The climate crisis is now

Thoughtful, coordinated action with a long-term view is required to stop global climate change

Josh Taylor, ArtSci ’11
Josh Taylor, ArtSci ’11
Demonstrators stand up for their cause yesterday at the Great Climate Change Debate in Grant Hall.
Demonstrators stand up for their cause yesterday at the Great Climate Change Debate in Grant Hall.

Josh Taylor, ArtSci ’11

Many of us have become desensitized to the issue of climate change by the endless reports of rising emissions, political infighting and doomsday scenarios.

But we need to remember that climate change is real, that it’s happening now and we still have the power to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change threatens to impact almost every aspect of our lives, from the food system to national security. It will exacerbate global inequality and has the potential to create millions of climate refugees around the world.

The window for action is closing and we as students must recognize what the science is saying, and demand a more aggressive stance by all levels of government.

The policies that will mitigate climate change are incredibly complex and a public discussion on how to best reduce greenhouse gas emissions is required to take effective action.

However, that discussion must recognize that the scientific community is at a near consensus that climate change is caused by human activity.

In 2009, the national science academies from the world’s industrialized countries issued a statement on climate change.

It stated that “it is essential that world leaders agree on the emission reductions needed to combat negative consequences of anthropogenic (caused by human activity) climate change.” The statement went on to say that “the need for urgent action to address climate change is indisputable.”

Signatories included the senior national science academies from Brazil, India, South Africa, Canada, Italy, United Kingdom, China, Japan, United States of America, France, Mexico, Germany and Russia.

These bodies consist of each country’s premier researchers who coordinate national research and set the standards for academic disciplines.

There will always be dissenting opinions on an issue as complex as climate change, and it is important to critically examine our existing assumptions.

However, at a certain point we have to recognize the clear aggregate consensus that exists in the peer-reviewed scientific community.

If the science is so strong then why do these debates keep occurring? Think about how much is riding on our continued dependence on fossil fuels.

Exxon Mobil is the world’s largest company in terms of market capitalization.

In 2006, Exxon recorded the largest ever profit by a corporation in American history; in 2005,Exxon products created more greenhouse gases than all of Germany, Europe’s largest economy.

Energy companies like Exxon Mobil have a lot to lose under any program which penalizes greenhouse gas emissions and they’re using their considerable resources to cloud the debate on climate change.

Exxon Mobil has been accused of financing a campaign to discredit climate science that has been compared to that of big tobacco’s documented campaign to misinform the public on the link between smoking and lung cancer.

Exxon has helped fund a series of research organizations dating back to the 1980s, including the Global Climate Coalition and the Global Climate Science Team (GCST).

These organizations generate research to dispute climate science, and have links to big tobacco’s campaign against science.

For example, the GCST included Steven Milloy, who led the Advancement of Sound Sciences Coalition.

The now-defunct Sound Sciences Coalition was a non-profit front-organization covertly created by the tobacco company Philip Morris in 1993 to dispute lung cancer findings.

To achieve any level of clarity and momentum in the fight against climate change, we must see past the private interest smokescreen and understand what science is telling us.

We must also recognize that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require leadership from all levels of government.

Some political pundits have argued that we must wait for international agreements to multilaterally reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, recent climate negotiations have clearly shown that without more pressure and leadership at the national level, these agreements will continue to be politically impossible.

We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, as well as one of the highest per capita polluters. If we refuse to seriously address climate change, how can we expect anyone else to?

Our current position is especially embarrassing as we are currently holding back international negotiations rather than driving them forward.

Canada was repeatedly given the “fossil” award at the Copenhagen Round as the least progressive nation attending and was called out for its lack of leadership in negotiations.

Addressing climate change will also bring economically important benefits to Canada. Governments around the world are already realizing that the next manufacturing boom is going to be in the renewable energy sector.

Ontario is starting to develop this sector with the Green Energy Act, and the benefits are already being felt across the province.

Kingston is soon to be home to a $500-million solar manufacturing facility which will provide 1200 direct and indirect “green collar” jobs and a $25-million investment into experimental research at Queen’s.

Queen’s is taking action, and has signed the University and College Presidents’ Climate Change Statement of Action for Canada. However, actual emissions reduction targets have yet to be set.

We need to make sure Queen’s takes a leadership role in the climate change movement, and keeps up with its reputation. We need to remember that the decisions we’re making today will not only affect us, but future generations as well.

Even if you believe that there’s a chance climate change is not real, it’s more than just your future that you are affecting by choosing inaction.

The reality is that none of the people currently making decisions on climate policy will be around when the most severe effects of climate change are felt, and we have a responsibility to safeguard our quality of life for future generations.

As students, we need to infuse the climate change discussion with the urgency it so desperately requires.

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