The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued itsreport in Paris on February 5. The message was clear:“warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” and thecause is “very likely” man-made. Notable about thiswarning is that the published findings are veryconservative because of the nature of the panel. Everything used was peer reviewed science and agreed upon by the representatives of 113 governments. Call it the bestcase scenario.
What the panel did not do was provide solutions to theproblem. Given the nature of the problem and howcontroversial and divisive effective solutions are boundto be it is doubtful that 113 governments will be able toagree on how to fix it any time soon. Call this theusual scenario.
The problem has become so obvious now that even peoplelike Stephen Harper and George Bush cannot deny it. Infact Prime Minister Harper is quoted by CBC as sayingthat “I think the science is clear that these changes areoccurring, they’re serious and we must act.”
Rhetoric ischeap, however, and one should have serious doubts abouta Prime Minister who has spent considerable effortavoiding and even denying the problem over the years.Implementing the necessary solutions would seriouslyimpact his political bankrollers and raise the ire ofthose voters who put faith ahead of science. We canexpect little more of him than making gestures andspeeches with no substance.
Mr. Harper will not be alone. President George Bush hasruled out mandatory controls to cut greenhouse gases,citing damage to the U.S. economy, the world’s largest. Ifthe Americans, who are responsible for a quarter of thegreenhouse gases in the world, refuse to cut back, is itlikely then that many others will put themselves at agreater economic disadvantage by doing so?
Britain has certainly taken the problem to heart, atleast for the moment. The UK government has decided todistribute Al Gore’s film on global warming, AnInconvenient Truth, to all its secondary schools.And, Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group, hasoffered a prize of $25 million for anyone who can devisea system for removing a significant amount of greenhousegases from the atmosphere. Those interested have untilFebruary 8, 2010 to apply.
In British Columbia, following the release of the report,BC NDP Leader Carole James challenged Premier GordonCampbell to freeze greenhouse gases and establish alegislative committee to set targets for reducingemissions. A few days later the Vancouver Sun ran astory saying that Premier Campbell is planning to launcha “major” green initiative much like GovernorSchwarzenegger has done in California.
This represents aturnabout for Mr. Campbell who, like the Prime Ministerand President Bush, has been generally hostile toenvironmental concerns. It is unlikely that Mr.Campbell, or even Ms James for that matter were shePremier, will come up with a plan that goes to the coreof the problem. Too much is at stake for the economicpowers that be, and too little is understood by theelectorate about what we are facing.
The solution to the environmental crisis facing us willrequire a major realignment of our economic system fromone based on profit and individual accumulation of wealthto one based on meeting human needs and collectivesharing of resources. The drive for profits is a majorroadblock on the path to environmental sustainability andsocial stability.
Even more important than curbing the profit madness isthe imperative to reduce the total demand on theecosystem, a reduction that must come through reducingthe size of the human population on the planet. Much ofthe destruction that we are seeing now is a result of toogreat a demand on our resources, a demand beyond what thesystem can sustain if it is to repair and replenishitself.
Even if everyone were to become absolutelyenvironmentally friendly, the sheer increasing numbers ofour population would eventually render our environmentuninhabitable.
It is too much to expect that politicians will have thewill power to publicly explore these solutions, nevermind actually working to implement them. To do so wouldmore than likely be an act of political suicide. It isalso questionable that the majority of the populationwould be willing to agree that these things need to be done.What we can expect is rhetoric, posturing and band aids.