The Scourge of Getting Old

Aging, though a marked process of accumulative change, is as overwhelmingly abstract and impossible as our own mortality and the measurement of time itself.  There is no denying that aging and time are a union of one profound reality, forming the foundational fundamentals of human experience - a reality we don’t quite understand.  It is true that most of us do not look forward to getting old, and dealing with many of the associated ailments of old age.  Sure we can increase or maintain physical activity, eat a healthy diet, manage stress, stop smoking, get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, avoid substance abuse, and stay mentally active, however the reality of aging is not something we can wholly circumvent by any means.  It is rather a constant in the cycle that is life.  Nevertheless many of us tend to overlook aging and its vital, necessary and even joyful affects on all human societies.

Throughout history, many traditional, non-literate and restricted societies respected and cherished the elderly, whose accumulative wealth of knowledge, skills, wisdom and mastery of the local technologies were renowned for their necessitating factors in subsistence.  In this respect, the death of a prominent elder meant the loss of resource and access to education.  However modern society presents an inversion to the traditional structure.  No longer bound by the limited accessibility of knowledge, application and technologies, our youth now possess, in many cases, a greater skill set and knowledge base than their parents and grandparents.  This is partly due to the increased cultural importance on cognitive function associated with the information age of computers and global communications.  Modern society, in many respects, has made old age irrelevant, compounded by the contemporary emphasis on autonomy, self-control, beauty and the ability to be productive and reproductive.  Aging is thus viewed as a redundancy that must be obscured - something less valuable, less meaningful and ultimately undesirable.  If we take a look at the mechanisms of our modern culture, such as journalism, advertisement, the internet, education, commercialism, politics and social media, we see a trend in the idolization of youth, whereby each of these factions labor to serve an 18-54 demographic.  So what happens when you reach the outskirts of this exclusive youth club?  Society tells us - nothing, because you no longer matter.  However interestingly enough, most of the prominent players in society are those actually over 54.  But let’s face it: aging is unpopular in North America and in most other industrialized countries.

In keeping with our need to stay young, the crusade for the Holy Grail of longevity has yielded some incredible scientific discoveries to include the successful rejuvenation and extending lifespan of model animals.  For those of us who wish to live longer looking younger, this is good news.  There are several drugs and food supplements on the market, which have been shown to retard or reverse the biological effects of aging in some animals, such as resveratrol, (a chemical found in red grapes), acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid, the drug, MK-677 and rapamycin.  Studies based on and around these external factors are the first convincing evidence that the aging process can be slowed and that lifespan can be extended through drug therapy.  During this past year, longevity political parties have cropped up in Russia, the USA, Israel and the Netherlands, with the aim at providing political support to anti-aging and radical life extension research and technologies.  The general consensus within these lobbyist groups, political organizations and scientific communities, is to provide necessary funding and research that will make radical life extension and life without aging accessible to currently living people.

Despite recent scientific discovery and research into the fountain of youth, the cumbersome idea of aging continues to burden the youth psychology of today.  Contrary to popular belief however, aging is not necessarily an ultimate demise; rather it is, in many ways, delayed gratification.  In fact, studies have shown that people grow happier not grumpier, as they get older and tend to be more optimistic rather than cynical.  Ironically cynicism, is this respect, is reserved for the younger generations, who tend to dwell more on the negative aspects and associations of daily life as a result of a lack in coping mechanisms that accumulate with age.  Research shows that older people, for the most part, accept life as it is with less expectation than their younger counterparts. Psychologically speaking, the less we expect from life, the happier we will be, albeit by mitigating disappointment.  Despite the decline of the physical quality of life after middle age, brain-scanning and psychological studies have proved an increase in mental satisfaction among aging demographics, as well as identified internal mechanisms that allow the elderly to better cope with hardship or negative circumstances.  This research simply reveals that our elderly experience greater positivity and optimism, which may be related to the way the brain processes emotional contents.  Still not convinced aging is the thing for you?  Well, here are a few other things you can look forward to in the coming years: more awake time, the benefits of grandchildren and being grandparents, accumulative knowledge or wisdom, and surprisingly, a rewarding sex life.  Aging is indeed a hallmark of biology and albeit, a true reflection of the cultural and societal conventions of the industrialized world.  Notwithstanding great skepticism and cynicism, aging continues as a momentous procession of the human experience - a true privilege.  In the words of Robert Browning, “Grow old along with me!  The best is yet to be.”

-Elizabeth Cucnik






Climate Change Affects Us All, and Yes, That Means You Too Penticton!

