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Continuing my new metaphor for effectively treating climate change (I’ve been traveling into town everyday: ferry, bus, Canada Line to the Cancer Agency and same back from treatment) – this quote was in my post-Canada Day Guardian Weekly:

“I can’t believe how long I’ve been on hold,” says the Canadian who’s been on hold for the length of time it takes a kettle to boil.

“I can’t believe this train is so late,” says the Canadian who has waited three minutes for a train that will arrive in another three minutes.

“Why aren’t these streets clearly signposted?” complains a Canadian, aware that in a block or two there will be a street sign informing them, with geospatial precision, exactly where they are. Shut up Canadians!

You don’t understand late trains! You live in a land of inhuman efficiency. Your country is brilliant, OK?

I watch foreign tourists in awe on the ferry and see it through their eyes. Our country works. Hey, not perfectly… the ferry is almost always a little late because of the volumes; the bus is often crowded. I have been stuck on the Lions Gate bridge behind an accident (people were kind, considerate). If you escape taking it for granted, life in Vancouver works amazingly well.

On Canada Day, walking in the downtown, the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of our society absolutely blew me away. We are an immense overachiever where historic problems such as racism and sexism are being addressed to a degree that few people anywhere could have imagined possible just a very short time ago. Of course, as an environmentalist I see the ongoing crimes behind the beauty strip but even here I think we have and will continue to make real progress.

Why am I writing this? We need first and foremost to solve the building problem of climate change. If we don’t solve problems such as climate change there will not be much further progress. There won’t be a Canada.

What are the key changes that have to happen for Canada to survive climate change?

We need to lead in clawing back good governance. We need to rebuild our ability to effectively regulate, so that we can actually do what we could not do back in the failed forestry revolution of the 90s and move to an ecocentric forestry free from timber management-based long term fiber contracts. We need to protect salmon and move past factory farming, etc, etc.

We need to be able to remove the Golden Straitjacket (that we have put on to be competitive in the global economy) in order to have the ability to use government effectively to, first of all, mitigate climate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the scale necessary. Then we must use our returned governance powers to match our escalating technological abilities. There was good reason to put on the Golden Straitjacket and we should not be renouncing trade, but our children and country’s future is at stake. Our trading partners have to understand – will understand – our leadership.

The leadership we need to show the world is a scheduled wind-down of all fossil fuel production and use in line with the best carbon budget science, responsibly and fairly regulated as a last chance to keep us safe from the suite of dangers we know imminently threaten if we don’t reduce emissions now, globally. Canada has to recognize the civilization-threatening imperative. We need to recognize our ability and the necessity to regulate fossil fuels so that real – not pretend – emission reduction happens, and in time.

A regulated wind-down could be not only effective – the best path to reducing GHG emissions at a scale now needed – but also the best mitigation path at using and protecting our market-based governance.

A regulated wind-down would provide the necessary strong, certain signal to markets hopefully enabling optimum use of production allowed. Such a schedule would ensure an immediate, urgent reduction of production and use with consequent emission reduction but within a signal that life will go on, business especially, markets will continue, our social/market evolution will continue.

We need to be free and confident enough to put such a scheduled wind-down first on the menu for full public debate, then to be fully examined on government policy tables. The Canada where a Canada Line gets built and runs efficiently; properly designed, engineered, and operated. Not perfect, but doable with the minimum of disruption. As effective as I’m finding the Cancer Agency and their radiation units in providing treatment for those in need.

We could and can do this and prosper but we are not even considering such action. That is why I’m addressing my latest open letter to Canada’s Environmental NGO climate community. Why are you not leading? Why do you continue to support the present carbon pricing/decarbonization pretend mitigation? Why don’t even some of you find a way to get the promise of such a wind-down schedule on the menu for public debate? Why don’t some of you at least try and write up the possibilities of actually keeping fossil fuels in the ground – the problems too of course – instead of supporting what everyone knows is obvious failure?

Have you no idea of how brilliant Canada is? We need to show the world that a wind-down schedule for fossil fuels is possible, workable, doable, and will lead to not only a climate solution for the world but – within continuing prosperity – will be a solution for many other bottleneck problems that threaten our future.

