Commentary by Elizabeth May: We must end our reliance on fossil fuels

a10 10152019 green-may.jpgGreen Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks at the federal leaders’ election debate on Thursday in Gatineau, Que. Oct. 10, 2019 Photograph By CHRIS WATTIE, THE CANADIAN PRESS

“Humanity is conducting an unprecedented, uncontrolled globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to global nuclear war.”

That was the opening sentence to the consensus finding of international scientists gathered for the first global climate conference, “Our Changing Atmosphere; implications for global security.”

It was held in a heat wave, in the last week of June 1988, in Toronto. As senior policy adviser to the minister of environment, I helped organize that conference.

I was optimistic. We had public attention. Two prime ministers (Canada and Norway) addressed the conference. We kick-started the launching of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the negotiations leading to the foundation framework treaty on the threat of global warming.

Is it a gift or a curse to be prevented from seeing the future?

Had I imagined then that more than 30 years later we would still be arguing about when we should get started in earnest, I do not know how I could have handled the horror of it.

It is a slow-motion horror. In June 1992, every nation on Earth committed at the Rio Earth Summit, in a legally binding treaty, to reduce greenhouse gases such that we could avoid levels of climate change that could be “dangerous.” Instead, between 1992 and now, humanity has burned more fossil fuels, emitting more greenhouse gases, than between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and 1992.

In other words, well past the point that we understood human-caused climate change to be a major threat to our future, we put our foot on the gas to amplify the risk.

No wonder Greta Thunberg is shaking with rage. So am I.

…It is clear to me that two major obstacles blocked our progress. One was the well-funded campaigns of Big Oil to lie to us about the science. The other was the perennial problem of short-term political thinking, always seeking partisan advantage. We must set aside partisanship. I am calling for the equivalent of a “war cabinet” to ensure a non-partisan approach to our survival.

Holding to no more than a 1.5 degrees C global average temperature increase is not a political target. That goal, agreed to by all the nations in Paris, is not negotiable. We cannot negotiate with physics. It is now Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advice that shooting past 1.5 degrees means that children alive today are unlikely to have a functional human civilization through their lives. Shooting past 2 or 3 degrees means that the hospitality of this planet for lifeforms like us is very much in doubt.  MORE