Viewpoint: Election another net loss

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By MURRAY REISS

The most important news the morning after our federal election had nothing — and everything — to do with that election’s results. It wasn’t about the Liberal minority government, or the Conservatives’ slight edge in the popular vote. It wasn’t about NDP seats that vanished, Green Party seats that failed to materialize, or the resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois.

No, the most important news to hit the media the morning after the election was this: Arctic soil has now warmed to the point where it releases more carbon in winter than northern plants can absorb during the summer. And that means that natural systems that were supposed to keep carbon out of the atmosphere are starting to release it. The extensive belt of tundra around the globe — a vast reserve of carbon that dwarfs that held in the atmosphere — is becoming a source of greenhouse gas emissions, rather than a sink.

This is part of a trend far more alarming than the rise of Western alienation, Quebec separatism, or the growing urban-rural divide. The Earth’s systems are breaking down at a speed that’s taking even climate scientists by surprise.

The amount of meltwater pouring from the Greenland ice cap is 50 years ahead of schedule. Permafrost is thawing in the High Arctic at depths projected for 2090. And instead of melting slowly and steadily, as once believed, sudden collapses are speeding up its rate of emissions.

Under a business-as-usual scenario, researchers report, emissions from northern soil will likely release 41 per cent more carbon by the end of the century. And with the Arctic already warming at three times the pace of the rest of the globe, even with major mitigation efforts those emissions will still increase by 17 per cent.

Business as usual, though, is what the election’s left us.

In her recent book, After Geoengineering, Holly Jean Buck quotes a U.N. delegate from a small nation who declares, “What we thought was years down the road is facing us now.”

In the election, only the Green Party of Canada and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the NDP, dared face that fact. The result? The Greens went from two seats to three and the NDP lost 15.

James Baldwin once insisted, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

The only people I’ve seen who are really facing what we’re up against are the masses of youth who’ve been marching and striking in streets all over the world. Too bad most of them are too young to vote. Maybe we should lower the age to 16. Or six.

The report on Arctic soil from which I’ve been quoting describes the situation in the Arctic as a “net loss.” The same description fits our latest election.

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