Saturday, 8 September 2012

Our leaders fiddle as our planet burns

Have you noticed how the climate scientists keep getting it wrong?

Every prediction seems to come up way short.

The weird weather has come much faster and much weirder than expected. The Arctic ice cap was supposed to last until late in this century but now appears nearly certain to be gone by 2030 or maybe 2020. It hit a record low last week — with three more weeks of melting still expected. Greenland is also showing unprecedented melting, and sea levels are rising much quicker than anticipated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) even in its most recent report.

The droughts and extreme rainstorms have even shown up to some extent in Hamilton. Local farmers have been clobbered by a lack of rain, and hundreds of homes were flooded in the July 22 deluge that dumped six inches of rain in three hours on Binbrook and upper Stoney Creek. That was the 18th time in the last 100 months that Hamilton homes have been inundated by storms. All of this was predicted by mainstream climate science — but not so quickly and dramatically. It was supposed to be a problem for our grandchildren, not us.

In hindsight, we should have expected prediction failures. Scientists are super cautious, unwilling to predict until nearly certain. That reluctance is magnified in the IPCC reports where every sentence is negotiated by researchers from over 100 countries under substantial political pressure to be the least disturbing possible.
But this is not news to political decision-makers. It can’t be surprising to an intelligent man like Stephen Harper who seems to have so much personal power over the government of Canada. And it can’t be surprising to our local councillors who have adopted Harper’s targets as their own and refuse to do anything that might cost money to reduce climate change, while being forced to spend millions because of flooding.

The weather events this year — especially the devastating drought that made over half the counties in the United States official disaster zones — are giving us a taste of what has already happened in other parts of the world over the last few years. And all of this is occurring when average planetary temperatures have gone up by only four-fifths of a centigrade degree. The official target is a maximum two degree increase, and the only hope of stopping there is with drastic steps taken almost immediately.

So why are our leaders doing so little? The public may still be unclear because of the confusion-mongering financed by big oil and other fossil fuel corporations to protect their obscene profits, but our governments should know all about that kind of corporate lobbying, and should assume those companies have no more ethics than the tobacco magnates demonstrated in the past.

Have the elites already decided not to act, and instead hope their personal wealth or status will protect them and their loved ones from the worst effects of the climatic catastrophes coming at us? There seems no doubt that the federal Conservative party has decided exporting tar sands bitumen is the top priority.

The United Nations calculates that tens of thousands of people per year are already dying because of climate change and it’s likely that a planet that’s even just two degrees warmer will mean death for tens of millions more. What’s worse is the growing likelihood that vicious feedback loops will drive temperatures beyond the control of humans. A four-degree increase is expected to convert most of the planet’s most productive areas to deserts.

There don’t appear to be any Winston Churchills in Canada or the U.S. who will lead us back from the brink. That leaves it up to us — not just to drastically reduce our personal emissions (even if that’s cancelled out by the tar sands expansion) but to force a fundamental change in direction.

The Occupy movement provides an example. Until that began, the gross differences in wealth were ignored. It didn’t take many people in the street to make inequality a public issue, although it will take a lot more to actually force change.

But at this point, only a handful are in the streets demanding real climate action. That has to change — very fast!

Hamilton 350 Blog

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