Tag Archives: climate change

John Allemang at Globe and Mail also celebrates a Canada that benefits from the suffering of others

Obviously Globe and Mail feature writer John Allemang was trying to have fun with this piece — though I’m not sure anyone found it funny — and intended to be controversial. He’s not a climate-change denier, though he could be a denier of human-caused climate change — it’s unclear. What is clear is that he’s joining a club of navel-gazing Canadians who are climate-change embracers, a group of folks who see (quite inaccurately, I should say) their own position in the world and their own fortune rising at the expense of others. Climate change will make Canada warmer, they say. It will open up economic opportunities, including oil and gas exploration and tourism in the north. As Hollywood dries up and burns the movie industry will relocate to Vancouver and Toronto. Disney has opened polar bear parks in the north. Ontario’s wine industry is thriving. We’re getting rich by selling water to the thirsty U.S. southwest. What’s there to complain about?

” Canada in 2050 isn’t utopia – not yet, though we’re working on it. With that said, I think you’d find it  pretty incredible,” he writes. “There are no votes in despair, no profits in pessimism. The future, sad to report, turns out to be happy-faced. And remember what they say, or what they will say once you start coming to terms with your good luck: The 21st century belongs to Canada.”

Right. Thanks for the pep talk, John. Now can we get back to reality?

I took issue with this approach when the Sun’s Lorrie Goldstein wrote a column that reviewed, with a kind of glee, the conclusions of a new book by UCLA professor Laurence Smith. You can read my responses to Goldstein’s column here. He mentioned the same things: how climate change will open up the north and its abundance of natural resources, including oil and minerals; how Canada’s oil resources will lead the world; how the population will explode; how Canada’s major cities will become world power capitals; how we can get rich by selling our fresh water; how crops will likely flourish; and how tourism will open up in the north.

This rosy outlook painted by Allemang and Goldstein, via his “review” of a press release of Smith’s book The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future, conveniently ignores the major problems we’ll experience. Disease and sudden infestation of our crops and forests, which will not have enough time to adapt; a flood of climate refugees that will collapse our already overstressed social and healthcare system; rising pollution that will make our “fresh” water less fresh; forest fires like we saw in Russia this summer… and the list goes on. They also seem to praise rapid population growth as a good thing, and put Canada’s own wealth ahead of its moral obligations to the rest of the world. They also ignore that the situation, while potentially lucrative for a select group in 2050, isn’t sustainable. If we just continue on a path of business-as-usual any benefits experienced by Canada over the coming decades will disappear just as fast as they came. Is it really sustainable to believe, like that freakyTwilight Zone expisode, that we can just keep heading north to avoid all the bad stuff? Eventually, folks, we run out of north. Sounds like fun, eh? Something to celebrate, eh? Another note: we live on an interdependent planet in an era of hyperglobalization. When dominoes fall they all fall. See recent global recession. See Jared Diamond’s Collapse. And do we believe we can adapt without any pain, regardless of where we are on the planet, in just a few decades? Get real.

I’m all for adaptation, because I know that regardless of what actions we take we’ve already passed a point of no return and temperatures will rise. The question is by how much, and what can we do from now until then to minimize that rise. So yes, let’s adapt, but not at the expense of mitigation. Allemang and Goldstein seem to think that mitigation is pointless: bring on climate change! That’s very easy to say from a newsroom armchair.

I had an e-mail exchange with Goldstein after my earlier post. He didn’t like my treatment of his column because I made it seem like it represented his own conclusions, when in fact what he was doing was reviewing a book and laying out the conclusions of a respected climate-change expert from UCLA. “Logically, you should have been much more concerned that these are the views of a credible Arctic scientist, and climate change expert, who is also concerned about the negative impacts of climate change,” Goldstein wrote me.

He was right — I was sloppy in that earlier blog post and made the necessary changes to clarify it. What I also did was contact Prof. Smith to get his thoughts on some of the columns and stories being written in Canada that celebrate the benefits climate change will bring the north, and which use his book as the basis for the celebration. Here’s what Smith wrote back:

The handful of ‘benefits’ accrued by a small fraction of the world will be overwhelmingly exceeded by negative impacts in the rest of the world. I’m already alarmed by the angle being seized by some Canadian papers, i.e. “great! this is all good for Canada!” I hope this perception fades quickly next week, when the book comes out and people actually read it.  I argue strongly against coal development globally, and Alberta’s tar sands specifically, for example. The book maintains a neutral/scientific tone throughout and I always point out both sides of an issue, but end it with a moral argument about the role of societal choice… it is my sincerest hope that people get the message and realize the goal of this book is to avert it biggest conclusions, not to justify them. Far from encouraging “northern development,” it is my sincere hope that this book will challenge people to think harder about the long term negative impacts of our current trajectories, and motivate real action to avert many of the terrible outcomes it projects.

