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Climate change is real. Seems like a simple statement of fact, right? Well, unfortunately it's one that almost has to be used as a mantra to ensure it stays top of mind for world leaders.
I'm Angela Murphy, The Globe's Foreign Editor. But the international prominence of certain climate change-deniers (you know who I'm talking about) is not the reason I chose to write this newsletter about global warming. It was mostly inspired by my daughter, Bridget.
"Climate change is real" is the line Bridget often uses to start her presentations about her work at Western University, where she did her fourth-year thesis and now her masters in climate change and its impact on the boreal forest. Bridget's choice of studies came as a pleasant surprise to the whole family – I mean she was the one among us who least enjoyed camping under Algonquin's spruce and pines. But my little STEMinist (a term I borrowed from Hahna Alexander, a self-proclaimed STEMinist) took a trip to Costa Rica in high school and saw the impact of deforestation first-hand and well, the rest kind of writes itself. She started volunteering in the Way Lab at Western under the leadership of scientist Dr. Danielle Way, and then started studying black spruce and tamarack trees (a common species in Canada's boreal forest).
Climate change has become a pretty regular topic of conversation for us, and I have to admit it's unsettling when your kid says things like, "when we increased the temperature by 8 C in the lab all the tamarack trees died." While that seems like an incredible temperature increase, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that at or above current emission rates, global surface warming could increase between 2.0 C and 4.5 C respectively by the year 2100. But because northern latitudes are predicted to experience a larger temperature increase than the global average, the boreal forest could see temperatures 8 degrees higher by 2100. Not the kind of world I'd like to leave behind for future generations.
There is also growing evidence of an acceleration of severe weather events. The Globe's Tamsin McMahon recently addressed this issue while covering one of the most destructive forest fire seasons ever in California. Five of the worst forest fires in the state's history happened in the past 12 months.
This week, The Globe's science specialist Ivan Semeniuk also reported on disheartening research from the journal Science. The study found that coral reef "bleaching" events – which happen when the water temperature increases to a point that kills the coral – now occur every six years, as opposed to every 25-30 years like they did in the 1980s. The bleaching is so frequent that the reefs do not have sufficient time to recover, Julia Baum, a marine ecologist at the University of Victoria, told Semeniuk.
And then there was the message I received from reporter Stephanie Nolen, who spent two weeks this summer travelling with a photographer and a fixer through the Amazon to document deforestation and development (that story is coming soon, so watch for it!). She reported that the dust was so bad in parts of their journey that they could barely see past the hood of their vehicle. A dustbowl. In the Amazon.
Which takes us back to the topic of world leadership. According to Nolen and others, the Brazilian government is not enforcing its commitment to protect the rainforest from farming.
Meanwhile, not only did the Americans extricate themselves from the Paris Agreement, but climate change has become far from a priority for this White House. There seems to be some extreme short-sightedness on the looming geopolitical impact of changing climates – drought and famine, mass migration and other outcomes that trigger conflict. There is some good news, however. Several states and cities in the United States have reaffirmed their commitments to the Paris accord. And in a recent meeting with The Globe and Mail's editorial board, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland noted, unprompted, that climate change was among her top priorities, which also included NAFTA, multilateralism and North Korea.
And then there's Bridget. Her boreal forest study actually revealed that if seedlings were exposed to higher temperatures and CO2 levels early on, they appeared to have greater resistance to severe heat events later in their growth cycle.
That's why money needs to be spent to study climate change, Mr. Trump.
What else we're reading:
This is a great New Yorker story that shows the geopolitical impact of climate change. And I confess, I read this during my summer holidays: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben. Although I wasn't completely convinced by Wohlleben's thesis that trees are sentient beings, the book does provide an amazing look at the intricacies of the forest, and the interactions between species and "individual" trees. You are left with a sense of wonder, and in my case, some anxiety about what the future holds.
In her early years working as a full-time nurse at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, a colleague told Karen Ludzik that she was only "half a mother, and a half a nurse."
She was insulted. She worked the overnight shift so she could stay home, with her two kids Andrew and Ashley, during the day. She loved being a mother and loved being a nurse.
"You try to be 100 per cent on both sides," she says. "I wanted to prove them wrong."
Karen, now 55 years old, spent 35 years working in the respirology division of Wellesley Hospital and then St. Michael's, helping administer medication and IVs to young adults with cystic fibrosis. And late at night, when patients felt hopeless and lost, she was the go-to nurse for emotional support.
She spent her days playing with her children and seeing them off to school, before heading to work at 7 p.m. Then, their father would take them to extracurriculars like figure skating or hockey.
She tried her hardest to be around for the big moments, sometimes sleeping less or taking on extra shifts to juggle both parts of her life. She remembers how exhausting it was. People often asked her why she wasn't a stay-at-home mom, but she had a mortgage and bills to pay, and she wanted to set her kids up for success in the future. She and their father helped pay for both of their competitive hockey fees and later their university educations. But she also did it because she wanted to. "It was tough, but somehow you do it," she says. And her kids got used to it – her daughter Ashley was so accustomed to Karen's life that she thought all mothers worked the night shift. Karen also used the experience to show Ashley that she should never let gender stereotypes get in the way of her goal of becoming a vice-president of a marketing company.
When Karen retired in August 2017, she asked to stay on call for when the department needed help. She now works casually, picking up a shift or two a week.
"As a nurse, I knew I was never going to be a millionaire," she says. "But it didn't matter because as long as I found it interesting and I loved it – it challenges you, it makes you want to go to work – I think that's the most important thing."
– Shelby Blackley
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