We can’t close our eyes to cli­mate change

Sherbrooke Record - - EDITORIAL - By David Suzuki

Con­trary to a com­mon per­cep­tion, ig­nor­ing cli­mate change won’t make it dis­ap­pear. Global re­search go­ing back to 1824 in fields rang­ing through physics, oceanog­ra­phy, bi­ol­ogy and ge­ol­ogy have con­firmed hu­man ac­tiv­ity — mainly burn­ing fos­sil fu­els, rais­ing live­stock and de­stroy­ing car­bon sinks like forests and wet­lands — is in­creas­ing green­house gas emis­sions and caus­ing global tem­per­a­tures to rise rapidly, putting hu­man­ity at risk. Ev­ery le­git­i­mate sci­en­tific academy and in­sti­tu­tion and ev­ery govern­ment, ex­cept the cur­rent U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion, agrees.

Yet the dis­con­nect between that re­al­ity and govern­ment ac­tion to con­front the great­est cri­sis hu­man­ity faces is as­tound­ing. Nowhere is that dis­con­nect more pro­found than in the United States, where the at­ti­tude is “out of sight, out of mind.”

U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt, ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, told staff to scrub the agency’s web­site of in­for­ma­tion about cli­mate change and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Clean Power Plan, aimed at re­duc­ing CO2 emis­sions from power gen­er­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Newsweek, “Pruitt or­dered ed­its that would mod­ify search re­sults for ‘Clean Power Plan’ to link to a page pro­mot­ing Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der, with a photo of the pres­i­dent and the EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor pos­ing with coal min­ers.”

That’s just one among many moves by the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­duce en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and over­turn mea­sures to re­duce cli­mate change and shift to a clean en­ergy econ­omy. Pruitt has also sug­gested cli­mate change might be ben­e­fi­cial!

Trump, as with many is­sues, is both con­fused and ig­no­rant about global warm­ing.

“There is a cooling and there’s a heat­ing,” Trump told Bri­tish jour­nal­ist Piers Mor­gan in an ITV News in­ter­view. “I mean, look, it used to not be cli­mate change, it used to be global warm­ing. That wasn’t work­ing too well be­cause it was get­ting too cold all over the place.”

His com­ment shows the pres­i­dent doesn’t un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence between cli­mate and weather or the his­tory and ba­sics of cli­mate sci­ence.

Although Cana­dian gov­ern­ments sound more rea­son­able, their ac­tions demon­strate a sim­i­lar dis­con­nect. The Al­berta and fed­eral gov­ern­ments talk about re­duc­ing emis­sions but some­how be­lieve ex­pand­ing oil­sands pro­duc­tion and ship­ping dirty bi­tu­men around the world to be burned are com­pat­i­ble with their cli­mate plans.

“We need to make sure we’re both pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and grow­ing the econ­omy at the same time,” Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau told CBC in de­fend­ing Kinder Mor­gan’s Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion, which would triple the amount of bi­tu­men shipped.

The econ­omy and the en­vi­ron­ment aren’t equal con­sid­er­a­tions. We in­vented the cur­rent econ­omy and can change it, as we of­ten have, when it no longer suits our needs or re­al­i­ties. De­mand­ing con­stant growth on a fi­nite planet is sui­ci­dal. And ex­tract­ing, pro­cess­ing, sell­ing and trans­port­ing pol­lut­ing, cli­mate-al­ter­ing fos­sil fu­els isn’t the best way to en­sure eco­nomic pros­per­ity.

The oil and gas sec­tor emits 26 per cent of Canada’s green­house gases (al­most 10 per cent from oil­sands) — not in­clud­ing emis­sions from burn­ing the prod­uct! — yet only con­trib­utes about five per cent of GDP, with the oil­sands con­tribut­ing about two per cent. The in­dus­try em­ployed around 178,000 peo­ple in 2017, with fewer than 30,000 in the oil­sands. That’s sig­nif­i­cant, but clean tech em­ploys more peo­ple, of­ten in more widely dis­trib­uted, high-pay­ing jobs.

Trudeau’s claim that re­duc­ing di­rect oil­sands emis­sions is enough is also disin­gen­u­ous. Canada isn’t on track to meet its com­mit­ments un­der the Paris Agree­ment, and he ig­nores the fact that coun­tries buy­ing our bi­tu­men will burn it, fur­ther fu­elling global warm­ing. As­sur­ances that Canada has ad­e­quate plans to pro­tect the B.C. coast from a spill, with an in­crease in crude oil tankers through Bur­rard In­let from 60 to 400 a year, are ab­surd.

No mat­ter what lengths politi­cians, cor­po­rate in­ter­ests and oth­ers take to avoid, down­play and ob­fus­cate se­ri­ous is­sues around en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and our eco­nomic sys­tem’s de­struc­tive path, we can’t deny re­al­ity. Stud­ies show we must re­frain from burn­ing most fos­sil fuel re­serves to avoid cat­a­strophic warm­ing.

In lit­tle more than a cen­tury, the hu­man pop­u­la­tion has more than quadru­pled to seven bil­lion and ris­ing, and our plas­tic-choked, con­sumer-driven, car-ob­sessed cul­tures have led to re­source de­ple­tion, species ex­tinc­tion, ocean degra­da­tion, cli­mate change and more. It’s past time to open our eyes and shift to a more sen­si­ble ap­proach to liv­ing on this small, pre­cious planet.

David Suzuki is a sci­en­tist, broad­caster, au­thor and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion. Writ­ten with con­tri­bu­tions from David Suzuki Foun­da­tion Se­nior Ed­i­tor Ian Han­ing­ton.

Learn more at www.david­suzuki.org.

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