Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 2,000-page Fifth Assessment Report, a document updated every six years which is a collaborative effort by the world's leading scientists. The executive summary alone is 36 pages and is filled with dense data analysis to substantiate their conclusions. It is in some respects the best of what science can offer to policy makers concerned about climate change and provides insight regarding the consequences that can be reasonably anticipated using updated models and policy options.
Every society has its collection of cranks and skeptics and Canada is no exception. There are those who still believe that the earth is flat, cigarettes will do you no harm, and climate change is an elaborate hoax by grant-dependent academics. Unfortunately, Canada has a government that comes dangerously close to those members of our society who cannot or will not believe the best evidence available.
In response to the IPCC's massive and comprehensive report which cites incontrovertible evidence that climate change is real, man-made, and it will have a significant impact on Canada, the Government puts out a press release blaming the Liberal Party for its alleged past environmental failures. Apparently it must be Sir Wilfrid Laurier's fault because, after all, he was the Liberal Prime Minister when the Industrial Age began. The response was so startlingly stupid as to make one wonder about a sanity deficit in the PMO.
Upon reflection however, there is some tortured logic behind such a prima facie absurdity. The Prime Minister has no oil and gas industry regulation deal and is in real danger of losing the Keystone XL pipeline to a combination of anti-Keystone activists, environmentalists, and U.S. politics. So, to admit that climate change is real, that the oil sands is a high profile contributor, and that he has done nothing on his watch to curb emissions, plays into what the anti-Keystone coalition has been saying all along. Not good timing, so better to say nothing and have Minister Aglukkaq attack the Liberals, the Great Satan of Conservative paranoia.
This could be all just shenanigans inside Parliament Hill politics except that the implications for our nation are very serious. Put aside the real and present danger of losing Keystone and its significant impact on Alberta and Canada's economy for the moment. Ignore, if you will, the implacable opposition of some European nations to our so called "dirty oil" and how that plays into the difficulties of securing a free trade agreement with the EU. These will be significant economic impacts in and of themselves.
What is far more disturbing, however, is the virtual absence of the Harper government in preparing Canada for the post-carbon economy. It is not likely that carbon emissions will be significantly reduced in the near term and the IPCC report offers a disturbing calculation of the amount of CO2 the earth can absorb in the short term. We have reached a tipping point however; for a government to not even offer the nation a plan to cope and potentially prosper in a declining carbon environment is tantamount to gross negligence. A press release blaming the Liberals is not a plan in the short term, the long term, the medium term or any term at all.
Other nations have had their wakeup calls. Germany has embraced alternative energy sources to the extent that they are shutting down polluting sources and adding transmission capacity. And they still make the best cars in the world. John Kerry the U.S. Secretary of State read the report and said that it was, indeed a real "wakeup call." The only conclusion one can reach is that PM Harper must be a sound sleeper.
Whether it is sleeping or sleep walking, picking a fight with the President of the United States is never smart. What bright light told the PM to tell the President that a "no" to Keystone XL is unacceptable. How is that good politics? Lining up with the President's avowed political enemies in the Tea Party is a strategy so bereft of forethought as to make one think that sanity deficit in the PMO is much worse than previously thought. Yet another press release blaming the Liberals for all of mankind's ills will be sure to follow.
What are the world's scientists to make of the hermit kingdom PM? At least they will be able to speak unlike Canadian scientists who have a standing gag order imposed upon them by a PM determined to control the message. And what would that message be?
If it wasn't for international scientists offering their best evidence, Canadians would be wrapped in a cocoon of blissful ignorance courtesy of our PM. Ignorance, blissful or otherwise, is no way to run a country. Sir Wilfrid's sunny ways embraced opportunity and made the 20th century Canada's. It is a pity that this Prime Minister has neither the vision nor the sunny ways of Sir Wilfrid.
Researchers in Britain have found that <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22076055" target="_blank">climate change could cause increased turbulence</a> for transatlantic flights by between 10 and 40 percent by 2050. (ALEXANDER KLEIN/AFP/GettyImages)
A 2012 study from the U.S. Forest Service found that without "major adaptation efforts," parts of the U.S. are likely to see "<a href="http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/42363" target="_blank">substantial future water shortages</a>." Climate change, especially for the Southwest U.S., can both <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/02/25/1638541/study-climate-change-dry-up-us-reservoirs-lake-powell-lake-mead" target="_blank">increase water demand and decrease water supply</a>.
