The annual UN conference on climate change has just concluded in Cancun, Mexico. Limited agreements have been reached, but we are a long way from getting control of the disastrous emission levels that are currently produced.
For the 4th consecutive year, Canada won the conference’s Colossal Fossil of the Year award. What did Canada do to win this dubious honour?
- We were one of only 3 countries to actively work against the extension of the Kyoto Protocol.
- We refused to agree to any new binding agreement to address climate change.
- We showed our commitment to export-oriented energy trade and to environmentally destructive extraction projects, such as tar sands and gas shale production.
Burying our heads in the tar sand
The greatest contributor to human-caused climate change is carbon dioxide created by the burning of fossil fuels. Most scientists agree that a level of 350 parts per million is the maximum tolerable level of CO2 to avoid catastrophic climate change events and to keep temperature rise below 2° C. We are already at 390 parts per million of CO2! Burying our heads in the tar sand will not make this catastrophe go away. We need to get off carbon producing energy systems.
The Saskatchewan Challenge
Here is what we need to do in Saskatchewan:
- For our electricity, switch from coal, the worst CO2 producing fossil fuel, to renewable forms of energy, such as solar or wind.
- Stop tar sands and gas shale development.
- Increase energy efficiency by retrofitting homes, as well as apartment and office buildings.
- Park our cars and start walking, biking or using public transit.
- Place a carbon tax on fossil fuel use that makes the polluters pay.
War over ownership of the sun’s energy?
What is to be gained by switching to renewable sources of energy? Besides the obvious advantage of reducing the damage caused by extreme weather events, switching to solar and wind energy will also reduce world tension as competition for limited energy sources will diminish. Can you imagine how absurd it would be to have a war over ownership of the sun’s energy that falls equally all over the planet?
Holding corporations responsible
“It is time to establish an international climate crimes tribunal, as proposed by the Peoples Agreement drawn up in April 2010 at Cochabamba, Bolivia. Such a tribunal would function in a way comparable to the International Court of Justice, where crimes against humanity are tried. The climate crimes tribunal would try any sort of environmental crime that harms Mother Earth, and thus the right of the people for a safe environment. These would be seen as crimes against humanity. Culprits to be tried would include polluters such as those in the extractive industry. It would also put corporations, as well as their directors, in the dock for climate and environmental crimes, which are, in effect, crimes against humanity.” Ninimmo Bassey, winner of the Right Livelihood award and chair of Friends of the Earth International
Taking care of workers and poor people
As we move to phase-out fossil fuels and the fossil fuels industry, let’s make sure that we take care of the workers and the blue-collar communities where these industries are located. For every job lost in the fossil fuel economy, we must create two jobs in the Green sector of the economy.
When China, Europe, and the rest of the world eventually slap a carbon tax on our exports, then maybe we’ll see a carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions here in Canada. If we do implement a carbon tax that gradually but steadily raises the price of fossil fuel energy, let’s make sure that poor people get reduced taxes to make up the difference. Let the polluter pay!
Common but differentiated responsibilities
What “common but differentiated responsibilities” means is that we’re all in this global warming business together, but some of us have done, and are doing, a lot more to cause it than some others, and, on that basis, we should bear the lion’s share of putting it right. We, of course, are the industrialized countries. Most of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is causing climate change was put there by us, in the two fossil-fuel-burning centuries since the Industrial Revolution began in Britain.
Waking up to reality
Our competitive growth economy will be the end of us if we don’t wake up to the reality that the short term financial gain of extractive petroleum mining, especially tar sands in western Canada, is too destructive of the earth to remain viable. We need to change from an economic system based on growth, competition, and consumption to one based on sustainable use and cooperation. We have to stop looking at nature as an endless source of raw material to be exploited for production of stuff of questionable usefulness that ends up in the dump in a short time.
Our only hope is to develop a sustainable economic system that respects and lives within the physical realities of our home, Earth. The choice we make will determine if our species will survive. We can’t mess it all up and move and start over on another planet. This is it. There is no more!