By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola.
It’s amazing what world leaders can do when they come together for a common cause, as they did in Montreal in 1987 to ban CFCs to protect the ozone layer. In December, our leaders will have a tremendous opportunity in Copenhagen to take the world into a new era of innovation and prosperity.
But, as was the case in Montreal, this opportunity is born out of crisis. The threat of climate change is real and imminent. Scientists from around the world have confirmed this through continuous study and observation – despite what the increasingly desperate and nonsensical arguments from deniers would have you believe.
This is no longer a political issue. It’s an issue of utmost importance to all of us, no matter where on the political spectrum we feel most comfortable. And we’re finally seeing some agreement about confronting this challenge among world leaders from the left, centre, and right. It’s especially a conservative issue. After all, as Denmark’s Minister of Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaard, points out, a core conservative belief is "that what you inherit you should pass on to the next generation." And that doesn’t mean passing on our mess!
Conservatives also believe that we should live within our means, save some of what we have for tomorrow, and act with care and caution. Conservatives with deep religious conviction know also that we are stewards of the Earth – and good stewardship means protecting the Earth, its resources, and its life.
The December climate summit in Copenhagen is a crossroads. We can continue to delay while the Earth’s natural systems reach tipping points beyond which we may not be able to find our way back, or we can move forward in our efforts to slow global warming, reduce pollution, and create new opportunities for healthier lives and stronger economies.
Many world leaders are already committed to negotiating an agreement in Copenhagen that is ambitious, fair, and binding, and many have started implementing solutions in their own countries. Unfortunately, Canada is falling behind. Our national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions have been called ineffective, and our performance at a number of recent climate meetings has been labelled "obstructionist".
Our inaction comes from fear. Because Canada is a major oil producer, politicians and some businesspeople are afraid that reducing our reliance on fossil fuels will harm the economy. But that’s short-sighted. If we continue to rely on dwindling non-renewable energy supplies, we’ll be left in the dust as the rest of the world moves forward to a green economy, with innovation, jobs, and money from new technologies such as renewable energy infrastructure.
If we were to use our fossil-fuel resources such as oil more wisely, we could make them last longer and derive more national economic benefits from them while we make the transition to a clean-energy economy. The side benefits would include less pollution and environmental damage, a more stable economy, and healthier citizens.
If we continue down the same road, however, we risk catastrophic consequences to our economy and to our very lives. Scientists agree that if average temperatures on Earth rise just another degree, global warming could reach a point of no return, with melting icecaps, rising sea levels, increasing waves of climate refugees, extinction of plants and animals, and floods, droughts, and other severe weather events.
As a northern nation, Canada is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The impact is magnified near the Earth’s poles, largely because of the loss of ice and snow coverage. Canada also has the longest marine coastline in the world, so sea-level rise would have a dramatic effect with enormous economic consequences. Many Canadians are already feeling the sting of climate change, especially in the North and in other communities that depend on forestry, fisheries, and agriculture.
Change is never easy, and taking bold steps can come with costs in the short term. But refusing to change means we are condemning ourselves and our children and grandchildren to an uncertain and dangerous future. We can all take individual action to reduce our emissions, but ultimately, we must let our leaders know that we expect them to seize the opportunity in Copenhagen to create a secure and healthy future for our small blue planet and all the people who share it.
Science Matters is published by The David Suzuki Foundation and has been re-syndicated with permission on thegreenpages.ca network since 2000.