Climate Change

Climate change and climate change denial

A contribution from Bill Henderson, a climate activist who lives in Gibsons BC.

Climate change is no longer deniable: it’s happening, is human caused, and is potentially catastrophic. But denial is still a huge factor that keeps us from doing what we must, for future generations, for the natural world and all the species with which we share creation.

Needed mitigation and lack of real action is normally focused upon the fossil fuel industries but here in BC continuing timber management is turning BC forests from long term carbon sinks to massive sources of greenhouse gases and our governments are doing nothing.

Suzanne Simard and colleagues describe climate mitigation in a BC forestry context in a recent letter to the Haida Gwaii Management Council:

British Columbia has committed to a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 and 80% by 2050 as part of Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. So far, however, we are moving in the opposite direction, with our emissions increasing annually, and more coming from forestry than all other sectors combined.

In 2017, BC reported that annual emissions from fossil fuels had increased to 65 million tonnes of carbon. By comparison, 2017 emissions from logging (removal of trees and woody debris, plus accelerated decomposition of forest floor and soil) were estimated as 42 million tonnes C, and foregone carbon capture an additional 26.5 million tonnes C, for a total of 68.5 million tonnes C added to the atmosphere annually from forestry practices alone.

This has skyrocketed to 203 million tonnes C with wildfires in recent years. While drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions to decarbonize the energy sector is essential, Canada cannot meet its commitments for carbon emission reductions without the provinces protecting carbon stocks in existing forests, or increasing sequestration capacity of managed forests.

While emissions from forestry are not included in official carbon budgets, there is sufficient science for us to know that ignoring them is abrogating our responsibility to current and future generations.
Missing our targets is already starting to destabilize the Earth’s climate, terrestrial, and aquatic systems, and continuing to do so will quickly have catastrophic consequences for biodiversity, ecosystem services, and humans.

Effective forest management has an essential role in helping meet global targets, especially where large existing carbon stocks can be protected through forest preservation, and carbon sequestration can be increased through sustainable forest management, particularly in high density C ecosystems such as Haida Gwaii.

You can read more about BC forestry and carbon emissions here and here. And, thanks to Dave Broadland, we know that the present forest industry contributes less than 3% of BCs GDP and employs less than 2% of BC employment.

Read my oped below and consider that despite our dire climate predicament, nobody is calling for an end of timber management or even a moratorium and investigation of mitigation options that morally we should be considering.

New Climate Denial

He’s lived maybe too good for too long and his doctor has been warning him that he needed a regime change but he always pooh-poohed  the doctors warning – an example of denial of the science.

But he began to have serious health problems and when he was visited by his doc in the hospital he was told that his present unhealth would become increasingly debilitating and could become terminal without effective mitigation. But our hero unfortunately then shifted to implicatory denial – the science is not denied but “the psychological, political or moral implications that conventionally follow” (Kari Norgaard) .

Regime change isn’t really needed, just a few less puffs, maybe the odd walk, ‘I feel better already by buying this new exercise bike’, etc., etc.

Climate change is happening, it’s human caused and could be catastrophic and we should be doing regime change in all haste but for decades we have just pretended and now disruptive emergency action is needed. But disrupting an already hurt and fragile economy is not allowed, is not considered possible, so we won’t even think about the effective mitigation actions we should be taking to protect all our kids future.

But doc, how will it kill me?

In several possible ways. Monotonic warming with extreme weather, widening drought, fires, etc.  could destabilize vulnerable but interconnected regions of the global economy; add in resulting warfare and famine and there could be enough damage to collapse our global civilization. And, additionally, non-linear effects of human caused warming could force major changes in our climate system – abrupt climate change, or runaway warming as postulated in the Hothouse Earth paper, where human caused warming sets off a cascade of latent feedbacks leading to a 5C plus rise in temperature and not only civilization collapse but possibly even human extinction.

But aren’t our Paris Accord mitigation actions enough of a regime change to get us healthy and safe again?

Not even close. “Red Alert For Planet As UN Report Projects Only 0.5% Emissions Cut By 2030.”  Globally we need at least a 45% emission reduction by 2030 and were on track for 0.5%. Without a complete turnaround on ratcheting up ambitions the Paris Accord is dead in the water. No, Paris has proven not nearly regime change enough.

But we’re going to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050?

Look up Canada at –  the graphic concerns the emission reduction timeline needed to meet Paris targets. There is no longer any chance of staying below a 1.5C rise and our whole carbon budget to stay under a 2C rise will be blown by 2030. Net zero by 2050 is a plan to not make our Paris targets; for example, the Fell/Traber EnergyWatchGroup report explains why for Europe and Australia’s Paris Agreement Pathways report explains why for Australia.

