Keep your hand on that plow, hold on


Those dark clouds just keep coming, don’t they, figuratively and actually, in the skies above.

Not to sound too pessimistic – I keep telling myself to look on the bright side, of course, and try to be a beacon of hope here in Hope Ness, beside the Hope Bay Forest, just north of Hope Bay. But the reality can’t be denied. Indeed, if hope is at all possible, and I believe it is, it must grow out of a clear-eyed and heartfelt acceptance of the challenge we and the world we live in face at this critical moment in human history.

Well now, that’s quite a mouthful. Sounds like something even Donald Trump might on a good day read off a teleprompter; and millions of people around the world would heave a big sigh of relief that he had maybe turned the corner toward something akin to “presidential” behaviour.

But then the next day the real Trump shows up in Phoenix, goes off the teleprompter, warps back to election-campaign rally mode, and spews hateful venom.

I swear the man is consciously or unconsciously trying to self-destruct, that he really never really wanted to be President of the United States of America. Playing the game, and winning, the chants and cheers of the adoring crowds; that’s one thing. But actually doing the job, reading briefing notes, thinking in a disciplined way about matters of great import – that’s an altogether different thing.

Trump himself has admitted the job is far more demanding than he ever imagined it would be. Unfortunately, his response is not to rise to the challenge of learning how to do the job; rather it’s to retreat repeatedly to the safety of campaign mode, something he seems to think he’s good at. And he is, up to a point, not to dignify it too much.

But there were indications at the Phoenix rally, as many people started leaving early, that even his base supporters are growing weary of the Trump act, that it’s wearing thin, that the Emperor has no clothes.

After Phoenix, which included Trump rewriting what he said in response to the Charlottesville tragedy to omit his most troubling comments, more public figures began to openly question his mental health and fitness to be President. One of them was James Clapper, former Director of National Security, who called Trump’s performance in Phoenix, “downright scary and disturbing.”


For some reason in his Phoenix tirade, planned or not, Trump chose to cast a dark cloud over the re-negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which had just begun. After complaining about the length of time it has taken the process to begin, Trump said he thinks the U.S. will “end up probably terminating” NAFTA at “some point.”


A “NAFTA” truck

Mexican and Canadian officials, including Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, shrugged it off as just more Trump bombast. “Millions of jobs on both sides of the border,” depend on the trade agreement, Trudeau said, as if talking about something any sane and otherwise sensible would surely see.

So Canada will continue to carry on NAFTA talks in good faith; or keep its hand on the plow, you might say.

As for those dark clouds that continue to roll in now on a daily basis in the skies over Hope Ness and the rest of southern Ontario, as they have throughout this unusually cool, wet summer, so-called: I happen to catch Environment Canada’s senior climatologist, Dave Phillips, making a brief comment on CBC radio. It’s all about the Jet Stream, said the currently reigning “weatherman.”

Instead of going north as usual, the jet stream has been “stuck” over southern Ontario, and as a result storm after storm has been hitching a ride, Phillips said.


There’s a  lot more to it than that, but, in fairness, there’s not much more he could say in a sound bite of less than 30 seconds.

The bigger question is why a huge lobe of the normally stable jet stream has extended so far south over central Canada, bringing sustained cooler, as well as wetter weather. Meanwhile, hotter air is being drawn up from the south over northwestern North America where the jet stream remains farther north. The answer to that question is global warming and resulting climate change.

Climate scientists are steadily learning more about how climate change is affecting the equilibrium of high-altitude winds over North America and the Northern Hemisphere, which includes the biggest share of the Earth’s land mass.

The behaviour of the jet stream has been altered by the fact the Arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the world. As a result the jet stream is weakening, allowing these unusual lobes to form.

“It is not just a problem of nature conservation or polar bears, it is about a threat to human society that comes from these rapid changes,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, one of the authors of an international climate-change study published earlier this year.

Extreme weather events, like drought in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, have caused disastrous wildfires. Meanwhile, in Quebec this week severe winds and a tornado that hit a small town northwest of the city did a lot of damage. Fortunately, no lives were lost.

Despite Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, other countries, and even some cities in the U.S., are continuing to take steps to mitigate the effects of climate change.

There’s hope in that. But, in the words of an American gospel song, “keep your hand on the plow, hold on.” It will get worse before it gets better.


A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in August, 2017.


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