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The Climate Conundrum

By Stuart Hertzog
June 18th, 2007

Impending global disaster calls for drastic action

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: unless we can swiftly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions on an emergency basis to 90% of present levels, we’ve going to create irreversible climate change and a very insecure future for our grandchildren.

There’s no ifs or buts: it’s the urgent climate reality that scientists are telling us we must face up to if we wish to avoid a global temperature rise of more than 2ºC, above which point feedback mechanisms will accelerate global warming out of control — if they haven’t started to kick in already.

How can we each play our part in reducing global warming while keeping the lights on, homes and businesses heated and humming, and supermarkets stocked with food?

Individual choices limited

In reality, our individual energy and transportation choices are limited. We can replace that old clunker of a furnace with a modern, high-efficiency unit; or we could decide to switch from oil to gas or electricity. Some may be able to weatherproof their home or business and install high-efficiency windows and solar water heating.

But most folks can’t afford to do that without government assistance and the federal Conservatives first pulled the plug and now resurrected those former Liberal programs.

In a flurry of political posturing, Canada’s political parties are jostling to position themselves as planetary saviors. Don’t let them fool you. In my years as an activist I have yet to see any in-depth understanding of environmental issues by most politicians, or genuine commitment to policies that do anything other than paper over the cracks in our industrial civilisation.

Adding ethanol to auto fuel as the federal government is proposing may reduce smog by a fraction but it’s is not going to impact global warming one little bit. In fact, it’s likely to convert a lot of precious farmland from food to fuel production. Is that a smart move when we are looking at the possibility of global food supply becoming a major concern?

Slight difference

It would be nice to believe that we can make a difference to the huge amount of transportation greenhouse gas emissions by using slightly cleaner fuel, pumping up our tires, walking, biking, or taking the bus more. Affluent folk can afford to buy a fuel-sipping Smart car or less polluting hybrid. If a majority of us would do that, we may see a slight reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

But our cars and trucks still need fossil fuels, and at this time in many Canadian provinces we can’t order only ‘green’ electricity for our home or business. Simplistic individual solutions can only help us feel a little better while saving ourselves a few dollars. They won’t bring about the 70–90% carbon reductions that scientists now are saying are needed to head off drastic climate change.

Unfortunately, both government and industry are heavily invested in fossil fuels, and there hasn’t been much impetus for carbon emission reduction coming from those quarters. Although public opinion polls currently report the environment as the number one concern of an overwhelming majority of Canadians, persuading governments and political policy-makers to pass legislation that mandates emission reductions and appropriately funds supporting programs is still not going to be easy.

But for the sake of our children and future generations, we must reduce carbon emissions and prepare for approaching climate change as a matter of extreme urgency.


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