Why do we continue to use a euphemism pushed by a Fox News contributor and advisor to President George W. Bush to describe the global climate emergency?
In 2002, Republican consultant Frank Luntz wrote a memo to the White House urging the president to use the term “climate change” because it sounded less scary than global warming. His recommendations emerged in the context of growing scientific consensus about the urgency of climate action. “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly,” Luntz warned the in the memo.
With record-setting global temperatures month after month, dying coral reefs, melting polar ice and warming-related extreme weather and forest fires, it’s time we updated our language on this issue.
We shouldn’t still be using terminology advocated by the same political forces who have denied and obstructed climate action for decades. U.S. journalist Dahr Jamail has taken to using the term “anthropogenic climate disruption,” which is an appropriately jarring description, but a bit of a mouthful. What we are facing today is not some subtle climate change, but rather a global climate emergency. Let’s call it what it is.
If we start to think about our collective situation as a climate emergency, the great debate over new pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure in Canada becomes ridiculous. In the context of a planetary emergency, this argument is in fact a waste of time. We should focus our efforts on developing renewable energy sources and designing more energy-efficient housing, cities, and transportation systems.
There is only one solution to this climate emergency: transitioning off of fossil fuels as fast as possible.
Given the international commitments the Canadian government made in Paris to do our part to address the climate emergency, any new fossil fuel infrastructure makes no sense at all. This is an industry that must be phased out. It’s the height of folly to be talking about new pipelines, which represent an investment in generational infrastructure at precisely the moment we need to be shifting to new energy sources. The climate emergency requires us to stop debating how to expand an anachronistic industry, and to start focusing on how we will make the transition to a non-fossil-fuel-based society as quickly and as fairly as possible.
A recently released report from a federal government think-tank which provides medium-term policy advice to the federal bureaucracy advises caution in developing new fossil fuel infrastructure, which “could be at high risk of becoming economically unviable as prices in renewable electricity further decline.”
“At a minimum, this plausible future would suggest that governments ensure that the risks of further investments in oil and gas infrastructure be borne by private interests rather than taxpayers.”
So, if the Paris Agreement represents a serious commitment, and not just a cruel joke, then the Canadian government must take a completely different view of all proposed projects to expand the extraction, export and use of fossil fuels. Not just because of the global emergency we face, but also because such projects are likely to turn out to be bad investments.
This includes the liquefied natural gas mega-projects in B.C. currently under review. This week scientists released an open letter to Environment and Climate Emergency Minister Catherine McKenna, urging the feds to reject the development, because “the GHG emissions from the project and associated upstream activities (fracking, processing, transport etc.) are significant and represent material challenges to B.C. and Canada meeting their climate targets.”
The scientists also argue that B.C.’s climate policies are inadequate to meet the province’s own GHG reduction targets, and they say there is “no evidence” that liquid natural gas exports will replace coal use in Asia (a key talking point of proponents.)
Canada’s environmental review processes are broken, having been weakened severely by the Harper government over the past decade. The National Energy Board review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, for example, was not mandated to even consider climate issues associated with the mega-project.
The Liberal government, in a sense, acknowledged this shortcoming by creating a supplemental consultative review on Trans Mountain, consisting of a three-person panel to consult the public and to consider Indigenous rights and the impact of upstream emissions on climate.
If we really consider the seriousness of the climate emergency, however, these additional measures by the feds look like ad hoc efforts to push through projects that shouldn’t even be on the table. Proposed new pipelines like Energy East and Trans Mountain are aimed at expanding an industry that can no longer be allowed to expand.
Environmental reviews that don’t consider so-called downstream emissions (the eventual use and burning of fossil fuels) simply don’t make sense.
In this global climate emergency, we are all downstream.