Monday, 22 August 2016

On Sharks and Climate Change Science

So over the last number of weeks I have been enjoying some time on the water in my kayak.

But this relaxing, negative-energy-releasing activity was put to a pretty dead halt a few Friday evenings ago, moments before arriving at my grandmother's, and a few hours before heading back out onto the water for what was supposed to be a weekend full of kayaking adventures. You see, just as the bus was pulling into the Tantallon shopping centre (or whatever it's called), I received a message from my brother that a video of a recent shark attack, in the very area I kayak, had surfaced.

First, let's get one thing straight - I'm not afraid of sharks... I'm afraid of looking like the perfect snack for one of them. What I mean is, the rational part of my brain recognizes that a shark attack is relatively low. But, that doesn't overly comfort me, especially since I do all my trips solo. The fear I felt was mostly based out of the unknown. What happens if I spot one? What do I do if one attacks my kayak? What if I fall out of the kayak during an attack? These are all rational questions. But again, the likelihood of that same shark - be it a great white or other species - finding me in the small cove I kayak in is relatively low.

But, I feel this gives me an opportunity to look at the larger story here... a little something I like to call Climate Change.

In the last few decades we have heard statements such as "Climate change isn't real!" "How can we be experiencing global warming, when we're seeing colder than usual temperatures or later amounts of snowfall?" "Climate change is just a bunch of hippie propaganda" or any number of the others from the never ending list of climate change denials... a denialist? But, let me assure you, climate change is very real.

One of the biggest problems with climate change, is that in many ways, its impact on our daily lives (especially those of us lucky enough to be from a North American or European country... for the most part) is relatively slow. In the same way that paint goes from wet to dry over a series of hours without us supervising it, toxins in our system built up over years of inhaling polluted air or chemicals from processed foods is leading to higher instances of cancer and other illnesses, climate change isn't something that happens overnight... okay, well, maybe the paint example doesn't fit this. But, the point is - it's a slow, gradual process. Also for the record - climate change is a naturally occurring process that has been augmented by human activity. Humans are not the sole reason it exists, and would happen whether or not we were on this planet.

Back to my point - one of the ways in which we have been seeing visible signs of climate change has been through water. We've seen the Greenland ice sheet begin to melt at record levels, and water temperatures have also begun to rise. Don't believe me? Check out the clip below from an excellent documentary called Chasing Ice.

Water temperatures have risen* so much in the last several years that coral reefs are becoming depleted, aquatic species are beginning to migrate further, and in many cases these same species are searching for food from collapsing food stocks (another issue desperately in need of being addressed!), but also because warmer temperatures are inviting. No truer has this statement been than in the last several years in Atlantic Canada. Water temperatures are on a continual high, which has brought unusual-to-the-area visits from a range of aquatic life, including the suspected recent visitor, great white sharks. It's also part of the reason we're seeing a higher frequency of more intense hurricanes (although I'll admit, I'm quite disappointed we haven't had one in Nova Scotia lately... and yes, I realize I will likely eat those words at some point in the future.)

The ocean temperates aren't the only signs of climate change. Think about the variations in crop production. Nova Scotia is now temperate enough to produce its own wine, using grapes grown in the province's valley region. Varieties of melons and other fruits and vegetables are now possible to be grown in the area outside of a greenhouse or other form of temperature controlled climate. Meanwhile, other parts of the world that use to grow certain crops more easily are starting to show signs of the difficulty in producing, well... anything.

Herein lies the problem, though, because of the slow onset of most of the visible signs of climate change it makes it really easy to deny its existence. It also means that for most of us, dealing with climate change - whether combating it or just plain living with it - means changing our lifestyles. Right now our climate denial attitudes allow us to live comfortably in our one-time-use, throw-away, convenience-based societies. But, if we want to get really serious about maintaining the planet for our own use and longevity, we will need a drastic rehaul in our current ways of living. And better yet, we need to start this process before the slow onset takes on a more overnight appearance.

So what to do? Well, that's really the big question. We all have a responsibility in this, and we all have to start somewhere. Small steps are equally important, if we all get on board (perhaps quit complaining about the inconvenience of sorting out garbage, for one!). I certainly don't have all the answers, and I don't believe anyone does, but there are many initiatives out there to help you and everyone else start the process. All it takes is a little research and some degree of dedication to the cause.

But, to end on a lighter note, I'm happy to report that this past weekend, I successfully completed three relaxing kayak trips, as well as one swim in the (hopefully) now shark-free waters. It also turned out that the reported great white witnessed in the video above was actually a 12-foot mako shark. That scares me. Less.

-the Orange Canadian

*Don't worry, you'll still be able to lose the feeling in your toes wthin minutes after dipping them into any eastern Canadian ocean!

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