When Earth Hour rolls around on March 28, I might shut off my lights. I might not.
Earth Hour, Earth Day and the wider environmental movement, emerged in the previous decades as a response to environmental irregularities like climate change, caused largely by our consumption habits. By using less electricity and paper, us Canadians are told we could “save the planet.”
Despite good intentions, these initiatives are not saving the planet. First of all, this phrase is inaccurate. The planet itself is under no threat. Our current lifestyle and our self-concept on this planet is under threat. Earth will carry on even if it inadvertently kills us all.
But individual Canadians want control of the situation. So we’ve convinced ourselves that changing small things are supposed to trigger a wider attitude shift. Lights, paper and smokestacks are scapegoated, as if we as individuals reduce our electricity and paper usage, we can save the planet, change the world or whatever banal catchphrase sloganeered in Leadership class. How comforting.
Here’s the truth. Journalist Gwynne Dyer explains a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Emissions such as CO2 contribute significantly to raising the global surface temperature. Scenarios in the 2014 ICPP report claim the likelihood of global surface temperature to rise 1.5 °C by the end of the century. Other models predict an imminent rise to above 2 °C, the “point of no return” Dyer says, because this temperature triggers natural processes that contribute to irrevocable global warming, such as huge amounts of released CO2 after the permafrost melts. An increase of 2 °C average global temperature also stunts rice germination in the tropics. Poor countries by the equator will suffer most. As a result of global warming, people will die of starvation before heatstroke.
But does Canada cause significant global warming? Indeed, Canada’s CO2 output was 15.7 tonnes per capita in 2013, which is high among developed nations. A large percentage of this is from burning coal and natural gas for electricity. Also, air and water pollution from Fort McMurray oil refineries have been linked to an extremely rare bile duct cancer in Fort Chipewyan.
But Canada’s effects on the planet as a whole are so negligible, we hardly deserve to be mentioned in the discussion. We emitted 555 million tonnes of CO2 in 2011, but 1.6 per cent of the global total. Regarding greenhouse gas, we emitted 808 million tonnes or 1.8 per cent. We’re not improving anytime soon as Prime Minister Harper wants as little restrictions on oil as possible, but it’s ethnocentric to think we’re a major contributor to global climate change. Or that we can do anything about it elsewhere.
The United States and China must change. In 2011, they combined to produce about 44 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and about 31 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental movement makes sense in the U.S. because they are already industrialized.
Persuading China, however, seems impossible. Their coal consumption has increased dramatically since the beginning of the century. Developing countries in general have a strong argument when they say that environmental restrictions are passed by powerful developed countries who didn’t have the same restrictions when they industrialized. Talk stops there. The Chinese Communist Party has a history of quashing internal threats to their authority anyway.
The environmental movement in Canada isn’t all bad. It has increased awareness and saved a few bucks. But there’s no point getting angry at paper. As much as we’d like to do something about it, Earth Day in Alberta won’t “save the planet.”
The Opinion section of The Gateway is printed on 100 per cent recycled vexation.