Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Climate Change – A Humanity Threatening Non-Issue

with 6 comments

The following op ed was offered to the mainsteam media but they declined it. Its author is Bill Henderson, a reader of this blog and a supporter of the BCEN LW list which I am so glad I was able to get onto.

Thanks Bill for your consent to me putting your thoughts on my blog


Canadians have simply no idea how serious climate change is because they have been and continue to be profoundly mis-educated about climate change – the danger is a slow overall rise in temperature effecting weather and subsequently resources such as water in each differing Canadian region; Canadians have until mid-century to lower emissions and this is possible within our presently configured socio-economy if we all just finally start making smart choices, maybe aided by government incentives.

This convenient conventional wisdom begins with what’s most important – our pre-occupations in this socio-economy – and then selects a climate change conceptualization from climate change science that will fit into this business as usual.

The best selling HOT AIR: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge by Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, climate change policy specialist Mark Jaccard and researcher Nic Rivers is a perfect example. Published in 2007 by informed Canadian climate change policy insiders, there is no mention of tipping points or latent positive feedbacks, carbon cycle time lags, sinks turning into sources or abrupt, whipsawing climate history.

HOT AIR contains no acknowledgement at all of non-linear climate change. There is no warning education of the increasing probability and immediate danger of runaway, no longer controllable, climate change which is a far greater danger to Canadians than bad weather, drought and bugs from gradual warming. No mention at all. No Hansen. Nothing about methane bubbling up from permafrost. Strictly a long term gradual problem that we can solve within business as usual beginning with thin edge of the wedge mitigation strategies such as the puny BC carbon tax Jaccard and Co turnkeyed for the BC Liberal government.

(This carbon tax debacle itself contributed to wrongfooting Joe Public – if  climate change is a crisis how come the tax is just a few pennies a liter,  much less then the rise in gas prices by oil companies making billions, and then why give the money back to spend instead of investing in renewable energy or efficiency? If climate change is a crisis? Are Canuck or Olympic tickets a smart choice for my rebate if climate change is a crisis?)

Each of the leaders of the parties in this past Federal election understand the increasing probability of humanity threatening danger from non-linear climate change – although some have investments that keep them much more in denial – but not one of them could or did try to inform and educate Canadians about this real climate change danger in the election.

Why? What do the HOT AIR authors and Canada’s political leaders share that rules out  acknowledging climate change’s real, immediate danger? Search out  Thomas Friedman’s ‘golden straightjacket’. Ask yourself just what degree of emission reduction is possible within our service sector dominated Canadian

The emerging literature about mitigation strategies by those who do take climate change seriously – who recognize the melting Arctic as a tipping point, 350 ppm as the precautionary ceiling necessary, 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions globally by 2020 as the mitigation target necessary – importantly educate that there is no possibility of emission reduction of  a scale needed within political and economic business as usual. No possibility of needed socio-economic reconfiguration in order to reduce emissions within BAU.

80% by 2020 is the bottom line and is still possible, but it requires profound systemic change in what must be emergency innovated politics and economics. Sutton /Spratt, Lester Brown and Britain’s New Green Deal –
Hundred Months group advocate an update of already tested wartime-style mobilization as the governance innovation needed first to unblock for change.

But this is heresy. None of the party leaders could endanger their team’s electability this election by actually advocating such a needed, precautionary, climate change mitigation strategy. Climate change might be an emergency;  with time lags we might be near if not slipping over a tipping point to an extinction event too terrifying for us to even fully comprehend, but there is no taking climate change seriously in our present

Elizabeth May, Jack Layton, Gilles Doucette, and Stephane Dion know the science, know the increasing probability of danger, know the mitigation time frames necessary. Harper is PM because he united the right – you’d think that climate change should have been the emergency issue uniting the greens, but that would entail taking climate change seriously.

That would have meant leadership in making climate change the issue, sublimating all other issues, all trivialities and tribalisms, and we’re obviously not there yet. There was no leadership voice explaining the danger and the need to unite.

Alone Dion tried to advance a weak Green Shift but it was political suicide because the mis-educated public isn’t there yet and confused and afraid they didn’t vote or voted for Harper’s safe BAU. And so it goes: lack of leadership, more mis-education, a dumber public, more time wasted …

Written by Stephen Rees

October 21, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Environment, politics

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6 Responses

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  1. “And so it goes: lack of leadership, more mis-education, a dumber public, more time wasted … ”

    You fit right in there, Grant The Ranter. I would add ‘Naivete’ to the list.

