Recent articles by Bill Rees and Andrew Nikiforuk on the progressive BC news site The Tyee describing the horrendous challenge that the world faces in trying to stave off impending climate disaster have Vancouver Island’s acknowledged environmental spokes person, Guy Dauncey in a frightful dither over the suggestion that dealing effectively with climate change would mean “energy descent” and “deliberate contraction.”
According to Dauncey, “When we frame our thoughts around the negative language of “energy descent” and “deliberate contraction,” we confirm people’s fear that solutions to the climate and ecological emergencies will wreck their comfortable lives. This is so harmful. It’s like a sports coach telling her athlete that winning a medal will ruin her family life, and besides, it’s impossible.”
Remembering a David Suzuki speech I attended many years ago, it seems to me it is Dauncey’s simile that is off track rather than the arguments of Rees and Nikiforuk. Speaking, many years ago, before a packed hall in Nelson, BC, Suzuki began by addressing head on this issue of perceived doom and gloom in environmental analysis. Suzuki’s words impressed me so much I can remember them almost word for word—after all these years: “You know, people come to me and they say, ‘Suzuki, don’t you ever get tired of all this gloom and doom? Don’t you get tired of telling people about all this stuff going wrong with our environment?’ And here is what I reply: ‘When I take my daughter to the doctor I don’t want a beguiling pat on the back and a list of what is going well! I want to know exactly what is causing my daughter’s aliment. I want to know exactly what it is and what we have to do to get her better. And that is how I deal with environmental issues: we need to know exactly what is wrong and what we need to do to ensure we have healthy people on a healthy planet.’”
Dauncey maintains his high tech, Dawn we now our gay apparel argument that the same economic growth that got us into this mess will get us out of our climate predicament if we just shift gears and veer onto a slightly less traveled energy consumption road by adopting more energy efficient infrastructure and transportation. If he were to employ Suzuki’s doctor metaphor Dauncey would likely say something like this to the doctor, “Don’t give me that bad news bunk. I’ve been taking supplements and I go to the gym for two hours three times a week. I wear a hat when outside on a sunny day.” So the doctor, who doesn’t want to offend such a positive guy fails to mention the racing, irregular heart beat that should have him in for an urgent and immediate stress test that could point to life saving treatments.
To support his la la arguments for economically growing our way to a healthy climate, Dauncey basically ignores the real arguments of both Rees and Nikiforuk.
Rees doesn’t deny that there are some great ideas for dealing with climate change. What he asks us to consider is “…that in the past 50 years, there have been 33 climate conferences and a half dozen such major international agreements — Kyoto, Copenhagen and Paris the most recent — but none has produced even a dimple in the curve of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.” Rees points out that while “ renewables are projected to grow by more than 150 per cent… the overall increase in demand for energy is expected to be greater than the total contribution from all renewable sources combined.”
Rees goes on to note that the climate commitments made in Paris — comprise only a third of the reductions needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees… global energy use and carbon emissions are rising exponentially at the same rate they were four decades ago.”
Small changes are not going to stave off climate change especially when we frame our response to this life and death threat within our allegiance to growth and the illusion of “rescue-by-technology.”
Seeing climate chaos as an investment opportunity is simply the blinders that keep us from seeing where we actually have to go. It was sad that in the last Canadian federal election polls found that most people were behind the idea of a carbon tax to deal with climate change — as long as it didn’t cost them more than $100/ yr. Ottawa highlighted its commitment to dealing with climate change by buying a pipeline to transport more dirty oil to distant markets.
While Rees’ arguments are often contrary by degree to Dauncey’s view of growing our way to a healthy climate. Andrew Nikiforuk’s views suggesting downsizing, using less and degrowth as essential to climate health are anathema to Dauncey’s.
According to Nikiforuk, our growth is good (always—in all ways) economic rationale is not only destroying our climate–it is destroying life on Earth through ecosystem collapse: “the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimates that current extinction rates could be up to hundreds of times higher than at any other point in the past 10 million years. At sea, a third of marine mammals, reef-forming corals, sharks, and shark relatives are on the brink. Life on land isn’t faring any better. Humans have significantly altered three-quarters of the earth’s land area, leaving more than half a million species without enough habitats to survive. Around 40 percent of amphibians are in jeopardy…we’ve destroyed a third of the planet’s forest cover in the last two centuries alone…We have logged more than a million acres of Canada’s boreal forests each year to make single-use products like toilet paper…We are overfishing a third of the world’s fish stocks and making the seas inhospitable to marine life. Nikiforuk argues, persuasively, that renewable alone won’t end our climate or ecological crisis. Dauncey’s argument that keeping up our spirits by more economic growth will fix the ecological disasters it has spawned is simply a fairy tale arguing for a way of life that is destroying our planet.
If we went with our ailing Earth to an objective and competent Earth Doctor he would tell us gravely, “your Earth is not well and you have to get off this economic growth dope you’ve been mainlining if our Earth is to heal and we are to survive. “