Monday, November 29, 2010

Climate Change: It's Happening. Let's Look for Solutions.

On June 4th, 2007, in Berlin, Germany, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, called for an international consensus on climate change. Harper referred to the fight against climate change as “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.” Three and a half years later, the optimism that urgent action would be taken by the international community to combat climate change appears to have dissipated. In part this has happened as a result of the global economic downturn, and shifting of governmental focus on shoring up our moribund economies. However, certain pundits, politicians and special interests have used the economic downturn as an excuse to sabotage action on climate change in order to further their own agendas.

Since the release of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2001 Assessment Report, there has no longer been any doubt that global warming is happening, and that it’s happening as a result of human industrial activities. Today, there remain those who want you to believe that the jury is still out on the climate change verdict, or who insist that the science is faulty. Or worse, they want you to believe that the scientists involved in the United Nations international effort to collect data and gather facts to inform world leaders are somehow complicit in an effort to mislead humanity, presumably for their own, shadowy ends.

The facts, however, are as undeniable as they are conclusive: humanity, through our industrial-scale use of fossil fuels, is having an impact on global climate. We are heating our planet. And as a result, there will be impacts associated with a changing climate which we need to begin to address at all levels of society.

There remains an urgent need to take action to combat climate change. Those who refuse to believe in scientific fact have shown again and again that they have nothing to bring to the table in terms of finding solutions. Systematically, they are being shut out of serious debates and discussions regarding what the international community should do to address climate change. The leaders of all nations are currently in agreement that climate change is happening, and that something has to be done. Disagreement between nations, often considerable, tends to occur when the discussion turns to finding ways forward.

Being shut out of conversations can be extremely frustrating, and can provoke negative, sometimes hysterical, reactions. Right now, that’s what’s happening to climate change deniers. Those involved in the denial industry (who often receive financial backing from companies who profit from oil and coal exploration and development) have been actively campaigning in the media against action on climate change. Their tactics include either denying that climate change is happening, or confusing the issue so that there is some question regarding how it is happening.

Many have fallen victim to believing the junk-science offered by climate change deniers. Indeed, the mainstream media, in their efforts to bring “balance” to news stories, often provide the denial industry with a platform from which they can expound their junk scientific theories.

The truth, however, is that there is no balance needed to be brought to a story where the facts are not actually in dispute. While there are many aspects regarding climate change which rightly should generate significant discussion and debate (such as “how is the international community going to address this dire problem?”), none of us benefit from stepping back and re-arguing the scientific merits of a changing climate. In fact, such discussions merely detract from the serious and necessary discussions which must take place in the next few years at all levels.

This week, the international community is gathering in Cancun, Mexico, for the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP-16) signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Many in the media have already written off this latest round of international discussion, pointing to last year’s failure in Copenhagen, along with a growing lack of interest in many western nations to take actions which may be perceived as jeopardizing economic recovery.

Western nations, however, do not make up the bulk of participants at this international conference. Although western nations are overwhelmingly responsible for creating the problems facing the Earth’s climate in the first place (because of historic emission levels), it’s the developing nations which are feeling the most of the negative impacts of climate change today. For many years now, developing nations have been clamouring for meaningful action to address climate change. We can expect them to continue to do so in Cancun. The question is, will the West agree to necessary action?

Stephen Harper was right: climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to humanity’s future. Yet, there remain special interests out there, often in the employ of the fossil fuel industry, who are seeking to prevent action at every step, often by questioning whether climate change is happening. Well, It is happening. And a majority of Canadians are demanding that their government take this threat seriously. We understand that the cost of inaction will be vastly more expensive than the cost of reducing our emissions.

This week, Greater Sudbury’s own Fred Twilley, the Green Party’s nominated candidate for Sudbury, will be in Cancun attending COP-16. Fred will be providing a first-hand look at the international process underway in Mexico to find solutions to address climate change. Fred will be sharing his experiences and observations with Sudburians, and indeed, with all Canadians, through this blogsite. I hope that you are able to follow Fred over the next week and a half. Fred will be hosting a forum to share his thoughts with all those who are interested later in January, 2011.

In the meantime, I urge you to tune out the nonsense being offered by those who deny the existence of climate change, and focus instead on sensible solutions which can be implemented by our governments, businesses and individuals, in a collective effort to take necessary action to head off the anticipated serious effects of a changing climate. We must now be focussed on solutions to the very real problem of climate change. We can no longer allow our own limited resources of time and energy to be high-jacked by those who, for whatever reason, fail to believe that humanity is warming our global climate.


The Mound of Sound said...

Steve there will be no emissions control agreement and here's why. A small number of nations, call them the "developed world," are responsible for almost all the manmade GHG put in the atmosphere since they created the Industrial Revolution. That atmosphere has a finite GHG carrying capacity before we kick into runaway global warming. More than half the capacity is gone. The question then becomes who will get the remainder? Some, including the Germans, believe it ought to be allocated to nations on a per capita basis. That, however, would force North America to decarbonize our economies and our societies in just a few years. We won't do that. So our bottom line is to retain a virtual monopoly on carbon emissions into the future. Is it suicidal? Of course. But, once we treat the atmosphere as a "commons" we'll invite that same argument over other planetary natural resources such as fisheries.

This is getting long so I'll continue in another comment

The Mound of Sound said...

The flaw in the global warming debate is that we treat it in isolation of the other potentially existential threats facing mankind. Here I'm referring to deforestation, desertification, air/soil/water contamination, resource exhaustion, the looming freshwater crisis, species migration and extinction, overpopulation, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and other global security threats. Jared Diamond quite eloquently argues that, if we're to solve any of these problems - even just global warming - we'll have to solve them all.

There really is a common thread that runs through these challenges and it demands solutions not to be found in 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geo-politics. That's what got us here and that is what underlies every one of these problems. We have to break free of that narrow and brittle approach but we're not going to. We're all Easter Islanders now, Steve.

Sudbury Steve said...

MOS, I fear that you're right about most of what you've written, and maybe all of it. I am very concerned that the international community won't be able to get its act together to accomplish much of anything with regards to emissions reductions, either at Cancun or elsewhere in the future. We do, however, have to keep trying, at least right now.

What I'm also concerned about has to do with the 20th century geopolitical model being thrown out with the bath water in order for action to be taken on climate change. My concerns here have to do with democratic processes. Do we need to discard democracy to save the planet? Some think so. I don't. Not that I believe we're currently inhabiting a democracy "for the people, by the people". What I'm concerned about, though, is that some in the environmental movement might begin to point the finger at our democratic institutions and suggest that those are the problem.

You're absolutely right about climate change being interconnected with all of those other things you've mentioned. For me, peak oil is a signficant concern which can no longer be ignored. Yet we do often compartmentalize these issues. At least on climate change, there is an international consensus that it's happening, and that something needs to be done. The same can't be said for nuclear proliferation or peak oil.

I always appreciate your comments!