Inaction on climate change comes with a huge price tag

By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola.

It’s interesting to see the reaction to a report just released by our foundation and the Pembina Institute. The Globe and Mail called our analysis of the costs of fighting climate change “unsaleable and dangerous”.

But the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson wrote that “The Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation have had the courage to uncover and to tell us the truth. Now Canadians must decide what to do.”

Yes, it is up to Canadians to decide what to do. Do we plug our ears and close our eyes and go about business as usual while the world strains under the damage we are inflicting? Do we leave our children and grandchildren a world of misery? Or do we pull together to confront this challenge, as we have with other major threats the world has faced?

Keep in mind that the report, Climate Leadership, Economic Prosperity, while pointing out that reducing the impact of climate change will come with some costs, also concludes that our economy will remain healthy. In fact, the analysis, conducted by M.K. Jaccard and Associates, says that Canada’s gross domestic product would continue to grow even if we adopted the stronger measures that environmental organizations are calling for rather than the weak measures the federal government has proposed.

Still, comments in the news, and from people who post their reaction to news sites, show that many people aren’t willing to make tough decisions for the sake of our collective future – for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

Let’s be clear. Resolving a global problem like climate change will cost money. But doing nothing will cost much more. The very survival of people, not to mention many other plants and animals that we share this small planet with, may well be at stake.

Former World Bank chief economist Lord Stern has estimated that to keep heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions below levels that would cause catastrophic climate change would cost up to two per cent of global GDP, but failure to act could cost from five to 20 per cent of global GDP.

And those are just numbers. In the real world, runaway climate change could have devastating impacts on our water and food supplies, could lead to waves of refugees escaping uninhabitable drought-stricken areas or vanishing islands, and could wreak havoc on the world’s oceans and cause major extinctions of plants and animals. Some of this is already happening.

And consider what will become of our economy if we continue to fuel it with nonrenewable resources like oil and coal while the rest of the world switches to renewable energy. The demand for fossil fuels will dry up as the reserves become depleted. Where will that lead us?

And yet, we still have people saying it would cause too much hardship to act, or that it would be dangerous or divisive. Are we really that selfish? Well, not everyone is. It’s been heartening to see so many people, especially young people, taking to the streets and Parliament Hill, writing to MPs and prime ministers, and joining campaigns to urge governments to be part of the solution to global warming.

Millions of people turned out recently for more than 5,000 International Day of Climate Change events in 180 countries. The message was loud and clear: We expect our political leaders to work for the benefit and security of all of the world’s people when they meet in Copenhagen in December to work on a climate change agreement to continue and strengthen the Kyoto Protocol.

What these people realize is that the price we will pay to fight climate change is a good investment in a healthy and prosperous future. Some of the costs include investments in public transit and renewable energy, in programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in other parts of the world, and in helping people cope with higher transportation and home-heating costs during the time of transition.

The Globe and Mail, and others, may think all of this is “unsaleable and dangerous”, but it’s only dangerous to those who insist on staking their future on polluting, unsustainable non-renewable resources, and it’s only unsaleable to those who don’t care about the future. We can’t afford not to take action. We can’t afford to let our leaders let us down. We must continue to tell them that we expect them to work for us in Copenhagen.

Relevant studies & articles:

Science Matters is published by The David Suzuki Foundation and has been re-syndicated with permission on network since 2000.

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