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Earth Day a reminder to take heed of ecological warnings

Where Woolwich Healthy Communities would normally be hosting in-person community clean-up events to mark Earth Week, such activities have been on hold due to the pandemic. Still, the group is asking people to celebrate the occasion by giving their neighbourhoods a makeover by spending 20 minutes, perhaps joined by friends and family, picking up litter.

There are, of course, numerous ways to mark Earth Day, which falls on April 22. Even something as simple as being mindful of the environment and your impact on it can be helpful.

Picking up trash and being more careful with what we throw away – the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra at the individual level – are simple steps anyone can take. We can also easily see the results of our efforts, especially when it comes to brightening up our surroundings, a much-needed improvement over the mess left behind as winter recedes – the early part of the week was a reminder of that.

Still, when it comes to the environment, climate change remains the most top-of-mind issue. That’s a tougher row to hoe, and one where individual action provides no visible change.

Those advocating measures to mitigate climate change today paint a pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later picture: either we spend time and money combating rising global temperatures, or we spend what’s likely to be a whole lot more down the road dealing with more severe weather-related disasters and applying technological fixes, if we come up with any.

While we’re cautioned against extrapolating today’s weather with climate issues, it’s easy to see the recent spate of hurricanes and the resultant toll, human and financial, as a harbinger of things to come.

The World Health Organization, for instance, estimates that 12.6 million people die globally due to pollution, extreme weather and climate-related disease. Climate change between 2030 and 2050 is expected to cause 250,000 additional global deaths.

In that light, it’s not difficult to see why the messaging is of impending doom should global temperatures reach two degrees above the pre-industrial average, a course that may be irreversible at this point. We’re on a pace for that somewhere around mid-century.

The apocalyptic view suggests we might be on the road to our own demise in relatively short order due to floods, famine and disease that follow in the wake of a climate tipping point.

There’s some irony in models that show widespread epidemics – perhaps the result of rising temperatures allowing tropical diseases and pests into new, unprepared areas – as one possible undoing of humanity.

Flooding, soaring temperatures and forest fires abound. We tend to take such stories in isolation, however, failing to connect the dots to form a (big) picture of trouble on a planetary scale. Well, even more than failing, we’re determined not to connect to those dots. And those content with the status quo – largely those profiting thereby – have absolutely no interest in drawing the perils to our attention.

The disregard for the consequences of the changes – consciously ignored in order to focus on unsustainable consumption – is problematic whether or not you believe what man does is having any impact on the climate. Extreme weather, flooding, landslides and forest fires will wreak havoc nonetheless. The same principle applies to all forms of pollution, loss of fresh water, habitat destruction, degradation of arable land and a host of other someday-catastrophic ills that we’d rather not dwell on just now.

The fact is, however, that we’d be well advised to take steps to combat climate change, and ramp up the precautionary measures in those places likely to be hardest hit – rising water levels, droughts and violent weather seem like certitudes, so some planning would be in order.

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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