Climate activist Greta Thunberg has warned world leaders the ‘eyes of the world will be on them’ at a key UN summit next week. ‘We are not just some young people skipping school,’ she told thousands of school strikers in Manhattan, on a day when millions around the world demonstrated for action. ‘We are a wave of change. Together, we are unstoppable.’Greta is the match to gasoline.
We have all been noticing that the weather has become ‘strange’. In fact strange is now the new normal. It is more than this though, Greta seems to be an archetypal image, a projection of our collective consciousness evolving to accept a new paradigm of reality. Climate change has moved from debate to become climate emergency. It haunts us, an unusually warm day in autumn becomes something else, a question – is this it? We are a world strained to its limits and we feel the psychic trauma of it.
If you look at the trees here in Saskatoon on a beautiful clear fall day, the gold against the azure sky, there is something else – many of the trees seem almost bare. The stresses of the extremes from the ‘Polar Vortex’ to the near drought this spring have taken a visible toll. Guy Macpherson speaks of living with near term extinction – we are only one or two crop failures away from massive and potentially catastrophic disruptions to our current civilization.
Already, we’ve triggered several positive feedbacks, none of which were expected to occur by mainstream scientists until we reached 2 C above baseline global average temperature.
The situation may be far worse than indicated by recent data and models. We’ve known for more than a decade what happens when planes stop flying: Because particulates were removed when airplanes were grounded, Earth’s diurnal temperature range increased by more than 1 C in the three days following 11 September 2001. That is, decades of change occurred within just a few days. In a perverse irony of unintended consequences, our upper atmospheric pollution is shielding the planet from the full effect of our higher carbon dioxide levels like a giant sun umbrella. If we stop flying the full effect of another degree of warming will present itself …. within days.In other words, the Earth’s temperature is already nearly 2 C higher than the industrial-revolution baseline. And because of positive feedbacks, 2 C may lead directly and rapidly to 6 C, acidification-induced death of the world’s oceans, and the near-term demise of Homo sapiens.
We are on the precipice of extinction
Lets have look as to how that could unfold. It begins with a crisis, an economic one perhaps, our neo liberal ‘trickle down’ policies of the last forty years have resulted in the greatest wealth generation in human history, and commensurately the greatest inequalities in countries like the US and Canada. There is an ‘apartheid’, a wall between the wealthy and the working class. Even if you are making 60k a year, with million dollar homes, tuition, health care you might be one or two paycheques away from poverty. The system, mostly through real estate inflation has created a ‘trickle up’ effect and like a top heavy tree with inadequate roots it is a storm away from toppling.
So we stop flying… because we can’t afford it, or maybe because of other reasons, and without the shading effect of high atmosphere pollution the temperature rises triggering crop failures.
The resultant starvation sets in motion the mass movement of millions of desperate people, this overwhelms the rule of law and capacity to enforce borders … the wealthy escape to their doomsday shelters while civilization descends into a nightmare with the four horsemen of the apocalypse howling.. “Cry ‘Havoc!, and let slip the dogs of war.”
Now lets step back from that edge… just a bit.
We need to take measured and decisive action in the time that we have… there can be no real joy on a collapsing world with climate zealots pointing a bony finger claiming “see i was right”. Because, well what would be the point of that.. it does however speak to our current problem, that of coming together to solve a problem, rather than being right. Jonathan Haidt points out that that people are too quick to denigrate other points of view without giving those views full consideration and thus attempts to reach common ground fails. Now if we are actually going to tackle climate change as if we truly want to succeed, we need to come together in a way humanity never has before – as a global community to give future generations hope. Because that IS our common ground. Our children.
First off, we need to focus and stop adding issues to climate change that divide rather than unite. The words ‘virtue signalling’ and ‘social justice warrior’ are attempts by conservatives to bring some sanity to the discussion. We need to stop shouting, and start talking.
Even for those are motivated with passion, the idea of living without a car in the present system is very, very difficult to put into practice. We are torn between our every day needs and a vision of a sustainable future, we are not there … just yet, not by a long shot.
So how would we actually get there, from here – given the stark reality of where we are headed if we do nothing.
We can look to other regions for inspiring ideas and best practices. If Alberta had socked away the money it promised it would in the late seventies it would be sitting on a 100 billion dollar trust fund. Even more revealing is the difference between Norway and Alberta, both have high and similar costs of extraction, Alberta with its oil sands and Norway with its off shore drilling platforms in the North Sea. Both regions have similar levels of production (Alberta’s is higher by about a third – but sells at a reduced rate) but the results of decades of oil wealth is very different. Norway is sitting on a trillion dollar wealth fund, has free university education and one of the lowest indexes of wealth inequality in the developed world. The difference between the wealthiest and poorest is only a factor of four in Norway and almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. Norway seeks to stop sales of fossil fuelled cars by 2025.
So how have they done it? Norway takes the position that managing and reaping the rewards of natural resources is in the public interest rather than that of private wealth. They have a whopping 78% rate of tax on oil profits and a new iteration of capitalism coined as ‘state capitalism’. They pressured private companies by threatening to develop their oil wealth with a giant public entity called Stat Oil if private companies did not comply. At first private companies refused, but quickly realized that 20% on billions in sales is preferable to zero, because Norway made good on their intentions to develop with a public entity.
It would seem that in the Canadian west, oil interests took notice. Petro Canada was an analogue to Norway’s Stat Oil and a direct threat to low royalty rates and private development. As well any kind of national claim to Alberta’s oil was rebuked and framed as an over reach of federal power. Just say the words “National energy plan” and watch the reaction. A massive propaganda push by private investment kiboshed any idea that Canada would follow Norway’s lead.
Changing an entire energy grid is no small thing, if we look to California, we can see that in Canada the cost would be upwards of four trillion dollars. As California pushes for clean energy we can see that to go from 80% renewable to 100% results in a near tripling of the cost and increased unreliability.
We need a reliable base of production given current battery tech.
So to be realistic, we would need a new deal and a degree of compassion and open ended discussion, not unlike the 1930’s when Franklin Roosevelt lead America out of a crippling depression. see https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrfirstinaugural.html
“there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honour, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live. Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation is asking for action, and action now.”Franklin Delano Roosevelt – First Inaugural Address
We hear the echoes of Roosevelt’s inauguration speech in Greta Thunberg’s call to action, an entire world is waking up to the dawn of a new day, one of immense challenges, but we are a resilient and adaptive humanity.
And we have some choices to make.