I’ll admit it, I’m scared. Every day my newsfeed is filled with more news stories and scientific papers underlining the fact that the current trajectory our society is taking is akin to suicide as a species. And, as someone who has grown accustomed to civilization, even grown to love it, that is threatening to me.
Yet, by pointing this out, I’m painted with the newest derogatory epitath: “alarmist.” Like pointing out that scientists say we are in deep doo-doo is some kind of hyperbole. Alberta politicians tell me “I understand the science of the climate crisis, but I don’t believe that it will be as bad as they say.” Unfortunately, science doesn’t really care what individuals believe. Storms, melting ice, and droughts don’t take orders from politicians. They take orders from chemistry and physics. And we, as organisms, obey the laws of biology and medicine.
So if the theatre is on fire, it is only appropriate to yell “fire.” That’s not alarmist, that’s good behaviour. It helps people make good decisions. You leave the theatre. You enact strong climate policy.
In the last month, I’ve had two disturbing conversations with local climate scientists. One has told me that she now hates going to climate conferences, as the general atmosphere is one of dread for the future. The other tells me that she is scared for herself, scared for her children. These are the people studying the issue, and they are terrified.
The sad reality is that things have progressed so far that substantial consequences are already inevitable. Still, the choices we make today have substantial consequences; 1.5 C is better than 2 C, which is better than 3 C. Four degrees C and above is unthinkable, and not compatible with civilization and possibly existence. And this is the path we’re currently on.
We are told by scientists that the only safe path is to decrease emissions as quickly as possible — which means burning fewer fossil fuels, now. And that it has to be fast.
Citizens are starting to wake to this reality, and it is a harsh one. The possibility of a world without whales, without the Beatles, without Shakespeare. Without safety. The world is become alarmed. Quickly. And are clamouring for stronger climate policy.
This has pretty big consequences for our province. We’ve grown very comfortable thanks to the extraction of combustible fuels, and a rapid transition threatens our cozy status quo. No wonder there is pushback. No wonder we gravitate towards reassuring voices, saying we can go back to the past, if only we silence the “alarmists.”
The calls for action are loudest outside our province. And growing louder. Survival instinct is kicking in. So a geopolitical wave of climate action is building. One can stand in front of an oncoming wave and yell “thou shall not pass,” but that is rarely effective. Better to try and ride the wave.
We ride it by acknowledging the problem, and decarbonizing our province including the oil and gas industry. Some enlightened corporations are already there, as Suncor supports a price on carbon and MEG Energy has announced plans to make its production carbon neutral. If the world demands lower carbon energy, then we’ll damn well give it to them. But the vast majority of our citizens, and our leaders, don’t want to buy the surfboard.
We’ve been told it’s too expensive to ride this wave, that citizens won’t be willing to make the lifestyle changes required to enact substantial change. But we’ve only been told half of the equation. Of course, it will cost money to stave off the climate crisis.
But there are also costs if we choose not to: to our insurance rates, our mental health, our safety, our children. And evidently, to our industry. And there are also benefits: cleaner air, water and soil; more local power and local jobs, a diversified economy, livable cities, and greater competitiveness.
Albertans, and our government, need to recognize the impossibility of keeping at bay a world intent on saving itself, and recognize that it is in our own best interest to anticipate the change rather than deny it. We all need to be alarmed. And act appropriately.
Dr. Joe Vipond is an emergency physician in Calgary. He is the co-chair of the Calgary Climate Hub and a board member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019