mardi 21 janvier 2014

(Political) Climate Change Required

As member and former candidate for both the Green Party of Québec and the Green Party of Canada, I've heard things in many colours.

One of the things I heard most often was when I was going door-to-door to get endorsement signatures to be allowed to run as candidate. This exercise generally occurred between getting home from work (about 6 pm) and 8:30 pm. Occasionally, a young adult joked that he thought that Green Party referred to pot.

But one subject I only saw in the media was the climate change question. As Green Party member, it's clear that's right up my alley.

Though the climate change fight is entirely justified, environmental groups (including some green parties in recent years), in a very saturated media context, decided to adopt a communication strategy which reminds me of Aesop's "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". Their strategy has been abused over the years to the point that few people actually care enough about the environment to make it a defining political issue.  This leads some writers to call the large majority of scientists "climate alarmists" (« alarmistes de climat »).

Ultimately, the problem faced by the environmental movement is that scientific arguments, no matter how valid, cannot hold against the barrage of misinformation we are faced with. Moreover, individual members of the Canadian voting population are simply insufficiently affected by climate change. It is easy to imagine the things we have certainly all heard already:
  • "It gets so cold in winter in Canada, it won't hurt us to warm up a bit"
  • "It won't affect me during my lifetime.  Might as well keep driving my big polluting van/hummer."
  • "It's -25C today.  It's clear there's no global warming."

Of course, climate change (global warming due to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human sources) are only a symptom of industrialization, which could only happen due to the availability of fossil fuels, especially coal, petroleum and natural gas.

And this is where I'm going with this: political fights should spend their time at the source of the issue, fossil fuels, a real imminent geopolitical issue, instead of spending so much time talking about a visibly benign symptom, the GHG emissions.

And while a country like Canada with its large fossil fuel reserves might not be the first place affected, the primary factor, namely Hubbert's Peak, is inevitable and will impose a reduction in the availability of these fuels in upcoming years.

Therefore, while the increase in GHG emissions and their impact are certainly inevitable, they matter little to the direction we should take with regard to fossil fuels. Since our petroleum production cannot, by itself, adequately fulfill Canadian use (and even if it did, it would decline eventually), and since a decline in petroleum availability implies serious economic consequences, the best idea is to reduce our dependency on petroleum before we're forced to, by its future reduced availability.

I believe all political parties should put particular emphasis on the need to the elimination, to the extent possible, the use of fossil fuels. This should have two principal components:
  • Make the production and use of fossil fuels more expensive by taxing emissions of the 700 largest Canadian emitters of GHG (this comes from the Green Party of Canada program);
  • Put in place necessary programs and policies to be able to drop fossil fuels altogether.  This is a complex issue because of the various uses of those fuels, including transport, agriculture, construction, etc.

Note that it's not just a matter of replacing fossil energy with renewables. There are good reasons why petroleum and its derivatives (liquid fuels) were not replaced by nuclear energy as was predicted by some before the 1980s. Liquid petroleum-based fuels are simply too convenient, portable and not expensive enough to be definitely replaced by alternatives.

But there's also the question that the way North American infrastructure was developed guarantees our dependency to personal vehicles and makes it impossible for proper public transit system to be profitable. The large size of modern houses and the distance between each of them in large residential neighbourhoods where getting around on foot is unrealistic for most, and city buses whose schedules make us lose countless hours of precious time ... those are investments in infrastructure which put us into debt in a peculiar way: our future use of fuel for transport will be excessive (see James Howard Kunstler's books, of which The Geography of Nowhere), while our fossil fuel consumption should have already been down since decades if we wanted to adapt without negative consequences to our North American way of life (see the Hirsch Report).

In effect, especially in North America, we are already stuck with the consequences of decisions taken a long time ago. The increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the steady increase of the planet's average temperature is inevitable no matter what we do, but we can and should do whatever it takes to reduce, as fast as possible, our use of fossil fuels.

The economic and social advantages are obvious:
  • Importing less fossil fuels = keep more wealth where we live;
  • Using less fossil fuels = reducing the polluting emissions;
  • More compact cities = a population in better health;
  • Eliminating our dependency on fossil fuels = being reading for the post-petroleum age.

We should be ready in advance rather than be forced to make the same changes later.

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