OPINION: Decades of failure have left us little choice on climate change

Failing successive climate promises since the ’90s, the only practical actions are radical and forceful

For the sake of irony, I want to borrow from that old parents’ phrase most dreaded by children across the nation – “I’m not mad; I’m just disappointed” – but the fact is I’m mad as hell.

The message from last month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was urgent: Our headlong drive toward climate catastrophe is shorter and ultimately worse than previously thought.

We’ve heard this before, mind you – for decades we’ve had, as David Moscrop put it in the Washington Post, “increasingly alarming warnings that we as a species are about to get cooked and drowned and starved to death.” But this latest warning is particularly dire.

Humans, the United Nations panel says, are already estimated to have caused 1 C warming above pre-industrial levels, and we’re on track to hit 1.5 C by 2052. If or when we hit 2 C is up to us, but it doesn’t look good.

To recap: We failed our 1992 Rio target, we failed our 2005 Kyoto target and a collaborative report by Canada’s federal and provincial auditors general in March found that Canada is expected to miss its 2020 Copenhagen goal by 20 per cent.

After that, according to the IPCC report, we only have a decade to turn things around, and we’re still aiming well below our 2030 Paris target. Limiting warming to 1.5 C will take more political will than we’ve so far seen from our leaders by orders of magnitude, and current politicking on this file doesn’t exactly inspire faith that we’ll see a change in the political climate.

If Canada were the benchmark, we’d see 5.1 C in warming by 2100, according to a new study published this month.

It’s worth noting here that parliamentarians are on average older and wealthier, a cohort that is among the least likely to feel future effects of climate change even if it came knocking at their door.

But it’s also true that millennials and Gen Z, the two demographics most likely to feel the effects of climate change, are among the least likely to vote, borrowing a stereotype from Gen X and boomers when they were our age. That is problematic in any case, but with this lingering threat, our generations have so much at stake.

The path beyond 1.5 C raises the risks of global insecurity, financial instability, mass extinction, mass migration, resource wars, famine and drought.

It’s not that Gen X and boomers don’t care – 31 per cent of Canadians 45 and older told Abacus Data in August that climate change is extremely concerning, compared with 37 per cent for those of us under 45 years. Since the IPCC report’s release, another Abacus poll published this month is more assuring – 41 per cent of 45-plus Canadians ranked climate change as a “very big problem” versus 38 per cent of the under-45 demographic.

It could be that our elder generations are beginning to feel the urgency, but we’ve been given little reason to believe they will act substantially. To reiterate: We’ve had decades of failures that have left us in a situation in which the only practical actions are radical and forceful.

Younger generations are the most willing to take a hit in our pocket books to vote for sustainability with our dollars, so why aren’t we filling this political void?

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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Dustin Godfrey is a reporter at the Abbotsford News.

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