Climate Change: Why are We having this Discussion?

October has been a busy time for headline news on climate change. The month started off with two major announcements within hours of one another. The Nobel Prize Committee issued the award for economic sciences to William Nordhaus, “for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis,”and Paul Romer, “for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis.”In the second event, the IPCC issued its long-awaited Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ℃ (SR 15).

The IPCC report (SR15) triggered a surprising emergency debate in the House of Commons.  What emergency? The SR15 had only reinforced the longer-term threats of climate change that had long been reported by the IPCC. Besides an opportunity for passionate speeches, what was the point? To me, it came across as political posturing and was just plain silly. Overall, the SR15 caused little stir across the country.

As the warnings about climate change grow more alarming with greater certainty, we have apparently become more apathetic. Another IPCC report, or any more science, will likely not overcome our reluctance to take meaningful action on climate change in Canada. As a recent article commented, Canada has already reached the stage where: “Only fools, cranks or politicians can ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus on this.” The words echo the frustration in America expressed by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy from two years ago: “If they haven’t figured out by now, what in God’s name could anyone say to them?”

While scientists, especially in the IPCC reports, plead for action, politicians must also listen to their constituents, and the average person seems reluctant to support a carbon tax, without a return on the investment. However, once legislation is passed, carbon emissions may not have been reduced by the time of the next election, and this lack of short-term, measurable benefits can be a politician’s nightmare.

Complicating things, there is a disconnect between climate change and our normal sense of reality; or as the Barenaked Ladies would say: “it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” A weather event, which we can perceive with our senses, has nothing directly to do with climate change, and cold spells, for example, that appear to contradict the science, in fact, do not. Climate change is only the long-term trend in weather, and the average world temperature is rising.

Another hitch is that science keeps warning us about the future threats of climate change, such as in the SR15 from the IPCC. Consequently, Canadians will view climate change as a major issue, but without a sense of urgency. Issues such as health care, the economy, or some other current topic will always take priority over any future concern. Most Canadians cannot even save for their own retirements; how can we expect them to pay now for the welfare of future generations?


Gerald Kutney

Dr. Kutney has a Ph.D. in chemistry and executive experience in the corporate sector and entrepreneurial enterprises in the bioeconomy and renewable energy sector. Currently, he has his own consulting firm, Sixth Element, which specializes in helping entrepreneurs make their bioeconomy projects a success, and volunteers as a mentor for MBA students at the University of Ottawa. Also, he has been a board member for the Ottawa Eco-Talent Network. For the past decade, he has studied climate change policy development and is an active defender of the science of climate change against the attack of climate deniers in Canada on Twitter (@6esm).

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or publishers.

(This Article was published in December Issue of Climate Samurai)