Com­plain­ing about the weather is likely to be­come more com­mon­place

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT - ED­I­TOR'S NOTES

FIND YOUR­SELF GRUM­BLING ABOUT the weather? That’s re­ally a Cana­dian pas­time, but it’s likely to be­come more com­mon as the weather grows more ex­treme. And we’re al­ready see­ing an in­crease in ex­treme events, from heat-re­lated deaths to tor­na­does in East­ern On­tario, that are pre­dicted to be­come the new norm.

“This is the face of cli­mate change,” Prof. Michael Mann of Penn State Uni­ver­sity, one the world’s most em­i­nent cli­mate sci­en­tists, told the Guardian in an in­ter­view about this sum­mer’s weather. “We lit­er­ally would not have seen these ex­tremes in the ab­sence of cli­mate change.”

While the wet-and-cool weather dom­i­nates dis­cus­sion here just now, it’s not lost on us that things are amiss else­where too: flood­ing, soaring tem­per­a­tures and for­est fires abound. We tend to take such sto­ries in iso­la­tion, how­ever, fail­ing to con­nect the dots to form a (big) pic­ture of trou­ble on a plan­e­tary scale. Well, even more than fail­ing, we’re de­ter­mined not to con­nect to those dots. And those con­tent with the sta­tus quo – largely those prof­it­ing thereby – have ab­so­lutely no in­ter­est in draw­ing the per­ils to our at­ten­tion.

The dis­re­gard for the con­se­quences of the changes – con­sciously ig­nored in order to fo­cus on un­sus­tain­able con­sump­tion – is prob­lem­atic whether or not you be­lieve what man does is hav­ing any im­pact on the cli­mate. Ex­treme weather, flood­ing, land­slides and for­est fires will wreak havoc none­the­less.

The same prin­ci­ple ap­plies to all forms of pol­lu­tion, loss of fresh wa­ter, habi­tat de­struc­tion, degra­da­tion of arable land and a host of other some­day-cat­a­strophic ills that we’d rather not dwell on just now.

The fact is, how­ever, that we’d be well ad­vised to take steps to com­bat cli­mate change, and ramp up the pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures in those places likely to be hard­est hit – ris­ing wa­ter lev­els, droughts and vi­o­lent weather seem like cer­ti­tudes, so some plan­ning would be in order be­yond the sim­ple clos­ing-the-barn-door type.

The im­pli­ca­tions of cur­rent trends are clear. Take, for in­stance, a re­cent re­port from the Cen­tre for Re­search on the Epi­demi­ol­ogy of Dis­as­ters (CRED), which traced the in­crease in ex­treme weather be­tween 1995 and 2015. The study found that over a 20-year stretch, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity (90%) of dis­as­ters were caused by floods, storms, heat­waves and other weath­er­re­lated events. In to­tal, 6,457 weather-re­lated dis­as­ters were recorded, tak­ing some 606,000 lives – an av­er­age of some 30,000 per year – with an ad­di­tional 4.1 bil­lion peo­ple in­jured, left home­less or in need of emer­gency as­sis­tance.

Look­ing ahead, ex­perts see large in­creases in the num­ber of peo­ple who’ll die be­cause of weath­er­re­lated in­ci­dents.

A 2017 study pub­lished in The Lancet Pub­lic Health pre­dicted 152,000 Euro­peans would die an­nu­ally due to ex­treme weather be­tween 2071 and 2100, a 50-fold in­crease from the fig­ures for 19812010.

There are no end of stud­ies look­ing into the is­sue, but does go­ing on and on about cli­mate change help or hin­der the cause?

I think peo­ple have tuned out. Our at­ten­tion spans be­ing what they are, we’ve moved on. Oh, we oc­ca­sion­ally take pass­ing note of some con­fer­ence or sum­mit, where politi­cians make nice speeches about the fate of our planet and what needs to be done. As with many other is­sues, we sup­pose that all the talk leads to ac­tion, as­sum­ing the in­evitable de­cline in news cov­er­age means the prob­lem has gone away.

