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Opinion

It’s time to act like climate change really is an emergency

By Christy Ferguson      

We won’t stop using oil or gas tomorrow, but we do need to start using a lot less of it right now. Any time we build new energy infrastructure, it should be for improving energy and expanding renewable sources.

Young people participate in a climate rally on Parliament Hill in May. Scientists have pulled the fire alarm and yelled that the building is on fire and the youth climate strikers are in the streets searching for fire hoses and wrenches to uncork the hydrants, writes Christy Ferguson. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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As the Canadian Parliament declared a national climate emergency on June 17, Greenpeace activists in the U.K. were showing the world what it looks like when you actually consider climate change to be an emergency.

In a 12-day cat-and-mouse battle at sea, activists boarded a BP drilling rig heading to the North Sea multiple times and blocked its path with the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. Media reported that oil executives held “crisis talks,” because “insiders fear the protest could also damage the industry’s reputation and frighten off investors already concerned by growing worldwide climate activism.”

The response from Greenpeace was that if BP isn’t willing to end drilling new wells and switch to only investing in renewable energy, “it should wind down its operations, return cash to investors, and go out of business.”

Oil executives, and many of their backers within the Canadian political establishment, feel that this kind of protest is going too far. They would have a better case if we had started taking serious, sustained action on climate change back in the 1980s, when scientists and activists first warned climate change had to be a priority on the political agenda. But they didn’t listen—not in the least—they rather went on to run multi-million dollar, decades-long campaigns to cast doubt on the science and delay action that would reduce demand for what they sell.

And now it is too late for business or politics as usual.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that we need to cut carbon pollution in half in the next 11 years if we want to avoid catastrophic consequences for all of humanity. This would, in IPCC’s words, “require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” but provide “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems.”

The Liberal government referenced the work of the IPCC when they put forward the climate emergency motion on May 14. Yet they then waited a month to bring it to a vote. That kind of delay doesn’t reflect a state of emergency.

A cynic might say that the Liberals delayed the vote to embarrass the Conservatives, by forcing them to vote against the declaration immediately before unveiling their own climate plan. The Conservatives returned the favour announcing their climate plan—which happens to mirror the electoral platform published by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers—the day after the Trans Mountain pipeline deadline.

As a result, we had the bizarre juxtaposition of the Trudeau government declaring a national climate emergency one day, and approving a pipeline that would dramatically expand oil production and greenhouse gas emissions the next.

Scientists have pulled the fire alarm and yelled that the building is on fire. The Conservatives are assuring us that isn’t really smoke that we’re choking on, while the Liberals encourage us to finish up our work before heading for the exits.

Meanwhile, the youth climate strikers are in the streets searching for fire hoses and wrenches to uncork the hydrants.

So what would it mean to act like climate change really is a crisis?

First, we’d stop building fossil fuel mega-projects.

We won’t stop using oil or gas tomorrow, but we do need to start using a lot less of it right now. Any time we build new energy infrastructure, it should be for improving energy efficiency (which can also make our homes more comfortable and deliver lower energy bills) and for expanding renewable sources like wind and solar power.

This will be expensive, but as the IPCC reminds us, the alternative is not only more expensive financially—it comes with devastating, painful losses of lives, homes, livelihoods, and species.

The good news is that any credible solution to climate change involves putting a lot of people to work to build things we need like great public transit systems, better buildings, more resilient farms and lots of wind, solar, and geothermal power generators.

To smooth what could otherwise be a very bumpy ride, we need to work together and plan for a just transition that protects affected workers and communities, while respecting Indigenous rights. More than swapping one kind of energy technology for another, we need our own Green New Deal that includes more equitable sharing of resources and wealth, better working conditions, and a job guarantee for every worker who is affected by the transition away from fossil fuels.

In the meantime, we need to recognize that climate leadership isn’t buying and building a pipeline, or drilling for oil in the North Sea. It’s about making an honest assessment of the scale of the climate crisis and implementing solutions at a scale and pace matching that crisis.

Treating an emergency like an emergency.

Christy Ferguson is the executive director of Greenpeace Canada.

The Hill Times

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