Greta Thunberg is haunting me. Her voice rolls around in my head whenever I turn out the lights. I know I’m not doing enough about climate change. She’s entirely right. It’s not time to lean in or turn towards change. It’s time to panic. It’s time to take immediate action. Yet, here I am, living, by my own say-so, indulgently.
For decades, I’ve known that it’s the problem that will define us as a species. Sure, I’ve made moderate efforts to keep a small carbon footprint – relative to my culture and my privilege. But I’ve always known that it hasn’t been enough. Yet, here I sit, on the eve of a year afloat. A year of indulgence. A year away from the people with ears close enough for me to whisper in. A year away from salaries that pay taxes that may help shift the needle. Here I am, a man of resource, of moderate influence and, hopefully, a gift for storytelling, doing what? Turning his back on the problem?
At our yacht club, members are arriving with lumber and fortifying their docks with creations designed to give fenders something to rub against while the docks sink and disappear from view. This is the second time in three years that this has been necessary. It’s the third time in three decades. In other parts of Ontario and Quebec, floods that we were told we’d see once in one hundred years are also happening for the second time in three years.
In many ways, the Great Lakes seem isolated from the effects of climate change. In most places, the shores are steep, protecting homes from flooding. Being 74 meters above sea level, even the lowest of the lakes is completely immune to rising sea levels. But the Great Lakes are massively affected by temperature changes.
Traditionally, ice covered the lakes throughout the winter. The white ice reflected sunlight, enabling the lakes to cool throughout the winter. Nowadays, the lakes are often open throughout the winter. And the green/blue of the open water continues to absorb heat from sunlight all winter long. Each year, the waters are warmer than the previous. And since the lakes moderate weather, they moderate weather less so, leading to bigger storms and more dramatic squalls. Warmer waters also mean more algae. More algae means less oxygen for fish. Of course, warmer waters also mean less ice in the following winter. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a vicious cycle.
Intergalactically, in the fullness of time, we will either be known as the species of self-awareness and intelligence, or, we will be a heap of archaeological debris, a moderately interesting planetary wreck for galactic space divers to visit and make YouTube videos about. And everyday, we have less and less burning fuse left to cut. And everyday, we wake up and we don’t cut that fuse.
Of course, a year afloat on a sailboat will reduce our carbon footprint. But, if that was our intention, we could save another few hundred gallons of diesel by staying at the dock. We could pick the nearby port that offers the best walking and transit and plant ourselves there. But perhaps the CO produced by travelling to and from the Bahamas will be less than the CO we would release by trying to stay warm throughout Ontario’s cold winter? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. I’m not that selfless. I’m going regardless.
I suppose one thing we could do would be to provide some climate change context as we travel. We could track and post our CO emissions the way others have posted their monthly spending. Perhaps we could search for and tell environmental stories about the places we visit as we travel (though that sounds like work.) We could give up meat. That’s clearly a big part of the problem and an easy sacrifice to make.
I will have to figure out some way to add meaning to this trip, or live with the fact that I did not. And Greta will be watching me!