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The Paris Accord of 2015 represents a real beginning – at last.

It has not been easy. On a broad scale, the trail was blazed by so many, including John Muir, Jack Miner, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Dr Theo Colburn, and Alex King, as we slowly realized that we are part of nature, that the solution to pollution was not dilution, that not all chemicals are benign, and that we need a new industrial revolution.

Focused efforts on the atmosphere have a similarly brilliant series of champions and momentous events. Early accomplishments included shifting away from the coal furnaces that caused London’s killer smogs in the nineteenth century, the nuclear test ban treaty, and the acid rain efforts led in no small part by Canadians Adele Hurley and Michael Perley.

More recent efforts stem from a seminal 1985 paper from NASA on both the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect. It stated that “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war. The Earth’s atmosphere is being changed at an unprecedented rate by pollutants resulting from human activities, inefficient and wasteful fossil fuel use and the effects of rapid population growth in many regions. These changes represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe.”

Shortly thereafter, the world began to respond, through the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer in 1987; a cathartic conference on Our Changing Atmosphere held in 1988 in Toronto; and the Rio conference of 1992 and its creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

From there, it took 3 years to hold the first conference of the parties; false steps at Kyoto and Copenhagen; a horrendous error on the pending melt of European glaciers; national economic interests opposing global action; corporate funding of climate change skeptics; and withering attacks on e-mail-gate and the hockey stick graph.

Somehow, Paris offers us a new beginning. It will not be easy. We will need to reduce the use of fossil fuels without becoming reliant on carbon taxes; foster transitions to a low-carbon future without picking winners and creating massive unemployment; help less-developed nations leap-frog fossil fuels; and probably welcome immigrants from low-lying areas with a grace similar to our current efforts for Syrian refugees.

Paris may also be a parable for similar challenges. Global and national efforts may be needed on endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, micro-beads, and more. On water, Canada needs a national water strategy and to repair the impact of the previous federal government’s tinkering on fisheries, navigable water, and more.

In Ontario, we need to understand that water belongs to all life forms and is not just for people, embrace water conservation, and implement integrated watershed management – a proposal that has been around for about as long as action on climate change and has been championed by everyone from Conservation Ontario and Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller to the recent report of the Crombie Panel.

Paris reminds us of how long some battles take, and how people working for a common cause need to stay focused, resolute, resilient, and positive. The OHI thanks them all.