When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in June 1914, no one thought, "Uh-oh, World War I is starting..." We only recognize the significance of events in the context of history. I recently had a day like any other except it made me wonder if we're on the verge of historical change.
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On March 2, 2016, I woke to CBC's Early Edition and heard program host Rick Cluff interviewing Canada's Minster of the Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna. She was explaining her infant government's intention to meet the emissions targets set in Paris in December. That was followed by an interview with Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, talking about his organization embracing the need to address climate change with a proposal to create a million "climate jobs" over the next five years. It all struck me as amazing after a decade when little attention was paid to climate change at the federal level.
I hopped out of bed with excitement. Walking to the bus stop, I was hailed by my neighbour, the eminent architect Bing Thom, who invited me to squeeze into his Mini Minor. As we drove downtown, he was anxious to talk about the energy future and how it related to his job designing places to live and work. "We have to be bold, because climate change is so urgent," he repeated several times.
As he let me off at the Fairmont Waterfront hotel, I wondered if I was still asleep and dreaming. I then noticed a number of identical bicycles at the hotel entrance. When I asked a manager whether they're for rent, he replied, "They're for our hotel customers on a first-come, first-served basis." I asked whether they were used much. "All the time. People love them," he answered. He then asked if I had seen the rooftop garden. "We have five beehives up there that produce 500 pounds of honey a year," he boasted.
I was at the hotel to join Yussuff for a news conference about the CLC's plan, called "One Million Climate Jobs: A Challenge for Canada."
As Yussuff and I chatted before the event, I asked how he had come to take climate change so seriously. "I have a seven-year-old daughter, and my greatest concern is the world we are leaving her," he said, "Climate change is going to have a profound effect on her life." I responded that, as a grandfather, I shared his concern. We agreed that the problem for politicians is that they think in terms of election cycles, which demand that whatever they do will pay off before they return to the polls.
At the news conference, I thanked and congratulated the CLC for the forward-thinking idea that the challenge of climate change presents an opportunity. British Columbians, I said, are at the frontlines of climate change. We've seen billions of dollars of pine trees destroyed by mountain pine beetles that are no longer suppressed by cold winters, massive fires that have caused enormous economic loss, a drought in the heart of the coastal rainforest, shellfish killed by ocean acidification and changes in growing seasons.
By embracing scientific information about the warming planet and committing to avoid a catastrophic temperature increase this century, we create a huge opportunity that groups like the CLC propose we exploit.
The reporters wanted to know what specific proposals we had to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I pointed out the important hurdle was to commit to reduce emissions, because until we start, we won't know what opportunities will arise. I reminded them that in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy said the U.S. would get American astronauts safely to the moon and back in a decade, no one knew how they were going to do it.
Amazingly, not only did they achieve the goal before the decade was over, there were hundreds of totally unanticipated spinoffs, including laptops, cellphones, GPS, ear thermometers and space blankets. I am absolutely certain the same will happen when we commit to avoiding chaotic climate change.
This day wasn't much different than the day before or the next one, but it made me feel that a revolution is already underway.