Confronting Climate Change

Whatever happened to the out of control wildfires in the Brazilian rain forest? Six weeks ago, they were at the forefront of the daily news. I just realized though that it has been a month since I heard them mentioned. I guess the situation is under control, temporarily anyway.

You can expect lots of talk about the environment and climate change in Canada’s federal election this fall. Wherever you live, it is bound to come up in your next election too. Each party has a policy. Each claims the others don’t know what they are talking about. How is a voter (or any of us) supposed to discern the truth?

First, let’s put to rest the debate on cause. It doesn’t matter if the shifts we are seeing are man-made, the result of sunspot activity or from causes yet unknown. Most scientists think we have a problem.

They may be wrong. Scientists have been wrong before. But do you want to bet the future of the planet on it? Therefore, something needs to be done, just in case.

In Canada we have a couple of problems surrounding the issue. One is that climate change to us older folks is still equated with global warming. It is hard to find anyone in our cold country who would be upset if we were a little warmer.

Canadians are realizing though that climate change needs to be addressed, and the nature of the problem is such that it must be something dealt with by government. It is too big an issue for anyone else to handle. That means regulations and probably taxes, something no-one looks forward to.

In an election year, that means competing visions as politicians scramble for the environmental vote. That isn’t necessarily a good thing. It is easy for politicians to make promises (such as “the budget will balance itself”); it is a lot tougher to deliver when you win the election. Canadian environmental policy for the past 40 years is one of promises made, promises not kept. That seems to be common to all our political parties.

The more I think about it, climate change should not be an election issue this year, or perhaps any year. It is too big, too important, to be subject to the whims of politicians or the electorate.

It makes little difference in the long run how Canadians receive government supports for their families. Monthly cheques and tax cuts have their advocates – but if one method turns out to be wrong, you re-tool the policy and move on.

If we get it wrong on climate change, it may be too late to change the policies. Which makes it imperative we get it right. Another reason not to leave it in the hands of politicians.

Stabilizing our climate will be expensive. It may call for individual and national sacrifice. And it may turn out, after we do all that we can, that the scientists were wrong, it was only a blip and the climate isn’t changing after all. Think of the money wasted. Think of the time and effort.

But if the doomsayers are right, if we only have a limited time to stop the change before it becomes irreversible and the planet begins to lose its ability to sustain life, we must act now. Survival is not something to be reduced to a partisan issue.

Canadians though are in the middle of a federal election, and the environment and climate change is a major issue. It is time to ask our politicians why, given their collective track record over the years, why should we believe a word they have to say about the environment?

No matter who wins this election, we must hold them accountable for the climate change policies. Whatever they promise, let us, as a citizenry, make sure they follow through.

The stakes are too high for anything less.

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