October 21, 2018

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Line has been drawn on climate change

Opinion

It’s the season of giving thanks.

Regardless of what culture you come from, and how you do it, most of us give thanks when we sit down for our meal and someone – in my family’s case, my dad – describes what we are thankful for.

My father gave the same thanks he gives every year: for the earth, water, food, and our children. This year, however, he took extra time, giving thanks for the life of Mary Madeline Yellowback, sending best wishes to her family, and a promise to work harder to ensure sisters and aunties like her are safer. (Yellowback's body was found Sept. 28, at a Winnipeg waste-management depot.)

Related: Friends, family gather to pay respects at vigil

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It’s the season of giving thanks.

Regardless of what culture you come from, and how you do it, most of us give thanks when we sit down for our meal and someone – in my family’s case, my dad – describes what we are thankful for.

My father gave the same thanks he gives every year: for the earth, water, food, and our children. This year, however, he took extra time, giving thanks for the life of Mary Madeline Yellowback, sending best wishes to her family, and a promise to work harder to ensure sisters and aunties like her are safer. (Yellowback's body was found Sept. 28, at a Winnipeg waste-management depot.)

Indigenous peoples don’t have a patent on giving thanks, but we spend a lot of time doing it. Attend any ceremony or feast and what’s often called the "opening prayer" is actually a list of thanks and pledges to honour the gifts one receives.

This takes time, and is more then a gesture. Indigenous peoples rarely say thanks; instead, we make a promise: to give in return.

For example, the Anishinaabe word considered to mean "thank you" is miigwech. The word comes from the verb miigwe, meaning "to give."

Miigwech is a promise.

An iceberg melts in Kulusuk Bay, eastern Greenland. Increased warming due to climate change could lead to oceans going anoxic — having very low oxygen content — which would have disastrous effects for creatures that need oxygen, as well as for the Earth's atmosphere. (John McConnico / The Associated Press files)

An iceberg melts in Kulusuk Bay, eastern Greenland. Increased warming due to climate change could lead to oceans going anoxic — having very low oxygen content — which would have disastrous effects for creatures that need oxygen, as well as for the Earth's atmosphere. (John McConnico / The Associated Press files)

So, as the world gave thanks this weekend, the United Nations released one of the most dire reports ever published on climate change. The study, by the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), calls for "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society," after studying more than 6,000 findings by more than 100 scientists across 40 countries.

It concludes the world is close to a tipping point, with a 1 C rise in average global temperature since the industrial age the cause of modern extreme weather, rising sea levels, and drastic changes to the environment.

All it takes is a rise in another half-degree and humanity is facing unprecedented catastrophe, the end of coral reefs, devastating flooding, and massive human migration. At the world’s current rate of environmental degradation, this will happen by 2030 – unless efforts are taken.

Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming.

Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming.

By the end of the century, the IPCC declares, the world will hit a 3 C increase and an endgame.

The cause: humans. We created the problem and are suffering now due to it.

"The report strongly concludes that climate change is already affecting people, ecosystems and livelihoods all around the world," Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg writes, and "it is beyond reasonable doubt that humans are responsible."

Climate change by the numbers

Click to Expand

1 C: Increase in average global ground temperature in 2016, compared to the mid 19th century

0.2 C: Average increase in average global ground temperature each decade currently

1.5 C: The maximum increase in global temperature the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world should aim for to prevent catastrophic, irreversible impacts like flooding, famines, droughts and hurricanes

2 C: The long term goal of the Paris climate change accord for global warming

3 C - 4 C: Amount the UN says the Arctic has warmed up compared to pre-industrial times

4.5 tonnes: Amount of emissions coming from the tailpipe of an average passenger car over the course of a year

704 million tonnes: Amount of total emissions coming from Canada in 2016, the latest year for which the numbers are available

512.4 million tonnes: Current target for Canada's emissions by 2030, equivalent to 70 per cent of what Canada's emissions were in 2005

385 million tonnes: Target the UN suggests Canada should aim for to keep the world from warming beyond 1.5 C

45 per cent: Portion of Canada's emissions that came from the energy sector in 2016

20 per cent: Portion of Canada's emissions that come from road transportation in 2016

-The Canadian Press

The solutions are well-documented, but include reducing energy use, focusing on renewable resources and – most importantly – reducing virtually half of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere by industries and individuals.

Some of this can be done through technology but, for the most part, humans have to change the way we live.

"Limiting warming to 1.5 C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics," says Prof. Jim Skea of the IPCC, "but doing so would require unprecedented changes."

The line has been drawn. It’s now up to us to see it.

Approximately 97 per cent of the world’s scientists argue climate change is real. Climate change deniers have to perform somersaults in reasoning, cherry-pick facts to create conspiracy theories, and argue perspectives tantamount to a flat Earth to make their points.

With terms such as "fake news," facts get obscured. But, look around: glacial disappearances, warming oceans, and extreme weather is increasing.

Naysayers point the finger at high-emitter polluter nations, saying: "Why do we have to change if they don’t?"

This is a hard one to respond to. Ethics, or doing the right thing, always is. Living by the morals of cheaters, liars, and exploiters is to give up on honesty, generosity and justice – things worth living for.

Governments often rely on financial arguments to undermine climate change policies.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, when rejecting the federal government’s carbon tax policy last week, said it’s better to "keep money in the pockets of Manitobans."

The impending climate change will be much more expensive then a few cents at the gas station, though. The IPCC estimates the costs from warming will be US$54 trillion if the world warms by 1.5 C, and US$69 trillion if temperatures reach an extra 2 C.

The issue is how to convince the world spending billions now on technological innovation and changing lifestyles will save trillions in the future.

This can only come from education. Climate change deniers and governments can deny immediate action when people don’t understand what "carbon tax" and "cap-and-trade" policy are. Convincing people what to think is easy when politicians turn a fact-based issue into a dislike for a prime minister.

The Paris Agreement – signed by almost 200 countries to find their own solutions by 2020 to keep the global average temperature increase to 1.5 C – is not a political "agenda."

It’s a solution and, at the moment, one of the only solutions the world’s got.

An exhaustive survey of the world's most southerly polar bears has found a steep drop in their numbers. Scientists fear this could be the start of years of climate change finally taking its toll on a population whose health has been declining for a long time. (Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press files)

An exhaustive survey of the world's most southerly polar bears has found a steep drop in their numbers. Scientists fear this could be the start of years of climate change finally taking its toll on a population whose health has been declining for a long time. (Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press files)

So, get up to speed. I can’t blame you if you don’t want to read the 700-page IPCC report, but there is a summary... and Youtube videos, podcasts, and news pieces.

Read. Talk. Then, act.

That’s how we combat ignorance. That’s how we thank the Earth.

That’s how we say miigwech.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

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