Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Little More Honesty Than We're Ready For

Ah, screw it. Let's just throw in the towel.

That's the pitch on climate change and Canada's bitumen bounty from CBC business scribe, Don Pittis.

The nub of the difficulty comes down to the seemingly inevitable conflict between the economy and climate change. The question the Liberal cabinet must ask itself is how much economic and political sacrifice it is willing to make to adhere to its international climate commitment.

There's a bigger question we must all ask ourselves. Is fighting climate change even possible, or to put it another way, are the economic sacrifices for the Canadian economy so great that we must ignore climate commitments and worry about jobs?

It was actually an op-ed in the Globe and Mail that made me focus on the question. The writer effectively proposes that despite the potential cost of "a warming planet and catastrophic climate change," economic growth demands that we continue to pump out carbon. Trying to do otherwise is futile.

For those who believe what the vast majority of scientists say — that climate change is caused by the industrial process of liberating millions of years of geologically trapped carbon into the atmosphere that will cause irreversible, "catastrophic," destruction to the planet — the economic case against climate change seems much more difficult.

The arguments are not new, but they come in a category that seems to say 'it's awful but there is just nothing we can do about it' and that optimism around limiting climate change is well-meaning but misguided.

This gloomy inevitability is supported by arguments that demonstrate our hands are tied, that economic growth can only happen in the presence of growing fossil fuel use, that if we stop some other country will just produce more, or that we have already gone too far and are doomed no matter what we do.

...If the scientists are right, then the carbon age must pass. And one or the other — African farmers or Alberta oil workers — will have to suffer economic consequences. The question is merely do governments have the political support to take action now or do we have to wait for some sort of greater crisis to concentrate people's minds and really prove the danger.

It is self-defeating to look at a global problem from a purely local perspective as Pittis and those he references obviously do. It is far worse to truncate the issue to the here and now, the next 10 to 15-years, and weigh it in that narrow, impossibly brief, "what's in it for me?" context.

We need to accept climate change as a global problem, one in which Canada is not so much advantaged as less disadvantaged, less vulnerable to climate change impacts than most other nations. We may have to accept some consequences: retreat from the rising sea; severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity, duration and destructiveness; a certain degree of economic and social dislocation. That, however, will pale compared to the dystopian future we are bequeathing to less latitudinally-advantaged, poorer and more vulnerable nations and their people around the world. If we faced what they face - apocalypse - we would not be having this rather craven, heel-dragging debate.

Even within our own narrow context we need to see climate change in a wider field of view. It's not just about us, you and me. It's about our kids and the kids they may have and just how hellish a Canada we leave to them. For a lot of what they've got coming, the horse has already left the barn. They will have to adapt to damage and loss we have caused and cannot realistically hope to undo.

Here's the thing that you won't find mentioned in the funny papers, the business section. We still have in our power the ability to make the future vastly worse than it need be. Let's duck the subject - kaching, kaching. Let's drag out the "debate" about the reality of climate change - kaching, kaching. Let's fiddle with some false equivalency between our ease and comfort and prosperity versus their survival with their interests very heavily discounted to near irrelevance - kaching, kaching. Tally it all up. Your granddaughter will pick up the tab.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"economic growth demands that we continue to pump out carbon"

So say those who know jack shit about economics.

The tar-sands employ 100,000 people. The tar-sands dollar killed 500,000 manufacturing jobs during the 2000s.

"Economists" said the people who lost good-paying manufacturing jobs found jobs elsewhere. The corollary is that the dirty-energy jobs out in the middle of nowhere can be replaced with better jobs.

The federal government doesn't have to shut down the tar-sands. They don't have to fast-track their pipelines either.

Fact is, the world is going to shut down the tar-sands. It's only a matter of time. They are the poster-child for filthy energy. Might as well consider them dead already and start planning for a green-energy future. That is the actual economic reality.