For our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!
The snow arrived early on March 4, 1966, entombing the Manitoba capital. Thousands of Winnipeggers were stranded downtown, forced to sleep at City Hall and on department store floors. Police officers in buffalo-fur coats delivered a baby; snowmobiles were the only mode of transport; two people died.Today, we would call this an “extreme weather event.” Today, we would look to a warming world as the cause for the blizzard of ’66, though neither “global warming” nor “climate change” entered our vocabulary until 1975, at which point This Magazine was an outspoken adolescent. By then the Winnipeg blizzard was a memory, though it hinted at a nervous new norm of unstable environments beyond human control.
We’ve had our eco-triumphs. Canada was instrumental in helping pass the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The only universally ratified treaty in United Nations history, the agreement was designed to stem ozone depletion above the Antarctic, effectively banning the chlorofluorocarbons responsible and putting the Earth’s wounded stratospheric shield on track to recover fully by 2050. In the decades since, Ontario has moved to curb urban sprawl and its staggering environmental and economic costs. This year, more beaches than ever will fly the Blue Flag, signifying the water is safe for swimming and boating. We could go on.
Yet, the cavalcade of environmental challenges still facing Canada dwarfs these victories. Invasive species threaten ecosystems countrywide. Populations of bees and other pollinators have plummeted from overuse of insecticides. Industrial mercury contamination near Ontario’s Grassy Narrows First Nation is as old as This and yet remains unremediated—a testament to the government’s willingness to ignore clean-up recommendations first made in the 1980s.
While some environmental challenges before us have straightforward remedies, most are part of a complex web of natural, economic, and social forces. Untangling them is daunting. Canada possesses 19 nuclear reactors, most of them in the country’s most populous province—but where will we store our nuclear waste? And how will we decommission reactors when they eventually come offline? We’ve never done this before. Few have. In the wake of 2013’s rail tragedy at Lac Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people perished in the name of transporting crude oil across North America, how will we store and move energy from where it’s generated to where it’s needed? As Canadian provinces embark on ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions, how best to encourage the lifestyle and industrial changes needed to meet our targets? These aren’t simple questions, and the thorny answers we come up with will no doubt be debated in the pages of This Magazine’s 100th anniversary issue.
Yet it’s the spectre of climate change and its unknown impacts that hang over all other environmental issues. But in our effort to see the forest we can’t forget the trees. None of the environmental crises outlined above are either/or propositions; our greatest test now and in future is facing all these challenges at once, knowing few can be put off in the short term and none indefinitely. We must demand better from our leaders and ourselves in the 50 years to come.
Andrew Reeves is the environmental columnist for This, a contributing editor at Alternatives Journal, and a Toronto-based freelance nature writer.