Friday, 15 March 2013

How we can counter the delusional tactics of the carbon polluters

by Mark Jaccard
Originally published in The Vancouver Sun March 15, 2013

Over the past year, readers of The Vancouver Sun have been bombarded with op-eds, columns and editorials that argue British Columbians should accept carbon-polluting projects like the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, but that never explain how to prevent the climate disaster these would cause. The writers of these articles consistently ignore two glaring realities.

First, scientists agree that carbon pollution from burning coal, oil and natural gas must start declining in this decade if we are to limit the global average temperature increase to 2 C, a critical threshold in terms of preventing intensified storms, droughts, ocean acidification, ecological destruction and human suffering. The world's leading politicians, including Stephen Harper, agree that we should not surpass two degrees - which is why he committed Canada to emission reductions of 17 per cent by 2020 and 65 per cent by 2050 (targets that are unachievable with expanded production of oilsands, coal and shale gas).

Second, carbon pollution in the atmosphere is a global "tragedy of the commons." Since virtually all countries must reduce emissions to prevent a disaster, proponents of the next carbon-polluting project argue that theirs is small relative to the total, which is true no matter how big, and that stopping theirs won't help since others will go ahead, which is self-fulfilling if everyone follows this logic. (Likewise, the fishers who devastated the Atlantic cod argued that each was only a small contributor and, in any case, would be replaced by others if they stopped.)

What is sad and frightening is that the writers of these articles seem to lack the moral conscience and logical honesty to address these two critical realities of the global warming threat and our causation of it. Instead, they exhibit what Ayn Rand once called, "not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know."

Proponents and supporters of carbon polluting projects focus exclusively on the jobs, wealth and tax revenues from projects x, y and z. They talk about how each project is essential and unavoidable. If they talk about the climate at all, it is to point out that each contributes only a small per cent of global emissions. They never talk about how we should act to avoid the tragedy of the commons from global warming, because to do so would undermine their project.

But the simple reality is that more carbon pollution equals more global warming. We have to stop extracting carbon from the earth's crust for ourselves and other countries. Then, we should join with leading jurisdictions, like California and several European countries, to use trade measures as necessary to pressure Alberta, China and others to reduce their pollution. There is no other way to tackle this extremely difficult global problem.

Imagine if this newspaper's editors refused to be complicit in the deceit and delusion, and asked every writer advocating an investment that increased carbon pollution to explain what B.C. should be doing to help humanity avoid sleepwalking over a climate cliff. If the writer would not explain, the paper could follow the article with a public health disclaimer, such as "The author has declined to explain how the increased carbon pollution he or she is proposing would not lead to a climate catastrophe for ourselves and our children - as found by scientists."

Of course, the newspaper is unlikely to play this role. But you can. Every time you see an article promoting more carbon pollution here and abroad, ask yourself if the author explains how this project can occur in a world that prevents global warming. If the author does not explain, ask yourself why.

When you hear, "We need this project for the economy," you might ask, "You mean we need extreme storms and ecological destruction - that we could not have a thriving economy if we ran our vehicles on electricity and biofuels or generated electricity from renewable energy?"
When you hear, "We need to be good neighbours to Alberta," you might ask, "You mean we need to help our neighbours get rich while devastating the planet?"

When you hear, "The Chinese will just get the carbon polluting fuels from someone else," you might ask, "You mean it's better for our children that we help the Chinese increase carbon pollution rather than discouraging China and other polluters in a peaceful, responsible manner?" When you hear, "The oilsands and other polluting projects will be developed no matter what we do," you might ask yourself, "Does this person have me and my children's best interests in mind?"


  1. Thanks for this. It brings to mind a quote I heard from the Aboriginal people of Canada... That only once the last tree has been cut down, and the last streams have gone dry will humans realize they can't eat money.

  2. It also brings to mind - sadly - how childish we are... The old "I will if you will". How pathetic when the issues are of such incalculable proportions. What ever happened to the notion of leadership? What eve happened to bravery, innovation and concern for the common good? This time has been referred to as the dark age. The darkness it appears, is the result of the exceedingly minuscule perspective we're fostering as the result of our 'me first' culture.

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