The upcoming federal election isn’t like others. It may be the most important of our lives.

Every ballot contest matters, but the consequences of getting it wrong in October would be devastating — at least where climate change is concerned. Our top priority in the remaining months of 2019 should be putting climate protection on all parties’ platforms.

The latest science suggests this issue has never been more urgent. An article in the January 2019 Scientific American argues the planet could warm 3.2 Celsius this century. That sounds slight, but the research says warming of more than 3 Celsius would be “catastrophic.”

Unfortunately, climate action is losing ground — in Ontario, of course, but also in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and, quite likely this spring, Alberta. Federal policies that ignore global warming could make an already worrying situation far worse.

We mustn’t erect new barriers to the widespread adoption of renewables. We can’t afford to expand fossil fuel infrastructure. And goodness knows we shouldn’t pull out of the Paris Agreement precisely when international climate accords need to be strengthened. But these possibilities could become reality this fall.

Unfortunately, climate action is losing ground — in Ontario, of course, but also in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and, quite likely this spring, Alberta.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have 12 years to significantly cut carbon output. One term of anti-environment policy would mean spending one-third of the IPCC’s timeline going backwards. Two terms could waste eight years of our precious time. The planet doesn’t have that luxury. We need new electric buses and more energy conservation programs, but if climate isn’t a priority we’ll be lucky to keep what we have.

This scenario is currently playing out in Ontario. Rather than expand the greenbelt near Toronto, we’re forced to mount emergency campaigns just to prevent its dismantling. If anti-environment policies become the norm in the federal government, the very notion of “victory” will change: Our goal won’t be additional protection but merely mitigation of loss.

Weak federal climate regulations would be immensely dispiriting to everyone who cares about well-being. Some people are already weary and demoralized from provincial actions. A cross-country setback could be crippling, fuelling hopelessness at the moment when Canadians need to engage this issue with vigour.

Some folks argue we should focus less on elections and more on a deep shift in culture. The issue, they say, isn’t this or that party platform but creating an ecologically minded society. I don’t deny the latter is important. But if we win strong climate policy, we’ll be better positioned to bring the broad cultural shift into being.

Good policy would include a price on carbon pollution, robust support for wind and solar power, generous funding for public transit and continued commitment to the national coal phase-out. Entrenching these victories would energize the environmental movement, giving it confidence and momentum to take legislative reform further. Non-activists might see that climate initiatives bring personal benefits (such as fewer asthma attacks), and this could spark their openness to other changes (like leaving the car at home or eating less meat) that also foster health. Thus could begin the path to systemic change.

We need a rivalry in which each party tries to outdo the other, not in saving a few bucks but in protecting the very future of life on Earth. All politicians say they’re concerned about our needs. Let them prove it by embracing climate action at the highest level.

For our part, every Canadian old enough to vote should make a date with the ballot box for Oct. 21. Let’s act honourably on the most pressing issue of our day while we still have time.

This op-ed was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen.

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