Sault Ste. Marie, Op-Ed | Election 2015: It’s Not Politics, It’s Survival.

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Council has passed a resolution to lead fundraising to bring a refugee family to the Sault from the crisis in Syria.  This is good, and its representative of municipalities and provinces showing leadership.  So where’s the federal leadership? This election campaign has shown an utter lack of interest in discussing the causal factors responsible for that refugee crisis, and Canada’s roles in alleviating those causes instead of contributing to them.

The situation in Syria, and many other Northern African and Middle Eastern countries is complicated by thousands of years of history.  But in the last few decades, an undeniable trend has been occurring.

Resources, especially water, have become increasingly scarce in this region of the world.  This has aggravated both economic turmoil and social unrest across the region.  But a recent study places squarely the cause of these resource scarcities with climate change.  While population problems, geopolitical tensions over other resources, namely oil, economic colonialism, inequalities, and proximity to Western Europe have all contributed to this refugee crisis, climate change remains the straw that seems to have broken the camel’s back.

But no Canadian needs to jet-set half way around the planet to see the effects of climate change. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a location in Canada not touched by climate change. Here in the Sault, we’ve had unusually cool weather the last two years, and torrential downpours that has led to local flooding.  This is weather.  But climate models have predicted an increasing frequency of severe weather events including what has been termed ‘polar vortex.’  And that’s exactly what we’re starting to see.  But this pales in comparison to the numerous communities moved due to climate change – yes, entire communities moved.

Due to shoreline erosion, making the entire area uninhabitable, Newtok, Alaska was the first west coast community to be relocated as a result of climate change producing an increasing number of storm surges with greater intensity.  And small island states?  They’re totally disappearing.

Kiribati, a group of 33 small low-lying islands home to 110, 000 people in the South Pacific is ground zero for another form of climate change impact – disappearing nations.  In 2014, the Kiribati government purchased 20 square kilometres of land in Fiji as a back-up plan for food security and possibly even relocation of its citizens.  Anote Tong, president of Kiribati makes it clear: “What we are talking about is survival, it’s not about economic development… it’s not politics, it’s survival.”

Kiribati’s special envoy to the Paris climate conference, Teekoa Luta has set out how climate change is affecting this small island: “We spend most of our budget fixing the [natural]damages month after month and then we don’t have money to spend on health, education and [other]social services.”

For their part, the US military has repeatedly warned of climate refugees.  As if environmental refugees were not already the greatest threat to social destabilization in several parts of the world, climate change is anticipated to make those problems worse.

So far, this election has produced remarkably little discussion about each parties’ climate change platforms.  While the NDP and Green Parties’ platforms are perhaps the most comprehensive approaches to reducing greenhouse gases, the Liberals remain short on specifics, and the Conservatives score very poorly.  But that’s only greenhouse gas emissions.  Climate change is far more than just reducing emissions.

The Green Party comes out far ahead in terms of adaptation and mitigation overall with a variety of strategies, providing funding for green municipal infrastructure through their proposed Sustainable Generations Fund and addressing the issues of energy poverty, wealth gaps, eliminating tax distortions from fossil fuel subsidies, reversing CBC radio cuts so media once again can discuss climate change, restoring public science, and repealing Bill C-51 so that political and civil rights can be assured to social justice and environmental professionals without fear of reprisal, while including both short and long term goals and perhaps the most innovative fee and dividend system so that every Canadian over the age of 18 receives an annual carbon dividend ensuring that all Canadians have the opportunity to make a carbon free Canada revenue neutral.

While none of these platforms are truly comprehensive, some show more leadership than do others. The mere fact that they exist given Stephan Dions’ monumental defeat on these issues a few short years ago demonstrates that Canadians have broken the media silence on climate change.  Indeed, in the few short years since Dion pushed climate change, cap and trade has already worked its way into the Canadian lexicon and several provinces have established their own cap and trade systems.  More important, it demonstrates that Dion is a man ahead of his time.  He just wasn’t as politically astute as, say Harper, who has consistently ignored climate change, waiting for just the right moment to acknowledge that human generated climate change is real, preferring instead to worship human greed in the meantime.

