"Canada is a project," reminds former Canadian Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson.
“Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have now entered upon a period of danger… The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences…We cannot avoid this period; we are in it now.” – Winston Churchill, House of Commons, November 1936
Last year, the Ontario Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, Glen Murray, stated:
“Our grandparents had to send their kids off to die in Dieppe and the beaches of Normandy to save a generation,” Murray said. “To save our planet, we’re being asked to ride our bicycles, to drive an electric vehicle, to accept money from government.”
He continued, “We need the leadership of a Roosevelt. We need the leadership of a Churchill. This is the time to raise things above petty politics and to unite and challenge risks and threats we have never challenged before.”
In response, Progressive Conservative house leader Jim Wilson demanded Murray apologize for repeatedly comparing climate change to the sacrifice of veterans during the Second World War.
The sacrifices required by today’s generations to protect our species’ future do not compare with what was asked of our grandparents and great-grandparents. As the son of a Second World War veteran, I can state with clear conscience that if my father’s generation, the so-called “Greatest Generation,” was called upon to make the sacrifices needed to save our species from the worst impacts of climate change, there would have been no hesitation.
Throughout our national history, Canadians have not flinched when called upon to do their duty and to make sacrifices for the greater good.
In early April this year, Canadians commemorated the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War. Vimy Ridge was a 10-day hellish fight in mud and mire that was the world’s introduction to the dedication and strength of Canada’s military, and what many historians claim as the moment when “Canada came of age.” More than 3,500 Canadians died in this battle with more than another 7,000 wounded. Overall, Canada’s First World War casualty list included more than 60,000 killed and another 172,000 wounded.
Within a generation of the war that was meant to “end all wars,” the world was again awash in death and destruction, this time perpetuated by the evil ideology of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Reich. From the first tentative battles in 1939 and 1940 through to victory in May 1945 attained by yet more sacrifice, the Second World War cost the lives of more than 40,000 Canadians, with another 55,000 wounded.
Since our inception as a country in 1867, Canada has suffered at least 117,000 fatal casualties caused by wars and in peace-keeping duties. Most recently, Canada has lost 159 military personnel in our efforts to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, a conflict that started soon after 9/11 and continues to this day.
Canadians are no stranger to sacrifice.
“World War Three is well and truly underway. And we are losing.” - Bill McKibben
In August 2016, renowned environmentalist, Bill McKibben, published an article in the New Republic arguing that “we’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in the Second World War.”
(We're) facing a threat far greater than anything we’ve ever experienced: an “enemy” with few weaknesses and a whole planet of accomplices."
In his article, McKibben weaves science, history and sociology together to make the powerful point that climate change is the Third World War:
For years, our leaders chose to ignore the warnings of our best scientists and top military strategists. Global warming, they told us, was beginning a stealth campaign that would lay waste to vast stretches of the planet, uprooting and killing millions of innocent civilians. But instead of paying heed and taking obvious precautions, we chose to strengthen the enemy with our endless combustion; a billion explosions of a billion pistons inside a billion cylinders have fueled a global threat as lethal as the mushroom-shaped nuclear explosions we long feared. Carbon and methane now represent the deadliest enemy of all time, the first force fully capable of harrying, scattering, and impoverishing our entire civilization.
As someone who has studied history and military science, I truly respect McKibben for stating the oh-so-obvious: our species (and just about every other species on the planet) is facing a threat far greater than anything we’ve ever experienced: an “enemy” with few weaknesses and a whole planet of accomplices.
Immeasurable sacrifice is often required simply to come to Canada. Immigrants and newcomers, past and present, all seeking a better future, must leave behind home countries while braving uncertain journeys and to-be-written futures. Many arrive here as highly skilled workers – and then spend their first years in Canada toiling at blue-collar jobs while they settle families and upgrade qualifications. In the case of First Nations peoples, the first ones living on this land, they suffered immensely in order for Canada to be established at all, and their suffering continues.
Personally, my family is made of immigrant settlers. My entire Canadian “clan” is descended from four brave sisters who emigrated from Scotland in the 1950s. They abandoned friends, families and traditions to pursue better opportunities for themselves and their descendants. From those four women there is a veritable forest of Canadians growing; now in its fourth generation of Canadian citizenship. Us descendants (and settlers) are all humbled and grateful, and we recognize those early sacrifices made (and the suffering caused) so we can live.
Whether your Canadian heritage is a story from the 1880s, or is of a more recent vintage, the concept of “sacrifice” is one of our more enduring (and endearing) self-identifiers. So why is it so contentious to ask Canadians to make sacrifices to protect the environment for the future?
Yes, there will be big changes. For example, as a society we’ll need to invest in future-focused energy infrastructure, low-energy desalinization plants (to compensate for declining freshwater reserves) and adapt our architecture to the reality of rising ocean levels. We’ll all need to replace our fossil-fuel powered vehicles with electric ones. On a global scale, we’ll need to find ways to build global protocols and share global best-practices to address challenges that threaten all humans.
Yes, big changes. But compared with sangfroid necessary to face a bayonet charge or the “keep-a-stiff-upper-lip” ethos of Londoners during the blitz bombing, the types of sacrifices that our generation is being asked to make are small and decidedly less lethal. Yet, just as imperative.
Currently, our world is on track for a four degree celsius global temperature increase. In this unfortunate scenario, Canada will be one of the only countries in the world able to produce food. If this happens, Canadians will need to figure out how to accommodate more citizens, especially people from those places that will soon become uninhabitable. We’ll need to protect our priceless freshwater at a time of melting ice-caps and rivers running dry.
We’re already experiencing the initial impacts of climate change, and the future could be full of massive climate-change-induced upheaval including millions of climate refuges, droughts, flooding, famines and extreme weather to name a few. Now is the time to think about how Canada will prepare to take a leading role in the battle against climate catastrophe.
Canada’s incredible natural inheritance was the first thing my father, also an immigrant, appreciated about this country when he landed here in the 1950s. He’d find any excuse to take us into the woods, commune with nature and swim in the creeks. Many Canadians take the land where we live for granted, but a clean, hospitable environment is no longer guaranteed for us or our children. Canada is built on the sacrifices of the past. Today, Canadians are once again required to rise to the challenge, make sacrifices to adapt to changing conditions and prepare to make the best of a bad climate situation. The threat is here and it is real.
Now is the time for all Canadians to summon the spirits of our ancestors, take active steps to lower our carbon footprint, and create a country to proud of. In fact, it’s necessary if we are to celebrate our 200th “birthday” in 2067.
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