Rapid Warming Deserves More Than a Lukewarm Response

Canada's climate is warming at roughly twice the global average rate largely due to Arctic ice melt. Arctic ice is what keeps Earth's temperatures cool enough for human life to thrive and survive. (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr)

Rapid Warming Deserves More Than a Lukewarm Response

You’d think this would elicit a response at least on the scale of a global threat like we saw with the Second World War

Another week, another dramatic warning from scientists -- met with shrugs all around. This time, a report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada, "Canada's Changing Climate Report," warned that this country is warming at roughly twice the global average rate, even more in the North and on the Prairies. Some of that is from natural factors, but the report concludes most is from human activity, mainly burning fossil fuels and destroying carbon sinks like forests and wetlands.

Much of this rapid warming is due to our proximity to the Arctic, where sea ice melt is affecting and affected by global atmospheric and oceanic systems that regulate temperatures. Snow and ice reflect solar radiation back into the atmosphere, whereas darker open seas and land absorb heat. As Arctic researcher Stephen Smith recently told David Suzuki Foundation staff, "Arctic sea ice is quite literally our deflector shield." Arctic ice is what keeps Earth's temperatures cool enough for human and other life to thrive and survive.

You'd think this would elicit a response at least on the scale of a global threat like we saw with the Second World War. Instead, a number of federal and provincial parties are doing all they can to scuttle the inadequate solutions being proposed and implemented, with parties from across the political spectrum promoting increased oil and gas development.

Rather than eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, as G20 governments including Canada have committed to, federal and provincial governments are ramping up tax breaks and subsidies, including buying pipelines and railcars and helping the mostly foreign-owned fracking industry. Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand says she finds it "disturbing" that "successive federal governments have failed to reach their targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, and the government is not ready to adapt to a changing climate."

Meanwhile, the media and federal government are distracted by a scandal that further illustrates the degree to which governments will support large corporations, no matter how corrupt, at the expense of integrity and human rights.

The consequences of our failure to address this crisis are already being felt and will worsen as emissions and temperatures rise: more precipitation, especially in winter, causing more flooding (although with some decreases in southern regions); heat waves increasing in frequency and intensity; melting glaciers, ice caps and ice shelves, which affects water supply and creates feedback loops that increase the warming rate; and warmer and more acidic oceans that produce less oxygen. This will affect everything from food security to human health to wildlife viability.

Most disturbing is that we've known about global warming with a great degree of certainty for decades, and there's no shortage of solutions. But because industry, politicians and many in the news media have convinced the public that "we can't get off fossil fuels overnight," we've failed to do much to get off them at all. We continue to increase fossil fuel exploitation and use along with emissions while paying lip service to industry-approved solutions, such as carbon pricing at levels too low to have the needed effect, and expensive and unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

The report notes it's too late to prevent consequences from the enormous amounts of greenhouse gases we've already locked into the system, but we still have time -- although not much -- to prevent climate chaos. That will take action on a massive scale, from governments, industry, academia and citizens. We have to re-evaluate the thinking that got us into this mess, including outdated economic philosophies predicated on wasteful continuous growth, resource exploitation and consumerism.

We simply can't continue to rapidly burn coal, oil and gas and build infrastructure to support these wasteful, destructive energy technologies. We have to give nature a chance to regenerate as much as possible, as Earth's systems help rebalance carbon and other natural cycles. As an open letter I and many others signed points out, "Defending the living world and defending the climate are, in many cases, one and the same."

Even in the short term, there are benefits to addressing the climate crisis beyond saving our skins--although that should be enough! Reducing pollution, conserving resources and generating economic opportunities in cleaner energy are important goals in themselves.

It's time to quit stalling.

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