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Fear and Seeking in Nova Scotia 

Chris Benjamin resolves to love life on Earth, fear its demise, and seek more sustainable ways for us to live here.

Chad Pelley, a novelist and Atlantic Canlit blogger out of St. John's, recently wrote: "The world is ending. No one else seems concerned about the global freakshow of weather worldwide this last two years. Time to quit your job, kiss strangers and travel the world while you still can."

A few days later my uncle, an electrician, told me about a special he'd seen on Discovery Channel. "It was scary stuff," he said. "The scientists say in a dozen years we won't recognize this place even if we stop all our pollution today."

A week after that, the Globe and Mail reported on a New Brunswick Department of Environment employee, Robert Capozi, who attributed the recent rash of severe storms battering our region to human-induced climate change. The storms cost us about $50 million in damage, but it'll get worse. The Bay of Fundy has risen 30 centimetres in the last 140 years and will rise another 80 centimetres in the next 90 years.

Those were the last days of 2010, in which artists, tradespeople, bureaucrats and conservative national newspaper writers wondered fearfully, many for the first time, about the fate of the world. Is this newfound fear rational? And does it serve us?

In his essay, "The Rush Towards the Singularity, Living Forever and Themageddon" (from the anthology Nova Scotia: Visions of the Future, edited by Lesley Choyce), our province's best-known meteorologist, Richard Zurawski, argues that while much of the world will suffer large-scale human die-off in the next 50 years, our region will actually cool a little "from a freak of geography and circumstance." He predicts that "life on the east coast of Canada [will be] not as good as it once was, but better than most areas of the world."

Saying we'll be less worse off than the rest of the climate losers is not exactly optimism. But even as the tides rise and the storms more frequently kick our asses there could be a future here. If humanity can significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions we stand a chance. Otherwise, all indications are we're headed for a global tipping point beyond which life on Earth resembles Kevin Costner's Waterworld---and no one wants to live through that again.

In short, our fear is rational. But is it useful?

Fear is much maligned in self-help circles. Oprah's convinced we can change the world by thinking positive thoughts. But if you spend any time with toddlers you know fear is an essential survival tool. Without it, we'd all live like there were no consequences. We'd be racing toward our own destruction. Oh wait, that's exactly what we're doing.

So, this newfound fear is a good thing. I just hope we don't spend 2011 acting like it's last call for the planet's resources, snatching jewels from the sinking Titanic. Travelling the world kissing strangers is a nice way to go, but I'm not ready to quit this planet just yet.

The scariness of the future and the daunting challenges ahead drive me to read my environmental version of a self-help book, a new anthology called Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World. It features writing from eco-celebrities like Paul Hawken and Bill McKibben, and a great essay by Halifax writer Munju Ravindra called "Wonder: A Practice for Everyday Life."

Ravindra reminds me that these changes, which we need in order to survive, start with a better appreciation for the paradise we've been gifted. On her advice, my New Year's resolution is to work out my wonder muscle.

Ravindra suggests spending time with lunatics and children, lying on your back on a busy sidewalk, wandering alone through the woods at night with no flashlight, standing in the rain with a slug crawling up your arm and above all, paying closer attention to the intricacies of life.

Sound flaky? In the next decade or two we're going to get reacquainted with the natural world, either because we choose to appreciate it, protect it and prevent the worst, or because we respond to our fears like a deer in headlights---frozen in our status quo---and let the consequences of our past mistakes force us to become climate refugees.

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