On climate, are we past the point of no return?

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A lone firefighter faces a wall of forest fire. Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr

We can't say we didn't know a serious crisis was on its way, and it's unlikely now that the world can avoid disastrous climate change. Humans have been warned for more than 30 years that a crisis was developing but we have failed to respond effectively.

The crisis is the result of disastrous behavior on many fronts. As we know, Big Oil is the worst culprit. Oil companies knew about climate change as early as the 1960s, yet conspired to create phoney organizations that created confusion by claiming that climate change was not a serious problem -- also known as astroturfing. If the U.S. had just laws, the bosses of the big companies should have gone to jail.

Developed countries failed to come together over 25 years to create a meaningful response to the growing crisis. The United Nations climate program, infiltrated and funded in part by corporations, has not been able to provide the leadership needed. Too many countries didn't want to seriously commit themselves, fearing the opposition of the powerful oil lobby, which, in Canada as well as elsewhere, holds significant influence on public opinion. If a government does a lot to fight climate change, governments fear they will lose votes at election time. At a crucial point at the UN, the United States refused to go along with countries that wanted to have firm commitments to achieve reduction targets.

In much of the world, uncontrolled capitalism has been responsible for damaging the environment. The waste is massive. Focused on the bottom line and the need to please shareholders, corporations continue to pump out billions of dollars worth of products, and much of it is unneeded junk.

Among the greatest polluters are military forces and their wars. There are more than 40 active conflicts around the world. Sadly, at the same time, millions of people rely on war to make a living.

The environmental disaster is made worse by the ravages of COVID-19 and the fact that close to 700 million people live in dire poverty. Even rich countries such as Canada and U.S. have millions of people living on the edge of poverty.

During the prosperous days of the 1960s and 70s developed countries neglected to use their great wealth to eliminate poverty. Instead, greedy folks became gross consumers of millions of dollars' worth of "things" they really didn't need. Meanwhile, Western governments provided modest aid to the global South, while northern corporations stripped billions of dollars worth of resources from poor countries.

Great wealth is hoarded by a few hundred-thousand people in the world. The richest one per cent controls half of the world's wealth. If this money had been unleashed to improve conditions in the world, the climate crisis might not be as bad as it is.

The Canadian government is trying to play it both ways; developing the tar sands and claiming to have an effective climate program. This strategy is an embarrassment to Canadians.

The so-called environmental movement in Canada has been a disaster. Groups did not tell the public the truth about the climate for fear of discouraging them. Groups focused on specific problems, such as species endangerment -- an important issue -- but, despite the millions Canadians have donated to climate organizations, did not come together to form an overall climate defence.

Mainstream media reports on climate change like it is just another story, failing to acknowledge the urgency and danger of the moment we are in. For many years, mainstream media has given a platform to climate change deniers in the name of "objectivity." We now know that false equivalencies such as putting scientists and climate change deniers on the same level fosters misinformation and sows unnecessary doubt in pursuit of more views, clicks, and shares.

Media owners are part of the capitalist system. If newspapers started condemning and naming the worst climate violators, they'd lose business and owners would sell their shares. Most mainstream journalists are either clueless or, in a few cases, they're stopped from doing the kinds of stories that are needed.

Most ordinary people still don't get it. They don't want to hear about the crisis. I wrote a fairly popular blog for a few years and my subscribers seldom read the climate stories. Most Canadians and Americans lack the political awareness to understand the dynamics of the fight to save the climate.

Some people assume that climate change can be reversed. Even with carbon capture, which hasn't been effectively developed, it's highly unlikely that the changes can be reversed. The best we can hope for is a slowing in the degree of destruction. With the icecaps melting rapidly, where is the world's water going to come from?

I fear that a couple of my predictions from a dozen years ago could come true: that much of Africa will be an over-heated wasteland, that Europe will be much colder, and the wealthy could be forced to live in giant air-sealed domes.

This week's report prepared by hundreds of scientists describes the disaster, but doesn't realistically say what would be needed to seriously slow climate change.

Given the behavior of the peoples of the world, and our record so far, I can't imagine any action(s) that will save the planet as we know it now.

Nick Fillmore is a semi-retired journalist and a frequent contributor to rabble. He worked more than 25 years for the CBC, and was a founder of both the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) and the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX).

Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr

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