So yes, I guess the glasses are rose-coloured when you’re looking only at the roses. Turn your head slightly to the left or right and, well, those roses begin to wilt.

Nissan LEAF ad sends a message; Deutsche Bank report sends a warning

The Nissan LEAF ad above is quite clever, and keeping in mind that it’s just an advertisement and that electric cars are not going to save the world from climate change, I think it does a good job of stirring the emotions and sending a message without so much as uttering a single word. Curious to know what you think about it.

BTW: Here is a link to an important report from DB Climate Change Advisors, part of the Deutsche Bank Group, which thoroughly rips apart the arguments often used by skeptics and deniers to slow down or halt any efforts to seriously reduce the amount of greenhouse-gas emissions we’re dumping into the atmosphere. The bank says that navigating the scientific debate is “vitally important” for investors in the space, and that its goal is to provide “a balanced, expert, and detailed assessment of the scientific case for climate change that will help investors navigate these extremely complex issues.” It’s a must read and something that should be spread virally. I should emphasize that Deutsche Bank, frustrated with America’s inability to pass climate legislation, is the investment giant that said in August that it was taking its alternative energy investments out of the U.S. and focusing its efforts on Western Europe and China. Kevin Parker, who heads up an asset division at the bank that oversees $700 billion (U.S.) in funds — $7 billion related to climate change investments — said the U.S. (and Canada by association) is “asleep at the wheel on climate change, asleep at the wheel on job growth, asleep at the wheel on this industrial revolution taking place in the energy industry.”

Good on Deutsche Bank for giving a credible voice to this issue from the financial sector.

Russia’s problem is our problem

My Clean Break column today draws attention to the record heat wave in Russia, as well as flooding in Pakistan and other extreme events in other parts of the world. It may seem like a world away, but we have to keep in mind: it could just as easily be happening here, whether it be cottage country in Ontario or in West Vancouver or Halifax, or wherever. I think the media in North America are doing a terrible job of making the connection with climate change, and that’s partly because they don’t want to be knee-jerk and partly because they don’t understand that climate change is about extremes, not just gradually higher temperatures over time. They don’t want to make the connection between high wheat prices and climate change, and how this is a perfect example of the economic costs that will increase over time.

Shortly after my column appeared online this morning, I got an e-mail from a scientist at Environment Canada who wanted to point me to some information on the government’s Web site that, while not easily accessible or promoted as being available, is there nonetheless. “We may be muzzled,” wrote this scientist, “but there is still a lot of climate science material available on Environment Canada Web pages.”

He said “government scientists were very unhappy” that this science, funded by Canadian taxpayers, was not being made known and easily accessible to the general public.”And yes, I fear reprisals if my name is attached to anything,” he wrote.

Here are two links he provided. The first shows graphically how temperatures are expected to rise between now and 2100 in Canada and throughout the rest of North America. The graphic simulation is based on the Canadian Global Climate Model, and it’s shocking to watch as mean temperature climbs by 4.5 degrees C across much of Canada. The second shows that the national average temperature in Canada this spring was 4.1 degrees C above normal, “which makes this the warmest spring on record since nationwide records began in 1948.” The previous record was in 1998, which was 3.2 degrees C above normal. “This is the second season in a row to set a record for above normal temperatures.”

This data, against the backdrop of the Russia heat wave and Pakistan flooding, should be front-page news.

Public wants government to take lead on climate change: PwC

A global survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers has found that 94 per cent of Canadians expect to change the way they do business over the next two or three years in anticipation of climate change policies, and 98 per cent believe regulation is the best way to influence that change. Roughly 60 per cent of Canadian respondents think the government, not the private sector, should have primary responsibility for leading behavioural change. The global average here is 44 per cent, and only 23 per cent in the United States. So is government doing enough? Uh… no — 70 per cent of Canadian respondents said current government policies — and I assume they’re talking federal policies — are ineffective.

So, it makes one wonder: Why is our federal government attaching itself to the U.S. hip on these issues when clearly, Canadians think differently and want our government to lead, not follow? Opposition parties have failed us on this issue, particularly the Liberals. Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has been ineffective on the climate change file. He’s been invisible. Even if there is a change in government, it’s unclear what it would accomplish. Increasingly, I’m hearing from the business community that a carbon tax would be the preferred mechansim for pricing carbon. There is growing fear that cap-and-trade is the wrong way to go, if only because it’s complex and open to widespread manipulation and abuse.

Is it time to rekindle talk of carbon taxes and “green shifting” on the federal political scene? Some might consider it suicide, based on how former Liberal leader Stephane Dion got killed on the issue. I disagree. I think it can be resurrected, and should be resurrected. But it needs a convincing leader behind it, one who is able to articulate the benefits clearly and stand up to the scare tactics of the Conservatives; one who can build alliances with the business community, with consumer and labour groups, and with provinces and municipalities.

Any takers?