And, as is al­ways the case, short-term think­ing will dom­i­nate. Politi­cians wor­ried about re-elec­tion won’t do any­thing that seems ex­pen­sive or puts na­tional in­ter­ests at an ap­par­ent dis­ad­van­tage.

Na­tions will look af­ter their own in­ter­ests first. China and In­dia – the two largest pol­luters go­ing for­ward – will claim their sta­tus as de­vel­op­ing economies ex­empt them from any con­trols, even as China brings on­stream dozens of new coal-burn­ing plants. Ev­ery coun­try will want to pro­tect their in­dus­tries, no mat­ter how en­ergy in­ten­sive or pol­lut­ing.

Canada is no dif­fer­ent. The gov­ern­ment is be­holden to large re­source com­pa­nies, in­creas­ingly for­eign-owned. The av­er­age Cana­dian, while a low pri­or­ity in­di­vid­u­ally, still war­rants some con­sid­er­a­tion as part of the vot­ing mass. And Cana­di­ans have grown tired of the de­bate, and will not sup­port one dime trav­el­ling out of the coun­try on some ill-fated cap-and-trade, car­bon off­sets or en­vi­ron­men­tal repa­ra­tions scheme cooked up by an un­ac­count­able in­ter­na­tional group.

We sim­ply do not be­lieve politi­cians and bu­reau­crats ca­pa­ble of cre­at­ing a sys­tem that isn’t cor­rupt, in­ef­fec­tive and likely to waste money. His­tory has shown us such agree­ments are rarely to the ben­e­fit of av­er­age cit­i­zens.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be mak­ing our own ef­forts to com­bat cli­mate change.

Per­haps the largest bar­rier to any ma­jor change, how­ever, is hu­man na­ture: we’re quite con­tent with our lives are to­day, and see no need to change that for some po­ten­tial longterm ben­e­fit, one that’s un­likely to ma­te­ri­al­ize in our life­times.

Es­ti­mates tied to the kind of emis­sion re­duc­tions deemed nec­es­sary to off­set the worst of cli­mate change run into the hun­dreds of bil­lions. Cou­pled to the life­style changes and po­ten­tial eco­nomic up­heaval, the costs seem too oner­ous. If the worst does hap­pen, we’re go­ing to be spend­ing far more to deal with the dam­age and mit­i­ga­tion fac­tors … but that’s some­thing that may hap­pen in the fu­ture.

In­ter­est­ingly enough, should the fore­casted prob­lems arise, it won’t mat­ter at that point if the cli­mate changes are nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring or man­made: we’ll still have to cope with such things as ris­ing sea lev­els, in­creased storm ac­tiv­ity, de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and other threats to farm­land, to name a few.

The most en­ter­tain­ing part of the cli­mate change de­bate hinges on the an­thro­pogenic com­po­nent of global warm­ing. Those who ar­gue the planet’s his­tory is full of cool­ing and warm­ing trends, down­play­ing man’s im­pact on such a large sys­tem, seem to feel that some­how negates tak­ing ac­tion. Yes, the Earth has un­doubt­edly gone through many cli­mate changes, but most of them pre­date homo sapi­ens. In more ge­o­log­i­cally re­cent times, such events had lit­tle im­pact on hu­mans be­cause our pop­u­la­tion was small and mi­gra­tory. To­day, given that there are bil­lions of us spread out all over the planet, liv­ing in cities with mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture, the changes we’re told are com­ing would be cat­a­strophic.

There’s also some­thing of a fa­tal­ist view form­ing: cli­mate change is go­ing to hap­pen no mat­ter what we do, so why do any­thing at all?

Mann ad­dresses that in the Guardian piece.

“It is not go­ing off a cliff, it is like walk­ing out into a mine­field,” he said. “So the ar­gu­ment it is too late to do some­thing would be like say­ing: ‘I’m just go­ing to keep walk­ing’. That would be ab­surd – you re­verse course and get off that mine­field as quick as you can. It is re­ally a ques­tion of how bad it is go­ing to get.”

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