Students are adding their voices to the global call for change.
This article was written by Guy Hanchet and was published in the Peterborough Examiner on March 24, 2023.
My eldest granddaughter will turn 13 in May. The day after she was born, her parents brought her to visit and she fell asleep on my belly. Her helplessness and comfort woke me up to take whatever actions I could to protect her from the climate crisis that I had been reading about. My reasons for hope for the future — the subject of this article — all stem from that moment.
I have found, since that day, many reasons to be hopeful about the future — not by denying or tuning out the massive climate mess we’re in, but by facing it and taking action alongside many other people. I want to share my five main reasons for hope with you, and I invite you to share yours too!
The week after my granddaughter was born, I joined a climate action group in Toronto that seemed perfect — For Our Grandchildren. In addition to organizing information meetings, protesting on Parliament Hill, and writing letters to government representatives, our main activity was to seek out climate change stories in the press and bring them to the attention of people reading our blog.
At first, it was hard to find anything. And, most of what we did find was either news about how bad it was somewhere else, or else outrageous news about our own governments’ inaction. There were also lots of opinion pieces claiming that climate change was a hoax. I found it all very frustrating. The headlines did not come close to reflecting my impatience or the need I felt for urgent action. I wanted to march in the streets — surely if people really understood the urgency and what was at stake, they would want to take action?
I moved to Peterborough a few years later and brought 4RG with me. We held a march down George Street and I still remember my elation when the headline in the Examiner (to its credit), on the front page, above the fold, in the biggest font they have, used the words Climate Change. My ecstasy was an indication of just how rarely the topic was mentioned in the press.
Now, 13 years after my granddaughter’s birth, climate news is reported all the time. There’s so much it’s overwhelming: in the papers, on the radio, on the TV news. Coverage is still mostly about how bad it is, but it’s about now, not some hypothetical future, and it’s closer to home, with forest fires and floods and heat domes in Canada and Ontario, so people are paying closer attention.
Another difference in 13 years? You’ll only rarely see articles that deny reality. Now, finally, the discussion is mostly about what to do about it. Regulations? Carbon Price? Subsidies? All of the above?
Public perception about climate has changed. People are more aware, and the conversation has mainly shifted from a debate about what’s happening to a debate about how to respond to what’s happening.
Some of the new media attention centres on the concept of solutions journalism, a focus on what is being done to combat the problem. The CBC show “What on Earth” is a good example of this. In addition, the specialty news outlet Energy Mix includes lots of examples of positive hopeful actions. And the examples aren’t all from far away places like Denmark — some of them are from right here in Canada, even in Ontario.
If you ever need a dose of hope, the For Our Grandchildren website (4RG.CA) is kept up to date with hopeful news stories.
Solutions are real
My next reason for hope is the biggest. The world is nearing the point where renewable energy is less expensive than burning fossil fuels. In some corners, we are already there.
What this means is that we can ask individuals to make changes that are good for their own pocket book, that will save them money, and that are also good for their health and for the environment. People and politicians acting in their own self-interest are now motivated to do the right thing for the world.
For example, you can buy an electric vehicle that will save you money over its total useful lifetime. School buses are available that will not only save money over their lifetime, but also avoid exposing our children to hours of breathing diesel fumes every day. City buses are available that have similar benefits. All these cost more up front, but they have total savings over their lifetimes, as well as benefits to the environment and health.
Another example is air source heat pumps that run on electricity. Many homes can install an ASHP that will cost more initially than a gas furnace, but that will save homeowners money over the total lifetime of operating it. You can replace your gas stove with an electric induction one and, while you might not necessarily save money on it, your family won’t be incurring the health damages caused by burning methane in your home.
Since 2018, students have graduated from Peterborough’s Youth Leadership in Sustainability program, which allows high school students to learn the facts and to get experience engaging in ways that are needed to change the world.
A couple of years ago, they painted a parachute that was part of a presentation on Parliament Hill demanding the Canadian Government take action. Last year, they presented at the COP15 Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. Our young citizens are not going to let us fail. It’s up to us to take hope from their passion and to stand with them.
Is it too late?
Climate scientists have been talking about a time when we will cross tipping points where reinforcing feedbacks will make further change unstoppable. Recent climate models show that when we reduce emissions to near zero, the climate system will stabilize within 3 to 5 years. It’s not the physics of climate change that is baked in, it’s the politics and economics. And these can change because they’re up to us!
This week’s IPCC report combines the urgency of the climate crisis with the message that humanity has all the knowledge and tools it needs to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deliver the financing to help affected regions, countries, and communities respond.
When I was talking to the YLS class in December, I told them that it is too late to get back to the world I knew when I was a boy, but it’s not too late to make a difference, to make the changes needed to have a livable world. But we’ve got to push the people who can make the change.
I believe that by sharing our hope and acting together, we can find the will — and the energy! — to shift our economy from fossil fuel dependence to an economy and society worthy of our grandchildren and the generations to follow.
As the days get longer and spring begins for us, my hope for you is that you will join me in taking heart … and taking action! I’m offering copies of “Saving Us,” a recent book by Katharine Hayhoe, to the first three people who email me at firstname.lastname@example.org in the hope that it will inspire you to take whatever actions feel right to you.
Guy Hanchet, president of For Our Grandchildren, is filling in for Drew Monkman this week. For 13 years he has been a passionate advocate for action to limit the damage of the climate crisis.
Climate crisis update
Hopeful News: It’s Not Too Late: There is mounting evidence showing that the alarming news about climate feedback loops and climate tipping points that is causing us to fear that it’s too late to act is not accurate. In fact, recent models show that once we stop emitting greenhouse gasses and destroying ecosystems, the climate will stabilize within 3 to 5 years. Read the complete story at: https://tinyurl.com/ycdshvsc
Carbon Dioxide: CO2 levels in the atmosphere continue to hover above 420 PPM. For the week ending March 18, they reached 420.10, up by 23 from 397.16 ten years earlier. The 2015 Paris agreement to keep temperature rise below 1.5C is equivalent to about 450 PPM. You can find CO2 levels on any date in the last thousand years at: https://tinyurl.com/4scv5aky
Local Action: Many Climate champions say that talking to others is the best thing that you can do to combat climate change. Last Monday’s 4RG Meet gave some ideas about how to engage with people. View the recording and the slide deck at: https://tinyurl.com/y9sys89z.