Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Guest Post From The Mound Of Sound

Steve Harper and his chums have transformed cognitive dissonance from an affliction into an art form. Harper’s prime directive, his overarching quest, is to get as much Athabasca bitumen as possible to foreign buyers as quickly as pipelines and tanker ports can be built. Now square that single-minded purpose with the report just released by Beelzebub’s own government that “Canada faces greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather as a result of climate change, as well as increased risks to human health from pollution and the spread of disease-carrying insects.”

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to lessen the magnitude and rate of climate change, but additional impacts are unavoidable, even with aggressive global mitigation efforts, due to inertia in the climate system” the report said. “Therefore, we also need to adapt – make adjustments in our activities and decisions in order to reduce risks, moderate harm or take advantage of new opportunities.”

It may strike you as odd, this dire warning coming from a government intent on increasing Canadian emissions through a targeted five fold expansion of the Tar Sands while spending next to nothing on adaptation initiatives and risk reduction. As Calgary languished underwater last summer, the World Council on Disaster Management held its annual conference in Toronto. One speaker was Dr. Saeed Mirza, professor emeritus at McGill University. Focusing on what he called decades of neglect of Canadian infrastructure, Dr. Mirza said that Canada needs to invest hundreds of billions of dollars, possibly upwards of a trillion dollars, on repair and replacement of our essential infrastructure. Like most of these warnings, it comes with the added caution that, if we don’t overhaul our core infrastructure soon, we will pay dearly for our neglect later.

It’s important to bear in mind that, while early onset climate change is already here, as even the Harper government’s report admits, it is going to worsen through the remainder of this century and, quite probably, for a good era past that. The extreme weather we’re seeing today is expected to become more extreme – in frequency, duration and intensity – with each passing decade. A report released Tuesday by Risky Business, a climate change research initiative established by Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson and Tom Steyer, put a physiological dimension on what we’re facing. “As temperatures rise, towards the end of the century, less than an hour of activity outdoors in the shade could cause a moderately fit individual to suffer heat stroke,” said climatologist Robert Kopp of Rutgers University, lead scientific author of the report. “That’s something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world today.”

The body’s capacity to cool down in hot weather depends on the evaporation of sweat. That keeps skin temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius). Above that, core temperature rises past 98.6F. But if humidity is also high, sweat cannot evaporate and core temperatures can increase until the person collapses from heat stroke. “If it’s humid you can’t sweat, and if you can’t sweat you can’t maintain core body temperature in the heat, and you die,” said Dr. Al Sommer, dean emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins University and author of a chapter on health effects in the new report.

While climate change is plainly the greatest threat facing mankind this century, a genuinely existential threat, it’s one that triggers indifference, acquiescence or resignation in far too many of us. The potential enormity of climate change in all its dimensions – environmental, economic, political, societal, military – is almost too much to grasp. This saps us of the collective will needed for timely action on adaptation and mitigation initiatives. We are firmly immersed in the “boiling frog” syndrome. We don’t like to dwell on the future or hear accounts of what we have in store for our grandkids and their children. The burden of rising to the challenge, even if we don’t really know what that burden is, seems inconvenient, something that can surely be deferred for now. Yet if we don’t rise to this challenge, if we don’t begin to understand climate change in all its dimensions, we probably won’t be able to take advantage of the best remaining options available to us before they’re foreclosed. And that would be cowardice and an utter betrayal of our grandchildren and the generations to follow. We may have limited powers to make life better for them but we still have enormous powers to make their lives vastly worse.


  1. Those two words -- cowardice and betrayal -- sum up Canadian environmental policy.

  2. Harper does not care, Lorne.

    Mound, how is your book coming.

  3. Hi Owen, LD. Studies have shown that it can be extremely difficult to motivate people to take action perceived to impinge on their self-interest on behalf of people not yet in existence no matter how critical or beneficial it may be to those generations.

    When I think of Stephen Harper the common caricature of Emperor Nero comes to mind. He fiddles to entertain himself as Rome burns (from fires he himself set).

    LD, what book? Since I was in my late teens I've been plagued by people suggesting I write some book about this or that. I still get that regularly although you're the first for today, LD. I wish I had the talent or temperament for book writing, I really do. Maybe there's some magical key I need to discover.

  4. Mound, in your final post you indicated "....Another is to pursue some writing opportunities that I've been skirting around for some time." I thought you were writing a book.