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Climate Crossroads: Reducing our footprint needs system change

We know there’s a huge challenge, but we don’t act." ~ Robert Hackett, qathet Climate Alliance

As cartoonist Adrian Raeside said in the Peak on August 24, “Climate change deniers are running out of excuses.”

Loud pockets of outright deniers remain. After all, major oil companies and billionaires poured money for decades into intentionally confusing the public about climate science.

But in other ways, most of us are deniers. We know there’s a huge challenge, but we don’t act.

As the qathet Climate Alliance says, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is a moral imperative. Those who contributed the least to climate change (notably the global south and the poor) suffer the most from its impacts.

Per person, Canada is one of the world’s worst GHG polluters. We need to reduce emissions 50 per cent by 2030, in line with the Paris Accord, to try preventing runaway global heating.

How to shrink our outsize carbon footprint? A common answer is through personal “lifestyle” choices, from reusing hotel towels to buying electric cars.

Full credit to people who are climate-mindful every day. But individual consumer choices won’t make enough difference quickly enough. Many people shun sacrifices that aren’t fairly shared by all.

From energy-inefficient buildings and inadequate intercity transportation to the high cost of e-cars, our “built environment”restricts our realistic options. 

British historian E.P. Thompson once described our society as “exterminist,” trending toward “the extermination of multitudes.” He meant the nuclear arms race, but perhaps it also applies to our economy.

Our profit-driven system generates wealth, but its toxic byproduct is carbon pollution that threatens human existence. Many corporations, especially fossil-fuel extractors, don’t pay the real costs of their business models. 

Only government can potentially get at that systemic problem, through tools such as laws, taxes and public investment. Climate policies should address both the causes and effects of climate disruption.

Financially incentivize renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Increase carbon taxes, but offset their cost to average Canadians with a hefty per-person rebate, thus shifting income from high to low emitters. Seth Klein’s A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency outlines numerous other policy options.

Use existing institutions to promote change, but also build popular movements to counterbalance exterminism’s vested interests. Let’s prevent governments and other institutions from becoming “oil’s deep state,” in the ominous words of Albertan author Kevin Taft.

System-level change may seem overwhelming, but there are easy local on-ramps. We could join a political party to nominate a climate champion as the local candidate, donate time or money to nonprofit, pro-climate campaigning groups, or walk with neighbours on Friday, September 15, (starting 3:30 at Powell River City Hall), to support international climate action.

Encourage the city to join other BC municipalities in a class-action lawsuit to get “Big Oil” to pay its fair share of climate costs, rather than dumping the burden on taxpayers alone.

“Riding your bike is great, but we need to also be engaged in collective political action and solutions,” says Kari Marie Norgaard, author of Living in Denial. “That’s part of what helps people to do something proactive that’s real.”

Robert Hackett is a member of qathet Climate Alliance, Westview Ratepayers Society, the Sue Big Oil committee and other local groups.

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