In the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15), an eclectic group made up primarily of corporations and media outlets put forward the notion of "Hopenhagen". The following is extracted from their mission statement:
"Hopenhagen is a movement, a moment and a chance at a new beginning. The hope that in Copenhagen this December we can build a better future for our planet and a more sustainable way of life."
At this juncture, it appears COP15 will end up being remembered more as "Dopenhagen", as opposed to "Hopehangen", and Canada will have contributed to that outcome in a significant way through its intransigence on the climate change file.
Canada stumbled its way to COP15, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper having to be literally dragged against his will to Copenhagen. Canada also signaled that it wasn't going to be playing a serious role in moving things forward at COP15 with Environment Minister Jim Prentice's pre-Copenhagen announcement that the federal government's climate action plan will take 40 years to achieve its goals.
Climate scientist Dr. James Hansen of NASA states that we have already passed what is considered the threshold for "maximum permissible concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere".
CNN recently reported that a possible rise in sea levels of 0.5 meters by 2050 could put at risk more than $28 trillion worth of assets in the world's largest coastal cities, according to a report compiled for the insurance industry. In March, the journal Science reported that sustained atmospheric warming projected for the coming centuries could ultimately produce a worldwide rise in sea level of 12 metres compared with today's levels.
Canada's coastline happens to be the world's longest at 243,792 kilometres, including the coastline of the country's 52,455 islands.
Ironically the government's plan apparently reaches its objectives at the projected 2050 half-metre sea level rise. The environment minister claims he wants "sensible solutions", but is a phased-in approach spread over four decades sensible when the best available science tells us decisive action needs to be taken now to attenuate anticipated future impacts?
As Dr. Corinne Le Quere points out, global carbon emissions increased by almost 30 percent between 2008 and 2009. Isn't it time Canada showed some leadership on the most pressing international issue dominating the world stage? Or are we going to be content to hide behind 40 year plans and draw even more ire from the global community when it comes to the fight against climate change?
Skeptics in Canada have used the so-called "climategate" controversy to call for a cautious approach at COP15 or even an abandonment of mitigation measures. Climategate does not change the fact that all the credible evidence vetted in countless scientifically peer-reviewed papers shows the primary cause of climate disruption is anthropogenic and that global warming poses severe risks to humanity, requiring immediate action to limit carbon emissions.
Rather, climategate is a convenient sideshow the doubters have seized upon in a continuation of their desperate efforts to defy reality and sway public policy. But climategate is not the scandal the denier camp thinks it is.
As online journalist Richard Graves, director of Fired Up Media, recently put it in an opinion piece for Common Dreams: "The real scandal is not the email archive, or even how it was acquired, sorted, and uploaded to a Russian server, but rather the emerging evidence of a coordinated international campaign to target and harass climate scientists, break and enter into government climate labs, and misrepresent climate science through a sophisticated media infrastructure on the eve of the international climate talks."
There now appears to be a concerted effort, via espionage, to undermine and attack climate scientists and their research. As reported by Robin McKie and John Vidal of the Guardian, over the last year there have been two break-ins at Dr. Andrew Weaver's University of Victoria office and several attempts to hack into the computer system.
Current climate denying tactics are also reminiscent of malicious efforts by the tobacco industry to obscure the undeniable proof associating smoking with lung cancer. The purpose was not to prove tobacco harmless, but to cast doubt on the science and delay governments from taking action.
The denier sect is relatively small, but has the advantage of being bankrolled by greenhouse gas producing industries. Media researcher David McKnight, from the University of New South Wales, explains their threefold strategy: "First, the implications of the science are frightening. Shifting to renewable energy will be costly and disruptive. Second, doubt is an easy product to sell. Climate denial tells us what we all secretly want to hear. Third, science is portrayed as a political orthodoxy rather than objective knowledge."
McKnight concludes, "climate denial may turn out to be the world's most deadly public relations campaign". Indeed, implementing politicized, ineffective half-measures to address climate disruption would essentially constitute a game of global Russian roulette.
Reflecting on the Canadian government's continued foot dragging on the climate change file, as well as its predilection for "shouting down critics and environmental activists" as a December 11 Toronto Star editorial highlighted, one has to wonder what is exactly at the root of this obduracy and antagonism. Is it solely the fact that the prime minister and the environment minister are from Alberta and feel compelled to defend the oil sands? Or is there something more, such as a lingering disbelief that climate change is even occurring? The fact is the prime minister has a track record of being a climate change skeptic. In the U.S. climate denial has become a crucible of sorts amongst the political right; let's hope this dangerous mentality hasn't migrated to their conservative brethren in Canada.
Chris Genovali is the Executive Director of Raincoast Conservation.