Canadian CO2 Emissions are Killing: Lessons from Sian Ka’an Biosphere

If you leave them alone, they won't care that you're there.

If you leave them alone, they won’t care that you’re there.

“Are you the Prime Mister of Canada?” “No….” “Well, it’s up to you to do something about this – here in Mexico we have no power – Canadian carbon emissions are killing these ecosystems!”

In Sian-Kaan, “Where the sky is born,” a wilderness sanctuary in Quintana Roo, Mexico (the sky, crystal blue/violet strewn with feathery clouds, really did look bigger there), it was fairly shocking to hear this from my tour guide (with his Masters of Ecological Science). Well, perhaps not so shocking , as here in beautiful British Columbia we are locked in multiple battles royale with government and industry to stop the madness of CO2 emissions expansion projects (The Northern Gateway Pipeline, Kinder-Morgan Pipeline, and Port Metro Vancouver Thermal Coal expansion, to name a few) which threaten our environment on multiple fronts. I suppose I wasn’t shocked at my guide’s allegation; I was ashamed. This is a very different feeling from the one I felt only a few years ago when I first started traveling and never encountered anything other than warmth as a Canadian. We, as a country, once thought be the pillars of green living and free speech, are now the world’s fourth worst climate change offender.

A recent study out of the Universite de Montreal found that between 73 and 43% of Canadians think Climate Change should be the government’s top international priority: above trade (lowest concern was garnered in Alberta, shockingly).

So here I was, in this exotic gorgeous forest, where I learned about the specific ecological contribution of the mangrove forests and how it is especially up to us, Canadians, to safeguard EVERYONE’s forests. We know our old growth forests clean the air, soak up CO2, and provide habits for animals integral to our tourism sector (not to mention national well-being). Similarly the Ecological Society of America proclaims that mangrove forests filter the water, protect human and aquatic communities from the dangers of flooding and extreme weather (basically filter the water while building a natural barricade), and provide a healthy environment for marine-based economies. These forests, despite making up less than 1% of local flora, also catch and sequester 50% of CO2 emitted by the planet (artfully named the LUNGS OF THE EARTH by Save the Riviera Maya website).

Much like the West Coast’s imperiled forests and marine ecosystems, the mangroves also provide habitat for endangered keystone species such as dolphins and majestic white turtles; in British Columbia the humpback whales that are just beginning to come back. Let us ask ourselves what we are prepared to do to these crucial habitats now; are we really going to run tankers of toxic fossil fuels through the homes of endanger Canadian wildlife just to burn it and create more CO2 to jeopardize species worldwide?

A review of scientific literature (whether or not our government chooses to acknowledge academic research as credible), shows that the climate change is killing the mangrove forests and pummeling the atmosphere with fugitive CO2 – on top of the CO2 from “oil” sands extraction and emissions worldwide (increasingly in environments where people cannot leave their houses due to devastating smog). A plethora of studies also state that climate change is contributing to world food shortages, the destruction of forests and plant life, and the displacement of thousands of people who cannot access drinking water. Basically, CO2 from Canada is impoverishing and sickening already poverty stricken people, when it’s not killing them with extreme weather.

Personally, I am horrified at the threats to Canada’s environment, particularly where I live in BC, but let’s face it, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT US – if all Canada thinks about is our economy, we will be killing people. As William Rees, UBC professor and outspoken environmentalist notes in “Climate Change Kills, So Charge Canada with Homicide”:

The Criminal Code (Section 219) [clearly states] that lack of intent to harm is no defense if the damage results from conscious acts performed in careless disregard for others: “Everyone is criminally negligent who (a) in doing anything, or (b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons” (where “duty” means a duty imposed by law). Indeed, “a person commits homicide when, directly or indirectly, by any means, he causes the death of a human being, by being negligent.”

Climate change disasters are already killing people. Atrocities get mentioned for a few days or weeks in the news before we forget about the victims, not to mention the destruction key ecological systems. A clear multitude of non-government literature clearly states that there are viable alternatives to reliance on, and expansion of, fossil fuel projects. (Alternatives which would actually create more jobs for Canadians per moneys invested). When will Canada have a real conversation about how to get away from our criminal fossil fuel reliance, before it’s too late?