Saturday, 11 April 2020

Defending climate in the age of Covid 19.

by Larry Powell
An Australian sun, shrouded in bushfire smoke.
A public domain photo.
As Kermit the frog famously said, “It isn’t easy being green.” And, in a world which is, by necessity, now consumed in the battle against a pandemic, it’s even harder. It’s almost as if that other “existential threat,” manmade climate change, has been forgotten, even tho it never really received the attention it deserved in the first place! 

It’s both encouraging and bewildering to watch just how this latest, terrible and unprecedented chapter in our history, is playing out; Encouraging because so many of us are actually heeding the advice of our best minds in epidemiology by hand-washing, physical-distancing and self-isolating. This is surely saving countless lives from the deadly maw of the “Covid beast.”

By contrast, our climatologists - who’ve been warning us for a generation that our planet is on a dangerous trajectory toward “hothouse Earth” if we don’t eliminate or drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels - have been treated quite differently. While our top doctors now dealing with Covid are rightly hailed as heroes, our climate scientists are ignored, defamed or even threatened with death.  

Meanwhile, calamitous events related to a changing climate are not going away as the virus plays out. Ice caps and glacier are still melting. Sea levels are still rising. Global temperatures, along with greenhouse gas levels continue to spiral upward. 
Australian bushfires.
Photo credit - World Weather Attribution.
Yet news media are all but ignoring such important events if they are not Covid-related. Did you know, for example, that hundreds have already died and thousands more are in hospital in Australia after inhaling smoke from the bushfires there last winter? (More than 30 people, thousands of livestock and billions of wild animals died in the actual fires.) 

A crack team of climatologists has determined those fires “down under” (which ruined an area the size of more than 40 Riding Mountain National Parks), were made much more likely due to manmade climate change.
Unharvested crop in a Manitoba field. Unusually bad weather
made 2019 an extremely poor year for both cattle & grain producers.
A PinP photo.
 On the Canadian prairies, it's shaping up to be yet another bleak growing season for farmers. According to the farm paper, "The Co-Operator," five million tonnes of canola, wheat and other crops remain in the fields following terrible weather last year. And this year's spring seeding is being delayed, too thanks to "significant" rain and snow across the region this month.

As we speak, Alberta is scrambling to deal with a new wildfire season - a job now made infinitely more complicated by Covid-19. How will fire crews even get in to areas of the province almost certainly to be plagued by monster fires similar to last year, with the travel and other restrictions now in place? 

And as long as we keep electing politicians like Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, things will only get worse. Instead of pledging hard-earned tax dollars to help the legion of laid off oil workers - his own citizens - get retrained in sustainable, renewable energy projects, Kenney has pledged billions to the TransMountain pipeline, to carry greatly-devalued and highly-polluting Alberta "tar" to tidewater.

Meanwhile, Covid 19, like pandemics before it, will pass.

However, without immediate and urgent action to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels - and a new-found respect for our climatologists - disastrous climate breakdown will not! 

Ironically, the tough love being applied to help us fight the pandemic, are the same kind of measures that could help us blunt the climate onslaught. It seems likely that travel restrictions - the cancellation of millions of flights by high-flying, climate-destroying jet planes - and the closure of polluting industrial plants, are already resulting in historic drops in harmful toxins and greenhouse gas levels. 

People staying in their homes has offered a reprieve for embattled species whose traditional habitats we have occupied and destroyed. While all of this won’t result in an immediate stabilization of the crisis, it will surely be a step in the right direction. But this will only work if we somehow maintain those very tough measures, to some degree, over time.

Will it be easy? Of course not. And anyone who tells you that we can save the planet from environmental degradation while still maintaining the level of economic activity we've all become accustomed to, is lying.

So the key to a better world will depend on the wisdom, not just of our leaders, but all of us, too. Not to mention our willingness to make the profound sacrifices and societal changes needed to make it all happen. 

Will we recognize that there are lessons to be learned, even from a pandemic? Or will we simply pick up where we left off once it's over and come “roaring back” in a rush to reclaim all the bells and whistles we seem to think we actually need? 

Tragically, I expect the latter will be the more likely scenario.

Please prove me wrong!

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