Global Warming — St. Lawrence Centre Forum

Yesterday, I was distributing my energy plan at the St. Lawrence Forum before listening to Elizabeth May share her wisdom on global warming, alongside a panel that included Ralph Torrie, a very respected longtime energy expert who has been advising the city, Jose Etcheverry, a climate change researcher for the Suzuki Foundation, and a representative from Environment Canada.  Usually, the St. Lawrence Forum features hearty debates by experts on opposing sides of the issue, but in this case, everyone was on the same side.  The organizers had invited the federal environment minister, Rona Ambrose, to defend Prime Minister Harper’s sabotaging of what few programs existed to combat global warming, but she wisely chose to be unable to make it.

So it was a sobering evening, though Elizabeth was witty as usual, and Ralph Torrie had several dry remarks that caused an eruption of laughter sometime after he delivered them.  Once again, the point was driven home to me that things may be a whole lot worse than we think.

My own personal realization of this came a few years ago.  I had grown up hearing that climate change was real, but that we would never see any empirical signs in our lifetimes, that the annual fluctuations would be much greater than the overall temperature shift.  When tens of thousands of Europeans died in a heatwave and we lost the Larson B ice shelf, when scientists were puzzled about why Greenland was losing its glaciers much faster than expected and the world’s deserts were all growing at alarming rates, and when I started hearing that we had broken the all-time heat records 3 times in 5 years, it occurred to me that I was witnessing empirical evidence of global warming, and I’m not an old lady who has lived far longer than expected.  In addition, the rising numbers of hurricanes and tornadoes, and their increasing intensity, left no doubt in my mind that the “alarmists” of my youth had seriously underestimated the scale of the problem.

Then, a couple of years ago, I read what today’s alarmists are saying.  It is widely accepted that even if we stopped all fossil fuel extraction and use today, the world would continue to warm for some time while the atmosphere adjusted to all the greenhouse gases we’ve already emitted.  What has never been calculated is the effect of the methane hydrate locked in the permafrost throughout the polar regions, and in the frigid parts of our oceans.  We don’t really know how much there is and we can only guess how much of a temperature increase would start to release it.  What we do know is that methane is a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  We know that massive methane releases would further speed up global warming, possibly leading to even greater methane releases.  We know that methane releases from permafrost are considered to be responsible for mass extinctions in prehistory.  And we know that large methane releases have recently been measured in the Russian tundra.  I don’t know about you all, but this terrifies me.

When I first read about methane hydrates, the author went through pains to point out that mass die-offs were a worst-case scenario, and that he was hopeful things wouldn’t be quite so bad.  But the worst-case scenarios of my youth have all been exceeded.

Which brings us to why we desperately need a government that will not only meet Kyoto, but exceed the Kyoto targets.  We need a government that will show courage and leadership, set an example and push the rest of the world to do its part.

Canada, being a large land mass far up in the northern hemisphere, is particularly vulnerable to rising global temperatures.  Our temperatures have risen, on average, more than 50% more than the world average.  We are fools to ignore our own peril.

But the evening had its light moments and its inspirations.  When asked about the role of nuclear technology in combating global warming, Jose Etcheverry’s brilliant response was “In a word, unnecessary.”  Natural gas is unnecessary, clean coal is unnecessary, nuclear is unnecessary.  As Jose says, we must demand of our leaders nothing less than 100% renewable sources of energy.  Our solar power potential is awesome, our wind power potential is staggering.  We can collect methane from organic waste.  The technologies are well known and readily available.  And instead of harnessing all that potential, we’ve got a government that, as Elizabeth says, has its head in the tar sands.

I handed out a lot of green paperclips last night.  They came in a container with paperclips of other colours as well, so I spent the evening distributing those to other riding associations.  Kate Holloway has developed the “Order of the Pink Davenport” which is expressly intended for women environmental crusaders, and gave me one last night.  Toronto Centre has adopted the blue paperclip and Nick Capra took a stack of yellow clips to distribute through Metro Greens.  I have a stack of reds and yellows, if any other riding association is interested.

I left the Forum last night after they had dimmed the lights, feeling rejuvenated.  It is inspiring to be in a roomful of 300 people, almost all of whom understand the issue at hand and treat it seriously, exchanging ideas and encouraging each other.  For anybody given to despondency, I recommend this kind of thing highly.

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