Reality of Climate Crisis Hits Close to Home for All of Us

BILL EEKHOF – Gazing out the back window at the extensive damage in my yard, the rustling of the branches in the tree nearest to my house caught my attention. With tree limbs bouncing and leaves falling, my first instinct was that another branch of this damaged tree was about to come crashing to the ground – a common sight in recent days.

The cause of the rustling branches soon revealed itself… tail first. A squirrel was busy in the tree, gathering sticks and bundles of leaves to rebuild its drey (or nest). Its previous home was now nothing more than tangled remains in a wooden web of broken limbs and snapped roots of the tree that had once majestically stood in my backyard. That tree, and the one that had stood beside it, now lay on the ground – uprooted in the May 21 storm that tore through Peterborough and environs.

Like so many residents in my south-end Peterborough neighbourhood, this squirrel and other natural denizens were also assessing damage, clearing up debris and trying to rebuild their homes in the wake of a devastating storm that had struck exactly one week before.

Instead of feeling uplifted by the sight of the squirrel rebuilding its drey in this tree, my heart sank. This otherwise healthy tree had also been severely damaged in the May 21 storm – its trunk had been split – and it was set to be cut down due to safety concerns.

Is this squirrel’s tale a microcosm of our own relationship with and attitudes towards the climate crisis? In rebuilding (like this squirrel) and not rebuilding smarter, are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again? It’s hard to ignore the reality and impact of the climate crisis because the May 21 storm (called a derecho) brought it right to our front doors. If this is not the wakeup call to act and adapt – “the need to plan and act together, as a community, to stay alive and thrive in a very different future,” as fellow Greenzine contributor Cheryl Lyon recently wrote on this site – what is?!

Derecho (the Spanish word for “straight ahead”) describes a long-lived, fast-moving thunderstorm that causes widespread wind damage. It’s yet another new weather term we can add to our growing vocabulary (El Nino, polar vortex, atmospheric river, pollen-bomb, heat domes) courtesy of the climate crisis.)

Derechos are rare in Canada, with the last one being in 1999, according to CBC News. But some experts say a changing climate caused by human-induced activities means derechos will become more common in Canada. This is especially true when the key ingredients to form derechos – lots of heat and moisture often tied to a heat dome – are all here.

In fact, this is not the Peterborough area’s first brush with a derecho. According to the Storm Prediction Centre in the U.S. (part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), a series of derechos were reported in the upper Great Lakes region in mid-July 1995. The fourth derecho in this series was first detected on the evening of July 14, 1995, in upper Michigan, then tracked the next day through southern Ontario and northern New York before moving off the coast of southern New England. In Ontario, the derecho caused heavy damage around Huntsville, Bracebridge, Orillia, Minden and Fenelon Falls, while also spawning an F2 intensity tornado that hit Bridgenorth.

Some of us might remember that storm… the destruction of a marina and extensive damage to homes and properties in and around Bridgenorth.

Unfortunately, history repeats itself. We’ve seen it here again, and can measure it in many ways… the human lives lost, widespread and long-lasting power outages, extensive property damage, loss of urban forest canopy (the lungs of our community), and the displacement of birds and wildlife.

As we recover post-storm (including replanting and rebuilding), let’s reconsider any doubts we might have about the climate crisis and reinvigorate our efforts to mitigate and adjust to the new realities facing us. That’s as true for people, as it is for squirrels!

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