When it comes to climate change and other environmental issues, it's easy to become overwhelmed and confused by too much information, and then paralyzed into inaction. So here's what you need to know, and what you can safely avoid, about climate change.
The prospect of someone telling you that you don't need to know something may properly arouse suspicion, but consider the following.
I have a cell phone, use a computer connected to the internet and sometimes fly. I have no idea how any of these things work, except that I know they do. All this to say: you can be certain about some things without having to know everything about them. And if you really do want to know everything about something just to be sure-sure, there's always the option of researching further or asking an expert. In the case of climate change, this would be a climate scientist.
Climate change is real; the only significant scientific uncertainty is how fast it's happening. (And that uncertainty should be no excuse for inaction; if you were stuck on a set of tracks with a train approaching, it would seem unwise to pause from the task of freeing yourself to wonder whether the train were travelling 90, 100 or 110 kilometres per hour.)
Most climate change is being caused by greenhouse gases from our emissions of fossil fuels, not sunspots, volcanoes or wobbles in Earth's orbit, ozone, deforestation, water vapour or air pollutants. Some argue it's arrogant to think we humans could possibly affect the climate of a planet. In fact, it's even more arrogant to imagine we can abuse our planet's environment the way we do without consequence.
As little as 18 more years of emissions at today's rates will blow us past the internationally-accepted target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C; as little as three years will blow us past the more ambitious but safer 1.5 degree C target.
The consequences of climate change — heat waves, droughts, extreme storms, infrastructure damage, sea level rise, melting permafrost, invasive pests and more — will by far outweigh any imagined benefits. Sea level rise is particularly concerning, given how many millions live in threatened coastal cities, including like New York, Miami, Mumbai, India, and Osaka, Japan.
If we want to attain that two degree target, between two-thirds and four-fifths of known global reserves of oil, coal and natural gas need to stay in the ground. In other words, just because there's gas at the global gas station, doesn't mean it can be safely burned.
Fossil fuels left in the ground will one day need to be written off of the balance sheets of fossil fuel companies; you won't want those companies in your RRSP when that happens.
For the same reason, appealing as it may seem, we can't build an economy on oil sands and pipelines.
We can, however, generate a lot of wealth and jobs in renewables. Already more Canadians work in green energy than in the oil sands, and there are plenty of opportunities yet to be pursued. Plus, unlike oil companies, the sun and wind never send a bill.
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Climate change is not a left-or-right issue any more than an earthquake is; it's science-based reality affecting everyone who breathes, something politicians of all stripes need to recognize. Debate solutions, but not the problem.
We humans already have most of the needed technology to transition to renewables, and that technology is getting better and cheaper every day. The main thing holding us back is commitment: on our part, and that of our leaders the part of our leaders.
You can research any of the above points further if you want to be sure-sure. Or you can accept them with certainty, so that you can move on to what really matters: actions and solutions.
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