Monday, 7 September 2015

Linda McQuaig is right: Fossil fuels should stay in the ground

Background: NDP candidate Linda McQuaig's comment on oilsands stirs up hornet's nest

The Highlander
Thursday, September 3, 2015, Issue 201

Dear editor, 

Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig’s reiteration of climate scientists’ call to leave most of the bitumen in the Alberta Tar Sands in the ground in order to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets deserves honest discussion and debate in this election campaign. It does not deserve the empty rhetoric and partisan gamesmanship we’ve seen to date.

The truth is there’s a huge gap between what climate scientists are saying about our growing climate crisis and what our political leadership, including the NDP, is proposing to do about it. McQuaig should be congratulated, not reined in, vilified or ridiculed, for having the courage to raise the climate change implications of continued fossil fuel development. Tar Sands supporters seem to think we can continue to pump ever larger quantities of earth-warming chemicals into the atmosphere without any ecological consequences whatsoever. They are about to find out nature bats last. 

The stakes involved are not simply the economic impact of ending our fossil fuel dependency on Tar Sands corporations and workers, the people and Government of Alberta, but something much, much higher than that: the entire climate system within which human civilization has flourished for the last 10,000 years or so. 

Do we as a country have the capacity to rise above short-term economic and political self-interest to play a significant role in ending the fossil fuel dependency which has caused the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in our atmosphere to rise to over 400ppm? The signing of the UN Framework Agreement on Climate Change in 1992 was supposed to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Instead they’ve risen to the highest levels in over three million years. 

This creates a huge and growing risk of runaway and irreversible change to Earth’s climate system. Nothing less than the future of life on this planet hangs in the balance if we fail to stop denying we’re in a greenhouse gas-induced climate crisis and start acting accordingly. 

James Hansen, one of the world’s preeminent climate scientists, puts it this way in written testimony in support of a recent civil suit filed by young people against the U.S. Government for failure to protect their right to a life-sustaining climate: “It is now clear, as the relevant scientific community has established for some time, that continued high CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning will further disrupt Earth’s climate system, and that, in turn, will impose profound and mounting risks of ecological, economic and social collapse. 

"In my view, our government’s actions and inactions that cause or contribute to those emissions violate the fundamental rights of Sophie, other Youth, and future generations. Those violated rights include the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to property, the right to equal protection under the law, the right to government protection of public trust resources, and the right to retain a fighting chance to preserve a habitable climate system. 

“Our government’s persistent permitting and underwriting of fossil fuel projects serves now to further disrupt the favourable climate system that to date enabled human civilization to develop. In order to preserve a viable climate system, our use of fossil fuels must be phased out as rapidly as is feasible. Only government can ensure this will be done. Instead, our government seeks approval for permitting of fossil fuel projects that would slam shut the narrowing window of opportunity to stabilize climate and ensure a hospitable climate and planet for young people and future generations. These projects only allow our government to shirk its duty. Our government’s permitting of additional, new, or renewed fossil fuel projects is entirely antithetical to its fundamental responsibility to our children and their posterity. Their fundamental rights now hang in the balance.”* 

Of course, Hansen’s comments apply with equal force to the Canadian government. With so much at stake we need to demand concrete science-based proposals for real action on climate change from our politicians during this election campaign. They need to stop pretending that business as usual, with its incessant demand for economic growth, is sustainable on a finite planet with a finite atmosphere. They need to get on with figuring out how we can transition off fossil fuels as fast as our combined human ingenuity can get us there. 

Politicians of all political stripes claim they have the best interests of both the current and future generations at heart. They should prove it by initiating an adult conversation during this campaign about the climate crisis and how we’re going to survive it. 

* Paragraphs 7 and 85 From James E. Hansen, written testimony in the matter Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh M. et al. v. the United States of America et al., United States District Court, District of Oregon, filed August, 11, 2015 in New York City, New York. Hansen’s entire written testimony can be found at this website:  http://www.columbia. edu/~jeh1/mailings/2015/20150812_FINAL_ HANSEN_DEC_FOR_US_DISTRICT_ OREGON_9PM.pdf.

Terry Moore 
VP Environment Haliburton, 
Climate Reality Haliburton

Reprinted with permission

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