Did I miss something, or did the two-hour English election debate go by with only one passing reference to climate change, the most urgent issue of our time? There seems to be an inverse relationship at play between the severity of the crisis and its place on the political radar.
The issue is receiving much less attention than it did in the last federal election (the Dion factor?). Yet the science tells us that the situation is more urgent, not less.
Last weekend, Bill McKibben (founder of 350.org, and author most recently of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet) gave an outstanding talk in Vancouver (to a capacity crowd of 500). Twenty years ago, McKibben’s book The End of Nature was the first to introduce the coming reality of global warming to a general audience.
Today, McKibben reminds is that that future is now. Climate change is happening. In the last year alone we have seen temperature records shattered, devastating droughts and fires in Australia and New Zealand, and because warmer air holds more water vapor, disastrous flooding, most notably in Pakistan.
McKibben also highlights the cruel global irony that the poorest countries that have contributed the least to global warming are experiencing the brunt of climate change, a reality that drives home the moral imperative at play. And he sadly noted Canada’s ignominious role in scuttling meaningful progress in global negotiations.
McKibben also had little fun with the concept of “conservative”. A direct action he recently helped organize in Washington asked participants to come “in their Sunday best.” The point was to emphasize that the radicals in all this are those willing to recklessly dump ever-increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere without consideration of the consequences (that’s crazy stuff), while the true conservatives are those who want our planetary systems to maintain some semblance of what we have hitherto known.
McKibben concluded with what should be an obvious observation: the governments we elect may get to re-write tax laws, the criminal code, or immigration laws – but they do not get to re-write the laws of nature. We need a government whose policies and global negotiating position are governed by science. Rising to the challenge of global warming is the defining issue of our generation. The climate cannot afford four more years of inaction.
Winning public support (particularly in tough economic times) also requires that our policies are structured equitably and are seen to be fair. That's what the CCPA's BC office is modeling in our Climate Justice Project (for more on that, see here).
Seth Klein is the CCPA's British Columbia Director.