Climate change: Responsibility and action

Are we acting with due diligence to future generations? Is ideological orthodoxy keeping us in denial about how we govern ourselves?

Climate change promises unthinkable pain and destruction for future generations because of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels today.

You don't think so? Not what you've heard on TV or in your local paper?

Ninety-seven per cent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and human caused. This is the consensus of every national academy of science of every major country and almost every government (and their defence depts). Even some previously ideological deniers have converted because of the breadth and depth of the emerging science picture.

Fifteen per cent of the world's population produce 75 per cent of greenhouse gas pollution. One billion people (us) have obese carbon footprints. Six billion people produce negligible per capita emissions. Climate change is a building catastrophe we are responsible for.

Denial, procrastination and intransigence wasted two decades when a carbon tax could have been effective at reducing emissions. Instead emissions from our group soared. Currently, we produce levels of heat trapping emissions that will lead to an estimated 4 degrees-C rise in global mean temperature. Think of your kids or grandkids -- the kids in the family our B.C. premier says she cares about: your toddler will probably not live to 50 in the world we are creating.

And in B.C. we are not just carbon addict users -- we are into dealing big time. As Vancouver climate activist Barry Saxifrage has pointed out: "The 25 million tonnes of coal dug out of British Columbia each year causes more climate pollution than the national economies of 126 countries." Coal and natural gas exports have emissions about double what BC generates internally from combusting fossil fuels.

B.C.'s fossil fuel expansion is a crime against humanity.

It's not that we couldn't reduce our emissions drastically -- an 80 per cent reduction in per capita emissions would take us back to 50s-era levels and because we are so rich we could do that fast if it was a Hitler or Tojo that was the threat. And people had fun in the 50s, dancing, playing baseball, growing a business, raising a family. It's not that we couldn't or shouldn't leave the fossil fuels in the ground till we could use them without emissions.

But systemic change is not only not allowed -- it can't even be on the menu for debate. Ideological orthodoxy requires us to follow the unfolding market path without intervention.

Do you want to live in a reasonable world where planning and other decisions effecting our common future are evidence based? Do you want to do the right thing and act in due diligence to future generations?

The impetus for this series of essays was Alexandra Morton's Salmon are Sacred presentation at Robert's Creek hall. She had structured her talk around her decade of trying to get governments to do the right thing and protect wild salmon from the proliferating salmon farming pens. She had helped build a powerful case against the fish farms but it didn't matter. (So far.)

This reminded me of the key lesson I'd learned as a forest activist in the 90s: governments are bound and fettered down policy paths formed decades ago and increasingly by the Golden Straitjacket of enforced deregulation and governmental downsizing in the war to stay competitive in the global economy. Established industries such as B.C.'s forest or salmon farming or coal industries with sunk costs and dependent communities are now a protected species impervious from all but cosmetic regulatory efforts by governments.

Grossly over-inflated harvest levels now require second growth liquidation and future generations will feel the loss of opportunity and nature's services. Net pens will continue to spread disease to migrating salmon and combined with a century of overfishing and habitat loss they might be the coup de grace for all but remnant runs of wild salmon and future generations of British Columbians will be profoundly poorer. Fossil fuel production for export is expanding leading to emissions which imperil our children.

Because there was no possibility of needed change in forestry and because my reading lead me to believe that climate change was becoming a humanity threatening emergency I became a climate activist. Informed by the hard lesson I learned in forestry I have focused upon the limitations for government in properly recognizing the climate change dangers and initiating action of a scale necessary.

We have to act immediately to protect a future for salmon, forests and us, but after decades of denial, procrastination and cynical obfuscation -- B.C.'s Climate Action Plan with its puny, ineffective carbon tax and bogus offsets, for a pertinent example -- it is obvious that we cannot act effectively and that in fact we have given over governance of our actions to market mechanisms that will only increase emissions as we continue down a consumer/car/sprawl economy path entered decades ago.

What can we do if we care to act in due diligence to future generations? How can we escape this path leading to pain, death, failing economies and states -- probably the end of civilization as we know it and, with increasing possibility, the extinction for humanity and most of the species with which we now share creation on this small blue planet?

First of all, make this serious governance problem visible and force recognition of this inability to govern ourselves in the interests of future generations on to the public menu for debate.

As I said ending the first essay in this series, Alex Morton's campaign deserves to be and could be a litmus test and first step to needed change. If there is sound evidence that wild salmon are being imperilled by salmon farming, do the right thing and get the netpens out of the path of migrating salmon. This would be a big step in reaffirming government power to regulate business to protect future generations.

Secondly, recognize that the business capture of governments globally -- the Golden Straitjacket, and the ideology of markets -- has gone too far in restricting our ability to regulate our actions so as to protect the ecological basis for life for future generations.

I originally wrote and submitted an early draft of these essays to a Vancouver business paper because I firmly believe that understanding this governance problem is in everybody's long term self-interest. If business is powerful enough to capture government, business will have to wake up to their role in subverting proper governance, stop the greenwashing and obfuscation and become one of the primary agents of needed change.

Climate change promises unthinkable pain and destruction for future generations because of our inability to do the right thing but it is still not too late to be responsible and change. We don't have to be addicts and dealers. We have to regain our ability to be responsible and our ability to take needed action.

Bill Henderson is an activist who lives in Gibsons, B.C. He can be reached by email.

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