We are having the wrong conversation, we are in a climate emergency

We are in a climate emergency and we are doing nothing substantive or effective to confront it. Within Parliament and media circles, we ignore the urgency of the climate crisis.

Some Members of Parliament understand the grave nature of the threat. Some of us grasp that when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that going above 1.5 degrees C global average temperature puts us on an irrevocable course to the disintegration of human civilization, we should reorient our focus to avoid such an unthinkable outcome. Exceeding our Paris target potentially puts all of humanity at risk, as well as millions of other species. Despite the urgency, we continue our normal routines, as though we are in a status quo world. We are facing our own demise—by our own hand—and yet we ignore the threat.

Some will protest that we are talking about climate change when we debate carbon taxes. In fact, it is the other way around. We ignore the threat by having the carbon tax debate. It amounts to a false Punch and Judy style pantomime about one small part of the overall climate solution. The carbon pricing debate is a diversionary tactic. Both the Liberal and Conservative parties have set their campaign course on exploiting carbon taxes as a wedge issue. The Conservative Party is worse; there is no sign they understand the science. The Liberals may understand climate science; they are just too cowardly to act on what they know.

The issues of carbon pricing and action on climate change are easily conflated. Talking about carbon pricing is related to climate change, but fails to address the problem responsibly. Essentially, carbon pricing can be an effective part of a response to the climate emergency, but is wholly insufficient to the challenge. Much, much more action is required.

We must eliminate all fossil fuels from our electricity grid, enhance the east-west grid and facilitate clean and renewable energy being bought and sold interprovincially. We must move to 100 per cent electric vehicles, switch to biofuels for tractors, fishing boats and other industrial equipment. Our built infrastructure must be overhauled to eliminate waste of energy—and money. And we must plant trees—everywhere. These steps will create millions of jobs.

The IPCC special report on 1.5 degrees C, set out what must be done to hold on to a liveable world. It will require far deeper cuts than what was considered acceptable in Paris at COP21. Among industrialized countries, Canada continues to be a laggard. Our target remains unchanged from that put in place under the Harper administration. It is one of the weakest in the world. Even now, thanks to action at the state level, the United States is reducing Greenhouse Gases faster than Canada.

So while the Trudeau Liberals try to change the channel on the SNC-Lavalin furor by talking about the need for climate action, the Trudeau administration is utterly failing our children. Canada’s target—if adopted by every country—would bring us to 5.1 degrees of warming. We must rapidly ramp up our ambition. Our current target (the Harper target), is 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. And even with the Liberals carbon pricing scheme, we are not on track to meet it. The one we must achieve is 45 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030.

We must pull out all the stops and embrace a transformational economic and energy shift. The focus must be total and urgent. Even with all countries pulling as hard as they can to achieve the goal of 45 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030, many scientists do not believe we can save ourselves. The impact of multiple positive feedback loops may have set us on an unalterable course to catastrophic global change.

But while we have even a small chance of success, we have a moral obligation, a sacred responsibility, to make every effort to ensure our children- and their children—and the whales and polar bears and insects—can survive.

The clearest voice for real action anywhere on Earth is an astonishing Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thonberg. She started a small, seemingly insignificant protest. She refused to go to school on Fridays. Sitting alone in the snow, she held a sign, “School Strike for the Climate.” Her movement has grown, now numbering in the tens of thousands of children. She has addressed the great and powerful. In Davos she said: “Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Debating carbon taxes is a distraction. Our house is on fire.

This piece was originally published in the Hill Times.