Saturday, June 15, 2019

People Want Climate Action and Dirty Energy

We need to see transformative change if we are to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Polls show that people want climate action but electoral outcomes suggests they also want dirty energy.  We have seen evidence of this in recent elections. In Australia a government was reelected that is committed to exploiting and exporting coal, one of the dirtiest forms of energy on Earth. The Canadian province of Alberta recently elected a government that is eliminating climate action and increasing fossil fuel development. This follows similar electoral outcomes in other Canadian provinces including Ontario.

In many places around the world we are seeing a shift to the right. The problem with this is that change is something that by definition conservatives have difficulty with. However, there is evidence to suggest that the shift to the right does not need to be a road to ruin. 

The climate leadership of the UK's Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May suggests that conservatives can be pragmatic. Electoral outcomes in the Canadian province of PEI indicates that conservatives parties do not need be opposed to climate action and environmental protections.

The problem is that people want quick fixes when the situation demands comprehensive long term planning. While planting trees, eliminating plastic waste and electric vehicles are all laudable components of the solution none on its own is a panacea. We cannot hope to plant enough trees to sequester all the carbon we are producing. Nor can we hope to recycle all the plastic we are producing. Similarly we look to electric vehicles as a transportation solution but we do not have ample resources to simply replace combustion engine vehicles with EVs. These are but three examples but they illustrate the problem.

We are seeing consistent increases in the number of people who are accepting the facts but it has not as yet reached critical mass. Of those that acknowledge the problems many do not appreciate the need for transformative change. We simply do not have time for incrementalism. According to a recent report we have less than a dozen years to get serious about climate action before it is too late.

We are not yet prepared to make the necessary changes. Some do not realize what is at stake, while others cannot seem to differentiate truth from falsehood. American President Donald Trump and the Republican party have compounded these problems as have certain corporate interests, particularly the fossil fuel industry. Science can help us to bridge the divides that separate us but first we need to see through the war on reality.

We need to challenge our conceptions of progress, we need to appreciate the value of protecting and preserving the health and well being of the natural world.  The argument that the costs of climate action are prohibitive is a ruse that is being used to scare people into inaction. The facts reveal that the benefits of climate action far outweigh the costs. We need more than science to get there, we need a spiritual and cultural revolution.

This is an existential crisis that one way or another will change our way of life. We can either pivot voluntarily or we will be savaged by catastrophic warming that will bring civilization as we know it to an end.

To have a chance at keeping temperatures from exceeding the upper threshold limit people must make transformative changes. We will not see the kind of change required until people are prepared for substantial change. However, it is a deeply rooted psycho-social fact that people are resistant to change and without sacrifice the changes that will be thrust upon us will be catastrophically expensive both in terms of treasure and life on the planet.

People do not appear to understand the gravity of the threats we face. Thanks in large measure to the Extinction Rebellion we have seen governments around the world declare climate emergencies. However, such declarations implicitly demand action. In the absence of concrete policies these declarations are little more than shallow rhetoric.

The electorate needs to support governments that heed the science and are prepared to engage in long term thinking and comprehensive policy action. If the majority of the electorate are too ill-informed or too afraid to acknowledge reality then it could be argued that they deserve what is coming. But what about the rest of us and what about future generations?

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