Harper failed us in Bali
I am moved to write in reaction to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s infuriatingly weak performance at the recent Bali conference on climate change.
I cannot say where Canadian public opinion as a whole stands on the matter of climate change and what we should do about it, but conversations in the Yukon reveal a predictable divide.
On the one hand, there are quite a few people who are very concerned and feel that we each have a personal responsibility to play our part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other hand, a similar (or larger — I cannot tell) number seem to agree with one or more of the following positions:
The Yukon is such a small jurisdiction, whatever we do won’t make any difference to the final outcome.
The Yukon’s emissions are nothing compared with those of the great economies, yet it is thought that we will be disproportionately affected by climate change, so responsibility to act lies with other jurisdictions.
It is uncertain that climate change has anything to do with our economic activity anyway.
No matter what the future consequences of climate change, we cannot afford economically to make the changes called for by the environmentalists.
Even if the environmentalists are right, we will find technological fixes to both adapt to climate change and to begin to take carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere and redress the balance.
All this talk of climate change is speculation, fuelled by people with an interest in exaggerating its seriousness.
All I know for sure is that I have to heat my house, run my truck and take the family on holiday to somewhere warm once a year, or my life won’t be worth living anyhow.
Space prohibits me from debunking each of these statements here, though I believe that even those who agree to some extent with any of the above statements feel pretty queasy about it — if they think about it at all.
And it is true, many of us prefer not to think about it at all — it’s all too remote, unpleasant and speculative.
Many, though, just assume that if all this stuff about climate change is real and as serious as the environmentalists say it is, then surely our leaders would be doing something about it.
In any era of historic challenge, there are bound to be leaders, followers and naysayers.
I know where the followers and the naysayers are, but where are our leaders?
In the face of the increasingly strong scientific consensus on climate change, the debate is effectively over, and there’s no point in further quibbling.
We must keep global warming below two Celsius from pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic impacts.
These likely impacts are not restricted to isolated extreme weather events and crop failures. They extend to include war, social and economic breakdown and threatened governance. Everywhere.
To keep under that temperature increase, we must cut global carbon emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050. And in order to stand a chance of hitting that fundamental target, we must hit a reduction of 40 per cent cut by 2020.
We have proven technologies available already, which will enable us to achieve that first 40 per cent target, but we have only about six years to start actually implementing sweeping economic policy changes.
Again, the debate over whether we must act is over.
Bali was the time to move on to exactly who will do what to hit these targets. In a miserable display of lack of vision and leadership, Harper blew that opportunity, wasting the world’s time with prevarications and naysaying.
Of course, reaching the above reduction targets will involve a complete retooling of how we run our economy — and even our society.
Whole industries will have to die and others must be created. There will be winners and losers, considerable inconvenience and great uncertainties.
Under such conditions, individuals recycling their plastic bags and car-pooling won’t cut it.
We’ll need strong government leadership to create the legal and policy framework of the new order, to bring support to the temporary losers, such as re-training programs for those unemployed from the traditional unsustainable industries, and incentives for job creation in new sectors.
We’ll need strong government vision and leadership to inspire and underpin the social unity we will need if what we value in our society is to survive the strains of the necessary fundamental economic change.
This is no time for our leaders to take their cues from the oil and gas interests and other allied elites within our traditional, high emission industries and the banks that support them.
If Harper doesn’t wise up, he’ll go down in history as having betrayed not only Canada’s international reputation as a progressive and sensible nation, but the very lives and livelihoods of future generations of people within and beyond our borders, condemned to suffer the consequences of an unraveling economic system, accompanied by conflict, hunger and insecurity.
We Canadians, wherever we live, must make it clear that we will turf out of office any political leader that does not take greenhouse gas emission reduction targets seriously and does not take on the responsibility of rallying Canadians and guide us through what is bound to be a difficult and challenging era, as the old paradigm of ever-expanding, oil-based material wealth falls away and we seek a new future together.