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Stop fiddling while the planet burns

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Greta Thunberg at European Parliament. Image: European Parliament/Flickr

Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on? Last October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report indicating that global emissions are still rising despite more than three decades of warnings. Now we're on a path to a 3C to 5C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The IPCC concludes that anything above a 1.5C rise will take us beyond our ability to "manage" the consequences, but that it's still possible to keep global average temperature increase at or below that.

The report's urgency, coupled with the possibility of remaining within a manageable temperature, should be the driving force behind all we do from here on. Yet some federal and provincial political leaders continue to downplay or deny the reality and severity of climate disruption, loudly opposing proven measures to address it. Canada is warming even faster than most of the world! Even those who agree it's a crisis are doing little about it. They are not leaders.

Swedish teen Greta Thunberg says political inaction is destroying her future. She refuses to listen to politicians' words and instead judges them by their actions. When I was her age, we would say, "Big talk, no action." Thunberg has listened to what scientists are telling us and is taking their predictions seriously. Every child on Earth has the right to say that no government is acting in their best interests. But kids can't vote, so ignoring them has no apparent political consequences, at least until they are old enough to vote or their voting-age parents rise up and demand action on their behalf.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna have young children who will surely be greatly affected by climate change, but they've done little to raise the IPCC's alarm or educate the public about the severity of climate disruption. It's all because of politics. They don't want to jeopardize their chances in the next election so they avoid antagonizing some segments of society.

As the SNC-Lavalin scandal unfolds, we see politicians held hostage by corporate threats of job losses or head offices moving to other countries. As economist and Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs recalls, ozone-depleting CFCs were not eliminated by raising taxes on them or encouraging the public to stop buying CFC-containing spray cans or refrigerators. They were legislated out.

We're in a battle for a liveable future and must make a declaration of war against catastrophic climate change. It's too late to remove the carbon we've already put into the atmosphere, so we'll have to live with the results for decades. But it makes no sense to continue to add to what is already at a devastating level higher than it's been for millions of years.

I used to say it's as if we're in a car heading toward a brick wall at 100 kilometres per hour, and everyone is arguing about where they want to sit rather than looking ahead, putting on the brakes and turning the wheel. I don't say that anymore because we're more like a Road Runner cartoon. Road Runner approaches the edge of a cliff, then stops suddenly or turns to avoid it. But Wile E. Coyote keeps charging straight ahead and goes over the edge. Wile E. has that moment of realization when he's suspended in air, looks down and sees he's gone too far, then plunges to the canyon bottom.

Many of my colleagues argue it's too late, that we're like the coyote, already over the edge, about to fall. Is that an argument for doing nothing? I don't think so, because we still don't really know whether we're the coyote or the roadrunner. And even if we fall, we might be able to avoid being crushed by the falling rock or anvil. Let's stop all the name-calling and denial, listen to the experts, seize the challenge and make the commitment to meet the IPCC target.

The economic, social and environmental consequences of whatever governments do or don't do now will be enormous, but we have to do all we can to keep from hitting bottom. As Abraham Lincoln said, "Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality."

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Image: European Parliament/Flickr

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