Submitted by Robert Macrae
I recently read a comment by a wise person: “When hard-pressed, we will acknowledge the truth.”
Well, I’m feeling hard-pressed by wildfires, floods, tropical storms, tornados, heat domes, melting glaciers, rising oceans and a 1982 memo from one of Exxon’s laboratories “over the past several years a clear scientific consensus has emerged…that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-industrial revolution value would result in an average global temperature rise of 3 C…there is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the Earth’s climate.”
The fossil fuel industry chose not to acknowledge this truth, but to deliberately deny it by spending millions over decades to defeat climate change legislation. The fossil fuel industry’s denial has cost us time to shift to a carbon-free economy while enduring the consequences of a warming planet.
As a result, we now have much heavier lifting to accomplish in much less time. Canada’s two major political parties fail to acknowledge the urgency of the truth. The federal Liberals continue constructing their next white elephant: the $12.6 billion TransMountain Pipeline. The federal Conservatives flounder with a climate change policy. Alberta’s Conservatives have sunk irretrievable billions into the Keystone Pipeline, even as bitumen prices tank, and Joe Biden buried Keystone’s American leg.
This is a moment to reflect on our past and future direction. Our over-dependence on fossil fuels gave us the climate crisis. The climate crisis is threatening our survival. The truth is science has proven, cleaner, less expensive, more reliable energy alternatives. It’s time to invest in a carbon-free economy.
What investments? In Straphanger: Saving our cities and ourselves, Taras Grescoe explores cities and their transit systems. In Copenhagen, 37 per cent of 1.8 million residents commute by bicycle. There are more bicycle commuters in Copenhagen than in the entire USA.
This is remarkable because Copenhagen is on the same latitude as Ketchikan, Ala., so winters are long, dark and cold — yet, people cycle to work twelve months a year. They pedal in the winter on plowed bicycle lanes. While Copenhagen’s charming old city centre is compact with narrow streets, the city’s 20th-century suburbs have the same population density as L.A. Copenhagen is flat, like New York, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Canada’s prairie cities.
Copenhagen’s city planner built dedicated bicycle lanes parallel to city streets and closed the city centre to all vehicles, even bicycles. Its “pedestrians only” city centre increased business for downtown merchants. The cost of bicycle-friendly policies has been far less than other types of public transit, and orders of magnitude less than community-destroying freeways and parking lots for private automobiles.
Bicycle commuting lowers greenhouse gas emissions, improves air quality, and reduces healthcare costs. Commuters save because bicycle ownership costs thousands of dollars per year less than cars. Bicycle commuters have a 30 per cent lower mortality than motorists, and cyclists are measurably happier.
Canadian cities could emulate Copenhagen, especially with federal support, for bike sharing, limiting downtown parking, building dedicated bicycle lanes and pedestrianizing select streets and neighborhoods rather than more pipelines and subsides for oil and gas.
As Grescoe says, the biggest impediments to sustainability are neither physical nor economic. Rather, they’re political. Liberal and Conservative politicians don’t feel hard-pressed to protect the environment, to implement even low-cost solutions or to plan an orderly transition to a carbon-free economy by 2030.
Another wise person, Pope Francis, in his encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home said, “For human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air and its life — these are sins…to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”
Robert M. Macrae is an Environmental Technology Instructor from Castlegar, B.C.