Special Report: Climate Change

With Climate Action, the Middle Ground Between Success and Failure is Failure

We need a massive, comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck mobilization of our entire country to transition rapidly and decisively to a decarbonized economy if we have any hope of saving the planet for our children and grandchildren.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 17, 2019

This week, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reached 415 parts per million. The last time CO2 was that high was around three million years ago. For anyone keeping track, anatomically modern humans have only existed for some 250,000 years and cognitively modern humans have only existed for 50-60,000 years.

It's time to get real with moderate centrists who believe in climate change (yay!) but still think we can take a "middle ground" approach to addressing it.

30 years ago, a price on carbon would have been enough to move us incrementally and gradually to a decarbonized economy. Now we are in an acute emergency: we have about a decade left to forestall uncontrollable runaway global warming.

Thanks to positive feedback loops like the melting of the arctic permafrost releasing vast amounts of methane, the global temperature increase will go non-linear if we allow it to keep rising.

We need to rapidly, drastically cut our carbon emissions to zero. Canada's goal is to reduce emissions by 30 percent from the 2005 level by 2030. Instead, our goal must be to reduce emissions to near zero by that time.

A modest carbon tax, while welcome in the way that anything is better than nothing, is woefully inadequate to achieve even our own current goal, which is also woefully inadequate.

We need a massive, comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck mobilization of our entire country to transition rapidly and decisively to a decarbonized economy if we have any hope of saving the planet for our children and grandchildren.

No more triangulation, no more "grand bargain" with the fossil fuel industry. They need to be shut down, not bargained with - and certainly not subsidized. Yet the International Monetary Fund recently assessed that Canada provides an incomprehensible $58 billion CAD a year in total fossil fuel subsidies.

You understand that's insanity, right?

Fossil fuel executives who keep trying to deny, confuse, stall and obstruct the worldwide effort to save humanity are committing crimes against humanity and should be treated as such. Fire fighters don't negotiate with arsonists to set fewer fires.

We have one chance to get this right. The normal ways of doing things have been failing us and will continue to fail us if we continue to rely on them. The status quo is a planetary death sentence, and every political movement and party that continues to oppose comprehensive action is effectively a death cult.

The great strength of Homo Sapiens is our incredible adaptability. If we want to survive, we are going to have to adapt like crazy, and fast.

It's time to rethink everything we do. For example, last week I saw a landscaping company pickup truck blocking a bike lane while workers ran a gas lawn mower and a gas leaf blower. It occurred to me that every single aspect of that scenario is going to have to change if we want life on earth to continue in a manner we recognize.

Are we going to be the heroic saviours of humanity and the planet, or are we going to stick our heads in the oilsand and desperately, passively hope the global community of climate scientists are wrong?

Guess what: even if they're only half-right, our best case scenario is a nightmare hellscape of flooded cities, horrendous forest fires, deadly droughts and heatwaves, and millions upon millions of desperate climate refugees.

It's already happening today. The 2015-16 refugee migration that destabilized Europe and triggered the white nationalists was driven to a large extent by a major multi-year drought, exacerbated by global warming, that made life unlivable and strained civic government in the drought-plagued countries to the breaking point.

Global warming has also been a significant driver in the recent wave of refugees fleeing Central America toward the USA. Climate change is devastating agriculture and cash crop production as the spring rains fall to materialize.

This is only going to get worse as we continue to heat the atmosphere. Think a hundred thousand or a million migrants are a challenge? Wait until there are 10 million or 100 million people on the move trying desperately to survive.

A wall won't keep us safe. There are not enough sandbags in the world to hold back the rising seas. But a Green New Deal might save us from our past and present folly.

If you're a Canadian citizen and you're planning to vote in the federal election this October and you think it's important for the human race to survive, the climate emergency should be at the top of your voting priority list. Otherwise, sooner or later nothing else you care about will matter.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By lorne (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2019 at 14:57:23

Because the crisis is as dire as you outline, Ryan, I have decided that I will abandon my usual practice of strategic voting. What I got last time as a result is a government that likes to put a nice cosmetic touch on its 'green' bona fides but is wholly unprepared to take the kind of action that will avert total disaster.

The Green Party has been consistent and detailed in its vision of climate-change mitigation. Even tough there will likely be little chance of more than a small number getting elected, I hope the popular vote percentage sends a strong message to whoever forms the next government that Canadians are demanding action.

BTW, I have no patience for those who try to circumscribe one's electoral choice by saying a vote for anyone other than Trudeau is a vote for Scheer. If we don't get things right very, very soon, it won't really matter, will it?

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