Polar bear, schmolar bear

While I was doing my undergrad at McGill, I was part of a group that visited high schools to give guest lectures about different environmental subjects. I had some of the best, and worst experiences with the young ‘uns, but I am, of course, going to talk about THE worst one.

My partner and I were standing in front of a West Island high school class that just wasn’t into us. They were the noisy bunch – the more difficult children in the school, grade eight if I remember correctly. We were grasping desperately at anything to get them interested in our presentation on climate change. Polar bears; the poster child of climate change were an obvious pick. Who doesn’t like polar bears?

While we were trying, and failing, to capture their imagination, one girl in the back of the classroom who was filing her nails, raised her hand. “Um, polar bears have nothing to do with me, so why should I care?” Her rhetorical question sticks to me to me this day, despite the fact that we were hollering in disgust once we were off school grounds. Still, why should we care?

The answer is obvious to anyone with an idea of how truthfully dismal the state of the planet is in. I’m sure the people who live in Nunavut are feeling it most of all this year. A lack of sea ice is causing what the CBC calls a ‘double whammy‘ with (1) temperatures an average of 10 degrees  Celsius  higher than average for this time of year. Parts of the frozen north are, well, not frozen, and rain has taken the place of snow, making 2010 the warmest year on record.

Because there is less arctic sea ice, a (2) feedback cycle has begun to take place that is actually warming other parts of the globe. This messes with the thermohaline ocean cycle.

It basically works like this: Colder water is thicker, heavier and more salty, so it drops down and flows beneath a counter-current of lighter, warmer water. This simplified picture gives you the idea. If the (2) second “whammy” takes full effect, the whole oceanic current system will change. This will change, um, everything.

Wet and balmy  Britain, the arid Saharan, South American tropics, and jolly Australia will get different weather. Rain patterns will change, locally adapted crops will fail, there will be utter chaos and so on.

Let me set one thing straight before we move on – change isn’t bad. The planet’s climate changes continually. That’s what it has done since the beginning, and that’s what it will do long after we’re gone. The problem, and I stress this, is the rate at which these changes are taking place.

So why should you care?

When things change in the environment, in order for a system to remain adaptable and intact, it needs time to lean into what’s happening. Trees and forests have a method of succession that lets them pump oxygen back into the atmosphere, but it needs to do it at its own pace. Likewise, if the polar bears had the fair amount of time that it took them to adapt to the arctic in the first place to re-adapt to a warming world, then there would be no use to bring them up to a bunch of high school kids who don’t care in the first place. The problem is that we’re rushing it, and the pace of nature is much slower than us.

You should care because everything you eat and wear will become too expensive. Imagine those living on a small income already. And the recession? We ‘aint seen nothing yet.

Yes, doom and gloom is abounding, and Harper killed Canada’s climate bill. Are you wiling to pay for the future that our higher government so obviously doesn’t care for?

Write to your local politicians to tell them how you feel, and feel free to share this post with people you know don’t care. Yet.

Even though they can’t speak English, I’m sure the polar bears will appreciate it.

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