Tuesday, December 29, 2015
You'll Know They're Serious When It Hurts
Think of it this way. When the bank manager calls to tell you that he's giving you until Friday to clear off your overdraft, the next day or two could be a bit uncomfortable. Or if your doctor tells you it's lights out for you unless you lose 40 pounds in the next six months you're going to miss Tim Horton's for a good while.
It's a bit the same when it comes to climate change. It's going to be tough both slashing our carbon emissions (mitigation) and preparing ourselves for the unavoidable impacts of global warming (adaptation) both of which have become critical to our future.
A few extra pennies a litre at the gas pump won't do it and promises that carbon taxes will be revenue neutral are bollocks.
Governments - federal, provincial, regional and municipal - are going to need hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrade, where possible, and in many cases replace essential infrastructure that is becoming incapable of supporting our society. By essential, I mean to the continuation of our economy, our public safety and the functioning of our society.
That's a lot of money that has to come out of somebody's pocket and that's going to be painful. You may begrudge having to cough up your share but know this, it'll be far more painful if we don't secure those funds. Without that infrastructure you'll find your future somewhat more akin to Third World conditions.
On infrastructure, we're deeply in overdraft. The stuff we still rely on is old and, worse, we've been more than a bit slovenly when it comes to maintaining it. A lot of it is already decrepit. Ask the folks of Montreal or Toronto. Drive the 401 across the prairie. Check out the state of many municipal water and sewer systems. Take a look at your electrical grid. Even without climate change, we're behind the 8 ball, right where we chose to be.
Climate change only makes our predicament worse. When the electrical and the mechanical and the structural engineers got out their slide rules (remember those days?) they designed essential infrastructure to meet the environmental demands of their day. They could not foresee radical environmental change within the span of just one or two lifetimes. They did not design for a world of regular extreme weather events. You may have already forgotten but the 60s and 70s were a far different world than we confront today, much less what's coming in another 20 or 30 years.
So now we need our engineers back to the drawing tables to design not for today but for 20 or 30 years from now and beyond. They've got to design for heavy and regular floods and droughts, extremes of heat and cold. They're going to need to rely on stronger and more resilient materials and tougher standards. Put it this way - your grandpa's bridge will not be the bridge your grandkids will need. That won't do at all.
If we're going to make this work, we need to get ahead of the problem. If we don't, we risk being overtaken by events and forfeiting the costly benefit of half-measures. There is only great risk by languishing behind the power curve.
We need to begin having a serious discussion about this and the ramifications of our options. This may require a significant degree of societal change. It's no exaggeration that we're looking at a problem in the hundreds of billions of dollars. That could be an ever greater problem when the impacts of globalization are factored in. We may find it unaffordable unless we can keep that economic activity and the wealth and debt associated with it to ourselves, in-house. These are aspects we have to explore and open for discussion.
The thing to keep in mind is that time is not on our side.