Heat Waves and Watering Bans and Environmental Degradation (oh my!)

The Beaver – not just a euphemism any more!

Yes, it’s sweltering out. I know. We know. We all know. It happens. It will dominate the local s’news until it’s replaced by exciting Smartphone coverage of the raucous thunderstorms apparently on route to light up the night sky.

The thing here is that I often find the perennial complaining about the heat to be an insincere form of back-handed self-flattery. See? It’s not really that cold up here, it can be downright tropical in fact… And it misses the point. We do have a say in what kind of weather we have, and we could be doing much, much more to help stabilize local climatic and environmental conditions. The way the news tells it, whether NBC, the CBC or the local yokels trying to fill the air before the half hour they dedicate to sports coverage, you’d think we only just became aware weather exists in the first place, and that we had never had a heat wave before, never had major forest fires or droughts. This is subtle refusal to acknowledge human beings are having a direct and often detrimental effect on weather patterns and the environment. Climate change is real – but it also runs both ways.

I refuse to complain about the weather out of principle – do you not remember five months ago when we were freezing? When we collectively put on anywhere from five to twenty pounds of insulation au-naturel so that we don’t otherwise parade around in snow suits and balaclavas? I can remember and I hate the cold, but especially Winter’s such as the last one. Too little snow, far too many bone-chilling days and high winds, not to mention that awful tease we got in mid-March when for a week it was as though we had skipped Spring altogether. Of course I made the best of it when I had a chance – we all did. But I can’t escape the fact that for all this talk and apparent knowledge about the weather and climate and the peculiarities of our regional meteorology, geography and ecology, we seem to forget, constantly, what has happened recently.

Does it not strike us all as odd that every summer now has record breaking heat waves?
That every summer carries the risk of and most cases increasingly destructive forest fires?
Or that the water quality is poor and seemingly, always at record-low levels?
Or how about that the French seem to think us Québecois talk about the weather incessantly?

I know general interest news stories tend to repeat themselves, but it seems to me that something’s not quite right with our weather patterns, in that it seems we’re not getting the clockwork weather systems we once got used to. Winter used to start earlier, Spring used to be longer, and all seasons seemed to have been much wetter not so long ago. And even if we are currently facing a rare meteorological phenomenon, you’d think we be smart enough to employ various measures to protect ourselves. Water levels, wet-lands and heat waves all have something in common – they’re all implicated in ground-water retention, and we have the means, at the very least, to develop new and expand on existing wetlands within the Greater Montréal region.

As I sit here waiting for the inevitable and highly exciting lightning strikes I can’t help but notice my burnt suburban lawn, nowhere near as green and healthy as it’s supposed to be. Ferns and other plants have shrunk, our vegetable patch isn’t producing and as far as I can tell, the phenomenon seems to be adversely affecting my whole neighbourhood, if not a good chunk of the region. The water levels are at ten year lows, watering bans are in full effect as a consequence (though I’m surprised to see who seems to be ‘above the law’) and the news coming in from les régions (indeed, all of rural Canada and the US) is that this year’s harvest won’t nearly be as bountiful as had been hoped. Locally, this not only means higher food prices, but an additional complication to regional economic stability. Never underestimate the primacy of agriculture in our economy, it’s remarkably multi-faceted and forms a core component of the region’s economy.

So then what’s to be done? Something’s amiss when the confluence of two rivers and multiple tributaries in a land overwhelmed by freshwater lakes can’t provide enough water for a city of our size spread out as we are across a very large geographic area. Though I’m by no means an environmental scientist, I would argue that there nonetheless seems to be a correlation between environmental degradation (particularly of wetlands) and the constantly recurring adverse weather and climatic conditions. As I write this a brief downpour has wound down and a temporary humidity has set in. Tweets have indicated the heat wave isn’t expected to break for several more days. We seem to alternate increasingly between dry heat spells and sudden torrential storms, as opposed to a more regular cycle of cooler daytime temperatures and far more precipitation across all seasons.

There’s been talk coming from the local chapter of the Suzuki Foundation recently of expanding or otherwise developing a local green belt specifically to counter-act this problem. And that’s where our furry national symbol comes into play. A simple re-introduction of beavers as part of a larger preservation/conservation and rehabilitation plan would help retain significant quantities of groundwater. In fact, a few beaver colonies strategically located may be able to replenish natural aquifers, meaning lack of rain won’t matter as much given that Spring meltwater could be held over a longer period of time. More trapped groundwater, such as in marshlands, swamps, natural beaches etc, mean more water for irrigation, be it for agriculture or simply keeping the grass green. But it’s all the other goodies that come with building new wetlands – more biodiversity, cooler temperatures, less erosion, cleaner air and cleaner water, to name but a few benefits.

We need to get on this right away. A comprehensive plan for the entire archipelago and metropolitan region needs to be put into action so that we don’t completely destroy the naturally lush and historically bountiful eco-system we’re encroaching on. Low-density residential housing development, both on and off-island needs to come to a halt, and remaining green-spaces need to be treated properly and for what they are – the circulatory and respiratory systems of an interconnected mass of humanity.

Now if only we can convince the powers at be that investing in environmental rehabilitation is worthwhile, for the greater good, over a long term.

I fear it is precisely for those reasons, and the fact that we can’t make a buck off of it, that nothing will come of this.

And we’ll continue to be ignorant as the problem is perennially presented to us as something out of the ordinary. We seem to suffer from collective short-term memory loss, especially when it comes to ecological issues. What do y’all think?