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Hill Dispatches: Peter Kent once warned Canadians about global warming...

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On Jan. 24, 1984, the CBC television program The Journal broadcast a full edition documentary called "The Greenhouse Effect and Planet Earth." It was hosted, narrated and written by Peter Kent, who is now Canada's environment minister.

You can find the program here

And you may want to hurry. Evidence of this sort has a tendency to mysteriously disappear from the web.

In his introduction to the documentary, Kent says that it may seem like science fiction but "the scientific community is virtually unanimous": the planet is getting warmer.

The "greenhouse effect" was a little-known phenomenon at the time of this broadcast, more than 27 years ago. This broadcast may have been one of the first major media reports on the subject.

"The greenhouse effect will wreak total havoc ... there will no Canada and the United States as we know it today..."

"It will be cataclysmic..."

"Most important of all the environmental questions..."

"A change of climate that nature herself has not inflicted on the world since man has been in the world..."

Those are, as Kent says in the documentary, "just a sample" of what respected experts had to say at the time about the then little-known greenhouse effect.

Viewed today, the documentary is surprisingly current. It includes maps that show what could happen, over time, to coastal areas such as Florida and New York City. And it talks a lot about the probability of extreme weather to come, especially in the tropics: tornados, storms, droughts.

The program does say that, perhaps, a country such as Canada might actually benefit. The greenhouse effect, the documentary says, could increase Canada's agricultural potential -- just to cite one example.

As for who the biggest and earliest victims will be: the program correctly predicts that will be the poor in underdeveloped, tropical countries that have very little contributed to the greenhouse effect. And the documentary warns against the deforestation of the planet, especially in what Kent refers to in the program as "the Third World."

The program is surprisingly pessimistic about the possibility of human beings, collectively, taking measures to reverse global climate change. Experts from whom we hear say that they do not see how people could be convinced to break their addiction to fossil fuels. And some experts foresee a scenario where there are " winners and losers," with the "winners" (such as Canada?) being "forced" (coerced?) to "pay for" the losers.

Some scientists in Kent's program evoke the probability of massive population shifts, of major social disruption and conflict and even the spectre of war.

It is pretty strong stuff.

These days, we know that Kent's prediction, 27 years ago, that maybe this would all have an impact on "our children and grandchildren" was optimistic. There is significant evidence of global climate change all around us right now.

One would have hoped that an environment minister who was such an "early adopter" of the climate change issue might have tried to use his political influence to enlighten his colleagues, many of whom, not too long ago, actively denied the scientific validity of global warming.

If anybody does, Peter Kent should have political clout in the Conservative cabinet. When he won his seat in Thornhill he was as close as the party then got to downtown Toronto. And he was a star catch, as a candidate, someone with a very distinguished career in broadcasting and journalism.

Don't the Conservatives need Kent more than he needs them? It is unlikely that he needs the cabinet minister's paycheque. And he has a significant personal and professional reputation. Wouldn't that give him the right to challenge the party line, at least behind closed doors, and to stick up for scientists inside and outside the public service, whose findings are much more extensive -- and "nearly unanimous" -- now than they were in 1984?

Twenty-seven years ago, Kent concluded the CBC Journal's "full edition" with these words:

"The greenhouse effect must be considered as the world's greatest environmental concern."

What would he say today?

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