Viewpoint: No rapid climate action

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By MURRAY REISS

All those climate emergency declarations local governments are busy declaring these days? Their true value lies in revealing just how wrenchingly difficult responding to the climate crisis on anywhere near an adequate scale can be.

Take cruise ships — one of the fastest growing sectors in the mass tourism market. Some 28.5 million people went on cruises in 2018, seven per cent more than the year before. Cruise ships are also the biggest per-capita polluter in the history of travel. Large ones can burn more than 150 tons of diesel bunker fuel per day, spewing out more — and far more toxic — fumes than millions of cars and emitting huge amounts of black carbon, sulphur dioxides and nitrogen oxides that accelerate global warming. Black carbon alone causes almost 50 per cent of the Arctic’s warming.

Then take Victoria. Its mayor has declared: “We’re in a climate emergency, and to address it we need nothing short of a rapid and wide-reaching transition.”

Victoria is Canada’s busiest cruise-ship port. This year it expects 264 vessel visits with more than 700,000 passengers. This cruise activity has an economic impact of $100 million annually, providing 700 direct and indirect jobs. Victoria expects to grow its share of future cruise business by four to five percent per year over the next five years. They’re even considering expanding capacity, most likely by building an additional berth.

So when it comes to cruise ships — and all the jobs directly and indirectly dependent on them and their economic spin-off they — what will a “rapid and wide-reaching transition” look like? How rapid is rapid enough? How wide-reaching is a wide enough reach? How will these questions be answered? And by whom?

These are the challenges the climate crisis poses in just about every economic sector: forestry, aviation, shipping, industrial agriculture, manufacturing, resource extraction . . . and on and on. The group Extinction Rebellion has taken to the streets proclaiming, “We’re facing a climate emergency; business as usual cannot go on.”

On the evidence so far, though, it’s an open question whether governments at any level will take their emergency declarations seriously enough. Yet what entity other than governments can act at the necessary scale?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” if we are to slow climate disruption’s accelerating pace and limit its disastrous effects to maybe not a whole lot worse than what we’re already enduring. But we must begin making those changes now.

A federal election is months away. Only one question matters as candidates start campaigning. Do they grasp what David Roberts calls the climate crisis’ most inconvenient truth: “The facts of climate change mean that there is no such thing as a ‘moderate’ position. You do the radical things necessary to meet IPCC targets or you sit back and let radical impacts unfold.” Whoever doesn’t understand this basic fact, has no business seeking power. Whoever does should commit to forming a national unity government to bring all the resources of the federal government to bear on the defining issue not only of our times but for the planet’s foreseeable future.

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