Is There Any Reason to Celebrate this Earth Day?

Originally published in The Hill Times.

Community clean-ups and tree planting events are taking place across the country this week. But the celebratory sounds of these Earth Day events may be overwhelmed by the echoing alarm bells sounded by the global scientific community. Leaving us to question: is there any reason to celebrate?

“Global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels.” This according to the April 13 report from Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Last month, Working Group II warned that a stay-the-course approach to GHG emissions will cause far-reaching food shortages around the world – and quite possibly lead to water shortages, dangerous heat in urban areas, forest fires, as well as coastal and inland flooding right here in Canada. The urgent need for action is ever-more apparent.

The Government of Canada officially supports action to address climate change, yet current policies and practices exacerbate the problem. Long-focused on “jobs and growth,” they now have their sights set on balancing the books by 2015.

What our government has failed to acknowledge, however, is that effective public policy doesn’t have to be an “either/or” proposition. People and the planet can benefit simultaneously.

The Global Carbon Budget

The global carbon budget is the “amount of carbon dioxide the world can emit while still having a likely chance of limiting average global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.” Total. According to the IPCC we’ve already used more than half of this budget and are quickly moving to use what’s left.

Thomas Stocker, Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group I, has clearly stated that “Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.” Most of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground. This is echoed by Working Group III Co-Chair Ottmar Edenhofer, “There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.”

Canadian Energy Policy and Investment

Despite these dire warnings, the Government of Canada has yet to introduce the necessary regulations in key emitting industries. In fact, oil, coal, and gas companies continue to receive more than $1.4 billion annually in federal subsidies.

Contrast this with $795 million – slightly more than half of these subsidies – invested in Canada’s “Clean Energy Fund” for research, development and demonstration projects.

Green Jobs and Growth

“The core task of climate change mitigation” according to Youba Sokona, another Working Group III Co-Chair, “is decoupling GHG emissions from the growth of economies.” It is encouraging then, that investing in a low-carbon future would address the climate crisis AND benefit the Canadian economy – actually creating more jobs.

According to the Green Economy Network, “Through public sector-led investments and infrastructure, sound regulation and targeted incentives, governments can stimulate the private sector to play a key role in greening the major industrial sectors of the economy.”

In his book “The Green Collar Economy,” American activist Van Jones points to economic studies proving that “transit investments actually create many more jobs than highway construction: per $1 billion invested only 42,000 jobs are created in highway construction versus 80,000 in transit capital projects and an additional 100,000 jobs in transit operations.”

Blue Green Canada’s research revealed that 6-8 times more jobs could be created by investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, or public transit than the same investment in fossil fuels. The approximately 2,600 jobs connected to current subsidies to fossil fuels could therefore be magnified to around 19,000 green jobs.

Sounding the Alarm

Van Jones speaks about “social uplift environmentalism,” which he defines as “equal protection for all people, equal opportunity for all people, and reverence for all creation.” It is more than a beautiful concept. The potential of a green economy are very real. But history suggests that charting a new course requires governmental leadership.

As citizens, we must join the international scientific community in sounding the alarm bell – again and again, until our leaders respond to the urgent call for action on climate change.

Action to build a low-carbon future would most certainly be a reason to celebrate!

Inspired to Act*

As people of faith, we are called to preserve and protect God’s great Earth, the life-giving source upon which we all rely.

Two social enterprises run in Manitoba, Aki Energy and BUILD – Building Urban Industries For Local Development, are doing just that. They offer training and employment in the installation and maintenance of geothermal heating systems, and in energy efficient housing retrofits. In doing so, Aki Energy and BUILD are simultaneously contributing to reducing the region’s carbon footprint, providing employment to people who face multiple barriers to employment, and reducing the cost of heating for low-income households.

We too, can participate in building a better future, by supporting declarations like The Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change, collaboration with networks of non-governmental organizations like the Climate Action Network and the Alternative Federal Budget, community engagement through workshops on Living Ecological Justice, and personal actions like Fasting for the Climate.

* This box was not included in the original Hill Times article.


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