In all my years of providing consulting services to industry and working with communities across the north, I have noticed one common behaviour - we make decisions about the future on the assumption that tomorrow will be much like today. That explains why we are not better at preparing for mine closures, why we resist becoming engaged in lifelong learning, why too many of our children leave school early to seek non-existent jobs in our industries, and why we resist embracing the commercial potential of ecotourism, export sales and the Internet.
There is no doubt that the ongoing dispute with the United States over free trade in softwood lumber is an issue that is affecting our local economies now and, regardless of how it is settled, will influence our economic futures, one way or another. But, another issue looms as being far more important to us all.
Did you have a green Christmas? What resident of Northern Ontario can remember such an event ever happening before? And yet, for many northerners, that was the case. Regardless of where you live in Northern Ontario, November and December will be recorded as among the warmest on record. The year 2001 was the second-ever warmest on record! Do you still believe that global warming is a figment of the imaginations of the environmental movement? Might it be a possibility?
It really is time that we northerners began to pay serious attention to the trends in climate change so that we can assess how the changes might alter our future and that of our children and grandchildren.
By "we," I intend to include "you" and "me", but also "they." "They" are our federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as the leadership, the tourism and forest products sectors in our northern economy. They have a huge stake in this currently unknown future.
So far, most decision-making in Canada rests on environmental research conducted elsewhere in the world such as in the Brazilian rainforest. The leadership, the funding for research and the learning about climate change lies mainly outside North America. Fortunately, we are now trying to catch up.
Canada is about to invest in and embark on long-term, focused research based on full-spectrum ecosystem monitoring and surveys that are designed to: provide us with an early detection and warning system, inform us about the status of the environment, tell us whether our actions can or will have an impact on the environment and whether the environment is having an impact on us and allow us to determine if preventative, mitigative or remedial activities are resulting in desired outcomes.
One not-for-profit organization, Quetico Centre, located just east of Atikokan in northwestern Ontario, is boldly taking the lead towards establishing this monitoring capability in Northern Ontario.
They are in the process of setting up Observatory Earth Inc., the first integrated, locally based, internationally linked ecosystem change monitoring node in Canada. The node, projected to be in operation in 2002-03, will focus on Quetico Provincial Park and the Boundary Waters canoe area that borders Quetico as well as on the industrially developed intervening landscape.
The earth observatory will facilitate, encourage and support climate change research through ecosystem monitoring and multidisciplinary research.
Still very much in the earliest stages of birth, Observatory Earth Inc. will help our governments and our industry leaders to better understand and prepare for climate change and its potential impacts. It will enhance the significance of our region’s natural resources and help us to understand how to expand their non-depleting uses. Our forest management will improve. It will support bio-economic activity that will broaden the economic base and increase prosperity in Ontario's north. Government policy decisions will be based on quality research, not popular, but uninformed opinion. It will contribute to a more holistic, worldwide understanding of our climate. And, most important to Northern Ontario, it is a bold venture that will put us on the cutting edge, better able to be masters of our own destiny.
It is about time.
Bob Michels is an author and consultant living in Atikokan.