David Suzuki: We can’t dig our way out of fossil fuels pit

I’ve often thought politicians inhabit a parallel universe.

I’ve often thought politicians inhabit a parallel universe. Maybe it’s just widespread cognitive dissonance, coupled with a lack of imagination, that compels them to engage in so much contradictory behaviour. Trying to appease so many varying interests isn’t easy.

Rather than focusing on short-term economic and corporate priorities, though, politicians should first consider the long-term health and well-being of the people they’re elected to represent.

When it comes to climate change and fossil fuels, many aren’t living up to that.

We celebrate the federal government’s decision to implement nation-wide carbon pricing, even though what’s proposed won’t, without additional measures like regulations, get us to our commitments under the Paris Agreement, which is also inadequate for keeping global warming from catastrophic levels. A government could be forgiven for going slow on a measure opposed by some industrial sectors, provinces and citizens, but it’s difficult to take a government seriously when it approves or supports expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and development while the world continues to break warming records, with increasingly dire consequences.

A massive B.C. “carbon bomb” LNG project in the midst of critical salmon-rearing territory, in defiance of many area First Nations’ wishes. Likely approval of at least one more bitumen pipeline to support expanded oil sands development. A provincial government that pretty much says, “We’ll support federal efforts to fight climate change if you support our efforts to fuel it.” None of this makes sense.

As a report from non-profit Oil Change International and 14 other groups concludes, “The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2 C of warming,” and “The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5 C.” That’s without any new development!

That leaves us with three choices: managed decline, stranded assets or climate chaos. The first, which the report recommends, means no new fossil fuel infrastructure, existing supplies become depleted and replaced with clean alternatives and employees redeployed to latter. As the report’s authors point out, “This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.”

Stranded assets means, “Companies continue to develop new fields and mines, governments are eventually successful in restricting emissions, and the resulting reduction in demand causes many extraction assets to become uneconomic and shut down, causing destruction of capital and large job losses.”

Under the third scenario, we keep digging, mining, fracking, building, transporting, selling and burning until we’re well beyond the 2 C threshold, resulting in “economic and human catastrophe.”

Sadly, in Canada and globally, we’ve chosen the second option, and in some cases, the third. Subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, the most profitable industry ever, continue despite a 2009 G20 commitment to phase them out. Canada alone promotes the industry to the tune of about $3.3 billion a year in tax breaks and handouts, not including provincial incentives. Politicians say they care about climate while arguing we need more bitumen, natural gas and coal to fuel growing economies and human populations, and more pipelines to get “product” to tidewater and overseas markets. Saskatchewan has Canada’s best wind and solar resources, but the government focuses on expensive and unreliable schemes like carbon capture and storage while arguing against carbon pricing and other tools to cut emissions.

It’s all a form of denial. Conserving energy, shifting to cleaner sources, reducing automobile use by improving transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure, protecting and restoring carbon sinks such as forests and wetlands, and getting a handle on agricultural emissions are all possible, and would create numerous jobs and economic opportunities.

Most national governments have committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspirational goal of 1.5 C. We’re already nearing the latter, with growing consequences, including increasing extreme weather events, water and food shortages, migration crises and extinctions. We must conserve energy, quickly phase out coal power and continue to develop renewable resources.

As Oil Change International says, “If you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Learn more at

www.davidsuzuki.org.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.

Just Posted

Chris Wilkinson
Chris Wilkinson column: This could be the worst thing done to you during the pandemic

As a result, all of us will contend with more ‘scarcity’ thinking and mindset.

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Robert’s column
Robert Barron column: Looking forward to 39 Days of Summer

I have always been a big fan of live music.

Cowichan seniors have a new resource. (submitted)
Free Cowichan Seniors program offers social prescriptions

Seniors 60 and over who are at higher risk of frailty due… Continue reading

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctos urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

Most Read