ice Age. The Veep dismisses it, the World freezes over, the President dies, he ascends to the Presidency, and then at the end of the movie, from America's new base in Mexico, he addresses what remains of the World by saying something like "well, we've got to start taking care of the environment."

While back in the real world, there haven't been any Dennis Quaid types warning of an Ice Age coming in the next months or years, I reference this only as a reminder to myself of what might happen if we continue to push this off.

I found the above graph pretty compelling from an intellectual perspective. I found this in a report on Natural Disasters prepared by the World Bank's Independent Evaluation Group. According to their report:

Despite all of this, I'm not compelled to act because of the Polar Bears or because I fear suddenly being frozen to death on my way into work. I look at this in surprisingly (for me) pragmatic terms: $$$Money$$$.

The need to do whatever we can to reverse and address the damage that's already been done, and to collectively do all we can to prevent more damage is best expressed in economic terms:

As the figures above address, not only are we vulnerable to more "big shocks" that devastate entire communities, regions or countries but everything from rising health costs, decreased agricultural outputs, wasted government and private donor disaster relief donations in the billions, there's no area of the economy that isn't touched by the environment. It's why it's called the environment.

I wonder if anyone has studied the environmental attitudes of Katrina victims? Do they correlate the devastation they experienced in any way to their own and their country's attitudes and actions towards the environment? Has even a significant minority of the affected population changed their daily actions to be more environmentally conscious?

Maybe it's already too late to reverse course and it's now all just an eventuality. But I ain't no quitter. Shouldn't we all be saying "But I'm gonna die trying?" Seriously, what on this earth, must happen for us to seriously give a damn?

The phone just rang. It was a good friend of mine. I told him I was in the middle of writing a blog about the environment. His reply? "Don't you have anything better to talk about than the weather?"

And this is the challenge.

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