You know those mornings, the ones when obligations beckon, and you need to haul yourself out of sleep to get up and get to work.
The radio alarm buzzes annoyingly, or perhaps a chirpy radio announcer suddenly begins chattering in your ear.
Without even thinking, you sling your hand over and tap the snooze button. All goes silent once more, and you slip back into sleep thinking, “Just ten more minutes…”
Canadians have been punching the climate snooze button with great regularity for years now. Despite scientific warnings delivered with increasing gravity, year after year, we just mutter sleepily, “Yup, we’ll have to do something about that (someday),” and then we roll over and doze.
Nearly thirty years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change began its warnings, predicting that natural ecosystems will “come under extreme stress with ‘significant’ knock-on effects for societies. Slap! Down went the snooze button.
A 2014 Guardian report contextualizes that 1990 warning as occurring in the same year that Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web (who can imagine living without that now!?). Most millennials weren’t even born yet.
Every five years or so since, a refined IPCC report has explained their most recent findings. These have been increasingly precise in describing the climate’s processes and increasingly dire in their outlook, even as their previous warnings have been confirmed. Yet despite their work, slap! Down went the snooze button.
In 2006 the Stern Report, assembled to assess the economic implications of climate change, concluded that the dollar cost of failing to address the problem “grossly outweighed” the cost of taking early action. It was ignored.
Sure, governments have mulled over what coordinated action might address the problem. But in the long game of international chicken, governments prefer to talk a good game to coddle and reassure the electorate, but also kowtow to the oil industrial complex. Governments (including our own) have generally preferred to ignore scientists’ insistent warnings in the unrealistic hope that other nations elsewhere will take up enough of the burden to handle the global challenge.
Now the alarms are becoming noisier and more clamorous. Even local research confirms the problem. Dr. Matt Beedle and others have demonstrated as much as 200 meters of surface elevation loss on local glaciers like the Salmon Glacier near Stewart (see http://glacierchange.org/scrapbook/salmon-glacier-british-columbia/surface-elevation-change/).
The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that, “As the climate warms, moisture and precipitation levels are changing, with wet areas becoming wetter and dry areas becoming drier.”
Remember the Calgary floods, which created several billion dollars in costs, as Stern predicted? Consider the raging wildfires in Australia, in Portugal, in California, (even in Sweden north of the Arctic Circle), recently in Alberta and BC (Fort MacMurray, Telegraph Creek), and this year beginning in May!
Yet our governments claim we can build pipelines for the oil sands and for LNG, continue to raise our levels of carbon pollution, and still fight climate change. Just how credulous are we, anyway? We behave like a dying alcoholic offering to split a quart with his doctor while they discuss his options.
A 16-year-old Swedish climate activist addressed assembled world leaders at Davos, arguing in response to their expressions of hope, “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic…and then I want you to act.” By “act” she didn’t mean hitting the snooze button.