The Tipping Point

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I awoke this morning from a dream that I was standing in a gas chamber in Auschwitz, waiting for the gas to be turned on.  My throat was clenched and I was wondering which breath was to be my last.  I was beyond anger and sadness, held in a still point of waiting.  As I ascended into waking consciousness the first thought I had was about yesterday’s decision by Prime Minister Trudeau that a pipeline will be built and Canada will expand an economy based on burning oil.  When I told my wife about the dream she asked me what I needed to say about it and suggested I write. 

It seems to me that the world is being broken, right now at this moment.  I think about the hundreds of millions of small decisions that have brought us to this point in the history of the earth.  I think about what single decision may be the tipping point that firmly puts us on a road to accelerating unstoppable climate change.  Is this decision about an oil pipeline the killing straw?

Earlier this month the CBC ran a story about the Canadian Auditor General’s report on greenhouse gas emissions.  Canada is some 205 megatons off target and showing no sign of improvement or action.  A week ago the CBC reported on a scientific paper that suggested very clearly that the goal of staying within a 2° rise in world temperature needs to be revised down to 1.5°.  Since the early 1990s the 2° goal has been thought to be the tipping point between what is a manageable change in world temperature versus what puts us on the slippery slope to feedback loops that plunge us into climate catastrophe.  We are already past the 1° point and so are now within 1/3° of what climate modellers predict to be an unstoppable progression to a new stable point of somewhere between an 8° and a 10° increase in average world temperature.  At such a temperature increase the world will look very different.  All ice will have melted and sea level will be some 65m above what it is today.  Every coastal city in the world will be gone.  More dramatic are the chemical changes in the oceans that will result in the release of Hydrogen sulfide gas, enough to turn the sky green and kill everything that draws breath. 

I grew up in the 1960’s when words like environment and ecology were just entering our vocabulary.  I remember how teachers and television told me that in the next century the air would be so polluted that we would have to live in domed cities, that this was exciting, and that we would have flying cars.  I suggest a more modern projection on the future of the world looks more like a desolate scorched earth as seen in the movie, The Matrix.

As a professional biologist – Landscape Ecologist I have lived my adult life trying to help create a world where humanity and nature live together in a balance of reverence and stewardship.  In every cell of my being I know this is possible.  Recently I have been in discussion with several people that are very fixed in the view that Canada and the world cannot afford to stop burning fossil fuel.  I do not know the cost in dollars to stop burning fossil fuels, but am sure it is very large.  The real question is about the cost if we do not stop in our tracks, right now, to tighten our belts and roll up our sleeves and work together to walk softly on this earth.

I have followed the scientific and cultural literature on climate change for many years.  In my view the biggest challenge with climate change is the time frame.  I live in a democracy where the majority people do not have either the luxury or the interest to think beyond their personal immediate needs.  The politicians we elect to make the big decisions live by four or five year political cycles and it seems too big a concept to consider that the choices made today will cause immense suffering two or more generations into the future.  I suggest that most people hold to an ill-conceived belief that science or God will somehow solve this. 

Last night’s dream shocked me to my core.  My first reaction ranged from despair to futility.  I feel sick that I am part of the generation that is choosing short term gain at such a future cost.  I spent much of the day asking myself about how to live and find hope and peace in a world with no future.  I remembered the Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas story about the little hummingbird fighting a forest fire one drop of water at a time.  I will embrace what seems futile and do what I can for this world.  I will write and I will talk.  I may stand in protest and be arrested.  I will attempt to live holding creation in a state of reverence, one decision at a time.


To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

(The 5th Mark of Mission of the Anglican Church of Canada)