Saturday, May 14, 2016

This One Might Hurt.

There are some arguments that come along every now and then that seem so shocking, that so confront our sense of order or decency that we are instantly repelled by them. We may denounce the argument as inflammatory, spurious and deeply offensive. With time, however, a few of these affronts will survive our anger and resentment.

A case in point comes from The Guardian's Canadian correspondent, the ever abrasive Martin Lukacs.

In 1972, Townes Van Zandt, penned lyrics that spoke of an old cowboy who had "breath as hard as kerosene." Lukacs reminds me a lot of that.

Anyway, cut to the chase. Lukacs opinion piece has the title, "The arsonists of Fort McMurray." Unlike prime minister Slick who isn't that interested in root causes of the Fort Mac fires, Lukacs points a finger not just at climate change but at the fossil energy giants which have knowingly done so much to contribute to it.

"These arsonists have a name and they’re hiding in plain view—because their actions, at the moment, are still considered legal. They’re the companies that helped turn the boreal forest into a flammable tinder-box. The same companies that have undermined attempts to rein in carbon emissions. The same companies that, by their very design, chase profits with no mind for the ecological and human consequences."

That might have you reeling. It certainly did me. The problem is that his condemnation of the bitumen barons doesn't stop there. It reaches all of us. This happened on our watch with the assistance of governments we elected and that goes well before and after Stephen Harper.

Maybe we didn't know early on but we sure as hell knew later on. And we know that the fossil energy giants have known for decades, probably a lot longer than you or most anyone you know on a first name basis.

There's an important principle of criminal law that a person is deemed to intend the logical and foreseeable consequences of his acts. That's a principle that applies to the mens rea, the mental element of any crime, intent. Okay, that brings Lukacs closer to his point.

Now I realize that argument is going to infuriate Slick, it has to. He was damned quick off the mark to try to distance the reduction of Fort McMurray from the notion that climate change had anything to do with it. Hell, he's a petro-pimp, that's his job. Can't fault him for doing his job, I suppose. Well, maybe you can. Of course you can.

I've made the point recently a few times that, when it comes to climate change, don't take events in isolation. Get your eyes up. Look up and out. Take in the big picture, what's happening around the world. If "once in a century" events keep popping up here and there and there - all over the place - chances are pretty good there's a common thread that connects them all. Lots of dots, connect the dots, see what picture emerges. 

Eyes down, Slick-style, and Fort Mac is a solitary dot. Who can say what happened? Best not to dwell on it. Eyes up, looking around, Fort Mac is one of a mess of dots popping up around the world - dots of greater frequency and intensity and duration than we've experienced in the past. Some of those dots represent massive wildfires. Some designate droughts or floods. Others depict severe storm events, cyclonic stuff. Red dots, blue dots, green dots, yellow dots, a palette of dots. Biblical stuff all over the place.

Connect the dots, look at the picture.

Lukacs hammers home his case with this:

Yet in the fire’s aftermath, it has seemed impossible to name them: fossil fuel corporations. Of course they’re not the only ones who have fuelled climate change: all of us consume oil at every level of our lives. But the record is clear that we are not equally responsible: an astonishing 90 companies alone have caused two-thirds of global carbon emissions. And all the oil giants involved in the Alberta tar sands are among them: ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Total, CNRL, Chevron.

Anyone who has followed the course of climate change over the past 15 years or more knew that we would get to a point where we would begin having to face some hard truths, things we didn't want to hear or read or feel. Canadians have been extraordinarily lucky. With the exception of the Arctic, it's mainly been a hearing and reading exercise for us. Nothing that we haven't been able to put behind us so that we can return to business as usual.

For us, even wildfires are largely spectacle. Fires + in the wild = dramatic TV readily forgotten. When those fires take our homes it becomes a little more important. We'll remember the Fort Mac fire for a good long while unless it gets eclipsed by ever more climate change catastrophes that render it somehow mundane, almost commonplace. What then?

In other corners of the world, people are more into the feeling part. They're feeling thirsty or feeling hungry, some of them feel angry, angry enough to rise up, sometimes angry enough to kill.

“We have loaded the dice for more extreme wildfires,” says Mike Flannigan, a wildfire scientist at the University of Alberta. “We attribute the increase in wildfires and their severity and intensity to human-caused climate change. We’ve been saying it for years. Many of us saw a Fort McMurray-like situation coming, but none of us expected anything as horrific as what has happened.”

Today, twice as much land in Canada is being devoured by fires as in the 1970s—and that will double or quadruple again in the decades to come. Climate change is putting such pressure on the boreal, which covers most of northern Canada, that a study published last year in the journal Science issued a stark warning: “this forest will convert to a type of savannah.”

