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Canada in 2050? Future's so bright . . . you know the rest Add to ...

This being Canada, of course, there's still the ever-present debate about whether we're just draining ourselves of a precious raw material when we'd be much better off turning our water into boxes of mesclun salad greens for value-added export to the Whole Foods of the world - what high-minded types like to refer to as "virtual water." In the end, this being a keep-it-real Canada you'd still recognize, we take the easy way out.

Costs, benefits

But here I am talking wine and food when many of you are still stuck on the life-and-death questions of 2010. If we're just talking benefits, which is our official mandate at the Utopia Institute, then it's clear that the rate of cold-induced winter deaths went down as Canada got warmer - fewer pneumonia-induced deaths, fewer homeless people freezing, car fatalities probably fewer (though increased rain and ice and flood patterns complicate the stats somewhat), much lower use of road salt (which may not be a life-or-death issue to you, but it is to the plants and animals). And while talking about depression is discouraged in 2050, it seems obvious that most people would be happier and more life-affirmed as Canadian winters grew shorter and warmer.

Fortunately, the corresponding hot-weather spike in death caused by climate change isn't high enough to nullify the gains - we can still afford air conditioning in a relentlessly prosperous country like ours, we've learned to cool our overheated cities with plantings and water features and white-coloured roads, disease and disaster are no worse than what they've been over the previous centuries of Canada's history. And admittedly, we've developed a bit of a laissez-faire attitude toward the more beleaguered parts of the world, because they need what we've got: water, food, jobs galore in the oil sands, which are now 10 times larger than in your time. For which, like the great industrialists of the Victorian age who saw prosperity in their belching smokestacks, we make no apology. Business is its own kind of benevolence, in the end.

It's just not in our human interest to sit there and let bad things happen. Like the salmon that kept migrating north as its habitat disappeared, we recognized the need to adjust our lives. Mobilizing the political will to change, that proved to be more difficult. Generally speaking, people were willing to spend their money once they realized their assets were being devalued, which is why we saw much of Charlottetown and the Fraser Delta being shored up against the climate-change floods. But rural PEI and Nova Scotia, not so much.

If there were going to be losses, as there were, then, damn it, we were going to look for gains. The potential for hydroelectric power generation decreased in the south, as water-runoff volume decreased. But it rose in the north. If heat stress bothers chickens and cattle, then you improve shading, introduce air-conditioning and sprinkling systems - and make the consumer pay for such acts of humanity. Warmer winters increased pest populations, but that was manageable. Meanwhile, fragile, high-income fruit trees and grapes thrived as the killer cold subsided. Freshwater trout suffered as their water warmed, it's true. But lake sturgeon flourished, and it was easier to do without smoked trout when you found some good Ontario caviar on the menu - until, of course, it was snapped up by the French and American merchants whose traditional Russian and Iranian sources were decimated by this very same climate change.

The winner within

Caviar - do I sound callous? But you have to be in this business sometimes: Climate change forces decisions, upsets the established order, makes you choose between losers and winners. We may have become a less sensitive people, it's true, somewhere between 2010 and 2050. Am I a sellout, by your safe and exalted standards? Yeah, maybe. But believe me, I'm the one who kept it real. It's you, with your prophecies of gloom, with your denial of prosperity, who is living in the fantasy world. There are no votes in despair, no profits in pessimism. The future, sad to report, turns out to be happy-faced. And remember what they say, or what they will say once you start coming to terms with your good luck: The 21st century belongs to Canada.

John Allemang is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. 

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