Flame of light

Flame of light. Often used as a symbol of hope. Photo provided courtesy of fotomoments.

This past Sunday I gave a talk on global climate change at a church in Hamilton. The question came up afterward, why we should even bother, given the magnitude of the problem? In other words, is there any reason to hope that we can address this issue? This blog post will attempt to answer this question in realistic terms.

Is there Really Such a Thing as Global Climate Change?

I realize that I may be “putting the cart before the horse”, so to speak, as many people feel the jury is still out as to whether global climate change is actually a problem. If you are one of these people, I urge you to read books such as Australian Tim Flannery’s Now or Never or Canadian Andrew Weaver’s Keeping Our Cool. Other great sources of information are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, or the Pembina Institute’s Climate Change Program (Not to blow my own horn, but you can also send me a request to give a talk on the subject, as I have been doing at various secular and non-secular venues.)

Reasons to Hope We Can Address the Issue

But to return to the question of why we should even bother, I feel there are many reasons of late to feel that climate change is something that can be addressed. These include:

  1. The recent passing of private-members Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, on May 5th. The legislation calls for greenhouse gases to be cut 25 and 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 2050 respectively. Out of interest, the bill narrowly passed third reading with a vote of 149 to 136.
  2. The fact that Ontario has created Canada‘s first feed-in tariff program for renewable energy. Introduced on October 1, 2009, this program is called MicroFIT. Homeowners who are small energy producers will be reimbursed 80¢/kWh for installing solar photovoltaic cells in their homes. Reimbursement is also available for producing other renewable energy, ranging from that produced by wind, biogas and waterpower.
  3. How the United States (U.S.) National Academy Of Sciences has released on their website a series of reports on climate change this past Friday. In one of the reports, “Advancing the Science of Climate Change”, the conclusion is made that “a strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.”

While I would not want to say it is exactly hopeful, given the devastating tragedy that caused it, one cannot help be heartened by witnessing the strong public outcry over the BP oil “spill”. As proof, just visit the Boycott BP Facebook group, which has over 100 thousand fans, to realize the extent of anger about this disaster.

A Measure of Realism

While I have listed many reasons to be hopeful, there are no doubt many reasons to be a bit dubious. I lay out below some of the reasons why.

Climate Change Accountability Act (Bill C-311)

Whether Bill C-311 actually gets passed still remains to be seen. It was originally tabled in October 2006 in the Canadian House of Commons as Bill C-377 by the New Democratic Party (NDP). However, parliament was dissolved before it achieved royal assent.

MicroFIT Program

In an ideal world, people will recognize the wonderful benefits of the MicroFIT program and take advantage of it. However, one needs to be cognizant that the program will not last forever. There are those that oppose the program and will do their best to see it cancelled.

A prime example is an article generated by Don MacKinnon, President of the Power Workers’ Union in a special information feature this past May 13th in The Globe and Mail. With the headline, “Ontario’s green energy policies are not sustainable”, the article criticizes the government for spending money on wind and solar power. It also asserts that “Nuclear can provide the clean, cost-effective, base-load power that Ontario needs.”

Climate Change Research

With regard to the developments surrounding climate change research in the U.S., undoubtedly this sets a positive tone for working towards addressing the issue (much more favourably than, for instance, the situation during the previous presidency of George W. Bush). However, while the public is angry about the effects of oil today, how long this will last remains to be seen. It is no secret that the American way of life is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels and any activity that obstructs this may be viewed unfavourably.

As for Canada, whether we follow suit on the research front remains to be seen. In 2007, the Harper government shut down the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN), whose mandate was to promote and encourage research on climate change impacts and adaptation. While there is some research going on in Canada about climate change, it seems to be quite limited. For evidence, just review Canada’s action on climate change as outlined by Environment Canada. Nowhere in this is there any mention of climate change research.

This is a serious concern, for, without a solid understanding of the impact of global climate change in Canada, knowing how to respond appropriately is difficult. To borrow a phrase that I have heard used in a different context, it is like driving down a winding country road in the fog without the lights on. It just doesn’t make sense, does it?

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My aim in writing this blog post has been to provide a measure of optimism about what is happening regarding global climate change. At the same time, I have attempted to reveal how much work remains to be done.

So…let the politicians know of your support for initiatives aimed at addressing climate change. And try to take advantage of the MicroFIT program while it lasts. Only by doing so will the gains that have been achieved be maintained and built upon.

As always, I am hopeful, while at the same time realistic about the challenges the future holds in store.

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