by Victoria Foote
I read a provocative article last September in the weekly Grist, an online offshoot of the environmental magazine of the same name. The author, Mike Tidwell, opens with the declaration that energy-efficient light bulbs and hybrid cars are in fact hurting efforts at the government level to fight global warming.
It is a counterintuitive claim at first blush, yet Tidwell makes a compelling argument, saying that every time consumers are presented with a “10 things you can do to save the world” list – which usually includes purchasing a green product (light bulbs, hybrid cars) – big oil companies breathe a sigh of relief. The problem of climate change, argues Tidwell, is far too big to be left largely to voluntary consumer actions. Instead, laws should be passed whereby energy-efficient light bulbs are the only kind of bulb you can buy, and likewise with hybrid cars. Rescuing the planet from climatic catastrophe requires much more than hoping people will do the right thing. The “10 things you can do” list is not nearly as important as a “10 things the state can do” list aimed at saving the earth.
But I wouldn’t discount individual responsibility and personal consumption patterns altogether. If we don’t incorporate some environmentally friendly ways into our lives, we’re unlikely to demand that our governments do so. Ontario Nature pays close attention to the role of the individual and the importance of good public policy. Forest management is always a topic of concern here, partly because we recognize that trees act as carbon sinks and thus play a critical role in combating climate change.
In this issue, Cecily Ross writes about her much-loved woodlot (“What the woods taught me”) and how she discovered the best strategies for caring for her trees. “Gone, perhaps forever,” writes Ross, “are the white pines that in the early 1800s reached heights of 75 metres and diameters of about two metres.” At the time of European settlement, more than 90 percent of southern Ontario was forested. By the mid-1980s, original woodlands in southern Ontario covered less than 6 percent of the area, almost all disturbed.
Proper forest management has never been more urgent, even in a province like Ontario that, overall, seems to contain so much forest. Trees are one more essential tool – both for the individual and with respect to good policy – in our collective fight against global warming.
For his feature, “A road runs through it”, writer and photographer Conor Mihell paid a visit to the logging road that runs parallel to his favourite wilderness canoe route in Lake Superior Provincial Park. “There was a real loss of innocence associated with writing this story,” says Mihell, who has been paddling through the park since he was a teenager. “After exploring Sand River Road, the park didn’t seem quite so wild.” Like other environmentalists, Mihell worries that Ontario’s new Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act does not truly protect the province’s wilderness. “I’m not convinced that a similar thing couldn’t happen again,” says Mihell, “but the new act is a step in the right direction.” Mihell’s articles have appeared in Canadian Geographic, explore and the Toronto Star.
Julee Boan, Ontario Nature’s First Nations outreach coordinator, lives in Thunder Bay with her partner, Julian, and their pint-sized “tree-hugger,” Simon Sweetwater. Boan finds her job challenging yet also rewarding. “The more I learn, the less I know,” she says. “The issues facing northern environments and northern peoples are extremely complex.” Boan writes that ecotourism has great potential in the far north (“Travel light”) – and there is no shortage of adventures. While on one ecotour near Hudson Bay, Boan’s sleep was interrupted by a black bear that stuck its head into her tent in the middle of the night. “After hours of sloshing through thick muskeg, the most energetic reaction I could muster was a sleepy ‘Maurice, can you get the bear out of here?’” Luckily, Maurice, her guide from Peawanuk First Nation, took the situation a little more seriously.