Lette: The climate crisis is upon us

Carbon dioxide emissions will return to the peak levels of 2019

To the Expositor:

The climate crisis is here. Carbon dioxide emissions decreased in 2020 due to the pandemic, but quickly rebounded this year and will soon be back to the previous peak of 2019, and then beyond, unless the world takes urgent, decisive action.

As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, warned back in January 2020:

“If we are going to limit global heating to 1.5°C, we need to demonstrate, starting this year, how we will achieve emissions reductions of 45 percent from 2010 levels this decade, and how we will reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. Let us be very clear.  We are in an unfolding climate emergency.”

We are on track for a catastrophic temperature rise by the end of the century, but the emergency is right now, and we must act right now. Strange as it sounds, global heating can cause more global heating, through “positive feedback loops”, otherwise known as vicious cycles, that can start rolling. In the Arctic, melting permafrost is causing one positive feedback loop, known as “arctic amplification”. Permafrost contains methane locked in the ice. When it melts, the methane is released into the air, where it triggers even more global heating. Another example is melting sea ice. Sea ice, being white, reflects sunlight back into space, but when it melts, the sunlight gets absorbed in the ocean, causing more global heating. Similarly, forest fires release the carbon that is stored in trees, as carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, and that causes more global heating. Once these positive feedback heat loops get rolling, they become unstoppable.

To reduce the likelihood of these positive feedback loops and the destruction they cause, the United Nations is calling for nations to collaborate to reach “net-zero” emissions within 30 years. That means no more investments in fossil fuels, which are by far the greatest human-caused contributors to global heating and reductions in current usage.

We all know the pushback. Fossil fuel multinationals and related industries, car manufacturers, big investment firms, governments in fossil-fuel-rich regions like Alberta, families who make their living in these businesses, right down to businesses and homeowners who use fossil fuels for heating and transportation—these are aligned to prevent or delay the needed infrastructure changes. The furor in Canada over the carbon-tax-and-rebate, otherwise known as cash-back carbon pricing, is just one example of the resistance to the necessary changes in our infrastructure. Cash-back carbon pricing rebates to taxpayers amount to 90 percent of the “tax” revenue, and people who use less oil and gas actually benefit. Wealthy people generally use more oil and gas than lower-income people, so they pay higher carbon taxes, but they get the same amount back as everybody else. So if you’re “for the people”, please get behind cash-back carbon pricing.

The conference on the climate crisis in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12 will test the ability of the nations on this planet to collaborate to avoid the worst—the collapse of life on earth as we know it. Will the conference simply be another exercise in niceties with countries playing sleight of hand to look good? Or will this be the turning point that kick-starts a dramatic decline in greenhouse gas emissions?

Jan McQuay