Smoke on the water: finding hope in the face of climate change, reflecting on a hazy day.
While many view climate change with a scary degree of apathy, the outdoor industry is setting a better example for others to follow.
The waters of Lake Minnewanka are grey-teal beneath the silver steel hull of a puttering motorboat. I recline in the bow (that’s nautical for the front), arms draped over the sides, watching the cold spray of the bow wave as we set our steady course across the lake’s open expanse. You couldn’t hope to find a cleaner, purer substance than that water. The lake itself could be plucked straight from the daydreams of any 9-5 office-bound urbanite. It’s the stuff postcards are made of: pine-lined shores and high-rise mountains. When the sun’s out it’s an instagrammer’s turquoise dream. Today the turquoise is dulled by a lack of sunlight, but it isn’t cloudy either.
It’s mid-August 2018, and for weeks wildfires have raged on the west coast of North America. Smoke hangs heavy in the air across much of the vast expanses of British Columbia and Alberta, blocking out sun and sky. I’m spending the weekend in Banff, revisiting the place where I began my great Canadian adventure eight months ago. The mountains that rise so dramatically above the town, that had become so familiar, have been completely curtained in brown-grey all weekend. It’s freaking me out completely.
It’s like an eco-arms-race between companies operating in a highly competitive market.
In 2017 wildfires swept through the town I grew up in, Knysna, South Africa. The beautiful timber home my father designed and my sister and I were raised in was burnt to the ground. I remember being taken to watch An Inconvenient Truth during high school a decade earlier. As excited teens we were just stoked to get a convenient excuse not to be in math class. The scope of Al Gore's foreboding message on climate change was all a bit much for us to really comprehend. We left the cinema joking about which parts of our seaside town would flood first as the sea rises. It never crossed our minds that the real threat would be the gradual, insidious drying of our environment, and the uncontrollable flames that would sweep through the town, leaving thousands homeless. Now here I am in Canada, on the other side of the world, unable to see the sky.
Days later I’m back in Vancouver, where I now live. There are times when the smoke that settles over the city is so thick I can hardly see more than a couple of blocks ahead of me. It’s not a ‘bad year’ or an anomaly. This is the reality of what comes with summer, and it’s getting worse. As climate change makes our world hotter, and in places drier, the fires burn longer, spread quicker and are harder to control. It’s all a little overwhelming. And the worst thing is that no one really seems to care. Even in the face of alarming reports on the state of the climate from the UN, life goes on as normal for almost everyone.
But here’s the wonderful thing: people do care. Since I joined SOLE and ReCORK I’ve been blown away by the movement and momentum in the outdoor industry and beyond, to change and innovate for the better of the planet. More than ever before, consumers are being given a variety of options for products with smaller environmental footprints. Products that use recycled materials. Products that approach fabrication in more efficient ways. Products that prioritize an eco-friendly message. It’s like an eco-arms-race between companies operating in a highly-competitive market.
The new generation of daydreaming, money-making urbanites grew up with their high schools taking them to watch films about climate change. People want to feel good about spending their hard-earned money, and the environment has become a real consideration, more than ever before. Consumers have become agents of positive change, and presented with the right products, their choices can make a big impact.
My relatively new involvement in the outdoor industry has restored my hope that people can get things right. It’s restored my hope that people and industries can and will take the steps needed to change things for the better. Most of all it’s given me a way to feel like I’m making a difference, like I’m playing my part. A problem or challenge never feels as overwhelming once you’ve taken your first steps to doing something about it.