Photo: Mounting climate evidence underscores the need to act

The scientific evidence is overwhelming: climate change is here, and unless we curb behaviours that contribute to it, it will get worse, putting our food, air, water and security at risk (Credit: NASA HQ)

By David Suzuki with contributions from Ian Hanington, Senior Editor

Because we enjoy relatively pure air, clean water and healthy food systems, Canadians sometimes take the environment for granted. Many scarcely blink if oil from a pipeline spills into a river, a forest is cleared for tar sands operations or agricultural land is fracked for gas. If Arctic ice melts and part of the Antarctic ice sheet collapses, well... they're far away.

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Some see climate change as a distant threat, if they see it as a threat at all. But the scientific evidence is overwhelming: climate change is here, and unless we curb behaviours that contribute to it, it will get worse, putting our food, air, water and security at risk. A recent White House report confirms the findings of this year's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment report, and concludes global warming is a clear and present danger to the U.S.

"Climate change is not a distant threat, but is affecting the American people already," says White House science adviser John Holdren in a video about the report. "Summers are longer and hotter, with longer periods of extended heat. Wildfires start earlier in the spring and continue later into the fall. Rain comes down in heavier downpours. People are experiencing changes in the length and severity of allergies. And climate disruptions to water resources and agriculture have been increasing."

Recognizing the problem's severity is a start, but whether the U.S. will actually do anything is another question. Action to curb climate change is constantly stalled — thanks to the powerful fossil fuel industry, political and media denial, extensive fossil fuel-based infrastructure and citizen complacency.

But at least the U.S. and its president have unequivocally called for action. It's disturbing that political leaders in Canada — a northern country already feeling impacts, with a long coastline particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels — ignore the issue in their drive to make Canada a petro-power. Our government prefers to spend taxpayers' money to support the fossil fuel industry with advertising campaigns and billions of dollars in subsidies. A recent New York Times ad, worth US$207,000, touts oil sands and pipelines as "environmentally responsible." Despite opposition from communities throughout B.C. and the rest of Canada, including many First Nations, approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project is expected next month.

Perceived economic benefits (mostly short-term) trump the needs of all Canadians and their children and grandchildren for clean air and water, healthy food and a stable climate. Droughts, floods, water shortages, insect-plagued forests, extreme weather events, rising sea levels and melting glaciers don't matter as much as getting the oil, gas and coal out of the ground and sold as quickly as possible.

B.C. once showed promise with climate policies such as a carbon tax. Now the government in my home province is also pinning its hopes on the fossil fuel market, fracking our way to "prosperity" at the expense of long-term human and economic health, farmland and climate.

How can we allow governments and industry to continue leading us down this destructive path?

Some people say we must choose between the human-created economy and the natural environment — an absurd argument on many levels, and a false dichotomy. Even within the current flawed economic paradigm, it's far more financially sound to invest in renewable energy and diversification than in a dying industry.

Others, often driven by fossil fuel industry propaganda, doubt the evidence and question the credentials of thousands of scientists worldwide studying the issue.

The IPCC report involved hundreds of scientists and experts worldwide who analyzed the latest peer-reviewed scientific literature and other relevant materials on climate change. The White House report was overseen by 13 government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was written by close to 300 scientists and experts and reviewed by numerous others, including the National Academy of Sciences. It was also vetted by groups ranging from oil companies to environmental organizations. As an article on Desmog Blog points out, "If anything, this report is conservative in its findings."

The IPCC and White House reports are clear: solutions are available. But the longer we delay the more difficult and expensive they will be to implement. We can't just sit by and do nothing.