“We are upsetting the atmosphere upon which all life depends. In the late 80s when I began to take climate change seriously, we referred to global warming as a ‘slow motion catastrophe’ one we expected to kick in perhaps generations later. Instead, the signs of change have accelerated alarmingly.” – David Suzuki

Ecologically speaking, the world as we know it will never be the same as it is now, in fact, the world hasn’t been the same for quite some time.  Some of the disturbing affects of global warming and climate change can be seen and felt right in our own backyard.  The devastation of BC forests by the parasitic pine beetle, summer droughts, more precipitation in the form of rain during the winter months, and glacial melting are only a precursor of what is to come.  However for many of us, climate change is still an abstraction, an intangible theory that excites the pages of diagnostic books, plays and movies that seemingly border science fiction.  Even though we may not see or feel the daily climatic change that is affecting our planet, while we continue to enjoy the warmth of our homes during fearsome winter storms, building snowmen in our gardens and taking chilly walks during frost season, climate change is nevertheless an existent, authentic, real-time process that will irrefutably reshape the social, economic, political and environmental landscapes of our planet in the not-so-distant future.

The harmonious functioning of our ecosystem, like all orders of life, is contingent and affecting.  It exists the way it does, because something else exists the way it does, and something else exists the way it does, because our eco system exists the way it does.  Although many contemporary theorists believe that the earth is undergoing its own natural cycle of climate change, as it has done since its accretion 4.54 billion years ago, the catalytic green house gas effect is exponentially speeding up the process, causing unnecessary damage to adaptation, the natural process of evolution and natural selection, global environments, natural resources, weather patterns, seasonal disturbances and more.  In laymen’s terms, climate change is not just a sleeping giant.  It is a waking, rousing, yawning, angry goliath, who’s ready to fee-fi-fo-fum its way to an ecological breakdown.

Here in British Columbia, the impact of climate change is just as real as it is anywhere else.  In the Okanagan Valley for instance, mean winter temperatures are increasing alongside extreme minimum temperatures during our winter months, and we have seen a decline in snowpacks throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen over the past several decades.  Even though average temperatures of our growing season and dormant season are only expected to experience modest change by 2100, the success of the agrifood industry impinges on many factors that include temperature, moisture, secure export markets and low-wage labor, all of which will be affected by future climate change.  And while water resources in the Okanagan River Basin are undergoing continuous stress due to intensive regulation for irrigation and urban water supply, recent trends in climate change may see prolonged periods of drought and diminishing water resources.  While warmer temperatures may seem attractive at the get-go, it’s important to understand that even the minutest changes in climate can have substantial ecological, social and economic consequences.  Provincial regulations on greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reductions are now being adopted by new legislation that commits our region and other regional districts to identify GHG emissions reduction strategies.  The projected target of these reduction strategies is for British Columbia to reduce emissions by 33% below the 2007 levels by 2020, and 80% below the 2007 levels by 2050.  Land use, infrastructure, transportation and construction, all have major impacts on regional energy consumption and related GHG emissions.   Communities like Penticton and those throughout the Okanagan and British Columbia must identify clear strategic paths where growth and development can occur, while encouraging sustainable options and protection of natural resources.

In order to postulate multiple scenarios of BC’s future climate change and the subsequent impact on our lives, we must first look to our historic environmental past.   It is a fact that British Columbia’s climate has indeed changed over the last century. Our average annual temperature has warmed by 0.6 degrees C at the coast, 1.1°C in the interior and 1.7°C in the north between 1895 and 1995; precipitation increased in southern B.C. by 2 to 4 per cent per decade (between 1929 and 1998); sea surface temperature increased by 0.9 to 1.8°C between 1914 and 2001; snow depth and snow water content decreased in some parts of British Columbia between 1935 and 2000; and lakes and rivers throughout B.C. became free of ice earlier in the spring between 1945 and 1993.  The expediency of these changes demonstrates a speeding up of the warming process, whereby the projected rate of global warming for the 21st century becomes significantly faster than observed vicissitudes during the 20th century and likely faster than at any time during the last 10,000 years.  However, the actual rate of warming depends on how fast greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and how our environment responds.  Significant evidence suggests that the affects of climate change in BC throughout the 21st century will involve a 2-5°C increase in average annual temperature, an increase in river flood risks in the spring and coastal flooding associated with storm surges; shifts in the geographical range of vegetation, (which includes economically vital forest species); reduced winter snow pack and earlier snowmelt, (affecting summer water supply); glacial retreat in the south; greater stress on species at risk; increased river temperatures traumatizing salmon breeding grounds, and reduced summer soil moisture, which will subsequently increase risk of forest fires.  Whether we like to admit it or not, climate change does not mean a more warmer days basking in the sun with margaritas in hand.  Climate change will inevitably impact our water, fish, forests and other natural resources, alongside our communities and ecosystems that invariably depend on them.

It would be nice to posit an, ‘in conclusion,’ to this very catastrophic viewpoint, but unfortunately there is no such conclusion to the epidemic that is global warming.  At least no yet.  Climate change is one of the most urgent issues affecting society today and it something we cannot continue to ignore.  However apathy and ignorance among our populations mitigates the sense of urgency and stifles any immediate action in both the private and political sectors.  The goal is to communicate the impact of our climate change to those whom climate science often fails to reach, and provoke our government into providing clear choices for feasible actions for all factions of society, not just as the national or global level, but also at the local level.   We need to lobby our local government and its agencies into making the right choices that provide support for greener, more sustainable opportunities.  We need to talk more about global climate change, and take the time to learn about our beautiful planet.  The more we know the more we’ll care, and the more we care, the more we can make a difference.

