2013: Reflection and foresight

31st Jan 2014

By Sarah Marshall

As we look back on 2013, there are a lot of things to reflect on: Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency leaks, the Boston Marathon bombing, and even the notable deaths of Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, and Hugo Chavez. 2013 also held some records in terms of weather: Florida had its wettest summer, Greenland recorded its highest ever temperature in July at 80F, and Australia had to add another colour to the Bureau of Meteorology’s temperature map because of the extreme heat and ensuing bushfires. Let us not also forget the year’s natural disasters: Typhoon Haiyan, the floods in India and Mexico, and destructive tornadoes in the US state of Oklahoma.

Somehow, we are growing more and more accustomed to the “abnormal”; each year new climatic records are set and billions more spent on aid to devastated nations following extreme natural disasters. As quoted by Brad Plumer’s article in the Washington Post (April 2013), “According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the number of severe weather events that inflict at least $1 billion in damage (adjusted for inflation) has risen from an average of two per year in the 1980s to more than ten per year since 2010” in the US. Since the political conversations regarding climate change often come back to finances and how costly converting to renewables is, how many unforeseen billions must be spent cleaning up disasters before the cost-benefit analysis shows that gluttonous fossil fuel usage is not more cost effective than the incandescent sun and ever-powerful wind? That is not even taking into account the thousands who tragically lose their lives each year as a result of these disasters.

The climate is changing; there is no doubt about that (except for the unwarranted, non-scientific doubt expressed by sceptics), but our language surrounding the problem remains the same. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.” In 2014 we are just as sure to hear spirited speeches on social justice, and statements issued expressing condolences following a major natural disaster, as we heard in 2013, but talk and tears do not decrease carbon emissions.

Mother Nature roared in 2013: taking over six thousand Filipinos’ lives in Typhoon Haiyan; she roared again when the ground shook in Pakistan claiming over 800 casualties; and she roared yet again in Oklahoma with winds over 320 km/h taking 24 lives. Are our ears clogged and our consciences desensitized? For though we may come together to rebuild what was destroyed and assist our neighbours after the fact, we refuse to address the swollen roots of the problem of climate change, and we are quickly approaching the point of no return.

Earlier this month it was discovered that one of Antarctica’s largest glaciers, the Pine Island Glacier, is in “irreversible decline,” meaning that even if melt rates slowed, the glacier would continue to retreat. Antarctica may be a far away place few will ever see, but this melting glacier affects the rest of the world, for with each melting glacier, sea levels rise. Some of the most beautiful and renowned hubs of the world are in
coastal cities. What will happen to the well-established lifestyle of millions relying on the port for food and commodities? What will happen to the islands so many of us imagine vacationing to? We are at a point where we may even watch television shows documenting “preppers” who await various forms of impending doom. Surely, it is easier to brush off these radicals and chuckle at their investments, trivializing the fact that they take the state of the world seriously enough to prepare for massive change. Do we? Are we willing to make the tough decisions that do not reap immediate benefits for the sake of long term adaptability? That means becoming educated about and involved in the political structure that makes important energy choices, learning and using energy saving skills, and building community to collectively act in regards to a more sustainable world.

Let us hope that 2014 marks the year for release from fossil fuel dependency rather than the year of more irreversible damage imposed on the planet.

Sarah Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy



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