Being Human in a Changing World: Introduction
The morning of August 19th, 2018 is memorable for a couple of reasons: the nervous enthusiasm with which I met my early wakeup call before my first marathon, the turn of my stomach as I wrestled with the utilitarian need for a 4am breakfast to fuel up before the race, and the crisp, cool bite of an early summer morning in Edmonton. That last memory is significant, the way in which the daybreak air filled my lungs, as refreshing as a dip in a lake, felt foreign. Edmonton, and much of western Canada, had been smothered by thick blankets of smoke for months due to wildfires raging in British Columbia. The fate of the Edmonton Marathon had been precarious due to weeks of air quality warnings, with the smoke miraculously clearing the morning of the race. After months of roving clouds of acrid smoke hovering above the city, the clear days felt clean, felt new, like water washing over my skin.
Things are changing. As a child, I don’t remember experiencing anything near the amount of smoke that blew through Edmonton last summer. And there’s numbers to back that up: according to Environment Canada, the number of hours of smoke that Edmonton experienced last summer was a record-breaking 168. The severity of storms and wildfires are becoming less predictable, and northern landscapes are retreating as southern ones creep closer toward the top of the globe. And while the world progresses forward, for better or for worse, many facets of humanity seem to be stuck in place. We are a diverse and adaptable species - surely there must be things we can do differently that will allow us to ride along the waves of change that have been set in motion? These kinds of questions can stimulate a variety of emotions, from stress to anger, to fear, to hope. Feelings of loss, whether about something trivial like a nearly cancelled race or the tragedy of losing your home to wildfires or rising ocean levels, are a reality that is sometimes left out of the techno-centric narrative of pushing forward, of ‘with innovation comes the answers’. Emotion, social values, and individual senses of truth are all important factors in how humanity will deal with climate change.
In this series, I hope to address a few of the aspects of being human in a rapidly changing world. We are an emotional, irrational, and conflict-prone species - and that’s okay. Whether it’s reflecting on how to deal with loss and grief in the face of climate change, learning to recognize the different kinds of value placed in different kinds of knowledge, or the feeling of being left out of the conversations about environmental issues, the social side of riding the climate change wave is important to talk about. There is nothing neat and tidy about a complex problem like climate change, so it makes sense that my brain is often feels like a mess. Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself.