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Why oh why won't you look up?

09 Feb 2022 | OP ED Watch

In the Hill Times a “news” story lamented that “one in four respondents ‘still do not accept that climate change is a fact and mostly caused by humans.’” Actually it quoted a pollster lamenting the rabble’s failure to grasp that “climate change is a fact”. Which is lazy, since as many people including ourselves have explained repeatedly, it is precisely our awareness of just how much climate has always changed that makes us doubt that humans suddenly started it doing so. But never mind facts. “Why aren’t we acting more decisively to confront climate change when we know it’s a threat to humanity?” wails the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. Uh, because we don’t know any such thing and neither do you? Say, that one was easy. Ask us another.

Perhaps “Who writes this stuff?” Answer: the government. The CICC is of course a slick, lavishly state-funded outfit. But again, remember that we deniers have all the money and never mind facts. Still, “Our board chair Peter Nicholson identifies 3 tragedies behind this paradoxical behaviour for @IRPP”. Which in case you’re wondering is “an independent, national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization” whose “independence is assured by an endowment fund, to which federal and provincial governments and the private sector contributed in the early 1970s.” So one government hand washing another. But enough of that tragedy.

The three tragedies dooming us turn out to be “The tragedy of the horizon”, “The tragedy of the commons” and “The tragedy of the transition”. As in people are dumb, smart governments bungled the incentives and people are evil. Because the “transition” issue is “The inherent resistance to the disruption caused by fundamental change; the power of vested interests in the status quo; decision-making paralysis in the face of profound uncertainty; and the sheer scale of the resources – material, financial and human – that need to be mobilized to both transform the global energy system and adapt to the damage of climate change that cannot be avoided.”

Oh right. The last one is that the transition will be insanely expensive and wreck our lives. But there’s also the tragedy of people raving nonsensically. Who says climate change is “a threat to humanity”? What does this phrase even mean? Will we all vanish in Paul Ehrlich’s famous “cloud of blue steam” by 2100 if it gets 0.9°C warmer? Will we be reduced to a few lonely reproducing pairs in the Arctic?

Finally we should mention the tragedy of blazing economic ignorance. The author is a long-time decorated bureaucrat with a science background. Including being “the Clifford Clark Visiting Economist with Finance Canada” in 1994-95. So you’d expect him to know a bit about discount rates and such. He warns that “Governments have paid far less attention to adaptation than to mitigation in view of the large near-term cost of adaptation, which requires budgetary resources already stretched by competing priorities that are perceived as more pressing. Some advocates of mitigation may also fear that allocating resources to adaptation might undermine commitment to the tough policies needed to meet emission-reduction targets.” But what of the argument that since even the worst-case projections for 2100 (other than sudden inexplicable extinction of humanity) suggest that unchecked climate change might lead to per capita GDP increasing only nine times instead of 10, it makes far more sense to grow now and adapt later instead of sacrificing growth to deal with current phantoms? Uh… uh…

The piece contains some lovely doublespeak, including “We must find ways to bring the future forward to the present. In the case of the financial sector, insurers, banks and investors have long-term assets and liabilities that motivate them to account for the distant effects of climate change.” Uh, doesn’t that mean capital markets already do bring the future forward to the present? Isn’t that the whole reason stocks fall if a company does something that looks dumb and rises if they do something that looks smart?

Ah but nay. Not without wise guidance from people in government. See “they need to be better-equipped with information and regulation to make commitments that are evidence-based, consistent across segments of the industry, and transparently disclosed.” And who wouldn’t want to be better-equipped with regulation from those famously evidence-based politicians and bureaucrats? Especially if they were ignoramuses managing vast capital assets in a foggy wasteland of short-sighted greed?

As for the “tragedy of the commons,” well, it vanishes in a cloud of blue steam part-way through the piece: “the cost of clean energy – particularly from wind and solar – is in many places already lower than the cost of new fossil sources, even without carbon pricing, and prospects are steadily improving. This market reality is aligning global incentives in the desired direction.” So problem solved. Mankind not facing extinction. Markets working. Maybe it’s why we’re not worried.

Still, you must never not be afraid. “We know where we need to go: by 2030, at least a 40 per cent reduction of GHG emissions (relative to 2005) on a path to net-zero by 2050.” We need to go. Why “need”? What if we don’t? Blue steam again?

In the end, a clarion call to leap into committee: “The time has arrived for governments, businesses and individual Canadians to take the bold decisions on the specific elements of the net-zero strategy and decisions on where best to place the bets and how they should be sequenced.” We shall fight them on the memos. We shall fight them on the consultations. We shall fight them on Twitter. Bold.

By the way, we shall also fight them in Birmingham in 1963: “We acknowledge that systemic injustices and inequities stemming from historical colonization and ongoing discrimination have positioned certain people and communities at greater risk of physical, social, and economic impacts from climate change and climate policy. This includes Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, lower-income people, LGBTQ2S+ people, people with disabilities, and others. Further, these groups and their experiences are often not adequately represented in climate policy development and implementation.” So why aren’t you acting more decisively on that front, perhaps by changing the composition of your board?

4 comments on “Why oh why won't you look up?”

  1. As Ronald Reagan said, the nine most terrifying words in the English language are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help".

  2. I notice the oft parroted statement that wind and solar is now cheaper than, well everything else. One wonders how that claim is verified given that cost of off-grid power is irrelevant, both systems are barely energy positive on a life cycle basis, utilities are required to purchase power when the sun shines and wind blows regardless of grid demand, baseload providers making up the difference or scaling down to accommodate the unreliable difference must charge the utility accordingly for their imposed inefficiencies, and then there are times when even the baseload providers can't scale back enough to prevent the sales at a loss or negative priced sales of the utility to prevent the system from crashing. Perhaps if the wind and solar rent seekers, oops, I mean proponents, had to provide full grid friendly power on their own we could get a clearer picture of those fantastic costs.

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