Bringing it all home: how climate change is more local than we think
Like many young people, climate change has troubled me for years.
From the tarnished Australian landscapes to the drastic floods across North America, if there’s anything Canadian media suggests, it’s that the climate crisis is undeniable.
Like an overflowing tub, climate change has drained into the hearts, homes and habitats of billions worldwide.
Sometimes, without us noticing.
Knocking at the door
Indeed, the pressures of the global climate crisis are disheartening, but how affected do Canadians feel by it? According to Kimberly Rafuse, president of Connecting Environmental Professionals Toronto (CEP), it’s not always obvious. “Sometimes, people don’t feel it knocking at their door,” she said. The industrial risk consultant first became informed on local climate issues growing up near a contaminated river in Ottawa.
In 2020, nearly every major ecosystem is in decline and inequality is the highest it’s been since the 1920s. This can bring about a certain uneasiness towards the future, which has recently been coined as “eco-anxiety.” Though we often fail to recognize, climate change has an emotional effect.
Vancouver native George Benson shared the jarring truth on the climate crisis. “I think one of the most insidious impacts of climate change is what it does to our hearts,” he said.
Whether it be tidal decimation of a coastal village or an inland community choked out by intense heat, the plight of climate-stricken citizens, known as climate refugees, prevails.
A climate for refugees
In artist Ai Weiwei’s film,Human Flow, viewers are transported on an odyssey into the plight of human migration as a result of changing environmental and political flows. While the film offers insight mainly on African, European and Middle Eastern populations, cinematic messaging hints at an unpredictable future for Canadian-bound climate refugees.
Benson, a University of British Columbia graduate and co-founder of the Climate Migrants and Refugees Project, spent several years working in Bangladesh—one of the most endangered countries in the world.
His intel urges local governments to prepare for the worst.
“People are moving within Canada and around the world because of climate change,” Benson said. “We have ideas and projections of numbers, but the tangibility of what constitutes a climate migrant is very difficult to pinpoint at this time.”
As for Canadians, we aren’t out of the woods yet—or at all.
“In climate change, there is no us and them, it’s only us,” Benson said. “Whether it’s a direct way where you lose your home because of water rise, or life simply gets too expensive, there is no escaping it for anyone.”
When it comes to climate change, Canada will likely see it take effect in all forms.
In Atlantic regions, coastline erosion will lead to immense flooding. Across Quebec and southern Ontario, polarized weather extremes will bring heat waves in the summer and increased storms in winter. Meanwhile, Western Canada will likely see increased forest fire activity. At the same time, Northern Canada will suffer from permafrost melt and disappearing sea ice.
In a country so vast as Canada, climate change cannot be outrun.
A global problem needs local solutions
Stepping up the plate with refined environmental policies will be critical in amassing public action. But it doesn’t have to stop at a federal level. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Educational consultant, author, and speaker Chris Caldwell suggests climate change should be addressed from a “think global, act local” perspective. What does this look like, exactly? The former 2019 Green Party candidate for Etobicoke-Lakeshore suggests the key to achieving collective change is looking at local priorities to engage municipal governments. Through this, Caldwell suggests, we can invoke civic participatory action.
Benson also suggests the media’s supporting role. “[We need to] bring a climate change lens into any story that’s being told,” he said. “In the same lens that we have to have when we talk about race, gender, class and disability.”
Who goes first
“Change the system, not the climate” is a well-known slogan of choice for climate strikers worldwide, and for good reason. The artless expression speaks to the ever-present capitalist system that only amplifies the effects of climate change.
According to Brad Zarnett, president at Eco-Opportunity Consulting and Toronto-based contributor at Medium, civic desires for change are evident.
However, governments and businesses haven’t held up their end of the bargain.
“Climate change is a global program, and no company is designed to solve a global problem that doesn’t give them a return on investment,” he said. “Their business operates only when there’s a business opportunity to be had.”
With a tense pause, Zarnett expressed his troubling concern for the future. “The bottom line is, the pain is coming. Either we get leaders to help fund the transition, or we dive into a future that is unable to sustain billions of people on this planet,” he said. “The global issues are local issues.”
On the other side of the country, Benson shared a more hopeful outlook. “If we really approach climate change correctly, we can approach so many societal problems all at once.”
Amass with criticisms of my own, I’m hopeful for the future—but only if the rest of my generation steps up too.