January 16, 2013

Time to get hopping mad on climate change

As published in The Erin Advocate

Don't try this at home, but if you were of a mind to boil live frogs in an open pot, the secret is supposedly to increase the temperature slowly. The frogs would adjust to the new "normal" environment, not suspect imminent danger, and die.

Now if the frogs in the pot realized they were causing the boiling, they might get hopping mad and demand relief. If they were part of a democracy, maybe they could figure out a way to turn the heat down.

And maybe the whole frog metaphor has its limitations, especially since real frogs hop out of heated pots, and we do not have the option of hopping out of ours. But it still makes for a good film title to kick off Erin's fourth annual Fast Forward Environmental Film Festival.

It starts tonight (Wednesday) at the Legion hall, 7 pm, with the documentary How to Boil a Frog, by Canadian Jon Cooksley. He uses zany visual effects to teach about "overshoot" – too many people, using up too much of the planet, way too fast.

"Global warming isn't the problem, it's a symptom of a much bigger problem," he says. "This is called overshoot. It turns out that you can go past what nature can give you, the same way you can keep buying things you can't afford."

The trailer says the film is a "change the world by learning how screwed we are and what we can do create a sustainable future while peeing you pants laughing so hard kind of a movie." Check the website, www.howtoboilafrog.com.

The evening is sponsored by Transition Erin and Harmony Acres, and will include the usual mix of environmental news, healthy snacks and information displays, which go well with the sub-title of the movie: "make friends / make fun / make trouble".

It is part of a movement that does not pretend we can simply do away with our industrial, consumption-driven economy. It is possible, however, to build a culture that recognizes the need to live more conservatively, and to encourage the growth and diversity of our natural environment.

These environment conversations often come back to the importance of trees, those organisms that actually sustain our atmosphere by capturing carbon and pumping out oxygen. At a recent stewardship conference hosted by Credit Valley Conservation, I saw a presentation by Azadeh Chobak of the group Trees Ontario (www.treesontario.ca).

"We need to create natural playgrounds," she said. "If there is high quality greenspace available, people are more encouraged to go out there and get their physical activity. Physical activity itself has been linked with positive impacts on physical and mental health. It also reduces the risk and severity of heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis."

She said even a view of trees has been shown to reduce the amount of medications needed in hospitals. Greenspace has also been linked to lower heart rates and blood pressure, with improved rehabilitation and recovery rates for hospital patients, and less severe symptoms in attention deficit disorders.

She said a minimum of 30% forest cover is needed for a healthy, sustainable ecosystem (Wellington County has about 17% now, and growing). Lack of sufficient forest is impacting our resistance to climate change, she said.

"With forestry, it is a huge infrastructure and we really need to invest in that. It's not just about planting the trees. It's to collect the right seeds, to have the nurseries, to be able to develop those seedlings and educate our foresters.

"It's about education and culture change at the individual and societal level. We really need to educate the younger generation. They need to be aware that our health is impacted by the health of our natural environment – it's a two-way relationship."

Bill Kilburn of the Royal Botanical Gardens also spoke at the conference. He manages the Back to Nature Network (www.back2nature.ca), a consortium of groups funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

He said that kids are suffering from "nature deficit disorder" and that they are immersed in technology even before they are born.

"They learn that the essence of being human is using technology," he said. "What is the cause of this disconnection between ourselves and nature? I think it can be encompassed in decreased access to natural spaces."

He said convenient natural areas are becoming fewer, people have less time to go to them, they often cost money, and parents are afraid to let kids go there unsupervised.
The Network's mandate says a connection to the natural world is fundamental to all aspects of child development and is essential for a sustainable society:

"Research shows that when we foster a child’s connection with nature, the child flourishes: child obesity decreases, bullying rates decrease, child injury rates decrease, while academic achievement rises, physical activity rates increase, attention spans improve, physical and cultural barriers melt away and environmental stewards of the future emerge."