Category Archives: Climate change

Opinions on Climate Change

David Suzuki and the Indigenous Attitude to Nature

At the University of Winnipeg talk after showing the film Beyond Climate, Suzuki also discussed a new attitude to nature. He  began by talking about the American economy.

After World War II and the end of the Great Depression, America President Franklin Roosevelt realized that the war economy had saved capitalism from self-destruction. But a war economy carries with it enormous unpalatable costs far beyond mere economic costs. He realized that what it needs is consumption. Constant relentless consumption. That was his solution.

Of course what the United States has actually done is to maintain both a consumer economy and war economy. The U.S. spends as much on the military as the 9 countries that are next in line, spend combined.

Suzuki thought we needed a better way. Climate change was just one of the things such an attitude had ushered in. He said  he had learned a lot from indigenous people. In fact he said, “Indigenous people have taught me all I know.” This was important because much of the film dealt with the opposition of First Nations to the plans of Alberta and the Canadian government to build pipelines from the Oil Sands of Alberta to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) or oil or bitumen to the coast of British Columbia. Alberta was upset that the federal government could not ram through the pipeline approval process. Of course that is just not feasible. Those days are done. The Supreme Court won’t put up with it.

In the late 1970s Suzuki realized that we needed a new attitude to nature. And he found it. He found it in the 1980s when he went to interview indigenous people at Haida Gwaii. He wanted to talk to them about the protests by indigenous people over logging on their land. He talked to forest company executives, environmentalists, politicians, and, most importantly Haida. That was how he met Guujaaw a young artist who was leading the Haida opposition to the logging.

Suzuki wondered why the Haida were so vehemently opposed to logging since many of their own people got jobs with  logging companies. And many of them badly needed jobs. Suzuki asked him, “What would happen if the trees were cut down?”  His reply was profound, but Suzuki did not realize at first how profound. Guujaaw said, “Then we’ll be like everyone else, I guess.”

A few days later Suzuki thought about that answer and it “opened a window on a radically different way of seeing the world.” As we keep getting reports from the World Wildlife Fund and others about the incredible impact humans are having on the world, I think a new attitude to nature is exactly what we badly need. Suzuki explained it this way,

“Guujaaw and the Haida do not see themselves as ending at their skin or fingertips. Of course they would still be around physically if the trees were all gone, but a part of what it is to be Haida would be lost.  The trees, fish, birds, air, water, and rocks are all part of who the Haida are. The land and everything on it embody their history, their culture, the very reasons why Haida are on this earth. Sever that connection and they become ‘like everybody else.”

Indigenous people around the world have similar attitudes. They  are based on a deep attachment to the land they occupy. They are connected to that environment. It is part of who they are. Suzuki like other people from the west had a different attitude to nature and that has made all the difference. To the Haida, and other indigenous people, and as Suzuki concluded,

 

“…there is no environment ‘out there,’ separate and apart from us; I came to realize that we are the environment. Leading science corroborates this ancient understanding that whatever we do to the environment or to anything else, we do directly to ourselves.The ‘environmental’ crisis is a ‘human’ crisis; we are at the centre of it as both the cause the victims.”

 Suzuki realized he had found the new perspective he needed. It allowed him to see the world through different eyes.  He realized, as the Haida had before him, that what we needed to survive and thrive was not more money in order to live rich and healthy lives. This new attitude to nature was reflected in all the Haida did and found its fruits in how they wanted to interact with the land. As Suzuki said, “Rather than being separate and apart from the rest of nature, we are deeply embedded in and utterly dependent on the generosity of the biosphere.” I use the word “affinity” to describe this new attitude to nature. I will comment on again in these blogs.

It is this attitude that Albertans don’t understand. It is not just a matter of paying the Indigenous people money. They want jobs, they want money, but not at any cost. They don’t want it at the cost of their identity. That is why some of the indigenous people, but not all of them, do not want pipelines on their land and will sacrifice the jobs if necessary. I know that seems bizarre to Albertans and most Canadians for that matter. Alberta and Canada have to learn to respect that. Only then will they be able to successfully deal with Canada’s first nations.  And perhaps Canada will learn something valuable in the process. Perhaps there is something of value in that new attitude to nature.

Max the Tax

Conservatives in Canada are already gearing up to fight the next election and an important platform for them is reputedly a war against the carbon tax, as modest as it is.  I have heard their leading line will be, “Axe the tax.”  It has a poetic ring to it, but is it good policy?

The scientists of the world have warned us that we have to reduce our consumption of carbon by 50% in 12 years. That is a tall order. Economists generally agree that the best weapon against carbon is a carbon tax. It makes sense. Make the carbon so expensive people will voluntarily switch to alternatives that have already been developed. Instead of subsidizing carbon, as we have been doing for decades, we have to do the opposite. We have to make the use of carbon painful. That’s why I advocate for a carbon tax to the max. No one likes taxes but clearly we need this one. There is no reasonable alternative on the horizon. The Conservative Party has not suggested any. It wants to continue doing what it did while the federal conservatives were in power, as little as possible. The federal liberals who were in power before that, had the same policy. It is time for change; it is time for transformative change.

Canada has recognized that a transition to a non-carbon economy requires carbon pricing and that it has to curb carbon pollution and lets face it, that is exactly what carbon is at this time in our history. We can no longer afford to pollute with carbon.

Peter Miller in an article in the Winnipeg Free Press put it well: “Absence of a carbon price (or one set too low) is a moral and market failure. It is in effect a subsidy paid to emitters by victims and governments who pick up the costs of more damage from climate change. “Axe the tax” really means “keep the subsidy.” A better cry is, “Make the polluters, not the victims, pay.”

And I’m sad to report I am one of the polluters. And so are you. Most of us are. And we’ve got to pay. Some of us can’t afford to pay. The carbon tax should be used to mitigate the losses for those people. Most of them did not cause the problem. People like me (and you) caused the problem. We should pay. Damn I had to say that, but I think its true.

That’s why Miller said, “Cancelling a carbon tax altogether is destructive tax avoidance.” It’s time to max the tax, not axe the  tax.

Time is Running Out: A secular Revival: David Suzuki in conversation about film Gimme Some Truth

 

After the showing of the film Gimme Some Truth, that I saw at the University of Winnipeg,  David Suzuki talked about how foresight was a key characteristic of humans. It was an incredibly valuable skill. It allowed us to thrive where other species died out. We have more technologies and techniques to look ahead than ever before. However we are not using these tools, or our skills, to look ahead to see the danger around the corner. Instead we are allowing economics and politics to dominate. We are accepting business as usual. Some of our politicians are doing exactly that.

Franklin D. Roosevelt knew after the Depression and during the WWII that America would have to transition from a war economy to something new and different. The war economy was what got America out of the Depression but at a great cost—i.e. wars are incredibly devastating. He wanted something to replace that war economy with something less destructive.  He found that in consumption. America’s economy became a consumer economy. Consumption drove the economy. This, according to Suzuki was a horrible mistake. I agree. The consumer society has shredded the environment and morality.  It was as bad as the war economy.

Suzuki said that many of his colleagues whom he respects a lot believe that it is already too late to do anything about climate change. They say, we are already doomed. We can’t keep temperature rises to 1.5º C as scientists say we need to do to avoid catastrophe and as the governments of the world said they would do when they signed the Paris accords on climate change. To this Suzuki responded, “We don’t have enough information to know that this is true, so we have to give it a try.” He refused to give up–yet. “Nature is resilient. We need to step back and give it a chance,” he said.

According to Suzuki “climate change is the “existential issue of our time.” We must get politicians to take this issue seriously. All other problems pale in comparison.” As a result we have to do something urgent and game changing. He says we have to get after every politician. We cannot accept any longer their refusal to deal with this issue. We can’t let them backtrack. It is too late.

Suzuki pointed out that in 1998 the environment was the No. 1 issue on the minds of Canadians. Then we had a recession and everyone forgot about it and turned to the economy instead. Politicians started to talk about environmentalists as a ‘special interest group.’ That is not what we are, Suzuki said.

As Suzuki said, “Our kids have everything to lose. Their entire future is at stake. This is much more than a drop in 3rdquarter profits.” The elders like Suzuki and, of course, me, have to speak up. We should blog about it. Hey I am doing that. We all have to do something.

If you think social justice is important, as Suzuki does, and I do, social justice will be radically affected by climate change. The poor and those who have done the least to cause the problem will suffer the most from climate change. Is that just? Climate change is the serious issue, not marijuana. Yet we spend much more time talking about marijuana.

In July of 2017 Suzuki wrote a letter to the Prime Minister who had been so widely hailed as an environmental savior when he committed Canada to the Paris accords on Climate change. Suzuki was deeply worried about what Canada was doing when it approved dubious pipeline projects. Here is part of that letter:

… If we don’t look at it head-on, then I believe we will continue to talk but fail to take the hard steps that must be taken now — stop all discussions of building pipelines, shut down the tarsands and fracking, and get on a hard path to renewables. That must be done if we are to even come close to meeting the 2050 targets in the Paris Accord. It is ludicrous to keep looking to the economy and market forces and consumer pressure to make us change direction. We need you to make big, hard decisions and Harper made it all the more difficult for you by failing to even tackle the low-hanging fruit …

The good news is that the future predicted doesn’t have to happen, but only if you take the hard steps. You know I have no hidden agenda. I implore you as an elder near the end of my life and terrified for the future of my grandchildren.

This evening in Winnipeg David Suzuki filled the audience with wild enthusiasm. It was like a secular revival meeting.  Let’s hope its more effective than that. He said in the next election he wants stadiums filled with young people and adults demanding change. That election is about one year away. Suzuki thinks that is our last chance.

Scientists in their dry manner have issued a serious warning. Here is what the press release the IPCC issued says,

The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air. Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”

What does “unprecedented changes mean?  There are many interpretations. Here is one: At 2ºC , 25% of all species will be extinct. At 3ºC New York City will be submerged. Of course the higher the temperatures the worse it gets.

Suzuki described his altar call this way:

 

“We’ve now got a call that is comparable to the call when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941.  After that event, nobody said, ‘Those damn liberals, they want to spend us into poverty. Nobody said, ‘This is a Democratic or Republican issue. Nobody worried about the economic cost. We’ve got a challenge. How to make a peacetime economy in which our primary goal is to make a massive transition of our energy usage.”

 

Suzuki also pointed out that like the reaction to the Pearl attack this can be done. It is tough but not impossible. And our time is short. Half of the reductions must be made in 12 years! As Suzuki said,

 

“Sweden, which is a northern country like Canada imposed a carbon tax in 1992 of $130 per tonne. We’re quibbling over $10 (per tonne) or $15 (per tonne) or $50 (per tonne). During the  time that the tax was $130 (per tonne), the Swedish economy grew by 40 percent. So now, let’s not waste time on that. Let’s get a carbon tax in and lets start with a much bigger tax than either the Liberals or any of the other governments are speaking of…Stop behaving as if it’s those Greens who care about the environment, and we don’t give a damn because the economy is our highest priority. This is Pearl Harbour, and let’s act on it together.”

 

Debra Roberts one of the Co-Chairs of IPCC Working Group II, (not a radical like Suzuki) in presenting the report to the world press, pointed out, “The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future.’Then she added, This report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people’s needs. The next few years are probably the most important in our history.

Manitoba and the Carbon Tax

 

Just before we left Manitoba for Arizona, I heard our Premier Brian Pallister rail about how unfair the federal government is to Manitoba. They were not giving Manitoba credit for all their green activities such as Manitoba hydro.  Palliser does not get it.  First, the carbon tax is not a normal tax at all. It is actually revenue neutral. Every dollar of tax Manitobans will pay will be given back to Manitobans to use in activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every cent of tax collected will be paid back. In fact if he joins the federal plan he can decide how that money is to be spent.

This is no time to argue about Manitoba’s carbon plan compared to Canada’s plan. We must work together.    We have 30 years (or perhaps a lot less) to completely transform the global economy. This is probably the biggest task humanity has ever undertaken. We cannot fail. The result of failure are too catastrophic and the cost too immense. If we don’t make the necessary changes the climate will make them for us.

We need political leaders who can stand up to corporate interests who are putting their own welfare above that of the people. We cannot allow them to profit from pollution any longer. We also have to tackle the inequities that changed policies will necessitate.

We can use the carbon tax money to do that. We must make sure we don’t pay it back to the polluters. Then we have accomplished nothing. Too often government policies have done exactly that. We cannot shield Canadian polluters under the guise of preserving their competitiveness. Polluters should not be competitive. If every government shelters the polluters the carbon tax will bring no benefits. The price on carbon must lead to decarbonizing the economy. Business models that rely on polluting the atmosphere are outdated and must be rejected. Businesses should no longer be able to push such costs on the people of Manitoba as an “externality.” We have to use the money raised to fund clean alternatives that don’t pollute.

The policy of the federal government to impose a carbon tax of $10 per tonne of carbon pollution now, rising to $50, is likely inadequate. But at least we must do that. At the same time we can urge the federal government to do more.

The Conservatives have been criticizing the Liberals relentlessly for months, claiming the new proposed carbon tax will be a “tax grab”. Then the Liberals explained how the tax was going to be paid back to the people. Now the Conservatives are complaining the Liberals were trying to buy votes by giving the money back. That is what they promised all along. It is supposed to be a revenue neutral tax.

The carbon tax is a completely sensible proposal. Economists have been saying for some time that this is the best way to fight climate change. Really it is just an application of the polluter pays principle. It really makes complete sense that the person who pollutes pays for the pollution. Pollution should not be treated as an externality that can be passed on to society.  Those who don’t pollute will get more of the money back.

The plan could be criticized for many reasons, but Conservatives have picked the wrong ones. I think they should have attacked the carbon tax for not making carbon expensive enough!

The government is bringing a tax that will cause the price of a litre gasoline to rise less than 12 cents in 5 years. The Conservatives have been railing against this massive tax grab.   According to gasbuddy.com the retail price of gasoline has fluctuated by $0.24 in the past year, $0.38 in the past 2 years, $0.55 in the last five years. How can the modest carbon tax be economically destructive as the Conservatives have complained, remembering too that all the tax will be paid back to the people?

There are some good taxes. That sounds liken an oxymoron. Or is that just a moron?

Thinking about Climate Change

 

I have been thinking a lot about climate change lately. Thinking of course, not necessarily doing anything about it. That is harder. So I am determined at least to speak up. I will also try to do something in my own personal life. But I think speaking up is important too.

I have recently left a country that is in climate change denial for another . I have left Canada for the United States. In Canada we are just more surreptious about it. We claim we  believe climate change is real and is caused by humans, and we claim we are doing something, but nothing gets done. IN 20 years now nothing has got done. In the US many people  still don’t even believe that climate change is happening or that it is caused by human activities. The numbers of those who resist the obvious are shrinking, no matter what their President says about it. I am not sure which country is worse.  The hypocrite (Canada) or the resister (the US). Both have serious flaws. Our grand children won’t be impressed.

If the temperature rises 1°C the new UN Climate report released in 2018 says, up to a third of people in the world could lose their source of clean water. At a 2 °C rise people begin to die in what are “normal” summers. Countries already hit hard by hurricanes could see those already dramatic effects amplified, and most fearfully, 1/3rd of all  life on the planet faces extinction. If that does not catch the attention of people it is difficult to comprehend what could. Now I admit thinking about things like that are hard.  Who wants to do that?  Well, for sure, not the President of the United States. Nor most of his Republican enablers.  Even worse, millions of Americans still support his Presidency.

Trump was recently interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes and was asked if he still thought climate change was a hoax. He dodged the question. As comic Jim Jefferies said, “Some Republicans continue to say that climate change isn’t real, but the real hoax is Republicans pretending it’s a hoax. They know the science is real, they’re just making so much money they don’t give a shit. ”

Texas Republican Lamar Smith is the Chair of the American House Science Committee and he received more than $600,000 from the oil and gas industry. Another Republican, the senior Senator from Oklahoma since 1994, has many contributors from the oil and gas sector. His biggest funders include ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. It sometimes  seems the only thing that one can afford to buy is a Senator.

Of course it is difficult for people to focus on issues like this when you tell them they are going to die. As Anthony Leiserowitz the Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication  said, “Climate change is the policy problem from hell. You almost couldn’t design a worse problem as a fit with our underlying psychology or with the way our institutions make decisions.” The problem is that when we feel fear, or guilt or experience anxiety we tend to withdraw from the issue and try to think about something else that makes us feel better. That is much more pleasant. It is difficult to avoid doing that. But critical thought demands it.

As Jim Jefferies said, “Imminent death is too scary to contemplate. If you told me that I am going to die and everyone I ever met is going to die a fiery death my first thought wouldn’t be ‘Oh I’d better bring my own grocery bags to the store. It would be more like, ‘I have been meaning to try heroin.’ The problem of climate change is just too big and overwhelming. How can we possibly deal with a threat to our lives, our kid’s lives, our grand kid’s lives, our great grand kids?”

Jefferies suggested that the only way to get Trump’s attention was with pictures.  So he drew one of a Trump Hotel filled with people, but not the kind of people Trump wants. he pictured a Trump hotel filled with dirty refugees. He asked Trump to consider this, “First Mr. President with all the refugees created by global warning, poor people will have to stay in Trump hotels with all their disgusting unwashed faces and their dirty hands.” Then Jefferies had another horror story for Trump to consider. “As the weather gets more severe if you think Stormy Daniels is a problem wait until she is upgraded to Hurricane Daniels!”  As if that picture was not graphic enough he had another, “Eventually Russian prostitutes will be too dehydrated to piss on a mattress.”  His conclusion was that “we gotta put these pictures on chicken buckets until he gets the message.”

These were stories from a comic. It’s pretty bad when the comedians give us the straight goods and the politicians evade the truth. That seems to be where we landed.