Effective climate mitigation - or just pretend?

The first in a series by Bill Henderson

An open letter to Pam Goldsmith-Jones, MP

Hello again Ms. Goldsmith-Jones,

At a climate meeting you arranged at Gibsons Yacht Club before the election I said I thought you were in what Kari Norgaard describes as implicatory denial: climate change itself is not denied but "the psychological, political and moral imperatives that conventionally follow". And then again after you were elected MP I talked with you after the meeting at the Sechelt Band Hall about carbon pricing and the slow transition to renewables as climate denial. I hope you remember but it is certainly understandable if you don't.

I have a new metaphor for the importance of effective climate mitigation and how denial is getting in the way. I'm hoping you will consider and reflect upon your government's failing mitigation policies. Here's how I sketched this metaphor for a CBC contest:

I'm a long time Canadian climate activist who is deeply frustrated by Canada's lack of action on climate change.

And I have just been diagnosed with cancer.

Canadians still have one of the world's highest per capita emissions footprints at over 20 tonnes per person annually. Canada is also the world's fifth largest producer of fossil fuels. We are both a big user and big pusher.

The Trudeau Liberal government claimed to be serious about effective mitigation but are only aiming for emission reduction targets that are less than half what the science says is needed and most informed opinion no longer believes that this government will even meet these targets. The Trudeau government will be Canada's fifth government in a row to promise effective mitigation and fail while doing all they can to ramp up fossil fuel production.

This frustrating denial and lack of needed action risks all of our futures and all we love and care about.

When I was born - which was long before husbands were allowed to be part of delivery - my Dad argued with a nurse for hours that because I was at least six generations Canadian on both sides of my family that for racial origin on my birth certificate she should put down Canadian.

What then should I - this Canadian - do about my cancer? Should I just ignore it and pretend that it isn't happening? Should I recognize that I have cancer and that it is a mortal danger and then just pretend to mitigate with say Hail Marys or change my diet a little or maybe pretend to get a little fitter and let the cancer spread and get worse?

Hell no! My doctors say I need chemo and radiation and tell me I have a good chance of a cure and to be there for my kids and grandkids if I do.

Canadians, get out of denial and fight for effective climate action. Don't accept pretending and failure. We've wasted decades but we have to act and hope it's not too late. All we love and care about depends upon effective climate action now.

In Horseshoe Bay the other day on my way home from more diagnostics at the BC Cancer Agency I saw your office. Could I add to my metaphor that I have had to plan for major disruption to my old schedule and lifestyle and that even getting to the chemo and radiation treatment has been a period of disruption to endure. Wouldn't you agree that this dislocation, with some pain, will be worth it to beat the cancer that threatens my life?

Recently a group of respected climate scientists writing in Science recommended reducing our GHG emissions by half every decade if we want to stay under the agreed upon precautionary limit to below a 2C rise in temperature. Roughly double your old Harper target of 30% of 2005 levels by 2030. Our carbon budget for staying under 2C is rapidly shrinking. Reducing our emissions by half each decade will be difficult, even painful, but it is possible and that's what needs to happen.

Your government is following a well worn path to climate mitigation failure and is wasting very precious time because it refuses to recognize that climate change now requires the same disruption of political and economic business as usual as my cancer treatment. There is an equivalent of my chemo and radiation treatment that could be effective mitigation but your government - and to be fair every other government world-wide - refuses to even consider a regulated wind-down of all fossil fuel production and use on a schedule based upon the best carbon budget science (as described in McGlade and Ekins).

Such a regulated wind-down is heretical for neoliberal governments in our competitive global economy for good reason. Governments must put on the 'Golden Straitjacket' and renounce such regulatory action to protect the flow of investment over time. Instead, governments must rely upon only policies and instruments that do not threaten investment and the stability of our economic and political business as usual. Perfectly reasonable common-sense behaviour in a competitive global economy - but a death sentence for all we know and love because it is now too late to achieve the level of emission reduction needed to stay under 2C in economic and political BAU. You don't think so? It is very easy to prove and give me the chance and, with help, I will provide you with the brutal carbon math.

More broadly, climate, like my cancer, is now an emergency and those responsible and in leadership positions must consider effective mitigation paths that require some economic and political dislocation. It is still possible - barely - to reduce emissions effectively in time. And to rapidly build that post-carbon economy to continue the social evolution that coalesced in the industrial revolution, with the very fortunate lifestyles we all enjoy.

In arguing against carbon pricing as ineffectual (You don't agree? How about If carbon pricing is so great, why isn't it working? or No, carbon pricing alone won't be enough to lower emissions for just starters?) I have had an interesting conversation with a US conservative who is very concerned by climate and needed mitigation. I have tried to show that a regulated wind-down could be not only effective - the best path to reducing GHG emissions at a scale now needed - but also the best mitigation path at using and protecting our market-based governance.

A regulated wind-down would provide the necessary strong, certain signal to markets hopefully enabling optimum use of production allowed.

Such a schedule would entail an immediate urgent reduction of production and use with consequent emission reduction but within a signal that life will go on, business especially, markets will continue, our social/market evolution will continue. There will be creative destruction and some immediate loss but the overall direction is still forward with the climate solution now factored in.

Government interference would be limited to the most efficient wind-down schedule implementation with perhaps some needed stabilization only in the implementation period. There would be agreement that this regulation would be only short-term and only a precedent for any similar toxic condition that threatens the way forward. Short term loss of total energy (before market-based expansion of renewables and carbon capture and storage [CCS] catches up) needn't be an economic or society crasher any more than was regulated change in wartime production in WW2. There will probably be short-term material and GDP reduction but within understood and controllable parameters and only during the transition to a post-carbon economy.

Implementation of the schedule should include provision to save wealth and future wealth creation possible from fossil fuels. Fossil fuel reserves should be regarded as operable in the future aimed for; of increasing value even if not presently operable. Such a wind-down schedule should hopefully catalyze effective and commercially viable CCS within a decade. There may need to be other bridging mechanisms in transition, but the extent and duration of such mechanisms should be regarded as temporary and aligned with the goal of continued social/market evolution.

There is no present appetite for any form of regulation or for pain to investors inflicted in actually keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Hence denial and time-wasting pretending when a cure, effective mitigation, is possible protecting all of our futures. But just repeatedly saying the climate has always been changing or that effective climate mitigation would be too expensive is denial that keeps us from treatment for a potentially life threatening problem that is just getting worse.

Finally, climate change is not just one of many issues, not just one political challenge to be balanced by others. We - and you are now our government - have an obligation, a responsibility to future Canadians. Considering the potentially catastrophic consequences of dangerous climate change, is your government serious about a cure? Or cowed by orthodoxy?

Effective climate mitigation is possible if we overcome denial. Imagine if our health system treated cancer like we are treating climate. Your government promised leadership on climate and effective - not pretend - mitigation. Climate change is an emergency requiring treatment presently not allowed but possible if your government gets out of denial. There is an effective cure for global warming with our high quality lifestyles continuing after successful treatment. As our MP Ms. Goldsmith-Jones, please help us to get to effective treatment and protect all our futures.

Thanks for your time,

Bill, Gibsons, BC