Democracy and Climate Change

“Governments might come and go, but the baseline Enlightenment commitment to human progress—to the gathering, interpretation, dissemination, and use of knowledge in the pursuit of more equitable government and a higher quality of life—has been considered sacrosanct for as long as democracy has existed. However powerfully driven by ideology, faith, or a relentless thirst for power, every democratic government must ultimately answer to the same objective truths.”

Chris Turner, The War on Science (Page 108)

Environmentalism is frequently conflated with leftism or a “leftist agenda.” The reality is climate change is neither a left or right issue because regardless of your political persuasion every single person needs the following to survive: clean air, clean water, clean soil and clean energy. We’re dealing with physics and chemistry here and the maxims of right wingers like Allan Greenspan or left wingers like Che Guevera count for nothing.

There has been a fundamental failure on the part of some, and willful blindness on the part of others, to appreciate how dependent we are upon the health of the planet to be healthy ourselves. If we don’t change our path my children and grand-children are going to inherit a very different world; they will inherit a diminished earth because of the failure of my generation to accept the scientific consensus on climate change, and instead of doing something meaningful about it, we are obstructing action to appease our ideologies or we continue electing leaders who deregulate when we should be heavily regulating fossil fuel industries.

And this reminds me of something I read in Naomi Klein’s most recent book This Changes Everything (Page 21):

“…our economic system and our [planet’s] system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Not the laws of nature…

There are a lot of people who want the Keystone Pipeline project approved so we can get people back to work. I completely understand the need for employment and what it means to working men and women and their families; however, leaders need to properly weigh the consequences of meeting short-term goals like employment at the expense of medium and long term ends; and as much as I’m a staunch defender of democracy the climate crisis provides an insight into one of democracy’s greatest weaknesses; that is, parties get elected based on the promises they make now and not, generally speaking, what they plan to do later. Specifically, there’s never a guarantee that a political party can be in power long enough to be able to enact laws or policies that won’t simply be over-turned following the next election. An excellent example of democracy being stuck in such a short-term cycle is found in Canada in 2016. The Liberals won the most recent election and didn’t waste any time undoing legislation enacted by the previous Conservative government.

So given the gravity of the climate crisis, and the need to think not in terms of election cycles of four or five years (but in decades) we seem to be saddled with a system which isn’t properly responsive; and the crisis is imminent. Looking to the medium and long-term, developing the Keystone Pipeline would be detrimental to the environment imperiling our future as a species; and despite our great technical progress, we are just as likely to go extinct as any other species (again, in the long term) on a planet which becomes increasingly incapable of supporting life, e.g. we are in the midst a great “6th extinction” where life on this planet is disappearing 1000 times faster than it did following the KT Explosion, i.e. when an asteroid struck the earth 65 million years ago killing the dinosaurs and every other creature larger than about 50 pounds.

So here’s the thing: James Hansen, one of the most respected people working in climate science today, has gone on record saying that if Alberta develops the oil sands fully then it will be “game over” for the climate. He is not saying “Canada’s” climate will be in trouble. He is saying it will be game over for the globe. Hansen’s critics claim he is just fear mongering; however, is he fear mongering when and if his predictions have merit? I don’t think so. Further still, a thoughtful person shouldn’t convince themselves that labeling Hansen a “fear monger” necessarily disqualifies his position. On the contrary, this type of name calling just serves to satisfy the emotions of people who have some sort of ideological axe to grind against the scientific consensus.

The increased production of a Keystone Pipeline would push our CO2 footprint beyond the limit of what the planet can deal with (if we want to keep the planet from warming any more than two degrees Celsius…we more than likely will hit this two degree benchmark even if we dramatically cut CO2 emissions). After two degrees Celsius we end up entering the realm of “non-linear” climate change: this used to mean the possibility of the earth experiencing a so-called “run away greenhouse effect” like what’s happening on Venus right now. More recent scholarship has revealed this scenario is unlikely, i.e. we lack the total CO2 necessary to push the earth to Venus-like conditions where you can cook a pizza in 15 seconds on that planet’s surface. Nonetheless, we do have enough potential emissions to make significant changes and warming to the earth’s climate overall.

Here’s my question: if the laws of nature are unalterable, and if our climate’s chemistry is changing because of our industrial activity (which is accepted as fact by the scientific community (a 97% consensus, Google 97% consensus)), then aren’t we obligated to not develop the tar sands? Aren’t we obligated to take immediate steps to address this real and present danger? Energy companies in Alberta certainly disagree. They’ve got capital investments and bottom lines. Bottom lines are real but so are rising oceans. There’s a media blitz underway right now on television where energy companies are attempting to shape public opinion to “quit saying no.” I wish these commercials would present to people precisely why governments are saying “no” to the pipeline…

Given the seriousness of the crisis we are in right now, why aren’t we transitioning more rapidly in to a post CO2 economic system? Think big picture here. Get out of your ideology. And think about the planet your kids and grand kids are going to inherit. A world where moose might be extinct (Google “moose grave yard alberta”) or where there are no more sharks or whales (Google “no life in ocean by 2050”) and eventually….us.

Where the other creatures go we will follow; it is utter hubris to think we are not just as subject to nature’s laws as any other animal; and we are animals—not just speaking figuratively.