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Six North Atlantic right whales found dead in St. Lawrence

Over the course of June, six North Atlantic right whales were found dead and floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a substantial loss for a species that is already on the endangered species list.

There are only 500 North Atlantic right whales in the wild, and with six dead so suddenly without apparent cause, it accounts for one per cent of the species wiped out in less than a month. If this was compared to humans, it would mean that over 75 million people would be wiped out. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Marine Animal Response Society, the Canadian Coast Guard, and other groups are working together to figure out how to get the whales ashore to find out what is happening to the species.

The whales were found in the area between New Brunswick’s Miscou Island, Quebec’s Magdalen Islands and Northern P.E.I. They are currently floating a considerable way from shore and the weather has been too severe to try to get the whales onto land to begin a necropsy, a forensic examination that would discover what happened. There is only a limited time to complete the assessment and the whales are already decomposing. It is paramount that marine biologists decipher what is going on with the species to develop a plan and prevent more of the endangered whales from dying unexpectedly.

There are many threats to whales that habituate close to port such as being struck by ships, contracting toxic infections, water contaminants, high levels of noise, and global warming. The North Atlantic right whales also feed on zooplankton, which are lowering in population due to the effects of climate change.  There are many reasons that the whales could be dying off so suddenly, and it is integral to the survival of the species to find out why. Hopefully, there is a chance of survival for this rare and beautiful species, one of many marine animals living under threat in the ocean today.

Nature’s roar: the crisis of climate refugees

The reality of climate change refugees once seemed like a distant threat that plagued small villages in far-away places, but with the recent wild fires that forced 80,000 people to flee Fort McMurray, the dangers of climate change have arrived at our front doors.

Climate change is having a variety of effects on the planet, including floods, wild fires, droughts and extreme storms. It has become a forefront topic of discussion because of the dangers this environmental phenomenon poses for civilization. Quite literally, nature is at war with us. Though discussion surrounding the reasons and potential effects of climate change are increasingly relevant, more of an emphasis is necessary surrounding climate refugees.

A climate refugee,  as defined by the Global Governance Project 2012, is an “environmental migrant forced to move due to sudden or gradual alterations in the natural environment related to at least one of three impacts of climate change; sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and drought and water scarcity.” The impacts of climate change are causing refugees in the present, and it will only get worse if current temperatures continue to rise. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, 1.3 billion people will be at risk because of climate change related disasters.

In 2015 and 2016 alone, there were 19 million people displaced due to climate change. There was a severe migrant crisis in Syria influenced by war and drought, an earthquake in Nepal followed by an avalanche at Mt. Everest, drought in Ethiopia, floods in South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Mozambique, and a heat wave in Southern India. Wild fires plagued the west last summer and earlier in May 2016, forced the entire city of Fort McMurray to evacuate.

Many climate refugees try to remain in their own country, and in the case of the residents of Fort McMurray, Canada has enough resources to help its displaced people. In other countries though, climate-induced disasters can be catastrophic because there is a lack of assets available to help distressed populations. Arguably, the Syrian crisis is the most prevalent example to date of the fate that awaits climate refugees. When a country is plagued with drought, a lack of resources, and an unaccommodating government, it is a recipe for war. The mass migration of Syrians to safer northern countries represents the beginning of a series of massive moves from southern regions to colder, northern climates.

report on the extreme temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa was released in April 2016 that shows how the projected two-degree rise as a result of climate change by 2050 may actually be higher in the Middle East. With the current increase in temperature in the region, which includes 29 countries, the average summer temperature may rise to 50 degrees by 2050 and will become unliveable. If this occurs, people will be forced to move to other regions in the world, and compete for water and food resources. A strain on natural resources and the global economy will most likely follow.

We need to change. All of us are responsible to our planet, and we are looking at a global shift so extreme it may lead to our own extinction. Even as an environmentalist, I am at fault as well. Seeing various Facebook posts, tweets, and articles pop up that blame the oil industry for the fires in Fort McMurray, it isn’t justified. We all use the products that these natural companies produce whether or not we want to admit it. Making the world miners vs. environmentalists, west vs. east, and rich vs. poor is not going to help curb climate change. The blame game is a waste of time.

