A dire call to ac­tion on cli­mate

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - OPINION - Lana Payne Lana Payne is the At­lantic di­rec­tor for Uni­for. She can be reached by email at lana­pay­nenl@gmail.com. Twit­ter: @lanam­payne. Her col­umn re­turns in two weeks.

The le­gion of do-noth­ing (bor­der­ing on de­nial and in some cases not even bor­der­ing) on cli­mate change politi­cians in Canada should have felt at least a tiny twinge of doubt last week fol­low­ing the in-your-face-call-to-ac­tion re­port from the United Na­tions.

They might have also felt some­what chas­tised when a pair of No­bel Prize-win­ning econ­o­mists said a global price on car­bon is crit­i­cal, es­sen­tial and cru­cial to sav­ing the planet. But no, as the old folks would say, they don’t know what they don’t know.

They seem con­tent to let the planet burn, scream­ing about car­bon taxes and of­fer­ing no so­lu­tions to one of the great­est chal­lenges of our time.

Or per­haps they just don’t give a darn, putting off the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to an­other gen­er­a­tion of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, happy to bask in their ridicu­lous ide­ol­ogy and hubris. Prob­lem is we don’t have a gen­er­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) which in­cluded some of the world’s lead­ing cli­mate sci­en­tists, we have about a dozen years to take se­ri­ous and con­certed ac­tion just to keep global warn­ing to a max­i­mum of 1.5C. Be­yond that, the risk of drought, floods, ex­treme heat and poverty for hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple will sig­nif­i­cantly worsen.

“It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the mo­ment and we must act now,” said De­bra Roberts, a co-chair of the work­ing group on im­pacts. “This is the largest clar­ion bell from the sci­ence com­mu­nity and I hope it mo­bi­lizes peo­ple and dents the mood of com­pla­cency.”

Just hours af­ter the UN panel is­sued this dire warm­ing, econ­o­mists Wil­liam Nord­haus and Paul Romer were awarded the No­bel Prize for their work on the eco­nom­ics of cli­mate change and sus­tain­able growth.

Romer ex­plained their work to the CBC’S Carol Off by say­ing: “The pol­icy is very sim­ple. If you just com­mit to a tax on the us­age of fu­els that di­rectly or in­di­rectly re­lease green­house gases, and then you make that tax in­crease steadily in the fu­ture ... peo­ple will see that there’s a big profit to be made from fig­ur­ing out ways to sup­ply en­ergy where they can do it with­out in­cur­ring the tax. The prob­lem is not know­ing what to do. The prob­lem is get­ting a con­sen­sus to act.”

And with the elec­tion of so many right-wing pop­ulist politi­cians who op­pose car­bon taxes reach­ing a con­sen­sus to act is get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult just when we need it the most.

The fis­sure be­tween sci­ence and pol­i­tics is widen­ing as right-wing pop­ulism sweeps across the planet. The de­niers are win­ning.

But there is a way to min­i­mize the voices of the de­niers. It’s called elec­toral re­form.

Too many po­lit­i­cal voices and too many Cana­di­ans are si­lenced in the old-first-past-the­p­ost sys­tem. One could ar­gue that real ac­tion on cli­mate change is get­ting si­lenced too.

In On­tario’s elec­tion, Doug Ford won a ma­jor­ity, but the ma­jor­ity of On­tar­i­ans voted for some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing pro­gres­sive.

When asked about the UN re­port, Ford who has been rolling back the clock on pretty much ev­ery­thing in­clud­ing ac­tions to deal with cli­mate change said his plan to deal with emis­sions is to sup­port com­pa­nies who are good en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ards and those that aren’t he will “pay them a visit.”

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

It would be laugh­able if wasn’t so in­cred­i­bly se­ri­ous.

We des­per­ately need in­ten­sive and global ac­tion on cli­mate. For Canada to get there what we also need is elec­toral re­form so the mi­nor­ity no longer con­trols all the power. Be­cause when that po­lit­i­cal it power isn’t in­ter­ested in tak­ing cli­mate ac­tion we all suf­fer.

The longer we wait the more un­just the tran­si­tion for work­ers will be. It won’t be the po­lit­i­cal de­niers who will suf­fer. It won’t be the CEOS of ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions who will suf­fer. It will be work­ing peo­ple. Right now we have a chance to grow the econ­omy and cre­ate jobs by low­er­ing emis­sions – sus­tain­able and green eco­nomic growth.

But like any­thing cor­po­ra­tions need an in­cen­tive to act. Pric­ing car­bon is the in­cen­tive.

This also re­quires po­lit­i­cal courage from those who should be ad­vanc­ing things like elec­toral re­form. It may be the only way in to­day’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate that we can de­liver bet­ter pol­i­tics, bet­ter democ­racy and save the planet. Or at least do our part in sav­ing it.

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