Smoke and mirrors on climate change

Linda Leon Open letter to MP Ryan Leef: This month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had passed the 400 parts per million level, citing studies done by scientists on Mauna Loa in Hawaii. W

Open letter to MP Ryan Leef:

This month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had passed the 400 parts per million level, citing studies done by scientists on Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

When speaking about climate change, the tipping point is when effects put into motion now are such that the consequences are irreversible. Former NASA scientist James E. Hansen believes that we passed the tipping point in 2008 when the CO2 level reached 385 ppm.

How bad will it be? Scientists don’t make absolute statements and are conservative in their predictions. However, they are very worried. The 2007 predictions for ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean were for 2050. Now they predict we might see this within the next decade.

Already island countries such as the Maldives are being inundated as oceans rise. Desertification of the Sahel area of Africa is increasing even as Canada becomes the only country to withdraw from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. In Canada, southern Alberta may become unfit for agriculture having an arid climate already and rivers that are all fed by glaciers.

That the southern Alberta farming community is solidly Conservative only goes to show how easy it is to convince people to vote against their own best interests.

James E. Hansen had a public spat with Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver this year. Hansen said that it was madness to develop all of the unconventional oil, including tar sands bitumen. Oliver said that Hansen’s warnings were “exaggerated” and “inexcusable.” Hansen said that the Conservative government was “Neanderthal,” a comment I disagree with given that there is no science to indicate that Neanderthals were knuckle-dragging, environment-destroying idiots.

Smoke and mirrors! That is what Elizabeth May said about our government’s strategy to deal with climate change.

The Conservative government has reluctantly conceded that the future health of our planet depends on reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG). This March, Environment Minister Peter Kent boasted to Canadians that we were “halfway” to meeting our Copenhagen Accord targets for emission reductions which are 17 per cent of our 2005 levels, or the equivalent to 607 megatonnes of CO2. This claim was echoed by Heritage Minister James Moore and other Conservatives.

Yet Environment Canada released a report this year which showed that our emissions in 2020 will be equal to 720 megatonnes of CO2. Former Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan reported, “It is unlikely that enough time is left to develop and establish regulations that together will contribute sufficient GHG reductions to meet the 2020 target.” According to the Pembina Institute, the only possible way Canada could meet our commitments is “if the government imposes severe restrictions on oil sands mining and upgrading.”

So Ryan, what’s with “halfway there”?

There are two possible explanations. One is that Conservatives sincerely believe that we will meet our commitments without taking any action at all. Could “halfway there” be wishful thinking? It is unnerving to entertain the notion that our nation’s leaders might be delusional.

The second possibility is that the Conservative government has sold out to the fossil fuel industry. If that were the case, we would see publicly funded advertisements promoting the tar sands as “ethical” and “green.” Wherever they could, the government would funnel public money into the oil sector through subsidies and deflected government programs once dedicated to serving the nation. Critics would be branded as “terrorists” and “radicals” while information would be stifled, laboratories shut down and scientists muzzled. A corrupt government would endeavour to deceive the public about climate change, perhaps with smoke and mirrors.

If either of these scenarios is accurate then our government is unfit. Reassure me, Ryan. Please explain “halfway there.”

Perhaps there is a third explanation. Perhaps the Conservative Party members are undereducated in the discipline of science. As you have discovered recently, ignorance is neither an excuse nor bliss.

Earlier this month, a group of Canadian scientists sent a letter to Joe Oliver offering to explain to him the science behind climate change. You should try to attend.

May you walk on the high road.

Linda Leon is a Whitehorse freelance writer.

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