Traveling back and forth across Vancouver for treatment has re-opened my eyes to how successfully we function as a society. This has been reinforced by the quality of my cancer treatment: state of the art consilience in diagnosis and treatment planning by a skilled team of experts delivered with compassion and care. My journey – though painful and at some disruption to my regular life – promises a cure and life after cancer. We still have it within our power to mitigate climate change: treatment and a cure. Those of you in Canada’s ENGO climate community know this. We need you to insist upon effective mitigation action that Canada can deliver.


Bill Henderson is a climate activist who lives in Gibsons, BC.

One Comment

  1. A human being consumes 2500 kilocalories of energy a day from plant and animal matter. Expressed in Watts for an easy comparison with electricity for example, it allows a person to do 2500 kilocalories/0.860 kilocalories = 2907 Wh of work per day. As there are 24 hours a day a living breathing person thus has the capacity of 121 Watt. So a human being who is such a complex and powerful organism is expending not much more energy than two of those old fashioned incandescent light bulbs. The kind of work done by humans if it does not involve the application of labour to machines like in Canada, where everything is run on commercial energy, is much more likely to contribute to a social system that contributes to balanced carbon cycles of sequestration and release of carbon dioxide. Compared to the labour of a person, a litre of diesel has an energy value of 16700 kilocalories. Thus a litre of diesel mined from the earth displaces the work of 16700 kilocalories /2500 kilocalories = 6.67 person days. Now let us say that in capitalism a litre of diesel is valued at around Rs 60, or let us say one Swiss Frank / United States Dollar / European Euro / UK Pound?Canadian dollar. So if a capitalist has to pay more than 1 SFr / 6.67 = 15 cents/10 Indian Rupees for a day of the work of a person, she is better off paying a machine that runs on diesel to get the work done. But though the diesel may be cheaper than the labourer, the climate change impact is worse: 1 litre of diesel when burnt emits 2.6 kg of carbon dioxide. Combined with the damage to flora and fauna at the place where fossil fuels are extracted, the damage to ecology of mining and burning coal and petroleum products has resulted in an average global temperature rise on earth of 1.63 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial date of 1750. In capitalism human labour is a reserve army for commercial energy whereas if we want to reverse climate change we have to have an economy that is precisely the other way round: if we were paid 1 currency unit per day for manual work in the care economy, and a litre of diesel were to cost at least 6.67 times more, and other commercial energy similarly raised to price levels that take into account their negative impact on the atmosphere, then the economy will be pushing us to employ each other and work and trade with each other through manual work, rather than using diesel and other forms of commercial energy as in Canada; and if we are educated on how to do regenerative agriculture based on no tillage, integrating cover crops and diversifying the choice of crops and species on the field, the turnaround from destruction to regeneration in those areas with degraded landscapes can happen in two years. No man-made energy conversion system, whether renewable energy technology, fossil fuels or nuclear energy can do the work of ecological processes which function as part of the natural ecology that human beings are intended for. The fact that domestic work and labour for rewards in kind in agriculture is not counted in GDP is triply dangerous: first, it encourages men and women to go out to work in the outside economy (outside the home) where money is created by banks for industry, infrastructure and IT based jobs that all use commercial energy whether fossil fuels or renewable energy thus causing climate change. Secondly if women and men who are biologically for part of their lives meant to rear children, are not paid for this work, the household becomes a sphere of conflict instead of socially recognised place of production and reproduction of society and ecology. And thirdly it prevents the economy from creating GDP in the only sector that is based on equality fraternity and justice: the care economy of home, agriculture and forests, in which everyone is equally dependent on their own manual labour and thus using a resource we all recognise as having in common equally. The only way capitalism and climate change can be reversed is if Governments instruct Central banks to create GDP by issuing debt free reserve money to manual labourers in the care economy. In that case we can have a productive economy that contributes to climate change mitigation and social harmony, instead of causing climate destruction and aggression against women who are in the present scenario made out by many men to be dependent and non productive, and so subject to violence. Sadly Canada is benefitting form climate change by getting new frost free land in the North. So Canadians will never be on the right side in this debate.