ED­I­TO­RIAL No hit­ting the ‘snooze’ but­ton now

Winnipeg Free Press - - YOUR SAY | OUR VIEW -

AS a wake-up call, it was loud and clear. And ur­gent.

The United Na­tions In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) re­leased a new re­port, which cites more than 6,000 sci­en­tific ref­er­ences and was pre­pared by 91 au­thors and re­view ed­i­tors from 40 coun­tries. The sce­nario for the planet isn’t pretty — at least, not if we want hu­man civ­i­liza­tion to con­tinue.

To avoid the out­come of rapidly ris­ing oceans and run­away cli­mate change, the IPCC warns that hu­man-caused emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide would need to fall by about 45 per cent from 2010 lev­els by 2030, reach­ing “net zero” around 2050. That gives us 12 years to act.

Cli­mate-change de­niers, grasping at ever-slim­mer straws to dis­pute the real­ity of our warm­ing planet, like to de­ride the dire pre­dic­tions of sci­en­tists be­cause the worst hasn’t yet hap­pened. But the fact is that past cli­mate pre­dic­tions were, if any­thing, too con­ser­va­tive.

In the 1990s, sci­en­tists warned of the deadly ef­fect warm­ing oceans could have on coral reefs and the rich bio­di­ver­sity of these marine habi­tats. To­day, one-quar­ter of the world’s reefs are dam­aged be­yond re­pair, with an­other two-thirds at se­ri­ous risk. In ad­di­tion to harm­ful fish­ing prac­tices, cli­mate change is a ma­jor driver of that de­struc­tion. An­other con­se­quence of cli­mate change was pre­dicted: in­creased fre­quency of se­vere weather events. With the ris­ing in­ten­sity of heat waves in the United States, and in­creased de­struc­tive force of hur­ri­canes along the Gulf Coast and east­ern seaboard of North Amer­ica, that pre­dic­tion is prov­ing ac­cu­rate as well.

Now the IPCC is re­port­ing that a “change cli­mate” is nearer than pre­vi­ously thought, stat­ing that “lim­it­ing global warm­ing to 1.5 C would re­quire rapid, far-reach­ing and un­prece­dented changes in all as­pects of so­ci­ety.”

In­di­vid­ual ac­tions won’t be enough. Those who are able can limit their travel, in­su­late their homes, buy lo­cal. But that’s not the way our econ­omy is set up; it’s pred­i­cated on cheap fos­sil-fuel en­ergy. In or­der to prop­erly ad­dress the threat of cli­mate change, gov­ern­ments need to act.

The tech­nol­ogy for re­new­able en­ergy is in­creas­ingly bet­ter and cheaper. Gov­ern­ment poli­cies that en­cour­age its use would help spur even more de­vel­op­ment. Man­i­toba’s provin­cial gov­ern­ment could re­new and in­crease its sup­port for mass tran­sit, as well as charg­ing in­fra­struc­ture for elec­tric ve­hi­cles. At the mu­nic­i­pal level, Winnipeg could com­mit to up­grad­ing its tran­sit fleet to made-in-Man­i­toba elec­tric buses. The po­ten­tial for so­lar en­ergy has barely been tapped.

Aside from re­duc­ing emis­sions, we might also be able to re­duce the amount of car­bon al­ready in the at­mos­phere. Bri­tish Columbia-based Car­bon En­gi­neer­ing has de­vel­oped tech­nol­ogy that pulls car­bon diox­ide from the air, con­verts it into clean-burn­ing fuel suit­able for ve­hi­cles, and se­questers car­bon in the ground. At least six other com­pa­nies around the world are work­ing on sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives.

There is a role for gov­ern­ment to play. Yes, such ini­tia­tives would be ex­pen­sive. It’s too bad there isn’t a made-in-Man­i­toba so­lu­tion to pro­vide rev­enue to ad­dress cli­mate change. Oh, wait — that could have been the provin­cial gov­ern­ment’s abruptly axed car­bon tax, which could have funded a host of clean-en­ergy and emis­sion­sre­duc­tion ini­tia­tives.

The IPCC re­port de­clares that to avoid dis­as­ter, there must be a huge ad­just­ment in the way we do things, and that cli­mate change is no longer an end-of-the-cen­tury prob­lem.

As this alarm sounds, we could just hit “snooze,” again, as we have so many times in the past. But we might not like the fi­nal wake-up call.

SAL­VA­TORE DI NOLFI / KEY­STONE FILES

The UN cli­mate change re­port is an ur­gent warn­ing.

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