By Jenny Howell –
By the time you read this, an election will have come and gone. One thing that stands out this time around is that citizens are ranking climate change as one of the top three election issues. In 2008, Stephan Dion tried to make this an election issue with his ‘green shift’, but he was about 11 years ahead of his time and it flopped spectacularly. It is encouraging that we now have a public more informed about the implications of climate change.
However, the really discouraging thing is that according to an Ipsos poll conducted for Global News in September, 46 percent of Canadians do not want to spend any additional money in the form of taxes to help combat climate change, and just 22 percent are willing to pay up to $100 a year. This I don’t understand at all. We seem to know and accept there is a problem that will affect us all with severe consequences down the road. Threatened food security, compromised water supplies, changing disease patterns, altered social cohesion, mass migrations of people as areas become uninhabitable, and the resultant geopolitical instability are all important effects of climate change. Our children are following the stark warnings from scientists and are panicking out in the streets and begging for us to do something. As a population, we have the knowledge and technology to reduce our carbon output quite quickly. And yet, we won’t spend the equivalent of a nice dinner out to protect their future?
The ironic thing about this is that with climate change, we can expect to pay more anyway: rises in food costs as crops fail, insurance costs as wildfires and floods take their toll, medical costs as disease patterns change—all of these things cost money. What is it about human nature that we aren’t willing to spend a little bit now so that our children and grandchildren can have a future worth looking forward to?
I think this is one for the psychologists, and my knowledge of psychology is practically non-existent, limited to a first-year course over 30 years ago and my own observations of people over the years. All I can think is that until now this has been too slow motion and too big a problem for the human brain to process. I know every one of us would give everything we had to protect our children from danger in an immediate emergency or crisis situation—no one would ever question $100 cost, but maybe this just seems too abstract and distant to elicit the same response.
Threatened food security, compromised water supplies, changing disease patterns, altered social cohesion, mass migrations of people as areas become uninhabitable, and the resultant geopolitical instability are all important effects of climate change.
According to the latest International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report we have around a decade to make the changes needed to mitigate irreversible and accelerating climate change. This is beyond remembering to take our reusable bags to the grocery store and writing on both sides of the paper. While individual actions have some impact influencing those around us, the only chance to achieve the big changes needed is on a political and societal level. For change to work, we need everyone on board at the same time. Giving up your car and buying second-hand clothes while you watch your neighbours drive their SUVs and holiday in Mexico only breeds resentment and judgement. We know human society can change fast if necessary; people are bringing up the war effort as proof of that. I prefer to think of how fast we adapted to the internet, the co-operation and sharing we saw during the 2017 fires, or the coming together of countries to ban hydrofluorocarbons to protect the ozone layer.
The scientists have done their job in collecting the science and pointing out the issues. The economists and insurance companies are saying we need to deal with climate change to protect future economies. The children are mobilizing and getting the issue front and centre. The population now understands this is a big issue. We are so close to being able to do something constructive about this instead of throwing our hands in the air and saying it is too scary or big to deal with.
So, I am more hopeful than I was that soon people will accept that we have no choice but transition to a new carbon-reduced economy and that, yes, there will be some bumps, some adjustments, and some initial investment costs along the way. These we need to share, as we already do, with health/education/ infrastructure to keep our society fair and functioning for everyone. I am hopeful because by ignoring the issue for so long, the current climate situation is now both a crisis and an opportunity. These are both situations my limited psychology has taught me that humans usually respond to well.
Jenny worked as a veterinarian for the first half of her career and then took an opportunity to teach kids at Gavin Lake where she lives with her family. This led to a new career with the Conservation Society, developing and teaching the Water Wise education program. For more information on Water Wise or Waste Wise and any of our school and community programs, contact the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.cconserv.org