The results of the Alberta election were quite a letdown after returning from an invigorating two weeks in Ireland. Throughout the campaign, my colleagues with the Eco-Elders for Climate Action were very concerned the NDP was leaving climate out of its campaign. This was a lost opportunity to raise awareness among Albertans of the risks to the province's environment, water supply, agriculture and fossil fuel industry.

The Irish have a natural charm that emanates from a sharp-witted combination of humour and wisdom. While staying in Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city, I invited a professional painter to come have a look at the home of my wife’s auntie and give us a quote. The man had us laughing the minute he walked in the door. With sparkling eyes, Dominic Browne told us he was the actor Liam Neeson’s first cousin and never had trouble with his clients because they didn’t want Neeson coming after them.

When we told him we were from Calgary, he immediately asked us about the wildfires that were burning in northern Alberta. I showed him a photo a friend had sent of downtown Calgary, barely visible through a thick haze of yellow smoke. Shaking his head, he looked at me gravely and said, “We’re making a mess of it, aren’t we? You know the Neanderthals were around for half a million years and everyone thought they were stupid.”

In just a few centuries, our tech-advanced society has burned enough fossil fuels to create the Anthropocene geological age, where the climate is destabilizing at a pace that hasn’t been seen since the last global extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period, 66 million years ago.

How is it possible that our well-informed society can’t respond admirably to an existential threat when we have all the knowledge, ingenuity and creativity required to solve this complex problem? We may not have all the solutions, but we have enough.

To be fair, the foundation has been laid for the electrification of homes, vehicles and industry, while renewable energy solutions are being implemented at a rapidly accelerating pace. What’s missing is a widespread commitment to implement these solutions with the required urgency.

Our technical knowledge continues to push the boundaries of the imagination. Robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and ongoing progress toward fusion energy rival the most innovative science-fiction stories.

People marvel at these feats of science and engineering while at the same time, doubting scientists when they tell us the research shows our planet will no longer be able to support humanity if we don’t change the many things we’re doing to heat up the global climate system. We’re also being told in no uncertain terms that Earth’s sixth major extinction event has already started.

Our digitally connected world has a big problem when the ill-informed doubters, manipulators and liars are given equal voice with scientists who’ve been studying climate and ecological systems for decades. Global media networks flood the airwaves with 24-hour news channels while only a small fraction of coverage explains the climate crisis and discusses the solutions. Society is drowning in information but starved of wisdom.

Even as wildfires burned, the Alberta election showed there is widespread support for political parties that choose to ignore the problem of climate change, writes Rob Miller @winexus #alberta #abelxn23 #ableg

An extinction event in the making

The dinosaurs roamed the planet for 165 million years before a meteor 10 kilometres in diameter struck the Earth creating a crater 180 kilometres wide and 20 kilometres deep. Debris from the explosion filled the atmosphere and severely altered the climate, resulting in the extinction of nearly three-quarters of the species that existed at the time.

The asteroid’s impact caused massive wildfires and volcanic activity, further contributing to the darkening of the world. This darkness and cooling of global temperatures triggered an ecosystem collapse, starved the herbivores and eliminated the food supply for meat eaters. Scientists estimate that the die-off took thousands of years and the ensuing recovery of biodiversity took millions of years.

While the Tyrannosaurus rex was blameless in the demise of its kind, modern society is aware of the climate emergency we’ve created. Many refuse to believe it’s as bad as what decades of scientific research have confirmed. The alpha predators of our time are using their power to pervert political will and harness negative emotions like greed, ignorance and hatred to capture followers who allow misinformation to erode their belief system and create denial that a better future is possible. These modern-day predators make the T-Rex look rather tame in comparison.

It took Homo sapiens 120,000 years to spread across the planet and organize into complex societies, but just over 100 years to trigger a crisis where the climate is destabilizing and ecosystems are disappearing at a rate not seen since before the Neanderthals walked the Earth. The rate of change is a threat because ecosystems and societies are incapable of keeping up.

Since 1900, the global consumption of fossil fuels has increased more than tenfold, with CO2 emissions rising steeply since 1950. If Homo sapiens’ time on this planet was represented in terms of 365 days, it took us only eight hours to go from a stable climate to one spiralling out of control.

Scientists predict that a failure to stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere will result in catastrophic and irreversible impacts by the end of the 21 century. There is consensus that the crisis is real, we are the cause and the consequences are more severe than many are willing to believe. We’ve been forewarned.

It seems unconscionable that anyone would wilfully slow the response that is desperately needed to prevent a climate-based catastrophe similar in scale to previous global extinction events. And yet, there is widespread support for industries and political parties that choose to ignore the problem and are willing to make things worse. As Dominic Brown implied, perhaps we’re giving modern humans too much credit for their intelligence.

Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action.

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Setting aside that the piece opens with an “own goal” (participating in the global rebound in international air travel), in spite of a general tone that I can support, the author goes quickly off the road and into the detritus of distraction that is the liberal democratic, civilizational status quo. A few, unchallenged, salient (IMO) characteristics of this paradigm are:
• Infinite increase in the magnitude of the economy is the natural order;
• Assumption that energy availability, and cost, will always meet our wants;
• Substitution will always get us out of a jam, as industrial society depletes one resource after another (nothing is renewable if it’s exploited faster than it regenerates);
• Markets know best;
• Technology will save us;
• Always forward, never backwards (i.e. Band-Aid upon Band-Aid upon Band-Aid);
• The half-dozen, human-caused, ecological crises threatening the entire biosphere can be solved without any disruptive changes to the paradigm.

