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
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
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.)