Find yourself grumbling about the weather? That’s really a Canadian pastime, but it’s likely to become more common as the weather grows more extreme. And we’re already seeing an increase in extreme events, from heat-related deaths to tornadoes in Eastern Ontario, that are predicted to become the new norm.
“This is the face of climate change,” Prof. Michael Mann of Penn State University, one the world’s most eminent climate scientists, told the Guardian in an interview about this summer’s weather. “We literally would not have seen these extremes in the absence of climate change.”
While the wet-and-cool weather dominates discussion here just now, it’s not lost on us that things are amiss elsewhere too: flooding, soaring temperatures and forest fires abound. We tend to take such stories in isolation, however, failing to connect the dots to form a (big) picture of trouble on a planetary scale. Well, even more than failing, we’re determined not to connect to those dots. And those content with the status quo – largely those profiting thereby – have absolutely no interest in drawing the perils to our attention.
The disregard for the consequences of the changes – consciously ignored in order to focus on unsustainable consumption – is problematic whether or not you believe what man does is having any impact on the climate. Extreme weather, flooding, landslides and forest fires will wreak havoc nonetheless.
The same principle applies to all forms of pollution, loss of fresh water, habitat destruction, degradation of arable land and a host of other someday-catastrophic ills that we’d rather not dwell on just now.
The fact is, however, that we’d be well advised to take steps to combat climate change, and ramp up the precautionary measures in those places likely to be hardest hit – rising water levels, droughts and violent weather seem like certitudes, so some planning would be in order beyond the simple closing-the-barn-door type.
The implications of current trends are clear. Take, for instance, a recent report from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), which traced the increase in extreme weather between 1995 and 2015. The study found that over a 20-year stretch, the overwhelming majority (90%) of disasters were caused by floods, storms, heatwaves and other weather-related events. In total, 6,457 weather-related disasters were recorded, taking some 606,000 lives – an average of some 30,000 per year – with an additional 4.1 billion people injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance.
Looking ahead, experts see large increases in the number of people who’ll die because of weather-related incidents.
A 2017 study published in The Lancet Public Health predicted 152,000 Europeans would die annually due to extreme weather between 2071 and 2100, a 50-fold increase from the figures for 1981-2010.
There are no end of studies looking into the issue, but does going on and on about climate change help or hinder the cause?
I think people have tuned out. Our attention spans being what they are, we’ve moved on. Oh, we occasionally take passing note of some conference or summit, where politicians make nice speeches about the fate of our planet and what needs to be done. As with many other issues, we suppose that all the talk leads to action, assuming the inevitable decline in news coverage means the problem has gone away.
And, as is always the case, short-term thinking will dominate. Politicians worried about re-election won’t do anything that seems expensive or puts national interests at an apparent disadvantage.
Nations will look after their own interests first. China and India – the two largest polluters going forward – will claim their status as developing economies exempt them from any controls, even as China brings onstream dozens of new coal-burning plants. Every country will want to protect their industries, no matter how energy intensive or polluting.
Canada is no different. The government is beholden to large resource companies, increasingly foreign-owned. The average Canadian, while a low priority individually, still warrants some consideration as part of the voting mass. And Canadians have grown tired of the debate, and will not support one dime travelling out of the country on some ill-fated cap-and-trade, carbon offsets or environmental reparations scheme cooked up by an unaccountable international group.
We simply do not believe politicians and bureaucrats capable of creating a system that isn’t corrupt, ineffective and likely to waste money. History has shown us such agreements are rarely to the benefit of average citizens.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t be making our own efforts to combat climate change.
Perhaps the largest barrier to any major change, however, is human nature: we’re quite content with our lives are today, and see no need to change that for some potential long-term benefit, one that’s unlikely to materialize in our lifetimes.
Estimates tied to the kind of emission reductions deemed necessary to offset the worst of climate change run into the hundreds of billions. Coupled to the lifestyle changes and potential economic upheaval, the costs seem too onerous. If the worst does happen, we’re going to be spending far more to deal with the damage and mitigation factors … but that’s something that may happen in the future.
Interestingly enough, should the forecasted problems arise, it won’t matter at that point if the climate changes are naturally occurring or manmade: we’ll still have to cope with such things as rising sea levels, increased storm activity, desertification and other threats to farmland, to name a few.
The most entertaining part of the climate change debate hinges on the anthropogenic component of global warming. Those who argue the planet’s history is full of cooling and warming trends, downplaying man’s impact on such a large system, seem to feel that somehow negates taking action. Yes, the Earth has undoubtedly gone through many climate changes, but most of them predate homo sapiens. In more geologically recent times, such events had little impact on humans because our population was small and migratory. Today, given that there are billions of us spread out all over the planet, living in cities with massive infrastructure, the changes we’re told are coming would be catastrophic.
There’s also something of a fatalist view forming: climate change is going to happen no matter what we do, so why do anything at all?
Mann addresses that in the Guardian piece.
“It is not going off a cliff, it is like walking out into a minefield,” he said. “So the argument it is too late to do something would be like saying: ‘I’m just going to keep walking’. That would be absurd – you reverse course and get off that minefield as quick as you can. It is really a question of how bad it is going to get.”