Of Rooftops & Climate Change

Posted on December 11, 2011

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Here’s a story about climate change and sleeping on the edge of things.

In 1968, I was hitch-hiking through Saskatchewan with a friend.  It was early September, getting late and the rides were getting thin.  A recent rain had turned all the area around into mud and we had given up and were looking for a dry spot of ground to bed down.  We hiked into a town just off the highway.  Everything was shut down and the roads and streets were muddy there too.  The only dry spot we could find was a little patch of roof on top of a shed.  The shed was tucked in a corner, one side leaning against a gas station, the other side against that gas station’s false front.

There was room enough on top of that mildly inclined shed roof for the two of us.  We could sleep with our heads up towards the side of the gas station, our feet down towards the lower edge of the roof.  However, one position was obviously better than the other.  Whoever slept against the false front didn’t have to worry about falling off the roof sideways.  We flipped a nickel, which is how my friend and I solved all impossible disputes, and I won.

Presently though, I felt my friend and his sleeping bag crowding up against my back.

“What’s going on?” I grouched.

“It’s that fall,” he said.  “I keep thinking about it.”

He had a point, so I scrunched up against my safety wall a little closer and conceded him more of the centre.

You see, if you’re snoozing on the roof, the fall out of bed is six or seven feet.  That’s why you want to give yourself a margin and not stand on propriety.

Margins of safety viewed at a distance, or when you’ve won the nickel toss, don’t look the same as when you’re actually teetering on the edge of safety.  Perspective changes.  It becomes more realistic.

And speaking of realistic, we just had climate talks in Durban where we were playing with safety margins that might not even be there.  And we conducted the talks as if going over those margins maybe a little bit wasn’t so bad.

But no, it really would be bad, and not just a little bit.

We’re not just talking about falling out of bed and breaking a limb.

And remember.  Perhaps we won the nickel toss, and maybe we can personally sleep through the night, but in this story the people further out on the roof are our children and grandchildren.

By playing with those safety margins, by elbowing more room for ourselves, we’re effectively saying to them:

“Shove out further, kids.”