More important, the global shift in decisive action has happened.  The Pope has come out swinging, the US, China, and Brazil have all made key announcements leading to quantum leaps in policy in the last few weeks.

Despite these progressive moves, Canada, or more precisely, the not so progressive Conservatives continue to stick their heads in the tar sands giving the rest of the world a shining moon bigger than rare celestial events along with an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket economic black eye.

In fact, the RCMP recently released a (sarcasm warning – certainly not influenced by political interference) report that cited those protecting us from climate change, them hippy happy radicals with threatening haircuts and sporting smart phone apps – are the threat to Canadian security. Contrast that with US military that state quite clearly and definitively, it is climate change that warrants the attention.

The US Defense Department report identified that “global warming can aggravate existing international issues, including environmental degradation, social tensions, poverty, ineffectual leadership and frail political institutions. The DOD believes these factors could threaten peace and stability in a number of nations.”  Well…duh!

So, it’s 2015, Canada is enduring an expensively excess election campaign, and, with a brief Sunday announcement from the NDP on climate change dwarfed by the Popes’ US visit, there’s been barely a mention of climate change.  More troublesome, when causal factors, or even symptoms, of climate change appear, solutions from candidates appear to be couched in cautious political mumble jumble with few details or precise commitments.  Is it the ‘Dion effect’ candidates are worried about?  Well, here’s some news: get over it – political support is deep for action on climate change, and people are tortured over the lack of climate change discussion this election campaign.

Even Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, former Governor of the Bank of Canada, (read small and big ‘C’ conservative) on September 29, gave a pivotal speech on climate change and financial risk:

“Since the 1980s the number of registered weather-related loss events has tripled; and Inflation adjusted  insurance  losses  from these  events  have  increased  from  an  annual  average  of around $10bn in the 1980s to around $50bn over the past decade.” 

Those costs are crippling to households, communities, municipal infrastructure and financial institutions, and they’re projected to increase.  For three decades, the insurance industry has been warning about the risks from climate change, and while insurance pays out following a loss to anyone able to afford insurance, the ability of the average household to afford insurance is inversely proportional to its cost.  Yet insurance rarely compensates for the personal loss of memories and valued family heirlooms, not to mention human life.  The impacts on the insurance industry from climate change is merely the canary in the coal mine, pun intended.

All Stern (Sir Nicholas Stern) warnings aside, investment firms are ignoring these risks, placing the retirement savings of billions at risk. A recent study concluded that a mere 27 of 458 investment firms studied were including climate risk at any level in their investment risk strategy -only 5 of those rated well.  As alien as it may sound, government policy can drive the behaviour of business, including financial and investment firms.

Shouldn’t this election include some discussion about whether financial and investment firms should be regulated to assess risks from the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced?  This isn’t stranded nations or islands; it’s about stranded assets for billions of retiring investors.

The ‘costs’ of climate change will become crippling – and not only in economic terms – to most nation states, municipalities, communities and families.

Climate change, not free radicals, degrades the security and living conditions of people, preventing national governments from providing basic needs for its citizens. Climate change is a health issue.  It’s a social issue.  It’s a foreign policy matter.  Climate change is a security and military issue.  Climate change is an economic issue.  And when municipalities can’t develop the requisite infrastructure, provide essential services, maintain social cohesion or protect its citizens, and when nation states, including Canada, can’t provide for their citizens and maintain political stability, climate change becomes a life or death matter.

Canada doesn’t contribute much GHG to the global picture.  So what!  Canada sets an example, can help set the bar, and used to have a credible environmental and social record.  No, our values haven’t given in to greed, individualism, everyone to themselves, he who has the most wins, race to the bottom.  But you wouldn’t know that watching this election unfold.

Canadians want answers and the Pope noted that despite two decades of climate summits, it “is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”

Indeed, directly from an Environment Canada report in 2008, “Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80%.”  This isn’t a war on science; it’s a war on information, knowledge and life.  We are indeed the most successfully engineered citizens on this planet.

So tell us what, exactly, as a candidate, you plan to do to protect us from the ravages of climate change.  Sure you’ll go to Paris later this year, unless you’re a conservative denier.  But really, what, exactly, will you do before and after that? After 30 years of squandered posturing by elected officials, the scale of reaction required is now enormous.  That changes everything. Will you?

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