Monday, October 10, 2005


Thanksgiving is a time for gentle reflection and appreciation; a time to give thanks for the bounty of the Earth and to acknowledge our great fortune to live in this country of seemingly endless resources. For my family, this has traditionally meant celebrating with a Thanksgiving feast of vegetables from our own garden – broccoli, potatoes, squash, carrots, corn, onions, beets, swiss chard and tomatoes.

This year, our dinner will be largely courtesy of the local farmers' market. Living in the country means being dependent on a well for our water. The long hot summer (which continues as I write) has meant restricting our water use to the bare necessities such as cooking and personal hygiene. Watering our garden, when it needed it the most, was out of the question. The result is that only a few straggly tomato plants survived long enough to produce any fruit.

What would have been a life-threatening disaster for our ancestors is only a mild inconvenience for us because we still have limitless food resources. The farmers' market provides a wide assortment of locally grown fruits and vegetables. And if our tastes go beyond seasonal produce, we can always visit the local supermarket and bring home a global bounty of exotic tastes: starfruit and kiwi from New Zealand, Chinese pears and pummelos from the Far East and bananas and plantain from the Caribbean.

All of these delicacies may cost a little more this year, because of increasing gas and oil prices, but they are still well within the budget of the average Canadian. And therein lies the problem.

What happened with our family garden this summer is a microscopic taste of things to come. Unfortunately, we have yet to make the connection between what kinds of cars we drive and how often we drive them, and the changing world around us, despite the mounting evidence.

Already this year we have seen the disastrous impacts of climate change: the heartbreaking damage of Hurricane Katrina and shear magnitude of her cousin, Rita, are just a few examples. What happens when future storms wipe out the citrus groves of Florida, or forest fires destroy vast tracks of fruit trees in Canada's Okanogan Valley? What happens when the waters used to irrigate the cash crop fields of California and Mexico dry up?

Back before the turn of the century Ismail Sergeldin, vice president of the World Bank, made a chilling prediction, when he stated,

"The wars of the next century will be about water." At the time, most took Mr. Sergeldin's comments to be about water scarcity, but as recent events have clearly indicated, they can also be about too much water, too fast.

Last week we received yet another caution about the impact of climate change. Scientists attending the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Arctic Division Science Conference in Anchorage heard alarming reports about how climate change is threatening species at a rate unparalleled since the last ice age, which ended some 10,000 years ago, while erosion is whittling away at coastlines and destroying communities.

But that's thousands of miles away, just like effects of Hurricane Katrina, just like the brush fires and mud slides in California, just like the tsunami in Sri Lanka. It can't happen here. Right?

This weekend, as we sit down to our Thanksgiving meal, I will give thanks not only for our food, but also for the farmers who battle increasingly difficult odds to produce it. I will also give thanks for the home that we live in, and the grace that has allowed it to survive almost 180 years. I will say a prayer for those less fortunate; those who have already been displaced by the effects of climate change, lives lost, homes destroyed. I will also pray that our eyes be opened to the dangers that we create for ourselves, and for the wisdom and the courage to actually do something about it.


For more on the AAAS conference, visit The University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

The Alaska Climate Research Center provides up to date information about the changing climate trends in the state.

The BBC has posted a collection of before and after pictures that demonstrate how climate change has already impacted our environment. Search for "Changed Earth."


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