Let’s Change the Discourse on Climate Change

GBy G.Elijah Dann
Published: Aug. 24



As I wrote this, southern Alberta was being hit by vicious flooding, creating a state of emergency in Calgary. Thousands displaced. Unimaginable dollars in damage.

What do we do?

Sadly, the news feeds and politicians always run the same. After talking about the devastation and the courage people have shown, they talk about human resiliency and our ability to adapt to new changes.

True, but not adequate as a full response.

The news that should be screaming over the airwaves is how to try to stop — or at least slow down — the underlying causes of the devastation. Namely, anthropogenic contributions to climate change.

Studying the science, Premier Alison Redford, together with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are going to rethink our national dependency on fossil fuel and move rapidly to renewable resources.

They are going to abandon the boiling cauldron of black crude called the Tar Sands, and the ridiculous attempt to mainline our homemade sludge across the provinces into our pristine coastal waters, shipped off to China.

Fracking, the absurd destruction of our drinking water to get natural gas, is made illegal. It’s nothing short of a national — indeed, global — emergency.

Not a hope in hell. But this hell is not of religious origins.

We are stoking the heat ourselves, with the colossal pressure and encouragement of all the corporations that make billions in return for our dependency on fossil fuel, funneling a pittance in revenue to our governments, all the while decaying our democracy. Dumbing down its citizens with the toys offered in return.

And again, the reasons for denial are numerous, with none having to do with our ability not to make such a change.

We can make the change, but only by informing ourselves, and then figuring out how to start the revolution that will grab politicians by the scruff of the neck, telling them that this is our government, not theirs.

The first part – becoming informed – continues to be challenging, even for Canadians. For instance, a 2012 poll showed revealed some important attitudes:

 “Almost one-third — 32 per cent — said they believe climate change is happening because of human activity, while 54 per cent said they believe it’s because of human activity and partially due to natural climate variation.

Nine per cent believe climate change is occurring due to natural climate variation. Two per cent said they don’t believe climate change is occurring at all.” [http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2012/08/15/calgary-climate-change-web-poll.html]

Perhaps one of the poll’s most interesting numbers, in light of the flood, is that “Prairie respondents are least likely to believe that climate change is occurring due to human activity.” Not meaning to be facetious, this number might have changed in the last few weeks for those in southern Alberta. Nature, its clear, doesn’t read polls.

In any case, while at least believing in climate-change is better than not believing at all, it still isn’t good enough. It’s our very real contributions, as polluters, that begs recognition.

Why is this so important?

The central reason is because this is what scientists specializing in climate-change research are telling us: “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” [http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus]

For some of the most dire news on how our climate is radically changing, listen to Bob Sanford, interviewed recently on CBC’s The Current. (Click the audio link to ‘Severe flooding in Southern Alberta’, with the interview at the 12:38)

True, some people will continue to deny anthropogenic climate-change, even some with degrees in the sciences. The very real issue, however, is that they certainly wouldn’t have such skepticism in other matters.

Imagine they have a disease that is debilitating, even deadly. Nine doctors specializing in the disease tell them to take medication X. The other doctor tells them not to worry about it. What do you think the deniers would then do?

The second part — getting our politicians to act — will also be difficult, but my hope is that our First Nations Chiefs will lead the way. Tell me where we start the protest, and I’ll be there. I’d bet that thousands of other Canadians will be there too.

Bringing ourselves to acknowledge the facts of anthropogenic climate-change, and then becoming politically organized to force our governments to change its policies, are daunting tasks.

Sometimes I think we’ll be able to do it, sometimes I think it’s all over. A stark reminder of how I can be so optimistic, and then desperately pessimistic, happened just a few days ago.

David Suzuki has devoted his life to trying to get us to pay attention to our planet. Recently he wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about climate change entitled, “We Ignore Scientists at Our Peril“. As of this writing, 37 people “Like” it.

Meanwhile, 899 people are discussing the article about Kim Kardashian’s name for her baby, with 1,141 comments.

Perhaps we rightly deserve our planet’s ire.



