Photo:  NASA Goddard Photo and Video / Flickr

A version of this open letter was sent to all Members of Parliament earlier this week. 

The single best science article on this year’s increasingly rapid melting of the Arctic ice cap is ‘Arctic Sea Ice: What, Why and What Next‘ by Ramez Naam, at the Scientific American website. Clearly written, superbly detailed, insightful and measured, Dr. Naam explains what is happening, why, and the importance of this signal symptom of climate change. I’m sharing this article with you because I would hope that my MP understands the full what, why and what next Arctic melt science.

Of course, climate change is profoundly inconvenient. We benefit greatly from our use of fossil fuels. In Canada we also benefit greatly from our production and export of fossil fuels. In very insecure economic times where governments are trying to do everything in their power to grow, support and protect their economies, the melting of the Arctic ice cap — unprecedented, and at a rate unpredicted, and with potentially catastrophic consequences — is a very inconvenient symptom indeed.

Denial has been, and is, our primary reaction to climate change. Denial is a common reaction to the inconvenient. Your doctor has been telling you to lose weight and exercise more for some time, warning that you risk maybe a heart attack or diabetes. But you are busy, preoccupied; and you like your lifestyle, what you eat, maybe a few drinks too. You hear what your doctor says but you push his message into the background behind maybe a few cosmetic changes: the bike you bought but don’t use, the diet that doesn’t last, etc.

This is denial.

Time goes by, your health worsens until either you have symptoms that you can no longer ignore or a heart attack, stroke or debilitating consequences from a body in crisis. You might die; you might finally make the changes needed in your lifestyle and recover to whatever extent possible; or you might stubbornly stay in denial despite the consequences.

Climate scientists have been warning for at least several decades that we must reduce our production and use of fossil fuels because climate change promises a suite of increasing dangers to our societies health and the risk of catastrophic consequence (analogous to a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke) to civilization, humanity and even the natural world with which we presently share creation.

Our prime reaction has been denial. The melting Arctic is similar to a formal diagnosis of diabetes; it is a symptom of a body in crisis. The doctors are telling us we must change because we cannot afford for our health to worsen. We must change urgently. We must get out of denial and change our lifestyles. Inconvenient — yes, but better than being an invalid or dead.

And if you’ve procrastinated needed change for decades change is now going to be much more difficult. In my last message to you about why climate change is an emergency I invited you to read the best science about the suite of climate change dangers and what emission reduction regime is now necessary. For legislators deeply concerned with keeping Canada’s economy growing this regime is impossibly inconvenient. Easier to stay in denial.

But as I tried to point out before there is an ethical consideration that must make denial untenable: if it were just our life that was dependent upon needed change, if it was just our choice of eating or smoking or doping ourselves to death, OK, stay in denial if you so choose. ‘It’s your life.’ But the real climate situation is that we benefit today from the production and use of fossil fuels but the building severe consequences fall on innocents in future generations. It is not our choice that only effects us — we have a duty to future generations and the melting Arctic is a symptom that requires urgent action in reducing emissions and denial is therefor criminal.

There should be an emergency debate in Parliament as soon as possible with the full import of the best science of both cause and effect and consequence spelled out for legislators and the Canadian public. And there must be an admission of past denial and decades of procrastination, fudged and cosmetic action.

Given the science, given the doctor’s learned prognosis, we must agree to a formal declaration of urgent, effective action. We need to embrace real change: all we love and care about is at stake because of our unhealthy lifestyles today.


Bill Henderson is an activist who lives in Gibsons, B.C.

Photo:  NASA Goddard Photo and Video / Flickr