January 21, 2007

The Fourth Assessment

In the next few weeks, the full force of Science will redefine the climate-change debate.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will, on February 2nd, release the Fourth Assessment
Already the media are covering the leaks and leads: that human-caused climate change is more than 90 percent certain.  They’re treating climate change will a new seriousness – mainly because the climate has changed.  Of the atmosphere, likely.  Of politics, certainly.
Our Prime Minister misconstrued the public’s concern about climate change, and, to give him credit, he did a fast turnaround and is now trying to catch up, pulling out policies and programs that were, mere months ago, dismissed as expendable. 
But the problem politically is that climate change isn’t just an issue anymore.  It’s not something that can simply be assigned to a Minister, certainly not a junior one.  Climate change could potentially require a wholesale rethinking of our assumptions about economic growth and how we live – and honestly, no politician really wants to take that on.  Talk about uncertainty.
So ‘the environment’ continues to be isolated from energy and most other big-budget policy, most of which assumes we’ll continue to blow out carbon as though it had no cost.  
Examples:  Approving coal-fired electricity plants without carbon capture.  Allocating our natural gas and water to liquify the tar sands.  Turning the Fraser Delta and most of the valley over to development, mostly car and truck dependent, to serve the port and urban expansion.  And building more roads to hurry it up.  So far those policies haven’t been reconciled with climate change.
Typically, a concern would be addressed in the way politicians are doing it now: announce a targeted program or grant in front of an appropriate setting.  But this time, there are literally thousands of scientists – some outraged that government has been unresponsive to warnings and red flags – who will not likely allow the IPCC report to be ignored or dismissed. They won’t be swift-boated.  And they’ll be back, with four reports in succession throughout 2007.  The media (and the bloggers) will be relentless.
Coincidentally (I assume), B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell will be speaking to his energy strategy, and has no choice but to include reference to climate change.  Will he focus on personal responsibility for change, or will he announce new standards?  Will some incentives be provided or will taxes be shifted?
Putting the obligation on individuals just won’t cut it.  Government is the primary player for two big reasons: it sets the standards, it levies the taxes.  The politicians’ job is to calculate what the public will accept.
And that may depend in next few months literally on the weather. A few more Katrina Moments, and all bets are off.  No telling how big this might become, what new leaders might emerge, how stock markets will respond. Tie climate change in with the geo-instablity of our times, and what might seem impossible today will be imperative tomorrow.

Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on