Editorial: Environment must be a priority

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Many east coast residents have had their attention focused on the devastation wrought by hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey. The depth of the damage is forcing Americans to consider a variety of measures – from fortress-like flood barriers to offering a buy-out to people living in flood-prone areas – to make the region safe from future storms.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke about the vulnerability, saying, "Anyone who thinks there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is deny reality." Cuomo’s state has 520 miles of coastline, which makes it second only to New Orleans in the US for the numbers of people living within four feet of the high tide mark.

Valuable property is also at risk – and those risks will only grow. In fact, flooding during Sandy exceeded the disaster scenarios envisaged in a report designed to help authorities plan for future climate change impacts. With sea-level rise, a common storm could prove as catastrophic as Sandy, putting about a third of New York's streets in a flood danger zone.

It has been remarkable how little environment issues were on the agenda for this week’s American election. Months went by without Barack Obama or Mitt Romney even mentioning global warming. Sandy came too late to change that willful silence.

Yet there were voices speaking up. Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, for example, said, "We cannot risk having leaders in Washington who turn a blind eye to the threat of climate change and the devastating impact it's having."

Romney had outraged many environmentally-conscious U.S. citizens when he told NBC's David Gregory, "I'm not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet. I'm in this race to help the American people."

But Obama never really stepped up the plate to honour his 2008 commitments. Four years ago in a speech at the Democratic National Convention, he said, "We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment ... when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."

Like the Truro area, this end of the Annapolis Valley can potentially feel the impact of storms that results in flooding. In fact, next week some of the highest tides of the year will be rolling out. We need to follow the American example very intently, especially because our federal government has not made environmental issues a priority.

The Annapolis Valley Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) recently sent out some publicity about an African initiative - the Kabarak Call for Peace and Ecojustice, which was approved recently at the Friends World Conference at Kabarak University, Kenya. Quakers on every continent consulted on global change for three years to create the document. It has been endorsed by Canadians Quakers.

The document acknowledges that in past centuries the planet restored itself. “Now humanity dominates, our growing population consuming more resources than nature can replace. We must change, we must become careful stewards of all life.”

Quakers internationally spoke about the “disappearing snows of Kilimanjaro and glaciers of Bolivia, from which come life-giving waters. We have heard appeals from peoples of the Arctic, Asia and Pacific. We have heard of forests cut down, seasons disrupted, wildlife dying, of land hunger in Africa, of new diseases, droughts, floods, fires, famine and desperate migrations – this climatic chaos is now worsening.”

Wars, violence, natural catastrophy and greed do appear to dominate our epoch, so the Religious Society of Friends is wise to call on the world to sit up and pay attention, to heal the planet if possible and make peace with mankind and all nature.

Organizations: Religious Society of Friends, League of Conservation Voters, Democratic National Convention Kabarak Call for Peace Friends World Kabarak University

Geographic location: New York, U.S., New Jersey New Orleans Washington Truro Annapolis Valley Kenya Kilimanjaro Bolivia Arctic Asia Pacific Africa

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