Instead, we need legislation to protect climate refugees. We need mandatory, international rights that ban countries from building fences to keep people out, and prevent people from being forced to walk from border to border with nowhere to go. On a global level, climate contracts like the  2015 Paris Agreement needs to address migrants as a central concern, instead of simply assigning a task force to the “discuss the issue”.  Most importantly, we need to drop the us vs. them philosophy and unite together the way Canadians recently did in the Fort McMurray crisis.

On another level, we need to change our focus on resource consumption. Food, water, and natural resources need to be considered as valuable assets that should be shared by all, rather than limitless consumer goods that are solely at the disposable of the rich. If mass climate-caused immigration is imminent, we need to prepare and provide everyone with their equal share. Renewable resources need to be taken seriously, and not just used as dinner table talk for saavy environmental science majors.

Looking at the fire destroying a city in my home province of Alberta, it becomes clear. Nature is angry and she’s fighting back. As people, we are so consumed with arguing between each other that we can’t even hear nature’s roar. The question then becomes: when do we shut up and listen?

Are we ready?

By Kirk LaPointe

The newspapers have asked readers that question regularly for months. Since the last Boxing Day tsunami, since FEMA’s fumbling on Katrina, since the feeble response to the Pakistan earthquake and since the seemingly ceaseless warnings of the pandemic or the swift and surreal avian flu, we have wondered if we’re prepared. The media has given people tips on assembling disaster kits and provided them with the best possible advice on how to endure the first few days without electricity, running water, evacuation routes or a civil society to shoulder the burden of rescuing and keeping the peace.

But there is one issue that isn’t discussed. It is the notion that our physical readiness is much less of a challenge than our emotional willingness.

When you see people elbowing each other for Halloween candy in the supermarket, or jumping the Starbucks queue, or practically tackling the rival bidders for the latest downtown condominium showcase, there’s reason to doubt our capacity to set aside enough thought to deal with the strain and perhaps permanent adjustment of our values to handle the aftermath of a major natural disaster.

I’ve watched and read admiringly of the Southeast Asians who have rebuilt, with much help from abroad. But I didn’t see the same common purpose in New Orleans. And, with only a whiff of threat, it was astonishing to watch the selfishness as Hurricane Rita approached shore.

It might be too much of a bromide to restate how conditioned we are to look after ourselves first and foremost, how we’ve established material comfort as a first principle in our lives, how we’ve forgotten our neighbours and limited our involvement in community. There’s a relevant promotional ad for a Comedy Network television series taped in Vancouver, Robson Arms, in which the lead actor says he doesn’t know his neighbours — after all, he’s only been in the building for two years. If it weren’t so true, it would be funnier.

I don’t think the social terrain is firm enough to deal with the shaky ground we’re standing on. I’m not sure our leaders would lead us, or that we would follow. I’m not sure our systems would serve us, or that we would wait to be served.

In other words, I doubt we’re ready.

I look at how school children are learning so few life skills to work together in a jam. I don’t know of an office that takes its fire drills seriously, and I can’t imagine the desks rattling and the floor cracking and anything other than pandemonium ensuing

Where we are is where we can’t be, and at the risk of sounding like one of those apocalyptic fogies I’ve always decried as seriously in need of shedding their tin-foil hats, I think the time is coming where we won’t be able to run away from the serious threats risking our health and safety. I’m thinking about the cyclical, seemingly inevitable influenza that appears nearly upon us. I’m thinking about the weird and unmanageable avian flu that jumps to the human race, the freakish health disaster for which we will scramble to subdue. I’m thinking about the Big One that turns my townhouse into a detached dwelling. I’m thinking about the broken glass everywhere underfoot, the tainted water in the pipes, the natural gas lines whistling in our district, the loss of the Internet, the destruction of people who might lead us in our disarray, the worrisome situation every time night falls and the nastiest among us see the opportunity for advantage. This is what happens in middle age, I suppose.

But I think it deserves the attention that we gave deficit reduction, or the blood scandal, or the infernal sponsorship debacle. Anything less leaves us to our own devices.

Now, unlike the character in Robson Arms, I happen to know my neighbours and I have great faith we’ll pull together. Do you know yours? Do you have that same confidence? Do you see what I mean?

First published in Nov 2005 in Women’s Post Magazine