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COP26 won’t solve anything, but opportunities exist

Following a less-than-captivating G20 summit, the world’s gaze has shifted to Glasgow, where leaders have gathered for COP26, the latest in a long line of attempts to avert a climate-change crisis.

Well, organizers hope the world is watching, but 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 the public to tune 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. 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, COP26 will provide us with nothing more than platitudes and empty pledges. That includes commitments from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to lower greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s oil and gas sector.

It can be argued that this summit – like its predecessors in Kyoto, Paris, Copenhagen, etc. –  is 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.

It’s only collective action that would amount to meaningful reductions in emissions. On the whole, chances are we’re going to do nothing, or little enough to be called nothing, such that catastrophic warming is our likely future.

The consequences for failing to act will be deadly for many and very, very expensive for pretty much everybody. We may acknowledge that – though many people, often influenced by the aforementioned corporate propaganda, dismiss the prospect as alarmism – but we won’t make significant changes to reach such goals.

Expecting action on a wider scale, especially by governments of the biggest polluters, is likely beyond the pale, and the possibility of drastic steps within the next decade – the 2030 deadline identified in the latest IPCC report – is close enough to zero to be called zero.

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.

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