At This Late Hour
(Author’s note: This column is an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Christy Clark and has been sent to them by snail mail.)
“A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he belongs.” – Carl Jung
As I approach my seventieth birthday in May, I find myself asking two questions: “What goal am I striving for?” And “what is the purpose of this last part of my life?”
If I could feel myself safe on this planet, I would spend my sunset years in a normal and comfortable way doing what retirees do.
Yet because I know that Earth might experience climate chaos within as little as two decades, my belief in the continuance of life is severely impaired.
I began writing the Greening Up column for The Nelson Daily just before Christmas 2010. Most of my columns have been about the desperate need to take action on energy efficiency, climate change, and renewable energy.
From September 2007 until the newspaper ceased publication in July 2010, I wrote a weekly column about global warming for the Nelson Daily News.
I have been aware of planetary pollution since the very first Earth Day in 1970 and the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden which agreed on 26 principles concerning the environment and development.
The Stockholm Declaration gave me hope; yet today most of the commitments remain unfulfilled. I have followed the world’s baby steps toward combating carbon dioxide emissions since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
Given my history and background, I feel I can reasonably be called an elder and worthy of my seniority and authority.
2015 was the globe’s hottest year on record, exceeding the previous record set the year before. Fifteen of the sixteen warmest years on record have all come in this century so I believe I am justified in worrying about not only my future, but especially that of my 26-year-old daughter.
Our modern industrial system has taken the planet’s largest physical features – the Arctic, the world’s oceans, and glaciers – and broken them. As Wen Stephenson writes, “These are crimes. These are crimes against the Earth, and they are crimes against humanity.”
Putting it bluntly, I’m hot as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.
“[B]ecause of the global warming already bound to take place as a result of the continuing long-term effects of greenhouse gases and the energy systems now in use. …it will soon be impossible to avoid climate change with far-ranging undesirable consequences. We have reached a critical tipping point.” – James Hansen
It is clear to me that humanity must immediately innovate away from fossil fuel dependence and that renewable energy systems must be swiftly scaled up.
The latest scientific research says this is important not only “to protect against climate change, but to enhance global energy security by reducing our dependence of fossil fuels and to provide a sustainable basis for economic development and poverty alleviation.”
In a new study in the open access journal Earth System Dynamics, scientists have stated that “future sea-level rise is a problem probably too big to be solved even by unprecedented geo-engineering.”
Jennifer Francis, a research professor in Rutgers University’s Department of Marine and Coastal Science, calls rising seas a “monstrous” issue for coastal communities around the world. Only very aggressive climate action can save the world’s coastal cities from inundation sometime in this century due to Antarctica ice sheet melt.
This is exceedingly scary stuff and it is not just scientists that have sounded warnings about the impact of fossil fuel use on climate change.
“The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come. Once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.” – Mark Carney
In September 2015, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said the world needs to abandon the harmful and outdated policies which support fossil fuels.
“The time is ripe for countries to demonstrate they are serious about combating climate change, and reforming harmful fossil fuel support is a good place to start”, said OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría.
As negotiators met in Paris last December, Oxfam released a report stating that the richest 10 percent of people produce half of Earth’s climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10 percent.
The World Bank has issued three reports prepared by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics warning that without concerted action, temperatures are on pace to rise to 4°C above pre-industrial times by the end of this century.
The International Energy Agency will issue a special report in June as part of its 2016 World Energy Outlook identifying actions to reduce the major role that the energy sector currently has in causing dangerous air pollution that each year causes millions of premature deaths and costs the global economy trillions of dollars.
“The weight of our civilization has become so great, it now ranks as a global force and a significant wild card in the human future along with the Ice Ages and other vicissitudes of a volatile and changeable planetary system.” – Dianne Dumanoski
In another report reviewing Canadian energy policies, the IEA expressed concern Canada remains one of the most energy-intensive countries among IEA members as well as alarm that one-quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions came from the oil and gas sectors, the emissions from which have grown by 67% since 1990.