Research by British government found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/15/somalia-famine-climate-change_n_2883088.html" target="_blank">climate change may have contributed to a famine in East Africa</a> that killed between 50,000 and 100,000 people in 2010 and 2011. At least 24 percent of the cause of a lack of major rains in 2011 can be attributed to man-made greenhouse gases, Met Office modeling showed. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
The <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/25/frozen-spring-arctic-sea-ice-loss" target="_blank">dramatic and rapid loss of sea ice in recent years</a> has consequences beyond the Arctic. Scientists have found the melting shifts the position of the Jet Stream, bringing cold Arctic air further south and increasing the odds of intense snow storms and extreme spring weather.
Research indicates that increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide <a href="http://www.onearth.org/blog/poison-ivy-climate-change" target="_blank">result in larger poison ivy plants</a>. Even worse, climate change will mean that the plant's irritating oil will also get more potent.
The <a href="http://www.livescience.com/28320-climate-change-allergies.html" target="_blank">spring 2013 allergy season could be one of the worst ever</a>, thanks to climate change. Experts say that increased precipitation, along with an early spring, late-ending fall and higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide may bring more pollen from plants and increased mold and fungal growth.
North American alligators require a certain temperature range for survival and reproduction, traditionally limiting them to the southern U.S. <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/animal_forecast/2013/02/alligators_in_virginia_climate_change_could_be_pushing_cold_blooded_species.single.html" target="_blank">But warming temperatures could open new turf</a> to gators with more sightings farther north.
High in the Peruvian Andes, parts of the world's largest tropical ice sheet have melted at an unbelievable pace. Scientists found that significant <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/world/americas/1600-years-of-ice-in-perus-andes-melted-in-25-years-scientists-say.html" target="_blank">portions of the Quelccaya Ice Cap that took over 1,600 years to form have melted in only 25 years</a>. (Perito Moreno Glacier pictured)
Along with other agricultural impacts, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/climate-change-wine_n_3039673.html" target="_blank">climate change may have a dramatic effect on the world's most famous winemaking regions</a> in coming decades. Areas suitable for grape cultivation may shrink, and temperature changes may impact the signature taste of wines from certain regions.
Thanks to climate change, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/polar-arctic-greenland-ice-climate-change" target="_blank">low-lying island nations may have to evacuate</a>, and sooner than previously expected. Melting of the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets has been underestimated, scientists say, and populations in countries like the Maldives, Kiribati, Tuvalu and others may need to move within a decade.
Warmer winters in northern latitudes could mean <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/01/18/hamilton-climate-change-rinks.html" target="_blank">fewer days for outdoor hockey</a>. An online project called RinkWatch aims to collect data on the condition of outdoor winter ice rinks in Canada and the northern U.S. and educate people on the impacts of climate change.
Experts speculate that <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/08/100806-oyster-herpes-global-warming-climate-change-science/" target="_blank">warming oceans may have played a part in a strain of herpes</a> that has killed Pacific oysters in Europe in recent years.
As Arctic ice melts and polar bears see more of their habitat disappear, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/14/polar-bears-turn-brown-climate-change_n_2878684.html" target="_blank">animals could lose their famous white coats</a>. Researchers have already witnessed polar bears hybridizing with their brown cousins, but note that it would take thousands of years from them to adapt themselves out of existence.
Climate change means warmer winters in northern latitudes and a shorter ski season. By 2039, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/us/climate-change-threatens-ski-industrys-livelihood.html" target="_blank">more than half of the Northeast's ski resorts</a> will not be able to maintain a 100-day season, according to the New York Times. Ski areas will be less likely to receive regular snowfall, and warmer daily low temperatures mean fewer opportunities for snowmaking.
Apples produced in one Himalayan state of India are already losing their taste and even turning sour, experts say. <a href="http://zeenews.india.com/news/eco-news/arunachal-apples-losing-taste-due-to-climate-chang_831169.html" target="_blank">Increased rainfall and erratic weather in the region mean less than ideal conditions</a> for famously-sweet Kashmiri apples.
With climate change already impacting northern latitudes, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/sports/warm-weather-forces-changes-ahead-of-iditarod-race.html" target="_blank">warmer winters in Alaska could mean less than ideal conditions</a> for the famous Iditarod sled dog race. “It definitely has us concerned,” a musher and Iditarod spokeswoman who's already breeding dogs with thinner coats told The New York Times.
<a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/11/121108-climate-change-coffee-coffea-arabica-botanical-garden-science/" target="_blank">Climate change may dramatically shrink the area suitable for coffee cultivation</a> by the end of the century and cause the extinction of Arabica coffee plants in the wild. Starbucks has already declared that "<a href="http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/environment/climate-change" target="_blank">Addressing climate change is a priority</a>."
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