Who will pay for our failure to act on global warming?
February 6, 2008
Dear readers and friends:
always amazed about how much Canadians care about the environment and
how they’re coming together to resolve global warming. If there’s some
frustration, it’s because Canadians don’t think government and business
are doing their fair share.
Canadians believe that their political and business leaders are falling behind and are out of step with the general population.
Change is occurring around the world and momentum keeps growing.
know, I’ve been on the road listening to Canadians talk about this
issue lately. And you might be surprised to know how strongly they feel
about our need to get ahead of this problem. In fact, as the latest
polling data shows, Canadians see the environment as the most pressing
concern facing today’s world.
I spoke to a Canadian just the
other day, a guy who felt like many of us that this issue needs to be
addressed but isn’t being given the attention it deserves from world
leaders. And he had a great way of looking at it. He said, “It’s kind
of like a dance where everyone waits along the walls for the first
person to break the ice. And then someone does, and suddenly everyone
is dancing. That’s what’s happening now in Canada and in the world on
global warming. We’re waiting for someone to step forward and break the
Isn’t it time we made it clear to our elected officials
and business leaders that we want them to get to work on solutions? Who
will be the first to come forward and break the ice, to offer up some
sound policies to get Canada moving and to help us be a model for other
It’s not either the environment or the economy – the environment is the economy. Canada can play an important role in the community of nations.
Canadians want someone to step forward to provide leadership.
recently returned from a series of talks to business, civic, and
student groups. To make sense of some of the media reports circulating,
I thought you’d appreciate the salient points that I made in that
All organisms are part of the biosphere, the zone of
air, water, and land where life exists. The biosphere is fixed and
finite; it can’t grow.
Human beings are animals, biological
creatures whose very survival and well-being depend on clean air, clean
water, clean soil, clean energy, and biodiversity.
Ecology and economics are based on the same root word, eco, from the Greek word oikos,
meaning home. Ecology is the study of home while economics is its
management. Ecologists try to determine the conditions and principles
that govern how species survive and flourish. It only makes sense that
for sustainability, economists should devise a system that is
subordinate to the conditions and principles that ecologists determine.
We have elevated economics above ecology as indicated by Prime
Minister Stephen Harper’s position that while we must try to do
something about climate change, it must not jeopardize the economy.
Similarly, former Alberta environment minister Lorne Taylor said
environmentalists should understand that we can only afford to protect
the environment if the economy is strong and growing.
Ed Stelmach’s discussions about the Alberta tar sands begin with the
absolute necessity to keep Alberta’s economy growing despite the
ecologically disastrous consequences of oil extraction.
1988, environmental concern globally was at an all-time high as George
H.W. Bush in the U.S. promised to be an “environmental president” if
elected. In the U.K., Margaret Thatcher declared she was a greenie. In
1988, atmospheric scientists at conference in Toronto were so alarmed
at the evidence that global warming was real and increasing that they
issued a news release calling the threat to humanity second only to
nuclear war and setting a target of a 20 per cent reduction in
greenhouse gases below 1988 levels in 15 years! Brian Mulroney was
re-elected prime minister that year and appointed his brightest star,
Lucien Bouchard, as environment minister.
Bouchard two months after his appointment and asked what the greatest
environmental challenge was, and he immediately answered “global
warming.” I asked, “How serious is it?” and he responded, “It threatens
the survival of our species. We have to act now.” So there it was in
1988 and every year since – the scientific evidence has simply been
getting stronger and stronger.
For more than a decade, every
organization of leading scientists, from the National Academy of
Sciences (USA) to the Royal Society of London (U.K.) and Royal Society
of Canada, as well as those of France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan,
and India, has called for action to combat climate change.
The science is in; scientists have looked ahead and called for strong measures to reduce emissions.
The eminent economist Sir Nicholas Stern concluded that acting to keep temperature from rising more than 2o
this century will cost about one per cent of GDPs annually while the
cost if we do not act will be economically catastrophic. In other
words, we face a cost of one per cent of annual GDP or destruction of
the economy. I don’t think there is a choice here. We have only one
What distinguishes human beings from the rest of the
animal kingdom is foresight, the ability to look ahead, to recognize
dangers and opportunities and by acting in the present, to avoid the
hazards and to exploit the opportunities in the future. No other animal
has that ability, and it has been the key to our explosive growth and
dominance of the planet.
When those in business and government
continue to deliberately ignore the best scientific advice warning us
of the need to act, they are committing us to a path that will have
catastrophic consequences for our children and grandchildren.
I believe this is an intergenerational crime.
We need to push our leaders – push them hard and hold them accountable.
Change is underway. Real change is happening. We need to let our leaders know that nothing can stop it.
Thanks for your time.