Think climate action when you vote

Published Tuesday, October 13, 2015 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

Climate change should be a major issue this election, but it has barely been mentioned.  Perhaps a quick update on both the problem and the solutions would add helpful perspective.

Problem update

The atmospheric level of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, was 275 parts per million (PPM) at the start of the industrial revolution.  It is 403 PPM today, or nearly 50 per cent higher, and still rising, thanks to our consumption of oil, coal and natural gas.

Globally, the hottest 15 years on record have included the past 14 years.  2014 was the hottest of all.  2015 will almost certainly be hotter.

Globally, our oceans are warmer, snowfall amounts are lower (even if you wouldn’t guess that by NB’s last two winters) and ice is disappearing.  Sea levels are rising because of water added from melting glaciers, and because water expands slightly as it warms.

Warmer oceans and air will generate more extreme weather, and few New Brunswickers would argue that we’ve seen our share of volatility lately.  Many areas of the province received over 10 centimeters of rain September 30 – October 1, causing millions of dollars in damage.

Solution update

In the meantime, the renewable energy revolution is gaining steam.

China is now producing close to two-thirds of the world’s solar panels – more than the US, Japan and Germany combined.  The cost of solar panels has dropped 80 per cent in the past five years, and solar power is now price-competitive with or cheaper than conventional electricity in 14 countries.  A new solar project under development in Texas will produce power for five cents a kilowatt-hour.

China is a leader in installation too, recently tripling its target.  Its new goal is to have 70,000 megawatts installed by 2017.  (For comparison, NB uses about 3,000 megawatts on a cold January day.)  Australia had 8,000 rooftop solar systems in 2007; today it has a million.  70,000 solar systems are being installed in Bangladesh every month.

China, the world leader in wind power, has nearly ten times as much installed as Canada currently does, and plans to more than double that by 2020.  Spain gets more power from wind than from coal.  In the US, NIMBY – ‘not in my back yard’ – is being replace by PIMBY – ‘put it in my back yard’ as farmers recognize that wind turbine royalties are a nice supplement to crop incomes. 

Offshore wind, geothermal, tide, biofuel: all hold potential in meeting the energy needs of a post-carbon world.  Countries around the world are pursuing them, with one eye on climate change and the other on the economic opportunities of the green economy. 

Yet amid all the ambitious targets and projects, one country scarcely appears: Canada.  It seems we’re still focused mainly on oil sands and pipelines.

Which brings us to the decision we will be making next week.

Election update

There’s little doubt that climate change has the potential to touch and deeply disrupt everything from property to finances to economy to security; NB’s recent storm was just another friendly reminder.  

Two weeks ago, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney called climate change the “tragedy of the horizon”, and added, “the challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come.”  I’m fairly certain those challenges will come regardless of whether or not people wear niqabs.

Yet the emission reduction targets recently submitted by Canada to the UN were among the weakest of any country (weaker than Ethiopia even), and included no realistic plan of how we will actually achieve those goals.  As a protester's sign I recently read said, "What happened, Canada?  You used to be cool!"

Vote climate action

In 1967, Martin Luther King said, “Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.””

On climate change, it’s not too late – but the time window for decisive action is closing.  Monday’s election is an opportunity for progress, so please vote wisely.