Forest fires: it's time to be “ecological”

Forestfires ;t: it’s time to be “ecolucid”

Laure Waridel, eco-sociologist and co-founder of Équiterre and Mères au front. Nicolas Monet/Metro.

Smog enveloped Montreal this week due to raging forest fires in the north of the province. Since the beginning of spring, the city has suffered in quick succession from an ice storm and flooding. As climate disruptions are felt as rarely before, Métro spoke with eco-sociologist and activist Laure Waridel, who co-founded Équiterre and Mères au front. Discussion of our attitude towards climate change and possible solutions — with the necessary will.

What social or psychological impacts can the last days spent under the smog caused by the fires have?

When we concretely experience a crisis related to the environment, there is an awareness. It creates eco-anxiety, but for me it's more like “eco-lucidity”. This unpleasant feeling is like our nervous system, it is there to inform us that we must act to avoid a very real and documented danger.

If you're on a train track with your baby in a stroller and then you get upset because a train is coming at full speed, are we going to call it anxiety? It’s simply lucidity.

We must not put these emotions under the carpet, because it will simply postpone the problem. Denial is a means of taking refuge, but it is not mobilizing. This is something that worries me enormously as an ecosociologist. The longer we wait, the more drastic the measures will have to be and the more we will suffer the consequences of decisions that we did not have the courage to take. Talk to those who have to leave their homes because of the wildfires.

We face a collective threat. It’s together that we’ll face the climate crisis, it’t together that we’ll find solutions, it’t’t’we will accelerate a just and ecological transition.

Speaking of transition, the phrase “climate adaptation” is on everyone’s lips these days. What does it mean concretely, on the Montreal scale?

Many strategies for adapting to climate change also make it possible to reduce our ecological footprint.

To prevent flooding, we must have more green spaces that will absorb excess water, especially on the banks. Vegetating also helps us in periods of heat wave to reduce heat islands. Montreal has been a fine example for several years. When the City rebuilds a road or a water pipe, it will make sure to green more and use more resilient materials.

The question of public transport is also important. In periods of climatic extremes, smog increases. We must therefore reduce the number of cars to improve air quality. It’s part of adapting to climate change, but it also reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

It’s amazing how many of these policy choices lead to better quality of life and better health. What is good for health is also good for the economy, since people are more productive and healthcare costs are reduced. If we had the least bit of a longer-term vision, it would become totally logical choices.

We meet on the sidelines of the Prolab CSF congress, where you gave a conference in front of a crowd of players from the financial sector. What roles should these actors play in the face of the climate crisis?

After regulations, which are in the hands of our elected officials, it is investments that change the portrait of our society the most. It is the starting or stopping point of any economic project.

What is imperative to do as soon as possible is to get out of the fossil fuel sector, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Financing new infrastructure for the extraction of fossil fuels will have to pay off for decades.

Independent Senator Rosa Galvez introduced Bill [S-243] to compel the financial sector to align its investments with Canada's climate commitments. All economic and political actors should scrutinize the impact of their decisions on the environment.

We always analyze the economic bottom line. How come we don't have the same rigor to ask ourselves how much it's going to cost the environment? If we take into account the environmental and social cost of what we produce and what we waste, we would be more encouraged to make ecological choices to save money.

A study by the Climate Institute of Canada clearly shows that every dollar invested now in climate change adaptation will save between 13 and 15 dollars in the coming decades. It’s extremely profitable in terms of yield.

Climatic extremes seem to be on the increase. Is it too late to reverse the trend?

There are impacts that we will not be able to avoid even if we stop completely right away because of the duration life of GHGs in the atmosphere. It’s clear that we’re heading for more climate extremes, no matter what we do.

That said, every fraction of a degree has an impact on the magnitude of the challenges facing we face it, say the climatologists. We must both reduce carbon emissions and adapt.

*Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.

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