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In addition to the staging of the PanAm Games, Toronto has been the location of some unusually high profile activities in recent days that were supposed to increase the efforts to tackle climate change.
The events spoke to some important questions: How effective are efforts to slow the increase of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, do Canadians agree on the extent of damage to our environment, and what do scientists say in their most recent reports about the degree of the threat?
First, Toronto had the spectacle of actor/activist Jane Fonda, environmentalist David Suzuki and author-activist Naomi Klein leading a march of some 10,000 protesters belonging to a new coalition through downtown streets. From all accounts, they were a cheerful bunch.
“I think that the coalition that is represented in today’s march and rally… will make a difference,” Fonda said. But isn’t the year 2015 a little late to form a new coalition? Climate change has been a growing problem over 30 years, and Canada still does not have an effective, coordinated environmental effort to fight the biggest crisis in history.
Later in the week, a much more forceful group of some 200 protestors succeeded for a short time in blocking high profile delegates to the Climate Summit of the Americas from entering the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
The aggressive small group chanted “Shut down the summit.” After their initial success, they were blocked by dozens of police. This scene has been repeated across the country hundreds of times in recent years and, unfortunately, instead of rallying “ordinary” people to their cause, it instead tends of turn them off.
Inside the Fairmont Royal York, more than 300 delegates from 20 Pan-American countries were claiming to be urging jurisdictions around the world to come forward with meaningful commitments for carbon reductions they would present at the long-anticipated UN Climate Summit in Paris in December. This UN Summit is “the biggie” of 20 years of efforts to come to agreement on how to slow climate change. If it fails there apparently will be no more UN summits.
The Toronto Summit turned into a news op for political opportunism, with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Environment Minister Glen Murray, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, and even California Governor Jerry Brown taking turns tearing strips off Stephen Harper, whose government was not represented at the meetings.
Interestingly, powerful corporations lurked in the background. While politicians take the heat for failing to act effectively on climate change, giant corporations, including Shell’s CEO and the head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, had already steered the pre-Summit discussions enough to make sure non-renewables would not be targeted in a closing statement. Corporations rule the roost in just about every so-called democracy in the West.
Non-renewable energy corporations have spent many millions-of-dollars during their evil campaign of deception and lies, producing and circulating disinformation about the dangers of their carbon-producing products for more than 30 years. The independent Union of Concerned Scientists earlier this month released a 56-page dossier detailing the lies of the industry.
At the close of the Toronto Climate Summit, hundreds of delegates signed a non-binding statement urging jurisdictions around the world to make carbon-reduction commitments and present them in Paris.
In short, while athletes from the Pan American region were delighting crowds with some wonderful performances, the Climate Summit was, well, a fraud. It was a massive, hugely expensive and cynical public relations stunt — a nice travel perk — for participating politicians. We all would be better off if the money had been spent on a practical carbon-reduction program, perhaps in Africa, the continent that has the fewest resources and will suffer the most.
Unfortunately, mainstream media coverage of the Summit failed to go beyond the speeches. The papers, TV and radio news dutifully reported the politicians’ rants. But a Google search failed to find any mainstream news report that provided any analysis of the event or that explained the extremely serious threat that climate change presents.
Mainstream media must be held largely responsible for the fact that only 50 per cent of Canadians are “extremely” or “definitely” concerned about the climate threat. Corporate news coverage and media analysis of the seriousness of climate change is too often wrong, misleading or incomplete.
If bad reporting on climate change issues confuses the public, so do incorrect statements by poorly informed politicians.
Premier Couillard was an offender at the Toronto Climate Summit. He said Quebec is committing itself “to a very ambitious set of targets with only one objective: to keep warming below or at the maximum 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.” This says, as Bob Marley’s famous song goes, everything’s gonna be alright.
But sorry Philippe, according to a lot of scientists, keeping the average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius — which was the goal pulled out of a hat several years ago, is pretty much impossible.
Here’s what scientists I trust have to say:
Because of the melting of the icecaps, we’re already on our way to surpassing 2 degrees, says the highly regarded and independent Union of Concerned Scientists. The melting of the icecaps cannot be reversed.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in June that, if governments do not strengthen policies dramatically, the world would be on a path to an average temperature increase of 2.6 Celsius by 2100 and 3.5 Celsius after 2200.
The IEA says this translates into an average temperature rise of 4.3 Celsius over land in the northern hemisphere where most of the world’s population lives, and even more in urban areas.
Yes, this would be catastrophic.
And here we are, poorly informed Canadians, going on with our lives pretty much as usual because our environmental groups, politicians, media, and our corporations, will not tell us a) how serious a problem we face, and b) what can an ordinary person do to make a meaningful difference?
It’s impossible to say how massive an effort would be required to keep temperature increases to levels that will allow us to continue living pretty much as we do now. We can only guess.
Dr. Matania Ginosar, a prominent California environmental scientist, says that “only a global effort larger and more intense than WWII may be able to save the Earth’s environment from destruction.”
Enormous pressure will be put on many of the 196 countries taking part in the much-anticipated United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris in December. They will try to come up with some sort of agreement or understanding that will allow an orchestrated attack on greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020.
But the UN process has been under way for 20 years now and, because of its repeated failure to advance the climate agenda, it cannot be considered a success.
One serious problem with the UN Summits has been that giant corporations have used their influence and money to move into a powerful position in the process. So far they have helped prevent the kind of progress required.
In one major way, the Paris Summit is already a failure even before it begins. UN officials involved with the talks are already saying that whatever is accomplished in Paris alone, it will not hold global warming to less than 2 Celsius.
Embarrassed when the crucial Copenhagen talks ended in chaos and vicious attacks, leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama and the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao won’t attend the Paris Summit. Only high level ministers will be there.
Given the seriousness of the crisis as it is now being described internationally, it is difficult to understand how Toronto’s protests and climate talks were allowed to be so meaningless. These weaknesses, plus deplorable reporting by mainstream media, are responsible for millions of Canadians being poorly informed and not taking the threat of potentially disastrous climate change seriously.
Nick Fillmore is a Toronto freelance journalist and a frequent contributor to rabble. He also is a social activist who specializes in issues such as climate change, world finance, and human rights. Nick worked in several editorial capacities with the CBC for more than 25 years and is a founder of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Please visit his blog: nickfillmore.blogspot.com
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