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climate reality check

We seem to have reached a tipping point in public and policy opinion on climate change, which is something of a relief, but also very scary. Up until even the last few weeks, I felt that my tiny contribution to the debate was through occasional posts here, addressing some of the science as we know it, mostly in an attempt to make known the state of science. (In a previous life, I spent a few years working more directly on climate change issues, in policy, finance, and technology development).

But now that, in Canada at least, it has become politically untenable to deny climate change – the Liberals, NDP and Bloc are all climate believers; the Conservatives have just converted, either for political expediency, or after finally coming to terms with the science. There is no going back, unless the science changes. So the question is no longer: Is it a problem? or Should we do anything? but: What (the hell) do we do now?

The Liberals, NDP and Bloc have all come out demanding that the Conservative inplement policy to make Canada “meet Kyoto’s targets.” This is inane political posturing, and on the part of the Liberals, a little hard to stomach. The Liberals presided over the entire Kyoto era, and agreed in 1998 to GHG emissions reductions to 6% below 1990 levels; and in 2002 ratified the Kyoto Protocol (meaning those reductions became “binding”). As the Conservatives keep telling us (rightly) the Liberals signed and ratified the Protocol without putting in (or even proposing) one shred of binding policy, or any kind of serious plan to meet those targets. Under their dismal environmental stewardship, Canada emissions grew to something like 30% higher than the targets they agreed to as ratified (and is, by the way, twice as bad as the US that signed, but never ratified Kyoto). Stephane Dion may have a dog named Kyoto; and he may be serious about the environment, but his party sure as hell has not demonstrated any leadership on climate change in the past, except for ratifying an international treaty that binds Canada to reductions without giving any thought to how those reductions would be met. Which has one positive impact: it highlights in glaring blod face how much work we have to do.

Which is why the Libs/NDP/Bloc calling for the Conservatives to meet Kyoto targets is dishonest and laughable, though it does put the pressure on to come up with concrete policies (which, to their credit, the Conservatives have started to do, for all the criticisms heaped on their Clean Air Act).

To put it in context, to meet our Kyoto targets we would have to do several things (based on 2003 numbers):
1. make all Canadian houses 30% more energy efficient
2. make all Canadian cars 30% more efficient (or, say, make every Canadian take a bike to work two days a week)
3. make every business (including industrial manufacturing, mining, and oil production) 30% more energy efficient (or close them down for 2 days of the week).
4. shut down all thermal power plants (about 30% of electricty production in Canada, the balance being hydro 60% and 12% nuclear) and replace with nukes, or some other renewables, equalling a 4x increase in nukes, or a 2000% increase in renewable contributions, going from roughly 500 MW of wind to 10,000 MW of wind, an investment on the order of 10 billion dollars).

We should be doing these things, but the scale of change to our society needed is truly massive. All areas of energy use must change: housing, transport, food production, manufacturing, urban planning, oil and gas production. To make that happen the empty posturing of the Liberals and NDP and Bloc is perhaps politically useful (if disingenuous), but it does nothing to solve the problem, which transcends party lines.

What IS needed is a massive investment in time and energy to come up with some concrete and serious ways that we can address the issue in a reasonable way without throwing the country on its ear. The sooner we start the better. It would have been nice to start in 1998 when we first signed Kyoto, but for whatever reason – political or practical – that hasn’t happened.

I’m no great fan of the Conservatives, but they are in theory the hard-nosed pragmatic doers, not the political dreamers we lefties are supposed to be. That’s encouraging (though I said the same thing when Bush won the presidency on a CO2-regulation platform in 2000, and look where that got us). So: do the Conservatives have the political will to do something about climate change? Or are they just shifting their rhetoric in response to polls? We’ll find out.

Also, just an asside. What can the world of the web do to help address this problem in a serious, significant way? Anyone have any ideas?