Our House is on Fire

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

These are changing times. The snow is melting, the geese are coming home, and we are trading our winter coats for sweaters and jackets. Meanwhile, the joy we feel with the coming of spring dampens with news about Ukraine, the bombings and the mass exodus.

The world is not in a crisis; we have many troubling crises, too many to focus on at one time. Just when Covid began to fade in our part of the world, governments have switched their attention to Ukraine. Ukraine needs our attention, aid, and support; so does the health of our planet. Russian oil power connects Ukraine with catastrophe. The dependency on Russian oil strangles Europe’s life and choices.

Like all the previous crises, issues such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, refugees from Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Syria, housing prices, water and food shortages, we can’t seem to focus on several things at once. We are overwhelmed with an unravelling world.

In an effort to cut Russia’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy needs, Europe is talking to Iran, Sauda Arabia, and Venezuela ( all dictatorships, some with existing sanctions) to decrease world markets for Russian hydrocarbons and replace Russian oil and gas with other sources. Alberta’s Jason Kenny is promoting the reopening of the Keystone Pipeline while all oil companies are looking at making record profits. Where is the discussion of reducing world dependence on oil? Can we as Canadians move quickly towards renewables?

As Eisenhower said, “If you continue to prioritize the urgent above the important, most of your essential tasks will ultimately end in the urgent and important quadrant, making your challenge even harder.”

It may seem that all the troubling events in the world are unrelated, but there are obvious connections. Often one event such as the war in Ukraine influences oil prices and food prices for wheat and bread. How many people will starve because Ukraine couldn’t plant crops? For our politicians, long-term problems, such as climate change, are their least favourite problems because they are focused on short-term problems that keep appearing out of nowhere. Soon we will be hearing about increases in defence spending to fulfil our NATO commitments. Do we cut something else out of the budget or raise taxes?

Most of us have a similar response to our politicians. We are easily overloaded by concerns about our local issues and forget about the big picture. Our news outlets bring up topics such as Covid, fires, droughts, floods, and Myanmar or Afghani refugees, only to drop these news stories as the new crisis takes over the airwaves. When was the last time you heard about the two million refugees from Myanmar burnt out of houses and homes?

We need help in focusing on the broader picture.

Imagine standing out in space looking down on Earth with Mother Nature.

Mother Nature would take a broader view. She might see climate change as a more significant threat than oil prices or even war. She might ask us why we as humans see ourselves as a species set apart from the world. Why do we honour greed and power over the planet’s survival? She might point out that climate change is linked to biodiversity loss related to energy use. She could probably go on and on making connections. She would tell us that everything is connected.

There are hard lessons we are learning about life. There is an incredible gap between the way things are and how things could be. Life is becoming a thing made of holes, losses, suffering and despair. It’s like spring breakup; somehow, we have to move through and between these gaps in the ice to get across the river. We’re losing any sense of being surefooted on the path to the future.

We need a variety of news sources to get a picture of what’s happening. America is divided because too many get all their information from one source. Russia now only has one government-friendly news source. Too many of us are misinformed.

We don’t know where the Ukrainian story is going to end. We are in the middle of the story. Happy endings don’t happen in the middle of stories. Ukraine’s story is one we can’t abandon when the next crisis appears on the horizon.

True heroes are the ones that act now when things have to happen. We can do our part by sending aid to Ukraine and helping settle refugees while we keep in view the broader picture. We need to deal with climate change while all the other crises continue. Climate change is the author of most of our problems.

As Greta Thunberg has already been saying for years: “the house is on fire.” And small buckets of water won’t be enough.

Oil has too much power in our world. Too many dictators have too much influence to care about others. Many of them use oil as a weapon. We have to act now to move to renewables for the planet’s sake. It will be a hard path with constant new diversions dragging us away. It will take heroes to move us away from our addiction to oil. I hope we will be one of them.

We are all connected. Seeing our connections is our hope for working together.

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash