Complicity of Silent Leadership

What a spring it’s been! Full of the worst kind of broken records.

Record wild fires, record atmospheric temperatures, and ocean temperatures rising exponentially in 2023. And the next El Nino, which exacerbates the effects of global warming, still lies ahead of us.

Researchers at the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said Thursday that the start of June saw global surface air temperatures rise 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels for the first time. That is the threshold governments said they would try to stay within at a 2015 summit in Paris.” (National Observer – AP)

As for the oceans, according to the National Observer climate columnist, Chris Hatch, this year’s readings, especially for the North Atlantic are anomalous in the extreme. The capacity of our oceans to absorb heat is being taxed to the maximum.

This is totally bonkers” says one hurricane expert at the University of Miami. “People who look at this stuff routinely can’t believe their eyes. Something very weird is happening.”

Climate change is obviously the background amplifier, supercharging heat. And the oceans have been working overtime, absorbing 90 per cent of global warming. It’s an astonishing amount of heat: 396 zettajoules (no, not a measuring stick I’m used to either) since the 1970s. The equivalent energy of over 25 billion Hiroshima atomic bombs.”

Who needs more evidence than these, almost daily, additions of scientific studies with catastrophic implications? And the science of human-caused climate change just gets harder and harder. Apparently, it’s still not enough for our colonized political leadership who won’t acknowledge the facts.

After a disappointing provincial election campaign in Alberta, where the pressing climate emergency was ignored and the NDP leader, so help me God, felt the need to brag about her pipeline-building record, the threat of climate catastrophe is a taboo topic.

The UCP and the NDP can’t acknowledge the science linking the province’s record wildfire season and fossil fuel consumption. Ms. Smith misleadingly blames arsonists!

And, with absurd timing, the Maritime Premiers, just a day or so before the outbreak of the largest wildfire in Nova Scotia’s history, held a news conference to underline their united opposition to the federal carbon tax!

Implicit in both cases and, indeed, in the federal government’s continuing efforts to placate the fossil fuel sector, is the assumption that we, like they, cannot handle the truth.

The fires across the country, and their unusual intensity, are both a result of, and a contributor to, climate change. According to Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC branch, “As of June 14, 5.4 million hectares have burned, which translates into 765 Mt of CO2 equivalent. This is larger than total GHG emissions in any year in Canada’s inventory (2021 was 670.4 Mt, peak 2007 at 748 Mt).

How do you feel about being taken for an uninformed idiot, when the science is staring all of us in the face?

Last week, countries attending the UN climate talks in Germany, tasked with preparing for the COP 28 negotiations later this year, failed to get beyond arguing over process, and avoided grappling with the real, and inevitable, task – phasing out fossil fuel consumption.

It was left to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to say what none of our political leaders seem capable of saying. Citing the science showing the world is on track for temperatures twice as high as the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees Centigrade by the end of the century, Guterres was blunt:

the collective response remains pitiful. We are hurtling towards disaster, eyes wide open – with far too many willing to bet it all on wishful thinking, unproven technologies, and silver bullet solutions………The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It’s fossil fuels – period…The solution is clear: The world must phase out fossil fuels in a just and equitable way – moving to leave oil, coal and gas in the ground where they belong and massively boosting renewable investment in a just transition.”(Common Dreams)

Guterres’ remarks were a slap-down of all those mouthing the industry line and touting “net zero” production emissions, from Danielle Smith to Rachel Notley to Justin Trudeau, and, of course, the 5 major oil sands producers and their deceptive net-zero Pathways Alliance.

Unlike these patsies for Big Oil, Guterres understands there is no way to have our cake and eat it. Pointing to the failure of the fossil industry to allocate more than a minute portion of its record US $4 trillion in windfall profits last year to the green transition, Guterres called on the industry “to apply its massive resources to drive, not obstruct, the global move from fossil fuels to renewables.”

Well, that’s not going to happen if our political leaders haven’t the collective guts to stand up for the truth.

As for those who persist in seeing expenditures on just transition investments as unaffordable, another report, this time from the World Bank’s senior managing director, Alex van Trotsenburg, delivered a sharp rebuttal.

Compared to what countries pledged in the Paris Agreement, every year, they spend about six times that amount to subsidize fossil fuel consumption, which in turn exacerbates climate change, toxic air pollution, inequality, inefficiency, and mounting debt burdens. Redirecting these subsidies could unlock at least half a trillion dollars per year towards more productive and sustainable uses.

Ending the ecologically harmful subsidies to industrial agriculture and fishing, the bank says, would add another ¾ of a trillion dollars of funding for transition. But that’s not all, by any means:

The cost of harmful practices in agriculture, fishing and fossil fuels is not fully measured simply by counting the direct expenditures. One must also include implicit subsidies. These measure the effects on people and the planet — such as pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, road congestion, and the destruction of nature — that are not paid for by those who cause them. This is effectively a subsidy to polluters. Taken together, these implicit and explicit subsidies add up to over $7 trillion each year spent in ways that have unintended, harmful effects that are undermining our efforts to tackle climate change. To put that big number into context: this is about eight percent of the value of the global economy.”

That money, the bank says, if repurposed would be sufficient to “address many of the planet’s most pressing challenges.”

It’s not as if ENGOs haven’t been saying this for decades, but coming from the World Bank it represents a remarkable beach-head in the effort to address this threat to our existence.

Here in Alberta, the tragic local side to all this is that our vibrant economy, our skilled work force, innovative tech sector and strong public institutions, are at risk of missing the boat. We are losing ground and passing up opportunities daily, as the transition takes place, around and in spite of us, and in the absence of visionary leadership.

Let’s hope the courage the NDP lacked in the recent election campaign – the courage to critique the disastrous economic record of the UCP, and the Conservatives before them, and to propose a far-sighted alternative for our economy – a vision a majority of Albertans is ready for – will return to its natural home in the social democratic Opposition in the Legislature.

Edmonton, 19 June, 2023

By Peter Puxley

Hi, I'm Peter Puxley, an economist, geographer and urban planner by academic training, and a political organizer/activist, development educator, journalist, policy wonk, researcher and political staffer by practice. I have tried my hand at poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing, some of which has been published.

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