Will Supertyphoon Haiyan serve as a wake-up call for Canadians? Can environmental activists connect the dots between Harper's climate crimes and the death and destruction caused by the most powerful storm ever recorded?
In response to the thousands who have died and hundreds of thousands who have been left without shelter on a number of islands in the Philippines, aid agencies, rescue services and many countries' militaries have been mobilized, while many Canadians are making donations. But rather than simply provide aid after a disaster occurs, doesn't it make sense to also deal with root causes?
At the UN climate talks currently taking place in Poland, Filipino negotiator Naderev Sano explained, "What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness." Simultaneously, Sano announced he would fast until there is progress at the negotiations towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For years the World Meteorological Organization has warned of the links between climate change and the growing number of natural disasters. Discussing the recent disaster in the Philippines, the agency's chief Michel Jarraud, noted "Although individual tropical cyclones cannot be directly attributed to climate change, higher sea levels are already making coastal populations more vulnerable to storm surges."
But Typhoon Haiyan or Hurricane Sandy are simply the most visible face of anthropogenic global warming. Loss of crops and increases in various diseases linked to climate change are already taking a toll on millions of people around the world. The Climate Vulnerability Monitor has estimated that climate disturbances are responsible for some 400,000 deaths per year, a number expected to hit one million by 2030.
In an oddly unjust twist, most of the victims live in countries that discharge few greenhouse gasses. While Canada and the U.S., for instance, emit among the most GHG's per capita, places like Bangladesh and Ethiopia are being hit hardest by climate change.
Despite a growing human toll and scientific consensus on climate change, the Harper Conservatives have pushed to grow the "carbon bomb." This week they applauded a move by Australia's new rightwing government to eliminate the country's carbon tax. A Guardian headline noted, "Canada reveals climate stance with praise for Australian carbon tax repeal: Canada discourages other industrialized nations from following through on their own climate change commitments."
At every turn, Harper's government has blocked progress on setting minimally serious targets for reducing CO2 emissions. They made Canada the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that commits the leading industrial economies to reducing their CO2 emissions below 1990 levels. For five years running they've received the Colossal Fossil given out by hundreds of environmental groups for being the country that's done the most to undermine different international climate negotiations.
In a bid to advance tar sands interests, Ottawa has lobbied aggressively against efforts to reduce carbon emissions from fuel sources. They've worked feverishly to undermine the European Union's Fuel Quality Directive and have targeted California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard and Section 526 of the U.S. Energy Security and Independence Act, which effectively forbids government agencies, including the heavy consuming U.S. military, from buying oil with a high carbon footprint.
In addition to undermining international climate negotiations and other countries' modest efforts to reduce GHGs, the Conservatives are ignoring their own reduction commitments. In 2009 Ottawa committed to reducing carbon emissions 17 per cent by 2020 (from the level that existed in 2005). But now Environment Canada is admitting that there will only be a 3 per cent drop.
To the extent that some sectors of the economy are seeing GHG reductions it's mostly because provincial governments, especially Ontario, are phasing out coal use for electricity. GHG emissions from electrical generation are set to drop 41-million tonnes between 2005 and 2020, but this reduction will be more than wiped out by soaring emissions from the tar sands, which are expected to increase by 61-million tonnes from 2005 to 2020.
The economic interests behind tar sands growth basically guarantees that Canada will oppose or flout international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Former environment minister Peter Kent made this point forcefully in December 2011 when he described the Kyoto Protocol as "one of the biggest blunders the previous Liberal government ever made."
But the public is not on board with this type thinking. According to a recent Leger Marketing poll sponsored by Canada 2020 and the Université de Montréal, most Canadians don't know the Harper government pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol. Incredibly, 59 per cent of respondents were unaware that the Conservatives had withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol.
Once aware, they aren't happy. The poll showed that nearly 60 per cent of Canadians want climate change to be a top issue for the government and 76 per cent say Canada should sign on to a new international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
This combination of ignorance at what the government has done and desire for action suggests there's a great deal of potential for activism on this issue. One way for the climate justice movement to exert itself could be to choose a half-dozen ridings where Conservative MPs are vulnerable and mount an aggressive popular education campaign. We could flood the specific ridings with tens of thousands of posters and leaflets denouncing Harper's climate crimes.
If done properly this type of campaign could contribute to some Conservative MPs losing their seats and be a warning to politicians that there is a price to pay for policies that destroy humanity's ability to survive.