May 29, 2014

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Jun 19, 2014
2:20 PM

It didn’t say so…

Jun 03, 2014
2:24 PM

According to reputable climate scientists who have studied the melting of arctic sea ice, the human race might have already passed the point of no return, especially with regard to the release of methane stored in the arctic ocean and tundra (clathrates and biomass). The danger posed by methane is that it is twenty times more efficient at trapping solar energy compared to carbon dioxide.In the worst case forecasts, it has been postulated that the sudden release of all of this trapped gas has the potential to increase the world’s temperature by an average of ten degrees. This increase in atmospheric temperature would destroy most of the world’s habitat. This destruction might result in the extinction of the human species. Yet business is continuing as usual. Judged from a neutral perspective, one would think that such a threat to humanity would would galvanize us all into taking remedial action to at least mitigate this disaster. After all, if it comes to a choice between a healthy environment or a strong economy on a dying planet, it would seem to be a no brainer. Maybe this collective failure to come to terms with the fact that the human race lives on a finite planet is symptomatic of the state of illusion that underpins Western industrial society.

Jun 01, 2014
8:56 AM

I understand climate change and fully agree that it is happening , you Mr.Suzuki have been saying this for years !!!!! , but WHY ,I ask do people not listen and think it won’t affect them ???? Also WHY can’t we change the Govt on their policies for oil , I live in Alberta so it does affect us here too , it must come down to the Almighty dollar . Too bad the health of ALL of us comes down to that !?

Jun 01, 2014
6:44 AM

This whole article is filled with one lie after another. The entire premise of global warming is that it is still happening — and it just ain’t. And if it isn’t happening then the distortions of the Suzuki’s and the Obama’s means one thing — all this crap is a lie.

Jun 01, 2014
4:41 AM

The truth is the oil industry and the lumber industry control the world. There are alternative resources that can be used to power our world. However, the oil men in charge would loose their profits. I care about the environment. I would not be signed up to this site if I didn’t, but my priority is survival. It is easy to contribute and fight for change when one knows that one will not end up on the street starving. Most people are too tired and overworked to fight for something they do not perceive as an immediate threat.

It is wonderful that this organisation writes articles about harsh realities of natural existence. However, maybe you should tell us what we could do about it? A solution that does not involve donating money we do not have.

May 31, 2014
7:18 PM

Yes, climate change is upon us. Fossil fuels are the trigger. Your title says “solutions are in our nature”, but I didn’t see any solutions — just some vague reference to “renewables”. What exactly does that mean? Wind only blows sometimes. Sun only shines sometimes (batteries to STORE power are another whole can of worms). Do we need to live in a world where we only have electricity sometimes? Maybe that’s part of the solution? Anyway, “renewables” is just a word — not a solution.

May 30, 2014
8:08 AM

So how can we stop our own government in BC from doing anything they want, no matter what the consiquences may be? They don’t appear to pay any attention to the people of the province… It’s not just the building of pipelines and chances of spills but most important is the damage to the whole world that the product it’s moving is doing. It’s time that governments start creating jobs in the ‘Green Energy’ industry…

May 30, 2014
7:23 AM

Corporate Troll

He sat the hill squinting, smiling small pieces of grandchildren stuck ‘tween his teeth

I’m gonna make you money he’d roar on occasion usually as he pissed foul into our river.

We used to eat from her.

Troll piss is poison Everyone knows that now!

It’s a pretty good deal, we think dutifully lining our young in lines straight below the long stair they ascend on occasion.

We know he eats them. His breath is foul and they don’t come home. But we’re certain his appetites grown smaller as he ages.

We’ve found it much easier if he eats them less often. Mostly, it’s just the mothers who cry now.

Some of us, in a sense, have done well by him, he’s made us money true. Still, it’s hard to justify the exchange completely.

It’s in the dark, most often where questions and doubts creep. Restless minds.

What’s the cost?

I once loved my grandkids. I once loved the river. I once….

I’m gonna make you money! Roars by, destroying the revery. He often yells at night, smelling dissent, yelling exactly what we need to hear.

Day next, crossing the bridge, faint hint of urea. Not bad today, better than yesterday.

Perhaps, today he won’t eat.

May 29, 2014
9:39 PM

what to do then? Can we really just sit back and watch? What to do?

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