GERALD CAPLAN Published Friday, Aug. 10, 2012
I don't know about you but I can no longer read reports, books or news stories about the devastation being wrought by global warming. How can it help me to learn even more about the apparent apocalypse that has begun to blight my granddaughter's future when those with the power to tackle the crisis refuse to do so? It's an Alice-in-Wonderland world where mighty multi-national corporations and the politicians who represent them neither see nor hear the evidence that civilization as we know it is under siege - from us.
Last week, for example, I refused to have our long weekend ruined by the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by top NASA scientist James Hansen. Mr. Hansen is convinced that the extreme heat and drought seen around the world in recent years must be the consequence of global warming and believes his past gloominess was actually too optimistic. Mr. Hansen insists that his findings are pure scientific fact, nothing less - just the kind that Stephen Harper assured us this week he relies on - and pushes hard for curbing greenhouse gases.
I blithely ignored as well the July 27 warning by the Smithsonian Institute that climate change will probably weaken the protective ozone layer over North America so that we'll all be exposed to more cancer-causing, gene-altering cosmic rays. This sounded to me like something out of a low-budget sci-fi movie so had nothing to do with my granddaughter's well-being.
And I couldn't cope for even a single moment with the high-profile conversion of well-known climate change skeptic and physicist Richard Muller. Prof. Muller organized a scientific study, partially funded by the notorious Koch brothers - oil-billionaires and pre-eminent global warming deniers - which he fully expected to confirm his doubts that global warming is human-induced. Why else would the Kochs be funding it? Writing in the New York Times, he acknowledges that he was surprised by the findings. The Earth's land has warmed by 1.5 C over the past 250 years and "humans are almost entirely the causeSWe were not expecting this, but as scientists, it is our duty to let the evidence change our minds."
He now considers himself a "converted skeptic" whose views have undergone a "total turnaround" in a short space of time. "It appears likely that essentially all of this increase [in temperature] results from the human emission of greenhouse gases." I'm sure the 97 per cent of the world's climatologists who figured this out some time ago will welcome Prof. Muller into their ranks.
I calculate that I save about 6 hours each day by not reading the flood of unanswerable evidence that human-induced global warming is leading us straight to catastrophes beyond our imagination. But you should understand that it's pretty strenuous activity. As Margaret Atwood told us in A Handmaid's Tale, "ignoring is not the same as ignorance, you have to work at it."
In this effort, ironically, I find myself for the first time in complete synch with Stephen Harper's government, not to mention the Republican Party, President Obama in full campaign mode -frack, baby, frack! - the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the media hordes who jumped down Thomas Mulcair's throat when he dared to question the benefits of Canada becoming an energy superpower, and of course the vast and mighty fossil fuel industry and its army of lobbyists who have won $1.4-billion annually in Canadian government subsidies and $11-billion from the U.S. government.
I really should include B.C. Premier Christy Clark in this roll call, since her election-driven opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline is all about the risk of likely bitumen leaks, which is fair enough, but with nary a peep about the certain risks from greenhouse gases.
Of course I'm not alone with my anxieties. There are, as always, the usual suspects: the unpatriotic subversives, the environmental terrorists, the billionaire foreign radicals - those who must be scorned. But there are more unexpected voices as well. In an editorial last week titled "Canada's Oil, Earth's Carbon," dealing with a new environmental assessment of a proposed pipeline from the Athabasca oil sands to Nebraska, the New York Times wondered whether this time the investigators "will ask an essential global question that transcends borders:
"What is the pipeline's likely effect on the climate? SThat includes the effects of destroying nearly 300 hectares of boreal forest (a vital sink for greenhouse gases); the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted in extracting the oil from the tar sands (a highly energy-intensive process); and the gases emitted by burning the oil."
Okay, we all know from Fox News that the Times is a notoriously left-wing rag. But what about the recent report from the Energy Committee of the Conservative-dominated Canadian Senate, chaired by Conservative David Angus? "Canada must demonstrate its commitment to mitigating greenhouse gases on a national scale," the report says, and insists that the companies working in the oil sands industry must improve their environmental performance. The Prime Minister and his advisors are no doubt pouring over the report as we write.
Here's where we are: The government is hell-bent on drastically expanding Canada's oil and gas industry as the future driver of the entire Canadian economy for decades to come. As of now, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative's Climate Justice Project, more than a quarter of all commercial and industrial greenhouse gas emissions in Canada come from the oil and gas sector; this includes extraction, processing and distribution. That's ethical oil for you.
But the government's infamous 2012 omnibus budget bill has streamlined the approval process for major projects of this kind, creating a new framework that will facilitate putting hundreds of millions more tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. None of this is good news for my granddaughter, or even for conservatives.
Clearly, if we care about the future - about having a future - we need to be moving in exactly the opposite direction. We need to be advancing in a single-minded fashion towards a low carbon Canada and we better hope and pray that the rest of the world shifts with us. And if we do it thoughtfully, serious climate action can open up a world of new technologies and new opportunities that could conceivably lead to significant economic development for all.
I know, I know. And I agree. The entire previous paragraph sounds preposterously naïve and unrealistic. But just consider the alternative.