Occasionally one is overcome with a feeling that, while life charges on in its own super-powered, high-speed way, our politicians, by contrast, seem to be sort of sleep–walking through the whole thing.
I have had this feeling in recent days, when news reports have filtered through telling us, for example, that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world --- our north, in fact, at three times the rate ---- and that although our government is wedded to claims that we can reduce our greenhouse carbon emissions by 2030 to a level 30 per cent below what the level was in 2005, in actual fact our real emissions by 2030 will be such as to be hardly any better than they were in 2005. In other words, in spite of our best efforts, it is all talk, and no real action.
This is why the group of people who appeared naked above the House of Commons chamber in London the other day --- a group calling themselves Extinction Revolution ---- are now arguing that anything short of a massive movement of millions of people protesting non-violently everywhere in the world can make any real dent on the relentless march towards disruption and destruction of what we now call our way of life. This group is organizing, it hopes, just such a massive world-wide demonstration for April 15, and they are promising that, once having got the people into the streets, they will stay there until their very presence brings about some meaningful action.
When one takes all the uncomfortable facts and puts them together with the contradictory policies being followed by our governments, it becomes clear that we are hardly trying to overcome this, the most serious existential problem confronting human kind, but are, as I suggested in opening this piece, sort of sleep-walking our way into a vast and irrevocable tragedy of the commons.
I like that expression, “the commons”, for it implies that our Earth itself represents our common heritage, which we are bound and determined to take good care of.
The situation is worse, the closer one gets to examining the facts. For example, as one columnist, Gary Mason, writes from Vancouver in this morning’s Globe and Mail , the province of Alberta especially is sleep-walking its way into a huge climate crisis, because at the moment it is basing all its thinking on the continuation of the present economic dependence on fossil-fuel sources of energy. These, as everyone should know by now, are the very source of most of our forthcoming problems.
No one should suggest that easy solutions lie before the governments, just waiting to be picked up. For example, our federal government has a solid programme designed to reduce our emissions to the afore-mentioned levels, but these aspirations depend on policies that would bring them about, and unfortunately, all the political pressures really point the government in the opposite direction. Provincial governments cannot usually be relied upon to take far-sighted statesmanlike measures on any subject, and on this they have shown their worst, denouncing the federal carbon tax, vowing to eliminate it, and in some cases --- the Conservative Ford government of Ontario is particularly egregious in its opposition to dealing with the climate crisis ---- in some cases actually eliminating all measures designed to deal with climate awareness as if it were a matter for children playing in a sandbox.
One cannot help but wonder, listening to the plaintive cries from Alberta about not being taken seriously by the federal government (or the citizens in the rest of Canada, for that matter) how that province ever existed before the infamous Tar Sands were tapped as their major source of crude oil. That was when Fort McMurray was merely a dot on the centre-north of Alberta, not the 50,000 population centre that arose with the frenetic development of the Tar Sands.
The assumption now is, that, once underway, the Tar Sands cannot possibly be interrupted. A temporary halt has been caused by the recent drop in the price of oil, but any rational person has to be drawn to an even more dramatic conclusion, that these Tar Sands are an oil-source that, in the interests of the human race and the beautiful earth we inhabit, should be left in the ground.
The Federal government has an entirely contradictory policy, namely, that it can pursue its emissions policy across the country at large, while at the same time expanding the reach of the Tar Sands and its dirty oil, the very digging up of which alone will be enough to kill off any chance we might have had of reaching our emission targets.
Plaintive statements like those repeated by our Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, that we have the twin objectives of bringing our emissions into line with global standards, and at the same time “getting our resources to market”: (a shorthand way of saying, “expand the Tar Sands”), such statements can only expose the minister to well-deserved ridicule.
The Federal dilemma is written in federal policy: when the expansion of the proposed pipeline to tidewater on the British Columbia coast was delayed by indigenous and environmental challenges, leading the company proposing to build the pipeline to withdraw from the project, the Federal government in a stroke of child-like manhood, bought the proposed pipeline for $4.5 billion ---- money that, as a wide range of protesters pointed out, could have provided clean drinking water on every native reserve in the country --- and that is the figure even before a shovel has been laid in the ground to build the proposed line.
The fact of the matter is, most politicians are concerned only with getting elected, and this pipeline dilemma on whose horns the federal government is so helplessly impaled, is a problem requiring far-sighted statesmanship acting in the name of humanity at large, and in defence of the good, clean earth with its free-running drinkable water, and its clean, fresh, breathable air, which, politicians can hardly be criticized for arguing, do not add many votes at election time.
It seems that every week produces some new report containing killer news. Last week’s was that Canada’s north is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Then this week comes a report from a permafrost scientist Antoni Lewkowicz, in which he indicates that the normally permanently-frozen earth of Banks Island, in the Canadian Arctic, has been destabilized by excessive warming to such an extent that the number of landslides on the island have increased by a staggering 6,000 per cent since 1984. Satellite imagery shows vast swathes of the island are melting into sludge as warmer temperatures prevail. More than 85 per cent of the slumps occurred after warm summers in 1998, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Half of the slumps remained active over three decades. Scientists are finding similar activity on nearby Victoria Island, he said.
"We now have a very strong indication that the extremely warm summers are going to have a major impact in those areas where there's already a lot of ground ice," he said.
These figures indicate a loss of 100 million tonnes of ice cover, and in her report on these issues, the retiring Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Dr. Julie Gelfand, criticizes our governments for persisting in granting inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies, which she says amount to $2.3 billion dollars a year, of which $1.6 billion comes from the Federal government in one way or another.
This is what I would call sleep-walking through or towards a crisis.
But, as I often remark, Wot the hell! Wot the hell?