A Response to the Latest Federal/Provincial Initiatives

Make no mistake about it.  Climate change is a terminal disease.  Unless we deal with it promptly and effectively we certainly will destroy our civilization.  In the process we will sentence to death billions of people.  John Oliver, in his parody of climate change deniers, gave voice to the concerns we are showing for our progeny: “Aw, f…-em.”  Are we just hedonists, so self-centred that we would sacrifice our children to save our lifestyles?  My background is sustainable development and this short paper passes on some of my experience and makes six critical recommendations.

Although the Federal Cabinet is trying to do a reasonable job within the constraints of politics, our environmental problems are at the extreme and worsening.  Canada, by itself, cannot solve climate change for the world, nor can the Canadian government solve Canada’s share alone.  We do need international treaties – thus Paris.  Domestically, the federal government needs the public’s help and the support of the reluctant Provinces.  But these same leaders have to show the way.  As products of our culture most people respond to economic goals and policies with the standard economic jargon of jobs and economic growth.  Pretending we can have our economic cake and eat it too is destructive and does not enlighten the public.  We have been continuously behind the curve and the present initiatives will not change that.  Recommendations have been made by many of us over the past 40 years which, if enacted then, would have solved many of our present problems.  They were not adopted and today the ante is exponentially higher.  Like it or not, we are “all in”.

To understand and deal with climate change (CC), it is important to recognise that the sustainable population of humans on this planet is probably fewer than 1.5 billion.  The world is overpopulated.  Canada, with a population of only 35 million, may soon exceed a sustainable limit.  Climate change initiatives may be totally undone by subsequent population increases, a fundamental weakness in our planning process.  If half a million refugees accessing Europe in one year has led to chaos, then consider the problems when that number rises to 5 million per year?  This is almost certain to happen since CC is a contributor to the present exodus and climate change is only going to get worse.  We may, in fact, see the abandonment of much of the Middle East, with all the cultural stress that that entails. This follows a simple biological principle, whether for lemmings, buffalo or humans; scarcity of resources means overpopulation and the subsequent migration of species.  Also, we should keep in mind Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” where the addition of only 1 extra grazer destroys the whole pasture.

There are four critical steps that should be taken to deal with climate change.  All of these have a negative effect on the present economy, but all are necessary. The carrot and the stick are both required, although every new delay will require more stick than carrot.

Number one; get out of debt, personal, corporate and government.  Debt is a burden on the resource base, on our children and on the air we breathe.  Debt postpones the payment of our obligations to our children.  It encourages us to want more in the present.  It permits us to think that we can ‘have it all’.  Debt is the most damaging of all factors in CC since it always results in greater use of energy and increased environmental degradation.

Our system is built on debt and curtailing it will, clearly, affect the economy.  It would mean sea changes to the banking industry.  Consumer advertising would have to be curtailed.  Trade with China could grind to a halt.  People would only buy those things they needed – a novel idea.  It would also mean controlling immigration to avoid, among other things, the extreme and artificial rise in housing prices that we see in Vancouver and Toronto, a consequence that feeds debt.

Can we solve the CC problem without dealing with debt or threatening the traditional economy?  No!  The economy will have to adapt; Nature won’t.  As Juvenal (app. 100CE) said, “Never does Nature say one thing and wisdom another.”  We are caught in a snare, except this snare is around our neck.  The harder we struggle to escape, the tighter it gets.  


Number two; design economic change in accordance with natural Laws.  If we base our policies on sustainability – both for population and resources – then we will, at least, know the limits.  Once we know those limits, we can design a productive and resilient economic system.  The present regime is one of blind and continuous growth, a physical impossibility and catalyst for a guaranteed economic melt-down.  Many world leaders still tout economic growth as the goal – an insane concept.   There are limits to how much we can expand and they are governed by the Laws of physics and nature.  We have never tried to find out what are those limits.  Let’s do that!  I have two related recommendations.

  1. The federal government should immediately constitute a panel of scientists and ecological economists – not classical economists – to examine our sustainable population at a given material standard of living.  This would take perhaps 18 months and cost about $3 million, the best money we could spend.  The results will act as guideposts for economic and social policy and will demonstrate to the entire world the limits to which we, in Canada, must adhere.  It will raise the bar globally.
  2. My second recommendation is the development of a permanent scientific advisory board, selected by scientists and charged with studying the effects of political initiatives on the environment and then answering to Parliament.  We need their knowledge in order to stay on track.  It will become evident very quickly why those of us in the study of climate, population and resources cringe whenever someone touts ‘economic growth’.

New economic imperatives, based on natural limits, will serve to correct the many obvious and damaging weaknesses in our economic system.  It will also encourage our leaders to view natural systems as limiting factors in policy development.  Enterprise can play a role in our economic life as long as the natural limits are not exceeded.  However, the State does not set those limits; the bio-system does.   Nature is a tyrant and we had better know her limits.  

Number three; act immediately on the ‘biggest bang for the buck’.  There is one action we can take that will gain us decades of CC initiatives.  Applied globally, it could show positive atmospheric changes in as short a time as two days.  It may be enough to slow or even stop the loss of polar ice temporarily.  It is only a band-aid solution that will have to be extended in the future but will gain us time.  It is the single most damaging normal human activity.  In North America its total environmental effects equal that of nearly all of our cars put together. It is, in fact, the ‘biggest bang for the buck”.