So, when the author says “there is widespread support for industries and political parties that choose to ignore the problem”, IMO he is ignoring the forest to beat up on one or two trees.

Similarly, he highlights the “doubters, manipulators and liars” vis-à-vis the climate crisis without calling out thought leaders of the industrial capitalist hegemony; e.g. Paul Krugman, who, a couple of months back, pooh-poohed the life’s work of an entire branch of economists in a pithy, if disingenuous, IMO, NYT column.

Finally, the author makes the status quo-consistent observation “[w]e may not have all the solutions, but we have enough.”

Interestingly, the chosen word is solutions, rather than the typical technologies.

The solution, which I think the author is ultimately saying, is a new way of thinking. It is the path that is studiously and consciously not taken. It is the thinking that underlies the pithy remark, “it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism”.

Yet, I get the impression that the author cleaves, nonetheless, to the idea that we can get out of this mess with just a tweak here or there -- I guess I am, in fact, suggesting that a watt-for-watt transition to renewables is a (very large) tweak -- to existing thinking regarding our systems to resolve the climate crisis, the biodiversity and deforestation crisis, the water crisis, the soils crisis, pollution crisis, ocean acidification. Etc. (Without even mentioning secondary crises such as forced human migration)

One person’s “new thinking” is another person’s “mere variation on a theme”.

Yes, but the scope of the article is limited to the disturbing context of climate change and the appalling UCP, re-elected DESPITE being poster boys for the current right wing that the rest of us can see has lost its mind.
Your criticism that "widespread support for industries and political parties that choose to ignore the problem" is just "a couple of trees" isn't accurate when you consider how much societal control certain industries and political parties in power have, especially if they not only ignore climate change but also deny that it's even happening, which is a repudiation of science itself. And because the scientific method is us at our rational best, also the most evolved, thorough and unbiased way we have to acquire knowledge, it's an even further repudiation of knowledge itself.
But this is where the right wing currently sits, chuffed with all the attention while imagining they're leading quite another sort of major change that is far from being well thought out to say the least.
And "doubters, manipulators and liars" versus "thought leaders of the industrial capitalist hegemony" like Paul Krugman? He's just the stereotypical ivory tower academic though, and not a liar; lying HAS become a thing that has taken on a life of its own.
Many of us are just trying to maintain some hope in this unprecedented existential crisis, and it's truly shocking and dispiriting to see how many people don't get that. At all.

Yes, Rob Miller, you are right, we cannot go on like this, we need to mend our ways quickly and radically. But the tsunami of faith in "clean energy" as the solution is an illusion, and will almost certainly prove to be the most breath-taking - and dangerous - greenwash in history. Dangerous because a boom in mining, manufacturing, investment and general economic growth will not be the antidote to climate change. We have been deluded that "clean energy" is clean. But it will almost certainly simply waste precious time and compound the disaster facing our world by further destroying biodiversity, by polluting rivers, groundwater and the oceans, by further disrupting ecosystems and almost certainly still emitting carbon.

The author and many readers may be interested in considering whether society's chosen solutions are valid or whether they are dreams fed by the industries that have somehow - and quite incredibly - positioned themselves as the saviors of our future. If so, a good place to start might be to read the works of writers who are NOT rightwing climate change deniers, but those who have considered the dream and found it wanting. For instance:

Jillian, if I may, I'll add to your references.

But first, I second your referral to Nate Hagens' podcast, "The Great Simplification". I appreciate that he goes into his interviews as an "everyman", IMO, and engages with knowledgeable people. He also doesn't limit, arbitrarily, the length (both good and bad) of each episode.

Here are some additional book references that address this multi-faceted predicament.

Escape from Overshoot – Peter A Victor

The Uninhabitable Earth – David Wallace-Wells

The Value of Everything – Mariana Mazzucato

The Value of a Whale – Adrienne Buller

Winners Take All – Anand Giridharadas

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism – Ha-Joon Chang

The Nutmeg’s Curse – Amitav Ghosh

Bright Green Lies – Derrick Jensen et al

Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town – Brian Alexander

Thanks for the links Jill; I take your point and wonder if our fragile financial system collapsing might be the only thing that might initiate the level of change actually required.

I would say we have proven we are not smart enough to solve the climate crisis. Full stop.
A few recent examples: a GOP House elected, Russia instigating a senseless, environmentally catastrophic war, Alberta UCP elected, Ontario PC elected. I am sure folks can point to many, many more examples.
While I certainly agree in principle with Ken Panton's excellent comment (and some of what Jillian Lynn Lawson argues is worthy of debate) I wonder how we could ever get to the place they would like to see, if we can't as countries or provinces or states even elect governments and leaders that are simply more environmentally inclined, than the ones that are so often elected ie. those who are clearly hell bent on maintaining the status quo of fossil fuel exploitation, development, transport, refining and of course endorsement of burning them with no qualms. Let this be another cautionary red flag for the potential of a P.P. led CPC regime.
I think Rob Miller's article articulates a huge issue.
If who we keep mindlessly electing proves we can't even get from point A to point B, then we are not going to get to point Z in time (not saying we shouldn't keep trying though!)

We might be stupid, but all is not lost. The most recent CO2 emissions reports suggest we're at least reducing the rate of increase and perhaps stabilizing. Now we need to work on driving emissions down. Focus on low carbon electricity production (hydro, nuclear, solar, wind), housing densification, electrification of transport and maybe we'll get there.

Things might seem bleak, but look around the world. More people are better fed and have better social/economic prospects than I would have thought possible a few decades ago. We just need to keep the billionaires and their tech bro fans in check, and we'll get through this.