by Tim Pearson
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: Family Resource Guide 201
Camping was a central part of my family’s summers as I grew up in 1960s and 1970s England. My parents would load up the car with our big, blue, insanely heavy canvas tent, along with all our other camping paraphernalia. Then we’d set off on a tortuously long journey from the midlands of England up to the northwest coast of Scotland, to places like Ullapool or Lochinver, on increasingly narrow and precarious roads.
We’d find a spot to pitch our tent, hang out for a couple of days exploring the area, then head off to find another spectacular spot to call home for a couple of nights.
It was heaven, and those summers were when I caught the camping bug and a lifelong love of nature. Fast forward to more recent times and my daughters have caught the bug too, camping every summer since they were infants.
One of their very favourite activities is roasting marshmallows over a crackling campfire to make s’mores. After long days exploring hiking trails, swimming in lakes or just soaking up the sun, the ritual of roasting marshmallows now seems carved into our family’s DNA.
The sharpening of sticks to spear the marshmallows, the passionate competition to achieve that elusive evenly brown, perfectly roasted masterpiece, even the arguments as they are told they must stop or they will never sleep—all these make a summer’s evening complete wherever we camp.
Yet we seem to be practicing this ritual less and less with each passing summer. All too often, there are campfire bans in place, even here on the coast. The bans have been starting earlier in the season, and tend to be in place longer and to cover more of the province.
The landscapes we camp in are increasingly parched and have become tinderboxes primed to burn, whether because of a lightning strike, a carelessly thrown cigarette—or a stray spark from a campfire. Nowadays, when forests burn, they often burn with an intensity firefighters say they have never seen before.
The provincial government declared states of emergency due to wildfires in both 2017 and 2018. The 2017 wildfire season obliterated records for area burned, people displaced and cost to suppress. The state of emergency lasted 10 weeks, the longest in B.C. history. Before the end of August, 2018 had already surpassed the number of hectares burned in 2017.
The smoke that blanketed much of our province this summer meant many kids couldn’t even play outside. And we know that the very young and the very old are most vulnerable to the health dangers presented by poor air quality.
Connecting with nature is good for our kids’ physical, emotional and spiritual health. But if nature becomes synonymous with danger and threats, our kids will not learn to love nature. And who will fight to protect something to which they have no connection? I’m pretty convinced no champion of the environment was ever made playing Minecraft or obsessively maintaining their SnapChat streaks late into the night.
Looming over all of this is global warming, driving radical changes all over our planet. I was born in 1962, when global CO2 concentrations were 321 parts per million. My oldest daughter was born in 2002, by which the average had risen to 375 ppm. My youngest at 385. Last year it was 409. This year peaked at 412. But 350 or lower is where we need to be.
Campfire bans will be the least of our worries as climate impacts accelerate. One of the reasons I work at Sierra Club BC is to help secure a better future for my daughters. Some days, I confess, it feels hopeless. Other days, I feel optimistic that we can overcome even this most daunting of challenges.
One cause for optimism is that wildfires are finally starting to force more widespread conversations about climate change and the need for action. I believe we should be using these opportunities to talk to our kids about our planet, their future in it and what they can do to assert some measure of control over their destinies.
Today’s children will be tomorrow’s leaders—and we are going to need strong, principled, determined leaders to build resilience in our communities and make the transition to a post-carbon world that respects our planet’s limits.
Because this is really at the heart of it for me: I want to share the joy of roasting marshmallows with my grandchildren someday.
Tim Pearson is Communications Director for Sierra Club BC.
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