Climate action means economic transformation

Climate action means  economic transformation

Two big elections for Northerners, one federal and one territorial, resulted in dramatic changes in governments. Add to that one whopping all-nations conference in Paris, where participants finally reached common agreement on a progressive goal – to halt climate change at well under two degrees of warming globally. We are already hearing about this from our new leaders.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is talking big. In fact, at the Paris climate negotiations Canada led the developed nations’ call to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C, rather than two degrees.

The science says Trudeau is right, but it also says the action necessary to achieve either goal is extreme. Meanwhile, our new-old Premier Bob McLeod acknowledges climate change but says we are already “action leaders,” we need federal help, and we are so small our emissions hardly matter. Fact is, the NWT’s per person emissions are amongst the highest in the world.

What’s really needed is a can-do attitude, transformative leadership, and public participation demanding and enabling a safer world for (most of) our children. Unfortunately, Big Oil’s disabling influence on leadership globally has severely delayed responses – we can no longer avoid serious climate impacts.

So what extreme measures are needed? Nothing less than a transformation of our economy – from rejigging capitalism to reducing our consumption and replacing fossil fuels with carbon-neutral energy.  Scientists show that to avoid dangerous climate change, 80 per cent of our known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground, including all shale oil and gas, and remote stocks.  Super-insulated homes and buildings, electric and bio-fuel transportation, community self-sufficiency for basic needs like energy and food, teleconferencing in place of business travel, smart community planning and mass transit where volume demands it – all must be implemented soon. Do-able? Stanford professor Mark Jacobson and colleagues have shown how 139 countries, including Canada, can get all of their power from renewable sources by 2050.

Besides the critical stabilization of our climate, the benefits from those changes will include appropriately-scaled economic diversification and strong community economies; improved public health and ecosystem health; strengthened cultures; a localized business community required to protect the commons; and a return to affordable, more democratic and participatory governance.

As we move forward with this transformation, it is useful to look back at failures, and to look forward to what is possible. To understand the negative extremes our current system of development and Big Oil have driven us to, read Andrew Nikiforuk’s new book Slick Water.  I also recommend Gordon Laxer’s new book After the Sands: Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians, for consideration of positive actions required to transform our economy and halt climate change.

It’s 2016 and time to do things differently. Admittedly, governments are not known for progressive and timely actions. Will our new governments rise to the necessity? Only if we loudly, clearly, and demonstratively demand it. I hope to join you in the streets, over the radio, in our newspapers and online, calling for the decisions we so critically need.

Bob Bromley was born and raised in Yellowknife. He was the MLA for Weledeh in the NWT Legislative Assembly for the previous two terms.

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