By Hugh Holland
This is a timely question since we are 24 days away from a federal election in Canada.
Our next government will have a crushing set of issues to deal with: mitigating Covid-19 with the delta variant and all of its health and economic effects, affordability and growing economic inequality, Afghanistan, China, internet-fuelled culture wars, reconciliation with our Indigenous people, immigration to counter a shrinking population, to name a few.
But the number one issue is climate change. All those other things will get fixed. Climate change is rapidly becoming irreversible and forever.
Climate change is complicated but is quite logical when you take the time to think about it. Carbon emissions, from 150 years of burning fossil fuels to create energy, are accumulating in the atmosphere and, like a greenhouse, are trapping heat from the sun.
The polar vortex is the normal mass of low-pressure cold air swirling above the earth’s northern pole. Convection pushes a rotating mass of higher-pressure hot air up from the equator. The interface between the competing cold and hot air fronts is called the jet stream.
The greenhouse effect warms and expands the oceans, increases evaporation/precipitation, melts the polar ice, and warms the polar vortex. The warmer polar vortex increases in pressure and pushes down to produce a meandering jet stream and erratic weather systems.
The overall result is increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes, droughts, fires, crop failures, floods, and rising sea levels that will impact low-lying coastal areas displacing some 600 million people, including many of the biggest cities. Like pandemics, nobody will be safe from climate change until we are all safe.
Climate change has been slow moving but this year we have seen new record heat waves (49⁰C causing 700 deaths from heat stress in temperate BC), droughts and fires in western Canada, the USA and Greece, record low water levels behind hydro dams in the western US, record flooding destroying thousands of homes and infrastructure in Europe, China, and Tennessee, record melting of the arctic ice and glaciers in beautiful BC and Alberta, and the melting of the Greenland ice sheet that is starting to submerge the Gulf Stream that moderates Atlantic Canada and the west coast of Europe, and an increasing frequency and severity of tropical hurricanes and tornadoes.
How much more proof do we need of a problem the world’s top 2,500 climate scientists have been warning about for over 30 years?
Left unchecked, climate change will affect everything, and is poised to make all other problems look like a Sunday School picnic. Some aspects are already close to being irreversible. That means forever. My generation is going to escape the worst effects, but I want my children and grandchildren to know that I tried to do what I could to help avoid the worst effects of climate change for their lifetime. After that, its up to them.
Climate scientists tell us we can avoid the worst effects of climate change by getting to net-zero emissions by 2050. That is a tall order, but we already have the technology to do it. All it takes is for public understanding to drive political will.
I voted Conservative most of my life. Erin O’Toole, with the help of current events, has finally been able to move the Conservatives in the right direction in the past six months but they still lack an appropriate sense of urgency and a credible plan on climate change.
There is broad agreement among global economics experts that a carbon tax is the most effective tool to incentivize change for both producers and consumers. Neither one can do the job without the other. Producers can only make what consumers want to buy. The Conservative approach is weak, would require time and money to create a new administrative bureaucracy, and would have minimal impact.
The change must be fast but gradual. The Greens and some NDP want to eliminate fossil fuels before we have credible alternatives in place. But that would pile a global energy shortage on top of a climate crisis.
The Liberals are far from perfect, but in my view as a professional engineer who has invested a great deal of time in this subject, the Liberals have listened to the global experts and have the most rational and effective plan for the mitigation of climate change. If the government was changed, it would take a year to get a new government up to speed.
Canada and the USA are among the highest in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per capita. We must be responsible and do our part.
Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.
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