Sunday, October 22, 2006

Our Polar Impacts

The clearest and most disturbing evidence of our global environmental impact was, and is, seen at the planet's poles. In the past week, scientists found that Antarctica's ozone hole is currently the largest on record (now bigger in area than the North American continent) while at the opposite pole researchers announced disturbing new data on the speed of Greenland's melting.

In the 1990s the world successfully addressed the ozone hole by agreeing to phase out ozone destroying chemicals. Its now a waiting game as the hole will continue to fluctuate while slowly healing over the course of the next 50 years. It is a vivid yet disturbing lesson about the time frame of planetary recovery as we continue to play Russian roullete with the world's climate by failing to act with the urgency the problem warrants.

The reasons for this are myriad, but a major one is quite literally in our view of the problem. Unlike the ozone hole we have no shared image of global warming. We see receding glaciers and drying lakes, but nothing that uniquely captures the novelty and urgency of the problem we are now facing.

In the early 1990s the world was stunned by the scientific photography of Antarctica's failing ozone cover. The idea of a future where the life giving sun became our most mortal enemy exploded into the consciousness of the world. Reports of increasing skin cancer rates became more common and citizens, businesses and governments reacted to the threat by rapidly agreeing to the phase ot of ozone depleting chemicals.

We have no such iconic image of global warming, and unfortunately, most major environmental achievements have found a place in the minds of citizens through the shocking realism of a visual image. Decimated rain forests, endangered whales and thinning ozone all have galvinized awareness and action through immediate and irrefutable proof of the problem through visual imagery - often a single shared image.

This reality represents the blessing and curse of our current media reliant culture - a picture has the power to bring millions together in a common goal, but conversely, if a cause fails to offer an iconic snapshot, it will more often than not fail to create change.

This is the problem facing the leaders battling for global warming action, and the greatest ally of those who spread disinformation in the name of profit. Environmental visionaries have worked tirelessly at building consensus on the risks we all face by rising temperatures, and to their credit have made impressive progress.

Now we need our image to drive the point home.


ok4ua said...

With all the fuss about ozone and pollution how polluted is the average Canadian? We must share a lot of pollutants with the Arctic. We're right near the sources.

Odiyya said...

we're certainly not good. Environmental Defence put out a report earlier this year that measured the toxicity of Canadians titled "Polluted Children, Toxic Nation: A Report on Pollution in Canadian Families".

The report measures the amount of DDT, PCBs, stain repellants, flame retardants, mercury and lead present in Canadian families and children calls on the federal government to offer Canadians the same level of protection against these contaminants afforded to Europeans and Americans by their governments.