The Trudeau government pretended to be climate leaders at the Paris COP but five years later emissions continue to rise, expansion of fossil fuel production – coal in BC and Alberta, LNG in BC and oil across the country – continues to be government policy, and we look set to waste even more of the precious remaining time to 2030. As more and more governments and businesses jump on the net zero by 2050 bandwagon it gets easier to see that this conception of climate mitigation has become a vehicle to kick the can down the road; to not confront and substantially reduce fossil fuel production and use today, immediately and effectively. Net zero by 2050 has become a fudge used by those committed to saving the status quo from needed climate mitigation.

Is this not incredibly dangerous implicatory denial?

Now if this was just about our hero I’d say the denier is only getting his just desserts and who should give a damn. But this is about our kids, all of our kids future, and we – publics and policymakers – are clearly in deep denial and we have to reduce emissions by at least 7% a year every year to 2030 to have even a 50-50 chance of staving off death and destruction that could be terminal. We need to take immediate, full advantage of the Covid-19 recovery opportunity – “The pressing timeline is constantly underscored by the rapid unfolding of extreme climate impacts” (Le Quere et el.)

We need to escape this new climate denial for real action, real regime change.

The Trudeau government should be forced to resign for gross incompetence on the climate file. Their time-wasting pretend climate leadership – while keeping Canada the world’s fourth largest fossil fuel producer – is inexcusable, criminal.

Then we need an emergency coalition government formed from members of all parties that aren’t in denial and they must initiate a regulated managed decline of all fossil fuel production on a schedule starting this year that meets Canada’s needed emission reduction responsibility. No new infrastructure; a complete end to subsidies; a Green New Deal to effectively transition our economy; a carbon non-proliferation treaty amongst allies, real leadership globally.

We need to recognize and escape new climate denial – implicatory denial, where we don’t act even knowing the climate science and the potentially terminal consequences. We’ve wasted three decades and it is almost too late for even emergency action. We need to stop telling ourselves lies, stop pretending that we are trying to change and finally get off fossil fuels.

For our kids sake cause we do give a damn and we know regime change has to happen now.

“A forest is much more than what you see,” says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery — trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes.

This talk was presented at an official TED conference.

4 replies »

  1. Been around the climate debate for decades and the one item politicians have latched on to is that they can tax the people into submission. It may work for the poor; it is delectable if it works for the dwindling middle class and it definitely fails for the wealthy.

    To deal with climate change, one has to completely rethink the problem. We haven’t, not even close.

    Clear cut logging should be changed to selective logging, which is doable on an industrial scale, but we don’t.

    We don’t even plant trees, one of the greatest carbon sinks there is.

    We should be generating both solar and thermal power on a grand scale, but we don’t.

    We should design our regional transportation system to be user friendly, we don’t as we spend billions on transit, that does not attract the motorist from the car and is so bad, mode share for transit was dropping in the region pre covid! Rubber on asphalt; blacktop nirvana is the order of the day.

    We do not spread the population throughout the province (due to the lack of any transportation philosophy) and contain the largest portion of BC population to the lower mainland, despoiling excellent agriculture lands for housing estates. The lower mainland will soon become almost unlivable.

    Politicians talk the talk but do not walk the walk and firmly believe building mega billion dollar dams (on shifting shale) and short mega billion transit, will solve climate change – they don’t.

    Real regime change will not happen because the politicians we elect are incredibly weak and lack any vision, except to win the next election. We are doomed to the fates of greed, corruption and avarice.


  2. Some simple solutions (but everyone will resist):

    Work from home… offices are redundant, cubicles have never been useful. Don’t waste your time and clog up the roads with your useless commuting. If you commute you are part of the problem (covid too)

    All businesses commit to offsetting 200% of their CO2e emissions. That’s the only way to start turning back the clock on CO2 in the atmosphere.

    No one in leadership in BC has the mental capacity or gives a damn about our future generations to enact anything that will actually be a net positive. They are only interested in lining their pockets anfld gaining (retaining) power.


  3. I would add, put in a garden, encourage farmers to let their bush rows grow wider and grow more green manure crops. Reuse the wood that comes with redevelopment tear downs, minimize any and all possible energy use, initiate Provincial and Federal research facilities into resource use minimization and alternatives in developments for housing and infrastructure,

    Optimize the passive use and collection of solar energy for heating and illumination in buildings. Make geothermal neighbourhood heating systems the primary option. Oh yes, and ensure that the politician you elect is willing to take on the responsibility of a politician.


Leave a reply but be on topic and civil.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s