The IEA went on to urge Canada to adapt to the current low-price environment in global oil and natural gas markets and said some provinces that rely economically on coal and uranium exports will be challenged by changing electricity generation patterns and energy prices. (In 2014, Canada was the fifth-largest crude oil and the fourth-largest natural gas producer; it ranked third as coking coal exporter and second as uranium producer.)
Lastly, the IEA expressed unease that public funding for core energy research and development programs has been declining since 2009.
The professional service network leader Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) in its Low Carbon Economy Index 2015 said “Canada will need a significant shift in effort to tackle emissions if it is to more than double its current decarbonisation rate. Adopting the 30% target (and sticking to it) will require a cut in carbon intensity of 3.9% per year given our GDP growth projections for Canada.”
“It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.” – Winston Churchill
That 30% reduction of carbon emissions from 2005 level by 2030 was a target proposed by the former Harper government as Canada’s intended nationally determined contribution. It is a flagrant understatement to say we must do better.
My province will not meet the target introduced in legislation in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent below 2007 levels by 2020. The government-appointed Climate Leadership Team reported as much last October and instead recommended a legislated 2030 target of 40 percent GHG reduction below 2007 levels. And studies by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, KPMG, and the Pembina Institute all indicate the task will become even more impossible for both Canada and B.C. if any LNG projects are established in the province.
“While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking.” – Mark Carney
We may have time but waiting to take action on climate change is costly. In 2012 the IEA estimated the cost of transitioning to green energy at $36 trillion. By 2014 their estimate had risen to $44 trillion. The $8 trillion difference works out to $127,000 per second wasted.
All of this information may not be new to you, but I repeat it because it is important for you to know that I and hundreds of thousands of other people around the world also have this knowledge and we have grown tired of the inaction by our politicians.
Adaptation and mitigation due to climate change is inevitable. What people need to know is how much time do they have to plan, prepare, and even pay for the inevitability.
195 countries at the Paris Summit pledged to reduce worldwide greenhouse gases. 106 of those countries (including Canada) advocated that a ~1.5°C temperature rise should be strived for.
While widely hailed as a giant step forward, the Paris agreement is dependent on voluntary actions at a time when humanity desperately needs legislated targets and goals with the backup resources and plans to meet them.
“We need to imagine futures that don’t much resemble the present – all kinds of futures, creative alternatives as well as frightening scenarios. The question is not how to preserve the status quo, but rather how to make our way in a new historical landscape.” – Dianne Dumanoski
The history of official climate protection efforts from both government and non-government sources has been insufficient and has failed because none of the players have acted with the required urgency. Twenty-five years of human efforts have failed even to slow climate change, let alone reverse it.
Now there is growing evidence that the hundreds of thousands who participated in the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City and in 2,645 solidarity events in 161 other countries are ready to embrace climate insurgency using civil resistance.
Between May 4 and 15, 2016 a global wave of mass actions will target the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects, in order to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and accelerate the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
Through peaceful direct action across the globe, participants will demonstrate to those in power that people everywhere are prepared to resist the fossil fuel industry’s plans to wreck the planet.
Anyone who can do the simple math understands the urgency to stop all new fossil fuel developments. We can emit 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming – anything more than that puts life on earth at risk. Burning the fossil fuel that corporations now have in their reserves would result in emitting 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide – five times the safe amount.
Since the fossil fuel companies have revealed no plans not to burn all their reserves – in fact in 2012 these corporations spent $674 billion exploring for and developing new reserves – we the people must rise up to stop them.
“If industrial civilization is ending nature, it is not utter silliness to talk about ending – or, at least, transforming – industrial civilization.” – Bill McKibben
A little research finds that many citizens are engaging in non-violent activities in an effort to end or transform the expansion of fossil fuel developments. Our media give scant coverage to this resistance and most people are unaware of how fast this trend is growing. To my knowledge, only The Guardian – with its “keep it in the ground” campaign – has taken a strong stand against further fossil fuel developments.
