Prime Minister Stephen Harper was under fire this week for opting out of attending the climate-change conference in Copenhagen. That’s partly due to Harper’s history as a skeptic, but mostly about the opposition looking to score points off the fact U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to go to Denmark.
Harper eventually changed his mind.
This kerfuffle comes as climate change skeptics are having a field day with an assortment of e-mails, documents and code hacked from a server at the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia in the U.K. Deniers cite the material as definitive proof anthropogenic global warming is a hoax. Conspiracy theorists tout it as evidence climate-change science is being cooked to allow the UN to strip billions of dollars from the West for no reason, leaving Canadians freezing in the dark.
There’s no doubt that we’re becoming increasingly inured to the climate-change message. A short attention span is ill-suited to cope with a complicated issue involving considerable talk, but no resolutions and no action. Throw in some vested interests defending the status quo for financial reasons – the oil, coal and natural gas industries among them – and the usual assortment of waffling politicians, and you have the recipe for a confused public looking for an excuse to turn out.
We don’t know what to believe about climate change. We’re even more adrift over solutions.
There seems to be less fighting over whether or not the planet is showing symptoms related to a warming trend: sea levels are on the rise, glaciers are shrinking and there is less Arctic sea ice, for instance. For skeptics, those signs don’t mean the changes are man-made: they cite the planet’s long history of warming and freezing cycles.
If you follow the science, that much is true. The Earth was going through such patterns long before we got here, and will continue to do so. That doesn’t, however, make dealing with the current conditions any less pressing. If your island nation is at risk of being swamped by rising sea levels, you probably are less considered about why that’s the case than with how to deal with the change.
The current consensus is that years of pollution have contributed to climate change, which seems intuitively right given all the other deleterious effects pollutants have had on the environment and our own health. Even climate- change skeptics can’t argue the fact we’re poisoning the only home we have. Measures designed to improve the environment can only improve our own health and quality of life down the road.
But if recent history is any indicator, next month’s meeting in Copenhagen will provide us with nothing more than platitudes and empty pledges, another reason there’s no pressing need for Harper to attend.
It can be argued Kyoto and the subsequent follow-ups are a waste of time: more a feel-good photo op than anything concrete. That’s especially so in Canada’s case: any targets we set would be a drop in the bucket if the real culprits – the U.S., China, India and Russia – refuse to play ball.
Those opposed to fighting greenhouse gas emissions often cite economic reasons, saying we’d kill the economy by cutting back on energy production and manufacturing.
This stance ignores many realities. First off, resources such as oil and coal are finite – we’re going to run out of them eventually. In that dilemma lies an opportunity to develop alternatives, to make Canada a supplier of technology that will replace dwindling resources and help protect the environment. Technology that can be sold to the major players, where greenhouse gas reductions will make a difference. There are business opportunities in that.