Most of my days are spent teaching, in a variety of guises, about the climate crisis and its implications for the choices we make. Whatever the course, whatever the official subject matter, I work in examples of what is going on right now on the Earth we share with other living creatures.
Anything less, as far as I am concerned, would be educational negligence, if not malpractice. Students are living into a nightmare, and far too many are unaware of what is happening, and what is at stake, in the daily choices we all make.
Too often I feel alone in this task. I would like to think that my teaching colleagues are doing the same thing, if in their own way, but the number of shaken or ashen faces in my classes as I talk about basic ecological information tells me otherwise. Too many of my students just don’t have a clue about what is going on.
Education is both a means of liberation, and an instrument of oppression. It depends on what is taught. Students are either shown possibilities and opportunities, or coerced into the thinking and behavioural expectations of the power structures of their society.
In this case, if they aren’t taught about the climate crisis, it doesn’t exist. If they are not taught about the Anthropocene, and how that crisis is the direct result of how humans have chosen to plunder the planet over the past 175 years, then they won’t challenge the bad choices still being made.
If they are not taught about their individual ethical responsibility to make better choices today than they did yesterday, then they think someone else is supposed to solve the world’s problems.
And there are problems. As I write this, we have set (and then broken) new records for the hottest global temperatures ever several times in July already. Places (like parts of India, Pakistan and Iran) that normally have unbearable heat during our summer months, will become unliveable this year.
The smoke from Canadian wildfires has choked places south, already turning New York City (among others) into a urban smokescape worse than what dystopian movies like Bladerunner 2049 predicted.
As these fires spread and grow, defeating the efforts of an international brigade of firefighters, the worst still lies ahead.
There is a very short chain of evidence from increasing global temperatures to extreme weather conditions, occurring out of normal seasons and with increasing frequency. So, in a reasonable world, we might think that government and corporate entities, which supposedly bring the best and brightest minds together in collective enterprises for the good of society, are doing all that they can.
(I’m not sitting with you right now, to see the grimace on your face or to listen to the snort of derision that escapes as you read these words, but we are on the same page.)
Starting from the local, we have geniuses at City Hall engaged in debates over hundreds of millions of tax dollars for widening Kenaston Boulevard, extending the Chief Peguis Trail, and otherwise spending a fortune on roads and infrastructure to support fossil-fueled transportation. I have no words for this debate — but they range from delusion to idiocy, with a number of expletives (deleted) in between.
All of this will happen over many years, long beyond what climate science tells us will be our last, best chance for averting or mitigating disaster because of global warming. Where is the money for green anything? For climate resilience? For protecting future generations against the worst of those extreme weather conditions that are surely going to sweep through Manitoba, as they are already sweeping through other places?
Nada. Not a dime. Maybe a nickel here or there.
In comparison to what is needed, in comparison to the money spent on propping up fossil fuel industries, the amount spent by corporations and government on sustainability initiatives isn’t enough to even call it green-washing.
Instead of encouraging crucial social and cultural changes, their decisions prop up the current establishment, discount the evidence of science and of common sense, and demonstrate a cynical dereliction of their corporate social responsibility.
For example, as the world burns — literally — I just found out that the new Rogers-Shaw telecom giant will now offer “IgniteTV” in western Canada. Conceived and launched back in 2018, likely somewhere in Toronto (headquarters to Rogers), in some air-conditioned office where no one was bothered by heat or smoke, the name typifies the climate perversity of corporate Canada.
Tone deaf? Irresponsible? Stupid? Choose the right words — and let them know what you think.
Peter Denton is an activist, scholar and teacher, based in rural Manitoba.