Peo­ple have tuned out con­stant stream of dooms­day rhetoric, says Kelly McPar­land.

Calgary Herald - - OPINION -

The lat­est cli­mate re­port came out the other day, show­ing what a crap job we’re do­ing of sav­ing the planet.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC), we might as well have stayed home and burned coal or wood fires for the past three decades for all the good it’s done to avert global warm­ing. The find­ings in­spired all the usual cat­a­clysmic head­lines — “bomb­shell” re­port, “cli­mate disas­ter,” “en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe.”

“The re­port shows that we only have the slimmest of op­por­tu­ni­ties re­main­ing to avoid un­think­able dam­age to the cli­mate sys­tem that sup­ports life as we know it,” ad­vised Am­jad Ab­dulla, an IPCC board mem­ber.

Twenty-five years af­ter the Rio sum­mit, 20 years af­ter the Ky­oto ac­cord, de­spite re­lent­less ha­rangu­ing from gov­ern­ments, aca­demics, ex­perts, ac­tivists and sages of all size, shape and colour, we’re still go­ing straight to hell in a hand­bas­ket, cli­mate-wise. We won’t reach any of the tar­gets we’re sup­posed to be com­mit­ted to, and even if we did, it wouldn’t be enough. Hit­ting the tar­get in­crease of 1.5 de­grees C would de­mand “rapid, far-reach­ing and un­prece­dented” change in just about very facet of daily life. Meet­ing the goals set at the big Paris con­fab in 2015 wouldn’t do the trick even if they’re jacked up af­ter 2030.

So there you go. We’ve failed, or are well on the road to fail­ing. Might as well pre­pare to reap the whirl­wind. Stack some sand­bags around the house, stock up on canned goods, nail down any­thing that could be car­ried away in a wind storm.

Dark hu­mour prob­a­bly isn’t the best way to greet the IPCC’s warn­ings, but it’s hard to re­sist when so much talk has pro­duced so lit­tle. If Jane and Joe Av­er­age have learned to tune out the fore­casts of Ar­maged­don, who could blame them? De­spite the best ef­forts of mil­lions of well-mean­ing com­mon folk, who want to do their bit to con­tribute to the cru­sade, we’re still be­ing hec­tored with the same stark, un­reach­able alarums. If your preacher de­liv­ers the same ser­mon ev­ery Sun­day for a quar­ter cen­tury, even­tu­ally the mind starts to wan­der.

We have the cli­mate change ap­pa­ra­tus it­self to thank for this. Eco evan­ge­lists have driven off rea­son­able peo­ple with won­drous de­mands. Coun­te­nanc­ing poli­cies that threaten the liveli­hood of mil­lions of peo­ple doesn’t sell. “No coun­try would find 173 bil­lion bar­rels of oil in the ground and just leave them,” said Justin Trudeau in one of his more co­gent mo­ments. Eco­nomic il­lit­er­acy on the scale of a David Suzuki or a Naomi Klein may rouse a crowd, but pro­duces hu­man wreck­age like Venezuela’s.

Peo­ple will ac­cept a de­gree of dis­com­fort if they’re con­vinced a cri­sis is im­mi­nent, the re­sponse is ef­fec­tive and the pain is be­ing shared equally across the board. They also have to trust the mes­sage and the mes­sen­gers.

That’s been a big prob­lem. From very early days, politi­cians and pub­lic fig­ures seized on global warm­ing as ripe with po­ten­tial to ben­e­fit to their ca­reers. “Pro­gres­sives” were quick to sign on to pro­to­cols, agen­das, ac­cords and tar­gets well be­fore hav­ing any idea how to achieve them. Canada’s Lib­er­als cham­pi­oned Ky­oto from the get-go, with­out ever mak­ing a se­ri­ous stab at meet­ing its de­mands. As Lib­eral leader, Stephane Dion took a run at a more dra­matic pol­icy shift, only to frighten off vot­ers un­will­ing to bet their liveli­hoods on his abil­ity to de­liver. When Justin Trudeau came to of­fice, he flew half of Ot­tawa to Paris to pledge fealty to the 2015 UN agree­ment, then stuck largely with Stephen Harper’s tar­gets for re­duc­ing emis­sions.

But Canada is a bit player in this pro­duc­tion. The real ac­tors prac­tise a much more ma­lign level of in­ef­fec­tive­ness. Be­tween them, China, In­dia and the U.S. pro­duce 54 per cent of emis­sions. China alone is re­spon­si­ble for 30 per cent. Emis­sions in the U.S. have been fall­ing, even with Don­ald Trump’s bom­bast. In China and In­dia they con­tinue to rise.

Coal pro­vides 28 per cent of the world’s en­ergy; be­tween them, China and In­dia pro­duce more than 50 per cent of the sup­ply. Use of coal in both coun­tries con­tin­ues to grow. Bei­jing has loudly pro­claimed its de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­verse the dam­age, but has mean­while be­come a world leader in fi­nanc­ing coal pro­duc­tion else­where.

Ac­cord­ing to a Ger­man study, China, In­dia, Ja­pan and the Philip­pines are among the big­gest in­vestors in 1,380 coal projects around the world, many in Asia. If they don’t want to choke on coal dust them­selves, they’re happy to help oth­ers do it.

Only nine per cent of Canada’s elec­tric­ity is coal-gen­er­ated, but we could end its use en­tirely and have min­i­mal im­pact on a global scale. Mean­while, con­sumers can be for­given their cyn­i­cism when con­fronted with the an­tics of grand­stand­ing politi­cos like Bri­tish Columbia’s Premier John Hor­gan, who cites en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns in his cru­sade to block Al­berta from build­ing an oil pipe­line across his province, while Van­cou­ver op­er­ates North Amer­ica’s largest coal-ex­port port, ship­ping off coal to belch out car­bon else­where while lec­tur­ing Al­berta about its oil. Hor­gan pro­claims hor­ror at the prospect of an oil leak, but de­clared it “a great day for Bri­tish Columbia” when a $40-bil­lion pro­ject was ap­proved to ship liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas through a pipe­line to a plant in Kiti­mat.

Trudeau’s dif­fi­culty in im­pos­ing a na­tional car­bon tax de­rives di­rectly from voter ex­pe­ri­ences with provin­cial ver­sions, in which rev­enues quickly dis­ap­peared down gov­ern­ment siphons. The rea­son Ja­son Ken­ney, Doug Ford, Scott Moe and oth­ers can openly vow op­po­si­tion to the tax is the con­fi­dence that con­stituents — rightly or wrongly — largely view them as a shell game in which they’re the loser. Vot­ers in all the big­gest prov­inces al­ready have first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence with a car­bon tax; if they thought it was work­ing they wouldn’t be so sus­pi­cious of Trudeau’s. And if they were work­ing, Trudeau’s would be su­per­flu­ous.

If the IPCC is frus­trated, it should be frus­trated with its friends. Or­di­nary peo­ple are happy to help save the planet. It’s ac­tivists, evan­ge­lists, politi­cians and their as­so­ci­ated grand­standers who have dropped the ball.

Dark hu­mour prob­a­bly isn’t the best way to greet the IPCC’s warn­ings, but it’s hard to re­sist when so much talk has pro­duced so lit­tle. Kelly McPar­land

They also have to trust the mes­sage and the mes­sen­gers. That’s been a big prob­lem.


The United Na­tions In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change has again is­sued a dire re­port say­ing that avoid­ing global cli­mate chaos will re­quire a ma­jor trans­for­ma­tion of so­ci­ety, and the world is run­ning out of time to avert disas­ter.


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