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Lana Payne: A dire call to action on climate

Climate change. - Stock
Climate change. - Stock - 123RF Stock Photo

The legion of do-nothing (bordering on denial and in some cases not even bordering) on climate change politicians in Canada should have felt at least a tiny twinge of doubt last week following the in-your-face-call-to-action report from the United Nations.

They might have also felt somewhat chastised when a pair of Nobel Prize-winning economists said a global price on carbon is critical, essential and crucial to saving the planet. But no, as the old folks would say, they don’t know what they don’t know.

They seem content to let the planet burn, screaming about carbon taxes and offering no solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Or perhaps they just don’t give a darn, putting off the difficult decisions to another generation of political leaders, happy to bask in their ridiculous ideology and hubris. Problem is we don’t have a generation.

Related story:

Editorial: 12 years to change

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which included some of the world’s leading climate scientists, we have about a dozen years to take serious and concerted action just to keep global warning to a maximum of 1.5C. Beyond that, the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people will significantly worsen.

“It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts. “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency.”

Just hours after the UN panel issued this dire warming, economists William Nordhaus and Paul Romer were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work on the economics of climate change and sustainable growth.

Romer explained their work to the CBC’s Carol Off by saying: “The policy is very simple. If you just commit to a tax on the usage of fuels that directly or indirectly release greenhouse gases, and then you make that tax increase steadily in the future ... people will see that there's a big profit to be made from figuring out ways to supply energy where they can do it without incurring the tax. The problem is not knowing what to do. The problem is getting a consensus to act.”

And with the election of so many right-wing populist politicians who oppose carbon taxes reaching a consensus to act is getting more and more difficult just when we need it the most.

The fissure between science and politics is widening as right-wing populism sweeps across the planet. The deniers are winning.

But there is a way to minimize the voices of the deniers. It’s called electoral reform.

Too many political voices and too many Canadians are silenced in the old-first-past-the-post system. One could argue that real action on climate change is getting silenced too.

In Ontario’s election, Doug Ford won a majority, but the majority of Ontarians voted for something different, something progressive.

When asked about the UN report, Ford who has been rolling back the clock on pretty much everything including actions to deal with climate change said his plan to deal with emissions is to support companies who are good environmental stewards and those that aren’t he will “pay them a visit.”

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so incredibly serious.

We desperately need intensive and global action on climate. For Canada to get there what we also need is electoral reform so the minority no longer controls all the power. Because when that political power isn’t interested in taking climate action we all suffer.

The longer we wait the more unjust the transition for workers will be. It won’t be the political deniers who will suffer. It won’t be the CEOs of major corporations who will suffer. It will be working people. Right now we have a chance to grow the economy and create jobs by lowering emissions – sustainable and green economic growth.

But like anything corporations need an incentive to act. Pricing carbon is the incentive.

This also requires political courage from those who should be advancing things like electoral reform. It may be the only way in today’s political climate that we can deliver better politics, better democracy and save the planet. Or at least do our part in saving it.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com. Twitter: @lanampayne.Her column returns in two weeks.

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