Monday, January 16, 2012
Why North Americans Don't Get Climate Change
I was talking to a friend tonight about the studies and planning undertaken by the province and municipalities of the Lower Mainland of sea level rise projections. It's a complex issue comprising impacts such as salt water inundation of fresh groundwater stocks, the extension of brackish water zones in the Fraser and other rivers, land subsidence in low-lying coastal areas, dikes and dams, storm surges and flooding accompanied by an increase of severe storm events of greater intensity and frequency - on and on and on.
Study upon study upon study. Yet, for all the studies, all the expensively researched knowledge, there's very little to show for it. Being based on the chronically understated IPCC evaluations, the home grown stuff is truly "best case" scenario thinking. It's also disturbingly distant in focus, looking at where our successors will be in 2100 instead of what's coming in 2020, 2030, 2050 and what we need to be doing about that right now. It's a construct designed to simply kick the problems down the road.
That got me thinking about the approaches to global warming taken by the Brits, the Dutch and other coastal European states. They're engaged in practical, "hands on" planning and adaptation measures. Their approach almost suggests that we North Americans are in denial. We do lots of studies, tuck them away in neatly indexed drawers and that's where it ends.
I've long wondered why we seem to be sitting on our hands. The Americans, for example, are said to be facing a future wave of internally displaced citizens, something normally seen in war zones, forced by coastal inundations or sustained droughts to abandon those areas and to relocate elsewhere. In general terms it'll be people leaving the south and heading north. So why aren't the Americans doing anything about it?
I suspect what distinguishes our approach from the Europeans' is that we North Americans have no cultural or societal experience of this sort of upheaval. Reality, for us, is a more or less stable continuum of the status quo. The Euros, by contrast, are steeped in national catastrophes, usually at their own hands. To them this sort of potential cataclysm is very credible. To us, living in pampered societies that have never gone through that experience once, much less on the regular basis of our European cousins, the magnitude of the problem seems too much to accept, unbelievable. That sort of thing simply doesn't happen to us, thank you very much.
If we don't shake ourselves free of our cultural and societal stupor, others such as our children and grandchildren will pay for that very dearly in years to come.