Dev­as­tat­ing cli­mate change on our doorstep AL­LI­SON HANES

The Expositor (Brantford) - - OPINION - Al­li­son Hanes is a Mon­treal Gazette colum­nist

Driv­ing into down­town Mon­treal dur­ing Tues­day’s evening rush hour was sober­ing.

The sun was set­ting on a gor­geous day that shat­tered a 60-year tem­per­a­ture record as cars inched along. This typ­i­cal grid­lock was an omi­nous re­minder, both of the catas­tro­phe fac­ing our planet and the vast ef­fort it will take to al­ter our fate.

A day be­fore, a United Na­tions cli­mate sci­en­tist group’s re­port warned the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact of hu­man-caused cli­mate change will hit us sooner — and at a lower thresh­old — than pre­vi­ously known.

Ear­lier that day, Mon­treal Mayor Valérie Plante urged pre­mierdes­ig­nate François Le­gault to make fight­ing global warm­ing Que­bec’s top pri­or­ity.

By 2040, the world could see ris­ing sea lev­els, more ex­treme weather events, scarcer food and wa­ter, in­creased poverty, ex­tinc­tion of many species and a mass die-off of coral, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change re­port. All this will oc­cur if emis­sions con­tinue at their present pace with a 1.5 C rise in global tem­per­a­tures over prein­dus­trial lev­els.

That’s well within my life­time, and my daugh­ters will be 25 and 30 when that dooms­day ar­rives. How old will you, your kid or grand­kids be?

Cli­mate change sci­en­tists be­lieve dis­as­ter can be averted. But it will re­quire rapid, rad­i­cal change in the world econ­omy, global en­ergy con­sump­tion and hu­man ac­tiv­ity for which there are “no doc­u­mented prece­dents,” the IPCC warned.

Ob­vi­ously, sav­ing the planet and spar­ing hu­man­ity much suf­fer­ing must be a mas­sive, co-or­di­nated, global ef­fort. The prospects for this seem dire. The U.S., the world’s sec­ond-big­gest pol­luter, is quit­ting the Paris Agree­ment, loos­en­ing ve­hi­cle emis­sions stan­dards and ramp­ing up coal power again — the op­po­site of what needs to hap­pen. As re­vealed in The Guardian, the Car­bon Ma­jors Re­port found 100 cor­po­ra­tions re­spon­si­ble for 71 per cent of global emis­sions. In Canada, too, most prov­inces are push­ing back against Ot­tawa’s car­bon pric­ing plan, leav­ing few with an ac­tual emis­sion-curb­ing strat­egy.

But the Sisyphean task ahead must not de­ter us.

The good news for Que­bec is we al­ready have re­new­able en­ergy in our abun­dant hy­dro power. Mon­treal has a soon-to-be un­veiled strat­egy to be­come car­bon neu­tral by 2050. Que­bec is part of a cap-and-trade car­bon mar­ket with Cal­i­for­nia.

As Plante noted, one of Que­bec’s big­gest cli­mate change bat­tles will be trans­porta­tion.

Na­tion­ally, trans­porta­tion ac­counts for a quar­ter of to­tal emis­sions, with pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles — cars, light trucks and mo­tor­cy­cles — re­spon­si­ble for about half of that. With cen­sus data show­ing mi­gra­tion to ex­urbs far­ther from city cen­tres, more peo­ple are driv­ing. For Que­bec to do its part, it must get peo­ple out of cars.

As cit­i­zens, we can try to drive less, take tran­sit when pos­si­ble or buy elec­tric ve­hi­cles. Those ef­forts may seem tiny next to in­dus­trial emis­sions, but “de­mand-side mit­i­ga­tion and be­havioural changes” are part of the so­lu­tion, the IPCC said. Our choices as con­sumers, in­vestors and vot­ers are needed to help tame cor­po­rate be­he­moths.

But the big changes will have to be made as a so­ci­ety. Gov­ern­ment must reign in de­vel­op­ment, in­vest mas­sively in tran­sit and speed elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of trans­porta­tion. Le­gault vowed to widen high­ways to sub­urbs that elected him, but he should in­clude re­served bus and car­pool lanes, long-dis­tance bike cor­ri­dors and light rail.

We can’t keep whistling through the grave­yard when it comes to cli­mate change. The longer we dither, the more dire our fu­ture be­comes.

As Plante said Tues­day: “We have to act now.”

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