Fifty years ago on a moonless night in B.C.’s Fraser Canyon, I was trudging back to camp. Cautiously crossing a railroad bridge, I heard the wail of a train whistle ricocheting through canyons behind me. I couldn’t judge the distance between train and bridge, nor how far along the bridge I had walked, nor how far I had to go, nor how high I was above water or, more likely, rocks. Despite uncertainties, standing still was not on. Crouch-running, with a hand on one rail and motivation multiplied, I MOVED over unevenly spaced ties, with toes up. I escaped.

Regarding uncertainty, the late American author and civil rights activist James Baldwin noted that: “No one can possibly know what is about to happen: it is happening, each time, for the first time, for the only time.”

The large context of uncertainty associated with a changing climate and subsequent erratic weather, loss of habitat and biodiversity, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, novel entities and overexploitation of land and water is happening for the first and only time, in the time scale of epochs, including humans.

Until our immediate and proximal ecological circumstances viscerally deteriorate, we might ignore risks or ask for forgiveness in assuming risks are minimal. When specific ecological crises do buffet us in our regions, we will ask for mercy.

The approaching train of my youth was certain, for practical purposes, and my uncertainty was in not knowing how to dodge it. The approaching ecological and climate crisis (global over decades) amplifying weather variability (at specific times, in specific areas) may appear to be uncertain in that we do not know what specific weather will happen, when it will happen and where it will happen. However, disruptions and disasters, including loss of lives, will happen in many places at many times and ecological overshoot can no longer be dodged.

Using uncertainty about the ecological and climate crisis as an excuse to wait and see is bad for business, bad for farming and bad for health. To mitigate unwelcome surprises, it is practical to act now based on what we already know and to adapt iteratively as we learn more.

If you doubt climate scientists, pay attention to the Insurance Bureau of Canada and other insurers who assess increased risks of weather-related disasters. They will not insure some force majeure risks at all. Peter Routledge at a recent catastrophe insurance conference said, “The faster we price in the cost of climate and the risk, the faster private enterprise will innovate solutions like adaptation.”

As ecological overshoot gathers steam and its impacts come closer, we can choose to use scientific evidence to ascertain how to mitigate overshoot and how to adapt to soften impacts. Misguided ads such as “Crave More” and the apparent certainties of required economic growth with excess energy consumption and extraction could give way to Mike Nickerson’s motto of “More fun, less stuff,” i.e., a system that aims for healthy human communities on a thriving planet.

Farmers might ask, “What were the conditions of natural habitat and biodiversity, clean water availability and soil organic matter (SOM) levels on my fields when my great-grandparents farmed? What are they now? How am I setting an example so that my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will maintain or improve these conditions?” Many farms are or will be in the same family for seven generations, and in addition to making a profit, their viability depends on high SOM levels, clean available water and dynamic biodiversity.

Using uncertainty about the ecological and climate crisis as an excuse to wait and see is bad for business, bad for farming and bad for health, writes @ralphmartinOAC #ClimateEmergency #cdnpoli #CleanTech

Consumers might ask, “What did my great-grandparents eat, how did they conserve, avoid waste and practice cultural values? How can I avoid processed food with excess fat, salt and sugar? How is my diet simple, seasonal, tasty, nutritious and integrated with community engagement so that my descendants will have sufficient food to survive with dignity?”

All of us might ask, “How can we use less energy, reduce our material requirements, lower our debts and live respectfully with all our relations? Will we educate ourselves and others with reports from organizations such as the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, aimed at de-risking the negative impacts of a changing climate?”

Being the contrarian I am, I reread Vaclav Havel’s book, Summer Meditations in January. After the fall of communism in 1989, he was the first president of Czechoslovakia and understood the perils of uncertainty. “If today’s planetary civilization has any hope of survival, that hope lies chiefly in what we understand as the human spirit.” Similar to our ancestors, we are called to courageously accept the real challenges of our time and to act with resolve and humility.

To be meaningful, spiritual, cultural, artistic or personal values must be integrated into daily living, within realistic ecological limits. In the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “others” should extend to non-humans. The prophet Rachel Carson said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe around us, the less taste we shall have for its destruction.”

As in any strategic planning exercise, our greatest contributions to reconciling with ecological and climatic uncertainty may be to decide what we will stop doing.

Ralph C. Martin, PhD, professor (retired), University of Guelph. Information on book Food Security: From Excess to Enough at

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very eloquent and definitely abiding in a generous spirit that understands we live IN nature; not above or outside it. I like. MORE FUN LESS STUFF. (my kids have been forced into living that motto, no philosophy involved)
the old greenie catch phrase, which seems to have been utterly abandoned also should be revived and put into practise everywhere policy is made: FIRST, USE LESS. ( Hey mr guilbeault, make insulating homes free, give us free heat pumps! and watch our ghg emissions plummet)
make it cheap and rewarding for citizens and make industrial baddies pay for their pollution. we knew this 50 years ago

I marvel how completely that was killed off by “greed is good” 80s media. so we get bigger heavier cars and insanely high speed limits on and on. I read one calculation that if we have vehicle size limits to European size cars and 90 km / hr highway limits, we would meet our 2030 targets on that move alone. how nuts is that that we have been massaged by corporate advertising into killing ourselves in the millions for ….what?

SO MUCH easy stuff to reprogramme ourselves with, infuriating how much obstruction to these simple shifts hold us in an iron grip still.

and finally NATURE BATS LAST