That activity is airline travel.  Jet and turbofan engines are incredibly destructive.  Auto exhaust may last about 100 years at ground level; jet engine exhaust in the stratosphere may last 400 years.  The exhaust causes cloud cover, reducing sunlight on plants needed to absorb CO2.  It reduces night-time radiation of built-up heat into space.  It causes serious health effects for those living near flight paths.  It greatly enhances CC.  There are no present non-fossil fuel alternatives!  We cannot wait for Airbus to develop its electric aircraft, but rapidly phasing out jets will surely fuel the engine of innovation.

The damaging nature of air travel is well documented.  People die because we view flying as a ‘Right’.

Globally, some 50 million people depend, at least in part, on the airline industry for their jobs.  However, unlike the growing of food, the airline industry is a completely artificial economic sector and, as such, will not be missed in a matter of weeks.  Alternatives will have to be found to the employment issue, a complex problem that certainly highlights the issue of overpopulation.

There are things we can do.  First, deal internationally with the big aircraft builders to ramp up innovation in fossil fuel free air travel.  Second, invest in domestic transportation research.  Third, discourage flying by making it increasingly expensive to do so.  One way is to apply a compounding carbon tax by year on all flights out of Canada (keeping in mind the potential of cross-border flying).  Fighting the debt issue will have no small effect on air travel.  Fourth, legislate the phase out of jet and turbo-fan engines by 2020.  Fifth, amend international agreements dealing with airline routing to minimize flyovers.  Sixth, bring back coast to coast train travel and other lower-speed alternatives. This is just a start.  The whole transportation sector is ripe for change.

Number four; enhance public education.  We must have knowledge and incentives to deal with climate change on a personal level and not rely solely on government to legislate behaviour.  Education is the best thing to do in aid of this endeavour.  If everyone – and I mean everyone – knew the effects of our way of life, they may be more inclined to change behaviour.  Canadians are an intelligent people and not totally self-interested.  If we can go to the wall for refugees, we can go to the wall for our children.

Education does not just mean public school.  Our children are already beginning to know the damage we have caused but, despite that, we have taught them well and they are emulating us.  We need to educate our politicians, corporate leaders, teachers, employees, tradespeople and every consumer in the Nation.  This one ‘course’ should be mandatory for everyone, student and adult.  Knowledge can work wonders.

The problem has become almost insurmountable.  If government cannot deal with this, then tell us and be clear on what needs to be done.  Do not sugar-coat the message.  We all have to do better.  I am reminded of a Fram oil filter ad of 30 years ago.  The mechanic is explaining to the audience that he advised the car owner to put a new filter in the engine at every oil change.  The owner declined in order to save a few dollars.  Now he needs an expensive engine overhaul.  The mechanic, looking over his shoulder at the car, states with a sigh and a shrug, “You can pay me now or……..pay me later”.  It is later.

Please understand that I, as well as nearly all scientists, want to be part of the human community.  We all want to have input and to make a difference.  Social acceptance often requires that we show optimism and provide hope.  Thus, we understate the negatives.  I have understated the problem of climate change and growth.  The recommendations stated here are the minimum actions needed.  Exceed scientists’ recommendations and we do have a chance to save ourselves.

 

Royce W. Warren

December, 2015

Updated December 2016

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Royce Warren is a retired sustainability consultant living in Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island.  A lifelong involvement in the natural resource sector led to him specialize in the sustainability aspects of natural resource development.  Born an army brat, and having lived all across rural Western Canada in his youth, he spent his early adult life working in a variety of natural resource fields; logging, blasting, mining, commercial fishing, surveying and agriculture.  This range of experience gave him the impetus to focus his adult education around the environmental impact of natural resource development on humanity.  A pioneer in the emerging field of sustainable development, he wrote extensively on sustainability, and by 1990 was considered an expert in this field. He was called upon to vet the presentations to the first Globe 90 conference on sustainable development, and advised several levels of government.

His education includes Astro Physics (Mount Royal College, Calgary), a B.A. (Hon.) in Political Science with a major in resource policy and management, and a Masters (SFU) in Political Science.  5 years of intensive post-graduate work followed at the University of British Columbia in Sustainability and Natural Resource Management.

Royce’s wide scope of professional activity started in 1976 and includes; Local Government Advisor and Natural Resource Consultant for B.C. and Yukon  (Department of Indian Affairs,) Director of Environmental Programs for B.C. and the Yukon (Environment Canada,) teacher of Ethics and Business Management  (Columbia College) as well as consultant in several natural resource based venues; Housing Development in coal mining areas of B.C. (CMHC,) a Sustainable forestry plan for the lower Stikine River, the Campbell River Sustainability Plan, a transportation plan to reduce climate change impacts in the Cascadia Bioregion, and organic farming in the Shuswap region of B.C. 

Royce has also served as a volunteer director of the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee, the Stikine River Conservation Association, and even the Delta Fastpitch Association.  He is happily married to Chris Warren, a retired Vancouver municipal executive, and is father of 4 children and 4 grandchildren.

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