Maclean’s Magazine asked me, “Is Winter an Apolitical Issue for Canadians?”

by Franke James

Thanks to climate change — which is not going away anytime soon — a story I created five years ago still has legs, and resulted in an interview with Maclean’s Magazine for their March 2012 cover story “The Year That Winter Died.”

Cathy Gulli, from Maclean’s Googled “winter Canada warming” and found my story about the green winter of 2006-2007. That was the winter that saw 1300 laid off in Collingwood during ski season, and the breaking news that the Arctic ice was melting much faster than scientists expected. I wrote the story because I was concerned that people weren’t aware of the looming threat posed by climate change and were complacent. So, in a visual essay and video, I posed the question “Will Global Warming Be Good for Canada?”

When Gulli called me we had a lively conversation about the impact of a warming climate on Canada and Canadian culture. Here’s an excerpt from Maclean’s:

For the last 65 years, temperatures have risen across the country, and all signs suggest this will continue. Winter is melting away from Canada. And it’s threatening to take our national identity with it. “We feel that we are heroes, that we are battling the snow. There’s a whole mythology that Canada is cold,” says Franke James, a Toronto-based author and artist whose work often includes themes relating to warming winters and what they signal about the way we live today, and what they might mean for our future. To her, “Canada without winter is a huge loss,” she says. “This is really going to shake our identity to the core.”

Is Winter an Apolitical Issue for Canadians?
About ten minutes into the 30 minute interview, Gulli said that she felt that winter (unlike other Canadian identity issues like ‘health care’ or ‘Canada as peacemakers’) was “apolitical”. And then asked me if I felt the same way…

Apolitical? I laughed and replied that I definitely see warmer winters as a political issue and gave this example, “It’s interesting how the Canadian Government is working so hard to tell Canadians not to be worried about global warming… but the fact is that they’re actually taking advantage of the melting Arctic through concern about Arctic sovereignty, and developing oil and gas reserves in the North.” (See Twitter replies to the ‘apolitical’ question in comments below. And leave yours.)

Climate is a Mainstream issue
I told Gulli that I hope this warm winter is a catalyst for change and people will wake up to the fact that we need to take action, in our personal lives and also by writing to tell the government we want them to take action on a carbon tax.

The apolitical question and my reply didn’t make it into the article, but I’m thrilled to see Maclean’s writing about our record warm winter because they reach a mainstream audience — and we need every Canadian to take action, not just so-called “radical” environmentalists. Concern about climate change needs to be talked about more in the media because it will impact all aspects of Canadian life.

Sadly, Prime Minister Harper’s policy change in 2007, “One Department, One Voice” has muzzled Environment Canada scientists. This has resulted in an extraordinary 80% drop in climate change coverage. No wonder more Canadians haven’t taken action! They are not getting the message that climate change is dangerous for Canada — and them individually. It is not just about warm winters where we get a nice break from shovelling snow. It is going to adversely affect Canadians in many ways. See the massive Health Canada report that was published in 2008 but then suppressed:

“The [Health Canada] report warns of forest fires, drought, and increased deaths from smog, heat and disease – a grim scenario against which the Conservative government is taking virtually no action. In fact, the Harper government’s principal reaction was to try to suppress the report, now available only by snail mail, with delivery in “two to four weeks.” [link]

co2 toaster bottom by Franke James

Dave Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada said in the Maclean’s article, “This has truly been the year that winter was cancelled.” Here in Toronto, we’ve had a record-breaking early spring. This month, temperatures rose to 25.5 degrees Celsius, setting a record for the warmest March 22 and coming close to setting the record for the warmest March day ever. Even the magnolia trees have been fooled into thinking it’s spring. The tulips and daffodils (which usually don’t bloom until May) are up. Friends and neighbours are joyful about the early spring, exclaiming, “Wow! Isn’t this amazing weather!”

And as much as I delight in this gloriously sunny, “time to put on my shorts” weather, it is eerie. I see it as a warning to all of us that the planet is warming. Just look at the rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. We are now at 393ppm — which is 43ppm higher than is safe (350ppm). We are zooming towards the danger zone of 450ppm with no signs of slowing down.

We need real leadership on climate change at all levels of government. I hold out the hope that if Canadians demanded action on climate change, the Harper Government would take action. If only because they would understand that it could be the source of their renewable power.

Maclean’s asked me, “Is Winter an Apolitical Issue for Canadians?” copyright 2012 Franke James

14 Responses: 4 Comments and 10 Tweets

  • Franke James says:

    I asked people on Twitter whether winter is an apolitical issue. Here are two great tweets in response:

  • Franke James says:

    I asked on Facebook, “Is Winter an Apolitical Issue for Canadians?”

    Erich Jacoby-Hawkins wrote,

    “When our national image, our brand to the world, what we sew on our backpacks and soldier’s uniforms, is a maple leaf turning glorious red at the approach of winter, how can anyone say that Canada’s winter is apolitical?”

    “When surveys show Canadians support changing our motto to “From Sea to Sea to Sea” to reflect the importance to our identity of our Arctic, imperiled as she is by (depending on your political slant), global warming or invasion by resource-hungry foreign interests, how can anyone say that Winter is apolitical to Canada?”

  • RMontpellier says:

    Erich – Belatedly on your comment, it’s evident that the Northern part of Canada will be subject to relentless economic development pressure – it has already started in fact. Of course Winter is very “politically charged” – it’s anything but apolitical.

  • Kathy says:

    I agree, we need real leadership on climate change at all levels of government not only in Canada, but in the US as well.

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