    Henderson lamented the lack of focus on the science, and mentioned James Hansen, one of the world’s pre-eminent scientists, whose latest research predicts the total melting of the ice caps after we hit 450 parts per million of atmospheric carbon. We’re at 385 ppm right now (up from a stabile 250 ppm a century earlier), and it’s increasing at 2-3 ppm per year. That gives us 20 years if we’re lucky.

    How the hell do you limit yourself to “adapt” to a 10+ metre rise in sea level by mid-century? A 30+ metre rise by the end of this century? A further 50+ metres beyond? How do you adapt to drying up interior lakes and prairie rivers, the lifeblood of Canadian agriculture, and the mass conflagration of coastal and boreal forests (incidently, another tipping point with regard to pumping a horrendous amount of carbon into the atmosphere)?

    Farming in the arctic — on what, Canadian Shield granite? Melting permafrost? A four inch layer of scorched, dead pine and needles on top of sand and gravel?

    Productive prairie soils do not exist in the boreal forest and arctic, and are threatened by predicted dust bowl conditions by the time Gen Xers are in their 50s. My uncle lost 8 inches of top soil on his Northern Alberta farm during the 1930s alone, and he farmed organically. No amount of low-tilling and cover could stop it.

    Oh yeah, in reducing emissions we’re supposed to let the other guy go first, right?

    Well, there is evidence they will do exactly that. Both Obama and McCain have proposed policies to do far more about climate change than Harper ever will because he’s too busy suppressing climate science.

    And China, in case you haven’t heard, is amongst other things building high-speed rail and is very, very aware of the fate of Shanghai as seas rise, let alone the encroachment of the Gobi Desert into the windows of the Beijing Politburo. China and India cannot ever be accused of not knowing about the issue, and will probably take action in massive geoengineering projects, more sooner than later.

    There are answers. The best, in my view, combine curtailing GHG emissions and adaptation measures. But Canada will be left far, far behind on our present course.


    October 22, 2008 at 12:19 pm

  2. I welcome Stephen’s often complimentary messages.

    Rude … I wouldn’t say so. Sarcastic — sure. Satirical — absolutely!

    Getting back on topic, your rejection of almost every proposed measure to reduce emissions, to wait until other industrial nations have started the ball rolling on reductions, and to rely only on adpatation without really understanding what that means, deserves a little satire and sarcasm.


    October 22, 2008 at 1:17 pm

  3. My teeth are not clenched. I understand the issues perfectly well. And I have nothing to appologize for.

    Now, if you’re not going to get back on topic (Henderson … Hansen … climate change… remember?), then I’ll disengage from this pointless exchange before your patronizing tone changes into a full-scale eruption.

    What a waste of time.


    October 22, 2008 at 2:19 pm

  4. Yesterday was Media Democracy Day, which offered an excellent opportunity to see how biased and constrained our mainstream media is in Canada. You would understand why this piece didn’t get into a major daily and why this blog is so important. If you want to learn more about how undemocratic the media is here in Canada, I recommend going to Net neutrality is also a current critical issue; see for more info.


    October 26, 2008 at 12:05 pm

  5. You’re getting very shrill, Grant. It certainly doesn’t bolster your argument or benefit your credibility (i.e. lack thereof).


    October 26, 2008 at 12:08 pm

  6. Actually Grant it is you who seems to be missing the point. Huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are necessary – and there is no realistic “business as usual with a little bit of conservation that will pay for itself anyway” approach. And as long as Canada continues its present path – increasing its emissions – we not only have zero credibility on the world stage we also expose ourselves to trade penalties in future from countries that are doing much better. As long as Canada and the US do not reduce emissions, countries like China and India will continue to use us as reasons why they are not going to co-operate.

    Carbon taxes are going to have to be part – but only part – of the solution. But fundamentally “late capitalism” has indeed collapsed under its own contradictions and we need to find a new way of organising ourselves.Not just Canada, the world but we could show some leadership for a change.

    Expressions that suggest that whatever Canada does makes no difference to the world are not exactly helpful, are they?

    And once again I remind you that this blog and its discussion area should be a place where everyone is treated with courtesy and respect. Those who cannot abide by this request will find that their comments get removed and do not appear in future.

    Stephen Rees

    October 26, 2008 at 2:52 pm

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