Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Do We Make Progress To Reduce Climate Change?

The following was originally submitted as a letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star. It has currently not been published.


Climate change has occurred ever since this planet has had an atmosphere. However the majority of the world accepts that the climate change that we are presently experiencing is dramatically different due to the actions of humankind. Extreme weather events in recent years and the related economic and human costs are certainly the result of climate change. These costs are devastating the economies of some countries and severely impacting others. That includes countries that send aide to help with major disasters. There is a growing recognition that these costs will eventually exceed the worst estimates of the costs of reducing greenhouse gases.

Over the last 200 years our activities have returned the carbon from fossil fuels back into the active carbon cycle to levels comparable to tens of millions of years ago. In the last 50 to 100 years the rate of dumping carbon into the atmosphere has increased dramatically. It is still increasing and will continue at an increasing rate because many developing countries are working hard to provide basic services to their citizens that we in the developed world take for granted.

We know what the problem is, we know the cause, and we know what needs to be done to at least reduce the devastating consequences. It is also clear that all countries have to be part of the solution. So why has the world community had so little success in agreeing to move ahead with the obvious solutions? Some believe that addressing carbon emissions will harm the already fragile economy. But many countries have shown that conservation and investing in the green economy has strengthened their economy. Energy efficiency reduces production costs hence improves global competiveness and protects against the inevitable rapid rise in energy costs.

Secondly, when you factor in the costs related to extreme weather events, it is much more economically wise to reduce carbon emissions than to pay for the consequences of not doing so. The United States and Canada seem to believe that refusing to commit to action before the major developing nations make stronger commitments will lead to progress. This has not worked, nor should we expect it to work. It is like asking these nations to slow the rate that they lift their poor out of poverty while we continue to enjoy our comfortable lifestyle and wasteful ways. Also Canada’s 2% of total global emissions gives us very little bargaining power with the developing world, given our relatively tiny population.

So what is an alternative? If we believe that the world must reduce GHG emissions urgently then any progress by individual countries can only help. We can encourage our industries to dramatically reduce carbon emissions through tax shifting and incentives and not penalties to avoid “carbon leakage” (Businesses leaving the country to avoid pollution penalties). Canada has already experienced “carrot leakage” (Businesses leaving to receive green economy incentives from more enlightened governments).

Canadians produces over four times the world average GHG’s per capita. There is ample opportunity to increase efficiency. A dollar spent on saving energy goes a lot further than a dollar spent on creating new energy. Canada can also financially support international programs such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). The loss of forests is a major cause of increased carbon in the atmosphere.

Global warming has already greatly exceeded what was expected from previous ice age cycles. It will continue for decades after the world becomes carbon neutral. There will be many more disasters and much more human suffering. The sooner we make changes the better off we will all be. We have two choices: watch the degradation of the planet while we wait until all countries agree on a plan, or act on our own now to do all that we can.

Fred Twilley
Nominated Green Party of Canada Candidate, Sudbury Riding

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