by Victoria Stirling
What legacy are we going to leave our descendants? Will human beings worldwide re-evaluate our actions, our politics, and our economics according to their effects on the whole network of life? Today the ethics of ecology are demanding to be recognized.
Sadly, where the ‘toe’ of this magnificent glacier once touched the highway, it has now retreated way up into the valley. And when one considers that this glacier supports four vital rivers - the Fraser, the Columbia, the Athabasca, and the North Saskatchewan - its well-being is of the utmost importance. This is especially true for the major settlements in the areas that these rivers help forge and sustain.
In his book Stormy Weather Guy Dauncy says, “Thanks to our fossil-fuel mania, we have a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere today than there has been at any time in the last 20 million years.” This has increased the temperature four degrees per century and the rate continues to rise. Whether we want to believe it or not, global warming is happening, and it is having a huge impact. Look at the last few years. There have been disastrous floods in Bangladesh killing thousands of people and making millions homeless. Extreme drought in parts of Europe and Australia has created chaos with forest fires. And in Canada, we have been experiencing unusually long hot summers with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, bringing arid conditions detrimental to many essential crops.I still recall the 1960s when the summers were enjoyable and going outside was pleasurable. Now we spend much of the summer hiding indoors with the air-conditioners on full belt. So what can we do to bring about changes before this situation becomes irreversible?
I believe each of us needs to regain the awareness that we are only one strand of the interwoven fabric of life on Earth. The naturalist, Loren Eiseley, likens humans “to the latest bloom on a great tree that stretches backward into the dim recess of pre-recorded time. The tree is the great stream of life itself and each creature is a leaf or branch on that tree.”
Sadly, in London Ontario we have chosen to ignore a 2009 report by 75 scientists on the condition of the Great Lakes. Their findings are disturbing – the Great Lakes are near ecological breakdown. According to 2009 municipal figures supplied to Ontario’s Environmental Ministry, over a billion galleons of sewage went into the Thames River which eventually end up in the Lakes. Yet we citizens of this city, who rely on this water source, still dump our sewage into the Thames.
In 2000, the community of Walkerton, Northern Ontario saw the tragic results of poor water quality. This community of 5000 citizens suffered from contaminated water from farm runoff containing E. coli and Campylobacter jejuni – a bacteria commonly found in the feces of poultry, cattle, and swine. The result was seven people died and 2300 suffered severe symptoms - including bloody diarrhoea. Of those 2300 inhabitants 36 percent have developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a chronic gastrointestinal condition.
In London Ontario the city council has a 20 year plan to correct some of our sewage dumping. However, because the newly elected mayor has promised “he wouldn’t raise any taxes this year” nothing will be done for a while. This is totally unacceptable and sadly not just a local problem. In Victoria British Columbia sewage is dumped untreated into the ocean despite environmentalists’ discussions to stop this deplorable act. In the USA, many promises of “no increase in taxes” has meant cutting back on programs, including those to help eradicate pollution problems.
When it comes to correcting polluted waters, rhetoric and platitudes are not good enough. Actions are needed. In order to live healthy lives, every one of us, including animals and birds, need clean water.
Marjorie Lamb, in her book 2 Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet, states, “Of all water on our planet earth, 97 percent is salt water. Only 3 percent is fresh water, and most of that is frozen, or was, in the polar ice caps. Less than 1 percent of earth’s water is available for our use.”
And that, I believe, most would agree is not a lot of water for the 7 billion inhabitants who call earth their home. It has even been predicted by some doom-and-gloom sages that in the future water will become more precious than oil. I prefer to believe the well-known environmentalist David Suzuki, who spoke more positively in a recent programme celebrating 50 years of the series The Nature of Things. “We all want a sustainable society. To get it we just have to change our mind set and we can do it.”
You and I can begin by doing something as simple as turning off the tap when cleaning our teeth. We can wet our toothbrush and use some water in a cup for rinsing. It has been estimated we each waste over 4000 galleons of water per year cleaning our teeth. This is way too much.
Another flagrant waste of water is in bathing. Abandon the bath tub, instead take a shower. My elderly husband and I have even cut these back to every other day, and sponge bathe in between. We have also made a habit of turning off the shower while we lather our hair and bodies – just turning it on to rinse off. This has a double benefit - less dry skin and a reduction in the amount of water use.
We have also reduced the water level in the toilet tank by filling a plastic yogurt container with water, sealing the lid with duct-tape, and placing it down into the space behind the flush handle. In North America we use approximately four and one-half to five galleons each flush - way too much!
These are small changes anyone can do. They take little effort, but still add up.
And yes, the ethics of ecology do come with a cost. There will be changes to our economies, but environmentalists strongly believe these will not be as huge as some are forecasting. Our lack of action could be more calamitous than anything we have already witnessed. If the earth becomes uninhabitable where will our descendants go? What legacy do we, you, and I, want to leave? So we need to ask ourselves, are we going to continue to be driven by personal and corporate greed and foul our planet? Or, do we have the capacity to recognize if we are to survive as a race we must respect and honour every form of life? We need to find the will to change, and we need to do it right now.
So, please join me by making a personal commitment on this Earth Day to reduce pollution and waste. United we can save our planet and leave a lasting legacy for our descendants.
About the Author
Victoria Stirling is a retired nurse, published freelance writer and the author of the book, From the Other Side of the Bed. She is also a lay-preacher for the United Church of Canada. Born in Newbury, England, Victoria immigrated to Canada in 1966 with her husband Harvey and their two children. She enjoys spending time with her grandson and lives in London, Ontario.