-Elizabeth Cucnik



Canada In the Line of Fire? How Will The U.S. Election Outcome Affect Our Sovereign Nation?

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?” In the words of 18th century novelist Jane Austen, comes the thrust behind Canadian and U.S. relations.  Joining the popular crowds of the Western world, Canada takes aim at the theatrical display of 21rst century gladiatorial campaigning that is American politics.  While the U.S. election crusades continues to draw audience like a dark satirical comedy, Canadians watch on, mesmerized by the sucker-punch politics, the heavy-handed propaganda campaigns, and the skyrocketing expenditures that plague Uncle Sam.  It is perfect fodder for Canadian censure, and albeit Canadian phlegmatic resolve, despite the secret desire to import some of that U.S. political drama to our own political monotony.  And while American dollars continue to pour over the presidential elections from the drains of its dripping economy, Canadians continue to point a sanctimonious finger, veiled by the ‘sucker-to-saint effect’ by which we do not suffer fools gladly.  But whether envy or hubris, the irony lies in the fact that the joke is really on us.  No matter how ridiculous the U.S. political scene may seem at times, there is nothing laughable about the militate affect its thereafter has on our own.

So just how will the US election results affect Canada? Well first let’s have a look at the policies and positions of our current conservative Harper government and cross compare those with both the democratic and republican agendas.  Despite Canada’s sometimes-haughty opinion over its neighbor, Canadians must understand the interdependent nature of Canada’s relationship with the United States, (in which case, burning down our neighbor’s house will only make ours look worse!) To put it into perspective, no other economy comes close to the American weight in our trade flows, with more than 70 per cent of our exports bound for the U.S. market.  And it doesn’t stop there.  So just what is on the table?  Both parties have distinctive approaches when it comes to mitigating America’s national debt and high unemployment rates.  Obama’s tactic is simple: cut military expenditure and put a greater tax burden on the country's biggest businesses and wealthiest citizens. Romney’s plan on the other hand, mirrors more closely the Canadian program, which emphasizes tax cuts for big business in an attempt to boost job creation and investment.  So while the U.S. economy directly impacts the performance and growth plans of a substantial number of Canadian businesses, both plans therefore have far-reaching ramifications for Canada.  Slashing the U.S. corporate tax rate will directly affect Canada's ability to attract foreign investment and further republican cuts to government funding could likewise result in less work for Canadian companies that have benefited from American government contracts in recent years.  However the democrat’s plan to maintain government spending and re-invest in infrastructure may mean more opportunities for Canadian companies.

While energy and environment issues continue to plague our politicians, the big headline thundering across Canadian media of late has been the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, the outcome of which will be reflected by the outcome of the U.S. election. A means of weaning U.S. dependency on foreign oil by carrying Alberta crude more than 2500 kilometers south to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, the jury is still out.  And while both Obama and Romney may in fact approve the pipeline proposal, they each have very different views on securing U.S. energy, decisions that influence Canada’s own energy industry.  With the copycat Harper government imitating U.S. environmental policies, a more environmentally relaxed republican administration may mean less emission-reduction targets for Canada in the coming years.  Likewise the fate of the U.S. healthcare system, which has notoriously been at the epicenter of much global criticism and controversy over the years, (albeit something to really laugh about), will also perturb the Canadian medical sector.  Commonly known by the colloquial moniker Obamacare, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is expected to result in 32 million more Americans having access to health care, which will in turn, result in a shortage of 63,000 doctors by 2015.  This will inadvertently see a southward flow of Canadian doctors and nurses that will pull at the fibers of our own distressed healthcare system.

Amidst the political fray, let us not forget the figureheads behind these campaigns. Over the years, we have seen Stephen Harper construct a good working relationship with President Obama, however critics are quick to point out the similarities between the two conservative mouthpieces, which may result in a much closer relationship between Canada and the United States.  And while Obama’s wariness over free trade has helped Harper drive home his free-trade agenda to maintain a competitive advantage over the European and Indian markets, a Romney presidency may see a renewed commitment to fast-tracking talks and concluding agreements, resulting in a more competitive trade environment for Canada.

In conclusion, our schadenfreude, or moral triumph over the U.S. economic decline, and our holier-than-thou humor over American political outplay is ultimately misplaced.  Whether we like it or not, Canada can no longer consider itself partisan or independently thinking from its southern neighbor, especially while we share clothes and bank accounts.  In the end, whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama resume the presidency, Canada can be certain, the outcome either way will be incumbent upon Canada’s geopolitical, economical, environmental and social landscapes.

-Elizabeth Cucnik