Was there ever a better opportunity to talk about how climate change can impact us urban residents of North America rather than now?
The densely populated cities of the Atlantic coast of North Americahave been preparing for Hurricane Irene. As someone who just decided that this was the perfect weekend to visit New York City, I find myself helping my brother and NYC resident tape up his windows, search for flashlights and candles, and fill the bathtub with water. We are checking the hurricane watch and evacuation advisories to see if it is necessary that we peace out of the city.
For someone who is typically living in Toronto, an urban setting which hasn’t faced a hurricane since I have lived there, this rapid response to extreme weather events is new. But, I don’t want to act like ALL people in North America are void of dealing with the impacts of climate change. I want to recognize the reality of communities in the Arctic, where unpredictable cracks in the ice can cost people their lives; farmers are faced with unpredictable weather, resulting in poor growing seasons; and we can never forget all the communities (mostly communities of colour and low-income communities) that live merely a few kilometers from logging sites, coal-fired power plants, fracking sites, tar sands projects, and mountain-top removal sites.
But this blog post isn’t for all of y’all. I am writing to those who have chosen not to take action on climate change because they think it does not directly impact them. I write to many of the other Torontonians, New Yorkers, or others who can talk about climate change as if it is something that impacts others.
Climate action advocates often face the difficulty of dealing on somewhat of an invisible issue, in that carbon emitted in the atmosphere is rendered invisible to cause floods and storms in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and small island nation states kilometres away. Floods and monsoons, pfft…I don’t have to deal with that (And sometimes it is pfft…I dont have to deal with that…yet)! The challenge then becomes compelling people to act on issues of climate change because they are acting in solidarity, which may be difficult given the pervasive aura of NIMBY-ism.
But as I bring in some of the chairs off my brother’s balcony to make sure they don’t go blowing off into Manhattan’s Greenwich village, I turn to him and ask: “So, if only our cities were more bike friendly, eh?” (I figure I can ease them into the How about we stop Big Oil, Big Coal, and all the other extractive industries, like logging and mining, from wreaking havoc on the earth-conversation).
I wonder if an abnormally hot and humid summer, followed by a hurricane which has prompted the first planned closure of the NYC subway system, can be a bit of a kick in the shins to climate action activists and our audience to say “If we want to mitigate these extreme weather events from impacting communities, including our own, we need to do something about it.”
Now is an opportunity to appeal to the masses who will only take action if it impacts them directly.
And what better time to be taking action than at a time when there is already so much going on? As I type, hundreds of people are taking part in the Tar Sands Action, willing to face arrest if that is what is needed to tell Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline which would facilitate tar sands expansion; and several individuals with Wild Idaho Rising Tide blocked an Exxon/Imperial Oil “megaload” shipment heading for the Alberta Tar Sands. Folks in Canadaare getting ready for a similar action to the Tar Sands Action, taking place in Ottawa on September 26th.
We can still continue to take those individual actions that reduce our carbon footprint, but we need collective action to reduce the large amounts of carbon that is being pumped into the atmosphere on a larger scale than my taking a cab across town. The amount of carbon emitted by deforesting acres of forest to create oil extraction sites, or by blasting into mountains to burn dirty coal would undo any of the individual actions we try to take.
Political organizing is absolutely necessary to stop these projects and to influence decision makers that these environmentally destructive operations cannot take place unregulated. The consequences of these are being felt and people are willing to take action to protect their own communities and those who are most impacted. Individually we may be ignored, together we can make some noise.
If predatory extractive industries and their crony politicians go unchallenged, then they continue contributing to the greenhouse we are trying to mitigate. Some of us may have the opportunity to live off the grid, create zero-waste, and sustain ourselves on our own gardens; but that may not stop some of the most destructive industries from colonizing the atmosphere. It is for that reason, we must couple our individual efforts with those of our allies to do what we can to protect our environment and our communities.