Climate Change Roulette

1 Metric Ton (MT) = 1000 kg
1 Metric megaton = 1 million MT
1 Metric Gigatonne = 1 billion MT
Measuring Carbon Dioxide

If we are to have a 66% chance of limiting global warming to 2C, the people of our planet have to have a limit on the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the air we breathe.  Carbon dioxide emissions are measured in Mega tons and Giga Tons.  To have a 66% chance of success the 50 year global carbon budget would be 886 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide for a rate of 17.72 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide /year. [i]

Between 2000–2011 we emitted 321 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide or 29.18 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide /year.

If we continue at that rate by 2050 we will have emitted 1,138 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide or 252 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide over the budget.  This does not count the increasing and unexpected rise in methane emissions resulting from permafrost melting in the arctic much faster than forecast.[ii]  What does that mean?  It means we will have less than a 50/50 chance of limiting the temperature increase to 2C.  And remember even 2C is a significant disaster!  1.5C is a far safer target.

Canada is one of the top ten greenhouse gas emitters in the world.  Canada signed the Paris Accord with great fanfare and back patting.  According to the Federal Government, Canada now produces .716 MT CO2/year in 2017.  Over 50 years that comes to 38.6 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide.  If we accept every possible argument in our favour, our fair share would be below 24 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide /year or less.[iii]   24 Giga Tons is at least 1.6 times more than our fair share!  More likely we are producing 2 or 3 times our fair share.

That is the context in which Canada is increasing its heavy oil production capacity and subsidizing new oil exploration.  We allow seismic testing in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence risking extinction of the Right Whales.  We even subsidize super risky offshore drilling.  When we buy pipelines to speed the flow of some of the world’s dirtiest oil to market we are fueling and accelerating the sixth great extinction of species in 650 million years of life on this planet.  This is like playing Russian roulette with a handgun with chambers for six bullets and three full.  Instead of taking bullets out our plan is to look for more bullets. 

That is the chance we are taking with our children’s future.  The reality is that we have no realistic transition plan for the next crucial ten years.  The government is still using Stephen Harper’s targets and like Harper, not meeting them.   Our plan seems to be to stimulate oil patch jobs no matter what the cost is to our grandchildren, and say ‘yes’ to the oil companies that just like the tobacco companies, spent many millions lying to us with fake science.    But oil company science will kill millions, perhaps hundreds of millions.

Is the solution for each of us to change our habits?  Yes we need to do that but is that sufficient? The main drivers of our economy and climate change are corporations seeking profits.  Oil companies will ask for subsidies and push sales as long as there is a profit from it.  That is why they spent tens of millions spreading disinformation about climate change.  Auto manufacturers will spend millions selling SUVs and big trucks as long as they can make a profit.   How many ads can you buy today?

In a democracy, the interests of the 90% need the protection of government.  Has our democracy been captured by big oil, big auto, big pharmaceuticals?  Are we paralyzed by their power to throw millions out of work if government does not do what they want?

It is an agonizing dilemma.  We cannot just throw tens of thousands of people in oil linked industries out of work?  We are told we must sacrifice them or doom our children and grandchildren to an increasing catastrophe with more and worse killer wild fires, floods, droughts, heat waves, crop failures, dead oceans and hurricanes?  Do we doom our grandchildren to wildly escalating costs for infrastructure, exploding insurance rates, food system collapses and eventual economic collapse? 

This is just not good enough!  We do have alternatives.  Let us start a planned winding down of our fossil fuel and high carbon emitting industries and seriously build our renewable energy capacity.  Let us identify and invest in every possible green industry opportunity.  Let us spend billions to develop renewable energy industries and green industries in Alberta.  Let us pledge to leave no one behind.  Doing this will lead to a period of transition and turmoil in Alberta but climate change will lead to a longer more disastrous period of turmoil across Canada and around the world.  Let us start taking the bullets out of the fossil fuel roulette gun.  Our grandchildren deserve something better than climate roulette.


[i] The numbers for the carbon budget are drawn from Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank that carries out in-depth analysis on the impact of the energy transition on capital markets and the potential investment in high-cost, carbon-intensive fossil fuels. https://www.carbontracker.org/reports/carbon-bubble/

[ii] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce,   https://esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends_ch4/

[iii] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/global-carbon-budget-is-a-harsh-reality-check-for-canadian-investors/article15158549/

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