Reflections on Earth Day and Muskoka

By Peter Sale.
2022 Earth Day Logo

April 22nd will be the 52nd Earth Day. Starting in 1970 with teach-ins across US campuses, Earth Day became global in 1990. It is a day to pause and reflect, a day to inspire and to strive to do better as we struggle to remedy the many wrongs we have inflicted on this planet. But what does Earth Day mean for a beautiful place like Muskoka? We also can do better; Muskoka suffers environmental degradation too.

Road salt, loss of soil calcium, invasive species, our tendency to build roads fragmenting the natural landscape: there are many stresses on Muskoka’s environment. In my view, the biggest of these are stresses caused by unwise development and by climate change. Both factors are real and have profound impacts on environmental health, on our quality of life, and on our environment-dependent economy. Lose that wonderful environment of rocks, trees and water, and the reasons for visiting or living here fade away.

There is much we can do in Muskoka to adapt to climate change. Along the way, we can also do our bit, as Earth citizens, to reduce our carbon footprints, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the threat of climate change. We can also act, as individuals, businesses, and municipalities, to ensure that development is environmentally sustainable. Too much of what is being built now is inappropriate or damages the processes that maintain the health of our environment.

The good news is that it is far less expensive to maintain the health of our environment than to repair it once it’s degraded. Environmentally sensitive development also need not be more costly than careless development, especially when the operating costs of infrastructure over its lifetime are factored in. What we need is not tons of money, but sound knowledge, a willingness to change our behavior, and political will to act. We are already an environmental jewel in the heart of Ontario; why not ensure we remain a jewel far into the future? Why not commit to becoming the most environmentally sustainable community in Canada? We could market Muskoka as Canada’s greenest tourist destination and place to live!

I’m impressed by our growing awareness and action on climate change, but there is lots more to do. This is desperately needed if we are to avoid catastrophic flooding, severe droughts, and other climate impacts in the future. I’m delighted that just six years after the Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC) published Planning for Climate Change in Muskoka, every municipality in Muskoka has declared a climate emergency and is moving on reducing emissions, while Climate Action Muskoka holds weekly Fridays for Future events, has mounted a Community Carbon Challenge, and has developed curriculum materials on climate change for the schools.

I’m also amazed that just three years after MWC began discussing integrated watershed management (IWM), the District of Muskoka, supported by the provincial government, has 12 projects under way that build the beginnings of an effective implementation of IWM for the entire Muskoka River Watershed. MWC’s Community Round Table will ensure a community voice as IWM moves forward, using natural environmental boundaries rather than municipal borders and integrating management of different environmental issues rather than trying to manage each issue separately. IWM is complicated, but also the only form of management likely to be able to sustain the quality of our environment as development continues in a rapidly changing world.

The 2022 theme for Earth Day is “Invest in our Planet“. This year on Earth Day, reflect on what we receive from the environment and decide on one or two new things that you can do to become a better environmental steward. Support those who try to make Muskoka more environmentally friendly and consider the environment when deciding how to vote in coming elections.

Indigenous societies cared for Muskoka for thousands of years before we colonists arrived. In 250 years, we changed it radically. It’s past time for us to learn and to become good stewards of this beautiful place we call home.

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