The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) takes several thousand pages to assess the academic research on climate change impacts, but it can be summed up rather simply.
Our best scientists are telling us that there are only three things we can do to respond to global warming:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels, we can limit how high temperatures rise, and thus mitigate how bad the impacts are.
- Adapt to temperature increases that can’t be avoided. The report identifies how we can build climate resilient human communities and try to limit the impact on other species, while recognizing that if we don’t stop temperatures from rising soon there is no amount of adaptation that could deal with the resulting chaos.
- Suffer. The list of the ways we are and will suffer is long: failing crops, tens of millions losing homes to rising sea levels, more losing lives and homes to extreme weather events, and a heightening of wars and repression as scarcity fuels conflict, to name only a few. And while no one will be immune, it is clear that it is the poorest (who have done the least to create the problem) who will suffer the most.
Much of this has been said before, but what was new in this report was the scientists’ emphasis on choice.
They stressed that we will do all three – mitigate, adapt and suffer – but the political choices we make will determine the relative mix between them. In short, the more we do of the first two (what the report refers to as pursuing “climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development”), the less we will suffer.
Greenpeace activists outside the Isogo coal power plant and the Minami-Yokohama gas power plant near where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting.
That seems like a worthy goal, and one I have dedicated my adult life to trying to realize. Yet when you assess Canada’s energy policy (which is our de facto climate policy) the only possible conclusion is that we are choosing to maximize suffering.
Our government dresses it up in the language of become an “energy superpower”, but it comes down to trying to make a quick buck from ramping up tar sands exports while turning a blind eye to the consequences so clearly laid out by the IPCC report.
We know that new tar sands mines and pipelines, Arctic oil rigs, and coal power plants are weapons of mass destruction. By loading the atmosphere with destructive carbon emissions, they will fuel untold suffering in the future.
We also know that another choice is possible.
At Greenpeace, we have worked with energy experts to map out the rapid transition off of fossil fuels required to avoid the worst effects of climate change and are working with communities around the world to help deal with the warming that can’t be avoided.
We are also mobilizing Canadians to stop those dirty energy projects, and thus create the time and space for the green alternatives to grow up through the cracks in the old system.
Join us, and we will build the better world those scientists tell us is possible.