Petroleum propaganda, conspiracy theories and fear of change stands in the way of climate action
Science Matters | by David Suzuki
There’s no shortage of solutions to the climate crisis. Rapidly developing clean-energy technology, reducing energy consumption and waste, increasing efficiency, reforming agricultural practices, and protecting and restoring forests and wetlands will all put us on a path to cleaner air, water and soil, healthier biodiversity and lower climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.
Clean-energy technologies, including energy-storage methods, are improving as costs drop. Exciting new inventions — like artificial photosynthesis, machines that remove atmospheric carbon to create fuels and windows that convert light to electricity — show what people are capable of when we put our minds to resolving challenges.
It’s critical that we continue to develop, deploy and scale-up solutions, so why are we still mired in outdated ways and business as usual? For decades, experts have been warning about the consequences of rapidly burning fossil fuels, yet greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as the planet heats up faster.
Europe is in the midst of a record heat wave; Chennai, India, has run out of water; farmers in Canada and the U.S. are seeing diminishing returns after prolonged droughts; refugees are flooding borders as extreme conditions, water scarcity and failing agriculture increase conflict and displace millions — all caused or exacerbated by climate change. Even in rainy Vancouver where I live, the city implemented early water restrictions when the usual spring showers didn’t arrive.
People and organizations from the entire spectrum of society are calling for action. Students are marching in the streets, progressive decision-makers are putting climate disruption at the top of the political agenda, and Indigenous Peoples are asserting their rights to protect lands and waters from fossil fuel projects.
In the U.S., more than 70 leading health organizations — including the American Medical Association, Lung Association, Heart Association and College of Physicians — issued a statement urging political candidates “to recognize climate change as a health emergency.” The Canadian Medical Association, Nurses Association, Public Health Association, Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Urban Public Health Network issued a similar statement.
To their credit, every major political party in Canada has a climate plan, some more detailed than others, and the current federal government has implemented many strong policies, despite its continued approval of fossil fuel projects. But we’re still not on track to meet our Paris Agreement commitments.
Here and elsewhere,, the fossil fuel industry still rules, getting massive government subsidies and tax breaks along with government and media promotion. If we understand the problem and its urgency — and mountains of scientific evidence amassed from around the world over decades confirms we do — and we have solutions, why are we so slow to act?
Astonishingly, despite the overwhelming evidence and what people worldwide are clearly experiencing, many still refuse to believe there’s a problem — or if there is, that’s it’s human-caused or urgent. Some may be overcome with denial in the face of such frightening prospects; others have been duped by continuing efforts of the fossil fuel industry and its media and government advocates to cast doubt on the evidence. Some may realize the problem exists but choose to elevate short-term profits and economic gains above the conditions we need for health and survival. Some people are afraid that the necessary changes will cause too much disruption — a prospect that becomes more likely the longer we delay. Others are unwilling to admit that our prevailing economic paradigms no longer fit current conditions.
Fortunately, many people and organizations are refusing to let the barriers stop them. Many reject the propaganda and conspiracy theories and are working hard to develop and implement solutions, and to demand better of our elected representatives.
We’re at a pivotal point. Fossil fuels, plastics and private automobiles have brought benefits to many parts of the world, but our wasteful, consumer-oriented ways have also created enormous challenges for humanity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns we have fewer than a dozen years to cut emissions so they don’t build to a point that puts us on a path to climate catastrophe. Resolving the issue will offer lots of other benefits, from cleaner air and better health to greater innovation and equality.
It’s time for us all to accept reality and work together to address the challenge.
With contributions from Ian Hanington. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.