The magnitude of the mounting resistance can be found on the websites https://www.popularresistance.org/tag/climate-change/, http://www.climatedisobedience.org/, https://newmatilda.com/2016/03/17/stopping-global-meltdown-joining-indigenous-women-at-the-barricades-of-climate-resistance/, http://beyondextremeenergy.org/, http://350seattle.org/, and http://www.timdechristopher.org/.
DeChristopher, a founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, had his own trial and conviction after disrupting a federal oil and gas auction in Utah in 2008.
Since the days of Henry David Thoreau, individuals have engaged in civil disobedience to protest unjust taxes, slavery, war, colonialism, nuclear weapons, discrimination, and various resource developments. Now an increasing number are joining in solidarity with faith-based, native, societal, ecological and climate groups and pledging climate resistance.
“Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.” – Pope Francis
In recent years, celebrities Daryl Hannah, Martin Sheen, George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, Lucy Lawless, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, James Cromwell, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, former NASA scientist James Hansen, author Bill McKibben, film maker Josh Fox, and civil rights activist Julian Bond, have been arrested. Others like Mark Ruffalo, Chris Rock, Leonardo DiCaprio, Evangeline Lilly, have participated in protests.
They are disciples of Thoreau’s words: “Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.”
Together with 900 citizens the Urgenda Foundation won a lawsuit against the Dutch government forcing it to take more measures against climate change.
In the U.S., a group of 21 young people are challenging the government for not protecting them from climate change. Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon non-profit that’s brought nearly two dozen climate cases around the country using the emerging legal strategy called Atmospheric Trust Litigation, supports the youths’ claim to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.
. “Enforcing our children’s rights to climate justice is no crime.” – Alec Johnson
On February 29th about 50 Nelson students staged a 24-hour sit-in at LV Rogers Secondary School in support of climate action and the LEAP Manifesto, a national declaration that lays out a vision for transforming away from fossil fuels.
Since March 13th, a group of protesters have camped outside BC Hydro headquarters in Vancouver asking for a halt to construction of the $9 billion Site C dam and proper consultation with the Treaty 8 First Nations. A 24-year-old woman – Kristin Henry – has been on a hunger strike at the encampment.
“It’s simple we don’t need the energy from the Site C dam, but we need everything that the dam is going to destroy,” says Henry.
“Resistance has intrinsic value that exists regardless of its demonstrable efficacy. It’s not just an outcome, it’s a life’s work.” – Ron Seifert
Returning to the above two questions I asked myself, these are the goals I am striving for:
- An end to all LNG project development and associated fracking for natural gas;
- A halt to construction of the Site C dam;
- BC government adoption of all 32 of the recommendations by the Climate Leadership Team;
- A rising national climate fee and dividend as proposed by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. I believe a monthly cheque will be the single-most influential initiative to foster a low carbon mentality and behaviour change in Canadians;
- A federal government green bond issue for the funding of net zero energy retrofits of existing residential and business buildings.
- A government program to encourage all new construction to incorporate solar, wind, geothermal or other renewable energy source. As the International Renewable Energy Association recently stated, “Doubling renewables in the global energy mix by 2030 is not only feasible, but cheaper than not doing so.”
- A program to reduce single vehicle occupancy and/or encourage use of public transit, car share, bicycle riding, and walking. Specifically, I would support tolls on all roads, car insurance rates based on use of vehicle, or other initiatives that discourage unessential vehicle use.
These seven goals will form the purpose of my last years of life. I ask you Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Clark to realize the value of making my goals your goals. I ask this on behalf of my 26-year-old daughter and others of her generation who should not have to live with the effects of inaction by my generation.
“Each of us has the ability to act powerfully for change; together we can regain that ancient and sustaining harmony, in which human needs and the needs of all our companions on the planet are held in balance with the sacred, self-renewing processes of Earth.” – David Suzuki
The CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway believes fossil fuels are “probably dead” and oil and gas giants are fighting security fraud and racketeering charges for their stance on climate change.
Regarding the climate crisis, I can only echo the words of Mary Christina Wood, “The urgency is mind-blowing.” I pledge to spend the days prior to and after my birthday joining with others to break free from fossil fuels.
Lastly, please remember:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi