Politicians Fiddle While the World Burns
We Can’t Afford To Be By-Standers
In another alarming wake-up call, the findings of a recent scientific study (Canada’s Changing Climate Report) show Canada is warming at twice the average global rate. It is another dramatic chapter in the unfolding nightmare that is global warming which will impact our future and every living being on this planet.
But political leaders around the globe are either ignoring or undermining ways to address this imperative. Despite recent urgent calls to action by the UN IPCC, the US National Climate Report, and this latest report on Canada, most politicians appear strangely disconnected from the existential threat to our way of life. And we may be unwittingly complicit in this complacency.
Let’s look at why
First, politicians in the UK, US, EU, Brazil and Canada, as examples, are consumed by short-term, usually self-induced political crises. You know the topics. These issues are taking up most of the time and attention of policy makers, dominating media coverage, and sucking oxygen out of the room. The problem is, that on a relative basis, these short-term political crises pale in comparison to the threat being presented to humanity by the longer term dangers of global warming.
The result is that on the crucial issue of how to address climate change, not nearly enough is being done. In the UK and EU, Brexit has crowded out other important issues. In the US, the Trump administration is actively undoing policy measures designed to fight global warming, and political forces in Canada are threatening to follow suit.
Second, even when policies are being put in place to address the issue, short-term thinking and opportunistic posturing threaten to undermine even small steps in the right direction. In Canada, for example, the federal government’s policy to put a price on carbon is being challenged by an opposition party who promises to cancel it if they win the next election. Meanwhile, key provinces are fighting it in court.
Carbon pricing models are considered one of the most effective ways to change behaviour and Yale professor, William Nordhaus, shared a Nobel prize for his work in this area. Furthermore, British Columbia’s carbon pricing policies are admired globally as an example of what works. The recent report by Climate Action Tracker (see our April newsletter) gives Canada a “clear progress” rating. This is, in part, due to the Canadian carbon pricing policy which allows market forces to drive change, and incentivizes companies and individuals to make choices that will reduce their carbon footprint.
Third, media and public attention are consumed by issues like the invented crisis of Brexit, the latest Trump-induced scandal of the week or the SNC-Lavalin issue in Canada. Major media outlets are driven by consumer demand (all too easily distracted by the “fascination with an abomination” syndrome) and rarely place the global warming issue on the front page or on the home page.
The global transition to a low carbon world will involve complex interrelated changes in economic and transportation systems, government policies and incentives, fixes to our broken food system and consumer choices — to name a few.
These kinds of major systemic changes typically take decades to achieve. But we don’t have decades. The UN IPCC says we have little more than 10 years to slow down global warming. And the recent report on Canada shows that Canada is already beyond the Paris goal of 1.5C.
So what can we do?
Challenge short-term, politically-expedient choices that ignore global warming
Challenge vested interests who defend the status quo
Hold politicians accountable for meaningful progress on global warming
Withdraw support from those who attempt to roll-back programs and policies to help the environment
Avert our gaze from the latest short-term political disaster to stop fueling the media’s attention
Think of solutions on a personal level to reduce our carbon footprint
Use the power of our vote to drive progress on global warming
Use our purchasing power to reward businesses who are part of the solution rather than still contributing to the problem.
If leaders and policy makers are still fiddling while the country and the planet is burning, we should light a fire under them to take immediate action. There’s no time to lose in a scenario where we stand to lose everything.
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