To remain mute about those responsible for this devastation is not an act of sensitivity toward the citizens of Fort McMurray. It is to stand idly by while these corporations move on to claim their next victims. To argue, as prime minister Justin Trudeau has, that making the connection between climate change and this infernal fire isn’t “helpful,” is not a gesture of statesmanly maturity. It is the prevarication of political cowards.


Lorne said...

What discourages me at least as much as the ongoing cheerleading for the tarsands and such, Mound, is the attitude of everyday people. As you say, it is only when disaster strikes close to home that people start to feel the problem on an emotional, not just cognitive level, but there is still far too much willful ignorance that I find both depressing and inexcusable. For example, in my neighbourhood trees have been coming down for the past several years so as not to impede the sunlight going into backyard pools. Others claim their trees were "half-dead," something put to the lie when I examine the stumps which show no holes or other signs of deterioration. Another example: people regularly idle their cars, the worst offenders being the police who often like to have little colloquies with colleagues by pulling their cars up alongside theirs and enjoying a good 15-20 minute chat.

If we can't even manage the small stuff responsibly. what hope is there?

The Mound of Sound said...

You post a question I'd rather duck, Lorne. In some encouraging ways our attitudes do seem to be changing but the rate of change falls well behind the pace at which we're being overtaken by events.

As you wrote recently, this is not a linear process. Some of these impacts will arrive with a thud. Perhaps because we can't visualize that non-linear reality we can't process it.

Damn but I hope I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

Anyong said....Why is it Exxon Mobile is in court at the moment? Don's answer, I know why. Along the South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat, some of the most wealthiest people have cut trees down to allow the sun to shine on their back yards. A lot which had enormous trees on it and bought by Swell Insurance Company, cut down every one and, is presently erecting a building that will not be usable in 30 years due to the type of construction. The trees could have been saved and did not need to be removed...only a little presence of mind "mindfulness" could have helped in this matter. Trees and vegetation produce 40% of the oxygen we breath. When was the last time you mentioned where our oxygen comes from Mound? I say so every time there is an opportunity and have been asked if I am mentally ill but, I see they are thinking. Do people known the value of both oceans especially the Atlantic, trees and vegetation in oxygen production? NO THEY DON'T!! Maybe this information is where we need to begin to shift the public attitude toward the environment. The nonchalant attitude is what is so disheartening. So? It seems, the Fort Mac event is what will bring people to their senses. If not we continue at our own peril. This both frightens and exasperates me. However, there always seems to be something that brightens the day from the most unexpected places. Good on Newfoundland. A group of people are raising bees and releasing them into the environment and the sun will eventually burn out anyway which I don't have to think about.

Anonymous said...

The times are changing..


sorry to interrupt the thread.

Boris said...

Politicians, premiers and PMs, waffling on climate links is unsurprising to me. The vitriol they'd receive from a good segment of the public and opposition parties about "too soon" is bad enough as it is without mentioning it, and the whole thing would turn into a jobs vs environment fight. The AB NDP are likely and rightly worried that Brian Jean is watching their handling closely and will eventually try use his loss from the fire to political advantage. Right now it would look crass, but give it some time especially if there is a blame-spin to be put on the NDP and they'll run with it. Any slip one way or the other on the PMs side, and we have an East-West NEP fight. Even in AB, the Wood Buffalo councillors meeting in Edmonton were whinging that it was taking too long for the province to hand back Fort McMurray.

I have no doubt at all that both the feds and the AB governments know the climate drivers but they have to navigate an idiot, whimsical and partisan political and public just as willing to elect a majority govt of climate deniers as they are embracers.

Askingtherightquestions said...

Mound, this is an important theme and one that too many Canadians are ignoring in that self-satisfied way we often do.
Yes, Fort Mac is a human disaster! Yes people have been hurt, traumatized and lost much! Yes, wonderful, caring fellow citizens have contributed more than $80 million from their own pockets! Yet Lukacs is not out of line! Big OIl has (and continues to ...see Calgary' s latest "denialism" lie to us and uses captured regulators and economic entrapment of politicians. Billions invested, much that risks being stranded. Giant corporate investors and one very large state investor.
This WILL NOT change unless the majority of Canadians demand that it change. Even then, the pushback will be nasty, fraudulent and challenging. The thing that consoles me is that Big Oil stole so much from tobacco's play book, they are likely to self destruct in a similar way. Do we have enough time to litigate them into submission? Unlike tobacco consumption, we are fighting a time limited, global existential threat.