It is proving more difficult than I had expected to pick one event worthy of the superlative “Biggest Story of 2011.” The May election brought many changes to the face of Parliament. Each party was historically transformed — to their joy or despair. The two parties that suffered the most, the Bloc and the Liberals, even saw their leaders losing their own seats, while Stephen Harper celebrated gaining a majority of the seats (with only 39% of the popular vote). The NDP was jubilant with its new found status as official opposition. And the Greens were rewarded with the long hoped for breakthrough. With my election as the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, the Greens, at last, had one elected MP.
As important as were these political events, I don’t think they qualify for Biggest Story of 2011. Arab spring is a closer contender since it has redrawn the political map of the Arab world. But I think, for me, the biggest story is the one that never gets told. 2011 was another year of record breaking extreme weather events, most of which are likely the result of human-induced climate change. Of course, the single most devastating event, the Japanese tsunami and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, were unrelated to climate change.
Nevertheless, the famine in North Africa, brought about by record-breaking drought; the astonishing, long-lasting flooding of Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam; and the evacuation of parts of Manhattan due to storm surges worsened by sea level rise, are some of the global events that fit the models of climate crisis impact.
For Canada, extreme weather events made 2011 the second most expensive year for the insurance industry. The prairie floods put more land underwater than ever in our history. And the flooding lasted from October 2010 until late July 2011. More devastating floods hit Quebec.
The wild fires brought on by extremely dry conditions destroyed one third of Slave Lake. Much of Canada was blanketed in record-breaking heat for much of the summer. Arctic sea ice hit a near record summer low.
There is more, but my biggest story of the year is the on-going refusal to connect the dots and describe climate change events for what they are. Not “Mother Nature” on a rampage; not some “wacky and wild curve ball.”
Climate change events, fitting the pattern of increased extreme events one would expect due to, what is in human experience, the all-time high greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.
So for political story — Canada filing legal notice of withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. For biggest story of 2011, the ongoing, accelerating losses due to the climate crisis and the fact of, unlike a suicide bomber in a troubled region where media are keen to find who “claims responsibility,” the amazing level of denial. These disasters are no longer “natural”–their causes are known and our government is charting a course to make them worse, year by year.
(As originally appearing in the Huffington Post.)