Climate catastrophe has a deadline

Eugenia Ochoa (bottom left), the community engagement specialist at the Ontario Council for International Cooperation, speaking to students from around the world during Durham College's Global Class on Oct. 7, 2019. Photo credit: Melanie Lennon

Ginny Colling’s journalism students were always aware of her passion for the environment. Prior to her retirement, they gifted her a cut-out of her face adhered to a photo of a climate activist.

“I was doomed,” Colling said with a grin while presenting to a group of journalism students at the college in September.

She spent 29 years as a journalism and public relations professor at Durham College. After almost three decades, Colling, who is now 67, retired from teaching and dedicated her time to fighting environmental issues.

Now she works as a volunteer climate leader with the Climate Reality Leadership Corp.

Colling is just one of many activists bringing awareness to climate change around the world.

One of the most popular events happening right now to combat the climate crisis is Fridays for Future (FFF). The movement was founded by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg in 2018, and takes place every Friday at various locations across the globe.

FFF is a protest predominately made up of students demanding action from leaders to prevent further climate change.

Thunberg is a young Swedish environmental activist whose actions have created change and raised international recognition.

So far, there have been as many as 85 cities across Canada involved in the protests.

At the most recent United Nations Climate Action Summit, Thunberg said, “This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.”

According to the UN, there are only 10 years left to prevent irreversible climate crisis. People like Colling, Thunberg and the thousands of other protestors around the world are doing all they can to encourage change on a higher level.

Yet, there’s still a lot happening in people’s everyday lives that counteracts the efforts made by protesters. Something as routine as driving to work or school is significantly adding to the problem.

In Canada, the country’s overall emission rates rank at number nine on the list of the world’s top emitters, according to the World Resources Institute.

“Out of almost two hundred countries on the planet…we’re consistently in the top ten,” Colling said during her presentation at DC. “If a top ten emitter says, ‘Why should we bother doing much?’…Are we all just going to throw up our hands and say, ‘Let it burn, baby burn?’ No.”

Canada is also home to vehicles with the highest average fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.

Across the globe, 110 million tons of manmade pollution is put into the atmosphere every day. The leading cause is the burning of fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, fossil fuels still provide more than 80 per cent of the world’s energy.

Although these things are worsening climate change, there are people working to limit further alterations.

The Central Lake Ontario Conservation (CLOCA), located in Oshawa, Ont., is yet another example of people raising awareness around climate change.

The community-based environmental organization, made up of 45 employees, is committed to protecting and maintaining the health of watersheds in the area.

The province of Ontario created CLOCA in 1958. It is one of the five conservation authorities in the region.

Chris Jones, the director of planning and regulation at the conservation, said they’ve been doing all they can to contribute to change throughout the region. Initiatives include science-based watershed management programs and services in partnership with various levels of government.

However, a 2018 online poll by Abacus Data shows 30 per cent of Canadians don’t believe in climate change and, even with thousands of people protesting global warming, Jones said, “We don’t like to be told things that conflict with our vision.”

A portion of that number is made up of politicians and big corporations – the ones who have the power to make a change.

In a recent interview with Global News, Matto Mildenberger, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, discussed the impact of climate denial in politics.

“When you have political leaders who are promoting climate skepticism…that’s going to trickle down and become part of the public’s perspective,” Mildenberger said.

According to Jones, Doug Ford, premier of Ontario, is contributing to this problem.

A recent report by Environmental Defence shows Ford’s government has done very little to complete their pledge to cut carbon emissions in the province.

Jones also mentioned Ford’s role in CLOCA’s decreasing budget.

Ontario’s conservation authorities experienced drastic cuts throughout the past few decades. However, the largest, most harmful budget cut came this spring after Ford’s government reduced funds by 50 per cent.

This has proven to be destructive for more than just CLOCA.

Meantime, financial institutions are now losing money because of the increase in severe weather incidents, such as the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) which lost $1.9 billion in insured damage in 2018.

Retired teacher and climate activist, Colling pointed out the increase in military support as natural disasters escalate. The army is ready to be deployed in Australia as more than 100 fires rage throughout the eastern side of the country, according to Colling.

With all of this in mind, members of CLOCA and Colling expressed their concern around the lack of support in the areas which need it most.

“We can’t eat money,” said Eugenia Ochoa, the community engagement specialist at the Ontario Council for International Cooperation, during DC’s Global Class about the UN’s 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) on Oct. 7, 2019.

There are average people all around the world working hard to educate others about climate change, just like Colling, Jones, Thunberg and Ochoa.

However, with only 10 years left to prevent an irreversible climate crisis, Colling said we need to act fast.

“We have until about 2030 to reduce our emissions by about 45 per cent if we want to avert climate catastrophe,” Colling explained.

Ochoa is hopeful this can be accomplished by following the UN’s SDGs.

“If we dream we can do this…imagine where we’ll be,” she said. “The world will be, by far, a better place.”