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.