No doubt some people would adamantly deny the need for mandatory worldwide action against climate change, even as freezing flood waters engulfed them.

This scenario is no longer far-fetched. As we endlessly bicker over how to address the problem, the frightening implications of climate change creep ever closer.

Last week, even as a pivotal U.N. conference on climate change ground to a stalemate in Montreal, a British scientific journal reported evidence suggesting the long-feared slowdown of the Gulf Stream is already underway. Without the stream’s warming influence, far northern countries like Britain — where the surprisingly temperate climate allows palm trees to grow in Cornwall — could become like Siberia, within our lifetimes.

Scientists say this same Gulf Stream slowdown could bring more brutal winters to parts of Canada and the U.S., and contribute to ever-greater hurricane intensity in the tropics.

Oh well, on with the conference bickering.

The U.S. is the leading resister of Kyoto, the international agreement aimed at combating climate change. While George W. Bush focuses on fighting terrorism, he barely acknowledges the terrorism to be unleashed by nature, which truly does amount to a rebuff of America’s gas-guzzling “way of life.” But then it’s harder to vilify nature, to rally crowds with: “You’re either with us — or with nature.”

Kyoto opponents reject its mandatory requirements, insisting each country be responsible for reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions.

That might be fine, if emissions respected borders. But they don’t. Regardless of origin, they all end up in the collective haze that hovers above the planet, playing capriciously with climate systems. The only possible solution involves coordinated global action.

Kyoto opponents often argue that reducing emissions will hurt the economy. Yet a statement by Nobel prize-winning economists Kenneth Arrow and Robert Solow, signed by 2,500 economists, maintained that reducing emissions wouldn’t hurt U.S. living standards, and might actually improve them. Even if it did hurt them, should this be grounds for inaction?

Climate change illustrates the insanity of the doctrine of limitless economic growth, which lies at the heart of unbridled capitalism.

By making economic growth the priority that trumps all others, we’ve placed in jeopardy the very ecosystems that allow us to exist on this planet and to enjoy all those luxury consumer items that economic growth can bring.

As British historian R.H. Tawney noted years ago: “So merciless is the tyranny of economic appetites … that a doctrine which confines them to their proper sphere, as the servant, not the master of civilization, may reasonably be regarded as … a permanent element in any sane philosophy.”

Tawney’s common-sense insight is utterly lost on today’s political leaders.

And so it is that, as the waves crash through the levees and the palm trees of Cornwall turn to ice, we’ll go down clinging to our flat screen TVs and our high-definition camcorders. We know what matters.

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...