Upping our game

Columnist Al Lehmann says we need to rise to the occasion to fight climate emergency

Al Lehmann

Hockey fans following the current Stanley Cup playoffs are largely familiar with how teams strong enough to enter the so-called ‘second season’ playoff contests can suddenly ‘up their game,’ climbing from a comparatively modest record earlier in the year into a calibre of performance among the best in the league.

Likewise in life, when circumstances demand our best, frequently we rise to the occasion, overpower obstacles, and succeed when we might equally well have failed miserably.

As the global climate crisis continues to expand and conditions measurably deteriorate, the question rises whether or not humanity will clearly recognize the threat and adequately organize our forces to counteract its worst potentialities.

Last fall, author Seth Klein published A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency. Its thesis argues that in the same way that Canada mobilized to fight the Second World War, we could organize the country to fight climate change. Our efforts during the six years of the war (1939 to 1945) transformed our country dramatically, and despite the horrors faced by front-line soldiers, transformed it for the better.

Initially, most Canadians probably did not perceive a dramatic threat to their own health and safety as political efforts to prevent a war in Europe progressively failed. Nonetheless, once war broke out, political leadership in Canada convinced over half a million Canadians to enlist in the military to assist in the coordinated struggle against fascism.

In the same way, Canadians have only slowly absorbed the growing evidence that our energy systems are increasingly contributing to the potential destruction of human societies. Why are our political leaders so reluctant to mobilize the country toward averting this threat?

Current leaders in Canada tell shiny lies about how we can have our cake and eat it, too. Trudeau fantasizes that having bought a pipeline and doubling its capacity, we can increase production of fossil fuels and still lower our CO2 emissions. Horgan produced an ambitious climate plan, but pretends we can cut down old growth forests and sell liquefied natural gas without any climate consequences. What wonderland do these people inhabit?

Politicians often want to be led rather than lead, preferring to “meet the public where they’re at.” But in emergencies, leaders need to pull the public to where they need to be.

As Klein wrote, a climate plan that requires the agreement and support of the oil and gas industries to work, is not a climate plan worth having.

Lest anyone think that more conservative-leaning politicians would be better managers of this file, we should be reminded that our previous premier Christy Clark was strongly supported by the oil industry, and Jason Kenney next door has run a disorganized rearguard action to defend his well-oiled carbon constituency whose muddled processes spilled over into his botched efforts to handle the COVID pandemic.

Canada upped its game considerably during the Second World War and by the end had launched many new social welfare policies including family allowances, compulsory collective bargaining, a national housing program, and even the first steps toward a national health insurance plan. Economic growth was dramatic.

During COVID, pandemic spending has been about $5 billion a week, so we know what governments can do if they perceive they have to.

We can win the climate struggle, but only if we tell the truth and up our game.