Denying solutions is the new climate change denial

Nov 5 2018

Merran Smith and Dan Woynillowicz (*) – The Globe and Mail

Imagine you’re buying a car.

The first dealership you check out has a number of them. You can test drive these cars, you know other people who have them and you can read reviews online.

The second dealership you go to has no cars. Instead, the salesperson spends his time criticizing the first dealership. He asks you to go on a wait list for one of his vehicles but offers no details – it might be a car, it might be a truck, and who knows what it’ll cost you.

Most Canadians would agree that this is not a real choice, because choice, put simply, requires reasonable options.

And yet, here we are when it comes to debating how we’ll solve the most serious challenge of our time: fighting climate change. Climate solutions are frequently attacked by politicians and media pundits who acknowledge the problem, but offer no alternative. Canada has not only entered a new era of climate policy – we’ve entered a new era of denial.

While once rampant, denying human-caused climate change is now considered out-of-touch and has been abandoned by most Canadian political leaders. As a recent poll from Abacus Data found, 90 per cent of Canadians are concerned about climate change. But a new form of denial has risen from the ashes of the old: denying the solutions that empower us to minimize climate change.

This solutions denial underpins a variety of arguments. As we have heard ad nauseum this week, opponents say that putting a price on carbon pollution and then rebating the money back to Canadians (as was announced by the federal government) can’t possibly lead to less pollution.

Any economist can tell you the federal government’s approach does work and in fact, the Nobel prize in economics was just awarded for research demonstrating this point. Here’s an example: Let’s say I go to my local pub only to find they’ve raised the price of an Alexander Keith’s by a dollar. That’s an incentive to order a Canadian instead. Let’s say the pub is also offering customers a dollar off their bill. The incentive still exists to order a Canadian and keep the extra dollar, but I’m no worse off if I decide to order a Keith’s. That’s how price signals work.

Another common form of solutions denial is the notion Canada is too small, so what we do doesn’t matter. Yes, we have a big neighbour, but let’s not lose perspective on who we are: a medium-sized country with one of the largest economies in the world. We’re also one of the top 10 most-polluting countries in the world. Canada is responsible for 1.6 per cent of global emissions despite having just 0.5 per cent of its population. If Canada is “too small to matter,” what message does that send to the roughly 180 nations with smaller carbon footprints than ours?

We also hear that China is the real problem, not us. In reality, China – which emits far less pollution per person than Canada – has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy and electric cars, outpacing the rest of the world in investment and deployment. According to Simon Fraser University economist Mark Jaccard, electricity and transportation policies in China now equate to a carbon price of $50. And in addition to those policies, earlier this year China put a price on pollution by launching the world’s largest cap-and-trade system.

Enough is enough. We didn’t have time for climate denial, and we have even less time for solutions denial.

As our climate breaks down and extreme weather intensifies, Canadians are beginning to be directly impacted – from floods to droughts to forest fires – and scientists have made it clear that things stand to get a whole lot worse unless we do something about it.

A few weeks ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest scientific assessment – authored by 133 scientists and drawing on more than 6,000 peer-reviewed papers – and its conclusion was stark. The consequences of warming 1.5 or 2 degrees would be far worse than those of the 1 degree of warming we’re already experiencing. And we may have as little as 12 years to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

Mark that date: 2030. The clock is ticking.

To suggest we don’t have readily available solutions to cut pollution – market-correcting policies, renewable energy, cleaner fuels, more efficient homes and cars – is to deny technology and our capacity to innovate.

It also ignores evidence from California, Britain, B.C., Quebec and many other places that have demonstrated how government policies can both cut pollution and support a strong and growing economy.

Denial is not a real option – not then and certainly not now.


(*) Merran Smith is the executive director and Dan Woynillowicz is the policy director of Clean Energy Canada, a think tank at Simon Fraser University


The Guardian view on environmental activism: new energy is welcome

Editorial – The Guardian

How to push green issues up the political agenda is a question that has exercised environmentalists for decades. Do dark warnings about the world that awaits us if we do not curtail carbon emissions and protect forests and oceans motivate people to act, or scare them off? Are apocalyptic visions such as that in Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road what we need to open our minds, or an inducement to give up trying?

Opinion is divided, as events of the past week have illustrated. In advance of his latest wildlife television series, Dynasties, David Attenborough said at the weekend that too many warnings about endangered species are a “real turn-off”. A few days earlier, the activist group Extinction Rebellion launched a campaign of civil disobedience by demanding a zero-carbon economy by 2025. Writing in advance of a protest in London that saw 15 people arrested, Green MEP Molly Scott Cato said she and others have been driven to break the law after spending years ringing alarm bells and being ignored.

Influenced by thinkers including Charles Eisenstein and Erica Chenoweth, whose ideas about peaceful protest have also been taken up by opponents of President Trump, and with a commitment to grassroots organising that is similar to 350.org (the anti-fossil-fuel organisation launched in the US by Bill McKibben in 2007), Extinction Rebellion aims to foment a mass movement that will change history. Elected politicians, goes the argument, have failed, as have businesses and other organisations including environmental charities. Carbon emissions and biodiversity loss are out of control. The “unimaginable horrors” of unchecked warming and habitat destruction mean more radical tactics are called for – and morally justified by the dangers, in the eyes of protesters.

While the current focus on the extinction crisis is novel, and a contrast to more familiar warnings about emissions, the notion that environmental activism encompasses lawbreaking is not new. The Green party of England and Wales approves of civil disobedience in the statement of underlying principles known as its “philosophical basis”. Greenpeace has engaged in nonviolent direct action alongside the traditional NGO tools of lobbying and petitions since the 1970s. Activists have used occupations and blockades as techniques in protests against road-building, airports and coal-fired power stations. They have also mounted protests against sponsorship by oil companies in museums. Most recently, attempts to frack in Lancashire have been disrupted by protesters, three of whom were freed from prison last month after successfully appealing against sentences that judges found to be “manifestly excessive”.

The heightened language of emergency and breakdown employed by this new grouping will not appeal to everyone. Nor is it intended to. It is rational to be sceptical about whether the protesters will achieve their aims. But on the basis of the most recent warnings about rising temperatures and species decline, and chancellor Philip Hammond’s failure to mention climate change at all in last week’s budget, it is not rational to deny that they are justified in rebelling against the government’s inaction. Their sense of urgency is welcome.

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