  1. Wolfgang W says:

    I disagree that ‘we rightly deserve our planet’s ire’ based on your comparison of ‘likes’ to different issues. The problem nowadays is the reduction of any issue to a simple ‘like’ by the face-book flutterers, and then moving on from there to the next issue, presumably having done all that is required. So what does that comparison really tell you? That people prefer escapism to dealing with complex issues? Nothing new there! Or could it be a flawed comparison a) because of comparing the ‘likes’ of incomparable groups or b) because many of those reading the HuffPost article may still be outside the Facebook universe, and consequently we will never know whether or not they ‘liked’ it.?
    By the way, if you want to read about what runaway global warming could have in store, have a look at the excellent maps provided in the latest National Geographic Magazine: ‘Sea Levels Rising’, something we should not take lightly in Squamish.

  2. Dave says:

    Great article, but while the solution seems so complex, it is also paradoxically so simple.
    The simplicity is to stop digging up all fossil fuels EVERYWHERE. Stop clearing forests and quit messing up the carbon sink abilities of the oceans. The complexity is that this would overnight cause the demise of what we call civilization. There would be mass starvation, as the infrastructures of most of the Countries of the world collapse and wars would occur all over to the extent we can hardly imagine. Our planet would , however, shrug her shoulders and contently carry on without our interference once we have destroyed ourselves.
    So what can we do?
    Albeit naively, many say we should really work at sustainable energy resources such as wind power, hydro, and solar, while reducing the use of fossil fuels to a minimum .
    But who are “WE”….Unfortunately this includes, beside ourselves, China, Russia, America and a whole host of Nations whose insatiable appetite for burning stuff and cutting down stuff will not abate.
    GRIM. I guess you and I can sit on our donkeys at tilt at windmills (so to speak) for the rest of our lives! And don’t forget to stop paying your Carbon Tax!

  3. Wolfgang W says:

    Let me paraphrase none other than James Lovelock, renowned British scientist and originator of the Gaia Theory: Suppose we are all passengers on a transatlantic jet and all of a sudden realize how much pollution and contribution to already elevated Co2 levels the running of the engines causes. Do we a) ask the pilot to shut down the engines immediately and cause the plane to crash, or b) make a controlled descent to the nearest airport on land? Lovelock, and I am sure the rest of us too, prefers the controlled descent, but according to Lovelock that may – translated to highly technological societies – only be possible by developing and using, at least as a temporary alternative, other unpalatable but proven energy sources, such as nuclear. This idea did ruin his friendship with a lot of his erstwhile environmental supporters. Now that suggestion was before Fukushima and before Germany turned anti-nuclear, but will ’tilting at windmills’ German style and solar a l’ Espagnole (a fiasco) be the solution?
    As an aside, the Economist in a recent survey estimated that at present rates, China’s output of Co2 from now to 2050 could be the equivalent of all that has been put there already since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Probably an exaggerated extrapolation, but nevertheless supporting your argument, Dave.
    As to the Carbon Tax, it would make sense if universally applied to approximate the external price of fossil fuels, but that is – alas – wishful thinking. So what should be done? Suzuki preaches from the Ivory Tower, but has no solutions either. Over to Elijah.

  4. Dave says:

    In short:
    I would gladly put a windmill on every one of my tall trees, cover all my roofs with solar panels and lobby for same on every available space nearby. I would buy an electric car and hope to, somehow, be able to charge the battery and I would dig up all my garden space to grow my own food. And for those who know me (don’t laugh), I would have chickens, ducks, pigs and goats in my back yard too!
    BUT that ain’t gonna happen because I could never afford it and, anyway the neighbours would object to the noise of the windmills, the wildlife people would object to the potential for frightening the birds and most people would complain about the aesthetics of my venture.
    So, I buy gas for my car, run my house on mostly natural gas and
    a little electricity. I watch the stock market to see that my shares in gas and oil keep going up and live with it. What about the rest of you? I guess we are all stuck with the way things are going , eh?

  5. Wolfgang W says:

    I said in an earlier post that ‘China’s output of Co2 from now to 2050 would be the equivalent of all that has already been put there since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution’. I should have been more specific in saying that this relates to China’s combined output from 1990 to now and estimated to 2050 and that the total since the Industrial Revolution means from that time to 1970, which still amounts to a remarkable 500bio tonnes of carbon.