RALPH SURETTE: Post-COVID, climate will cast longest shadow

There’s hope that vaccines will be quelling the coronavirus by next spring and that some sense will be returning to Washington, clearing the deck for the real crisis, which you’ll be hearing a lot more about as the world’s failure to deal with it comes home to roost.

Antonio Gutteres, the UN Secretary General, has taken to the road with a campaign calling for the “suicidal war against the planet to end” — the diplomatic language getting unusually panicky — and putting extra emphasis on the worsening litany of things linked to global warming: biodiversity collapse, species extinction, spreading deserts, forest destruction, droughts, floods, fires, hurricanes, melting glaciers and permafrost, plus oceans that are overheating, overfished, acidifying, plastic-choked and rising.

Extra emphasis, too, on some obvious but mightily resisted solutions like a (real) price on carbon, cutting out fossil fuel subsidies (over $5 trillion worldwide at last count, and over $3 billion in Canada) and shifting the tax burden from income to carbon.

The UN’s calculation is that there must be a global reduction of some six per cent a year in fossil fuel emissions up to 2030 to keep things from becoming fully catastrophic. The projection, however, is for a two per cent a year rise in emissions. 

At issue are culprits like Canada, a leader at making lofty promises — and at breaking them.

But before we get to that, let’s check in on the psychology of the piece. Amid the myriad reports coming out on all aspects of the matter at an increasing clip, one grabber is a project by several North American news organizations checking on the effect of climate-change issues on the mental state of youth, and finding rampant depression and dejection. A student at the University of Guelph summarized it: “Doing schoolwork — the feeling is like it is useless because I might not have a future to work towards.”’

This is the anxiety that Greta Thunberg symbolizes. As has been said many times, let’s think of the mess we’re leaving the grandchildren. This is them at the door now. The revenge of the grandchildren is nigh for the wastrel grandparent generation and may be the planet’s only salvation.

made this interestingly frank statement at the UN in September: “The world is facing a climate reckoning … because of our collective inability, over the past decades, to make the tough decisions and sacrifices needed to fight climate change.”

The “reckoning” has to do mainly with the fossil fuel industry, which doesn’t want to go quietly. In Canada, this is complicated because the industry is virtually synonymous with Alberta politics, which has a certain power of political blackmail. 

Although Trudeau wants to come down on the right side of the reckoning, he has committed some $12 billion for the Trans Mountain pipeline which is supposed to raise the price of oil sands oil by farming it out on the world market instead of just the U.S. market. 

A recent analysis by scientist David Hughes for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the East Asian market, where it’s supposed to go, doesn’t have the capacity to refine it and the net effect will actually be a drop in the price of $4-$5. A likely total waste of public money that should go to green energy.

Mark Carney, former head of the banks of Canada and England, now UN special climate envoy, says half of all oil reserves (especially the dirtiest stuff, like the oil sands) and 80 per cent of coal must stay in the ground if climate goals are to be met.

The fossil industry that financed climate-change denial for decades, now admits that something must be done, but fights tooth and nail against specific measures to bring that about. 

The Trudeau government has a new bill on climate change with contentious regulations to come. Watch for it and we’ll see how the reckoning works out.

Gutteres says he sees a “glimmer of hope” in that 110 countries (including Canada) propose zero carbon by 2050. A glimmer is not much (there are 193 countries and some of the biggest, including the U.S., have yet to sign on.)

Next year, as the COVID smoke clears and the U.S. hopefully returns to sanity, there are a ton of international climate-change conferences scheduled, big and small — on transport systems, food production, urban development, ecosystem restoration, etc. Hopefully, the facts will finally get a hearing through the well-financed culture of denial.

Meanwhile in Nova Scotia, the government is to review its climate change “adaptation” policies — that is, the plan for retreat to higher ground in a war against ourselves that we’re losing.

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