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Climate Change And The 2010 Olympics

By Bill Henderson

23 September, 2009

Somewhere, sometime soon, a political leader is going to be pushed across the Rubicon to actually doing something commensurate with the real climate change danger. He or she will shut down their coal or dirty oil industries or introduce Draconian rationing or form a wartime-style coalition government to proactively re-configure their economy.

They will break the present impasse of politicians trapped in political and economic business as usual and send a signal to the world about how serious climate change really is, about climate change's urgent, emergency nature, and about the presently difficult massive systemic change that needs to happen if we are to pull back from approaching tipping points to unimaginable tragedy.

Gordon Campbell is the premier of British Columbia, Canada's western-most, Pacific, province. He is a center-right, business-development orientated politician like many a successful Aussie or US Governor. In 2007 Premier Campbell, partnering with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Western States Initiative, was an acclaimed leader in instituting one of the most ambitious climate change action plans in North America.

Obviously well informed about the climate change science, Campbell described the climate change danger this way in a big speech to the Union of BC Municipalities in 2007:

"It's a monumental challenge, largely imposed of our own making. It's a challenge that requires us to think beyond the immediate future and to imagine a world that we want our children and grandchildren to inherit.

...It is a race against time. It's a race against runaway global warming. Carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions are an invisible, insidious and unyielding force that threaten much of what we love about where we live."

The emerging climate change science between 07 and today strongly suggests that climate change is occurring far more rapidly then previously predicted and that this race against time requires immediate Draconian emission reduction if we are to scramble back from the melting Arctic tipping point to runaway global warming.

Premier Campbell must be very aware that the new safe atmospheric target is not staying below the 07 target of 450 ppm but getting back below 350 ppm ( recently endorsed by the head of the IPCC). Premier Campbell must also know that this emerging science predicts that 2050 targets are too late, that our carbon budgets will be long spent, and that deep emission cuts must begin immediately and be achieving 40% plus reduction before 2020.

But BC's Premier has not pushed to update emission reduction targets in BC's climate change action plan. In fact, even as the science has gotten worse, BC's climate change action has waned, the Secretariat responsible has had it's budget drastically cut, and the Premier has been remarkably quiet in the lead up to the crucial Copenhagen meeting for a new global agreement on emission reduction; remarkably quiet for a politician who back in 07 was acclaimed as a North American leader in confronting climate change.

What happened? Did the Premier just lose interest? "(H)ow do you assess a premier who defines climate change as an enormous threat to mankind, then loses interest within 24 months?" Paul Willcocks

Some would paint Premier Campbell as a serial enthusiast for issues that interest him who then moves on, but I think the more reasonable portrait is of a skilled politician who recognizes potential politically dangerous issues and then proactively acts to neutralize the possible political danger by embracing the issue with effective containment.

In 2007 Campbell the politician recognized that the climate change issue was not only not going away but would get more politically dangerous. He recognized, also, that it threatened both his Liberal government's development agenda and the agenda of his core constituency. He therefor chose to embrace climate change as an issue needing BC government leadership and implemented a BC action plan that would not endanger his own, his party's and his core constituency's agendas.

Premier Campbell's brilliant 07 climate change strategy should have found it's way into political science textbooks except for rapidly increasing climate change. Campbell was in the forefront of politicians globally who had learned how to effectively stick handle the climate change issue - look like you are a leader acting, but put off the real heavy lifting to a forever future of emission reduction with 2050 targets. His BC climate change action plan is actually a cynical model for all those politicians and business leaders who are now striving to position themselves on climate change.

This is the mindset of the politicians presently involved in the lead up to Copenhagen. These politicians are still trying to shoehorn climate change action into their own continuing personal and constituency agendas. This mindset, and the political zombies under it's thrall, are now the main impediment to needed change and an effective global deal at Copenhagen.

We are presently headed for a weak and leaky treaty like Waxman-Markey, a deal that will waste precious time putting off the heavy lifting that is already been procrastinated for too long. But Copenhagen must be a deal that actually begins the emission reductions that science dictates instead of being limited to just what is currently politically and economically possible.

Campbell has been remarkably quiet lately about humanity threatening climate change - runaway global warming. The fact that this action plan is now a model 'delayer tactic' instead of actual leadership on climate change is undoubtedly something that causes a nervous smile to flit across the Premier's face but he is not going to show any more leadership on climate change because he doesn't have to - actual leadership in climate change solution was never his goal, never more than political spin in achieving his agenda.

But if climate change is really the humanity threatening emergency requiring urgent action that he knows it is then Premier Campbell has a very special, unique opportunity to send a signal now, at this singularly crucial time in the run up to Copenhagen.

Premier Campbell, the climate change leader, could move the world over that Rubicon of political and economic BAU by grabbing the world's attention in cancelling the winter Olympics. This 2-5 billion dollar (depending on your accounting but still a relatively small number), month-long party is a relatively easy sacrifice but it would be a tectonic shift in attitude to climate change.

The Olympics is also a prime example of luxuries we can no longer afford if we recognize how our actions today threaten humanity in the future. If we need Draconian emission reduction immediately then people flying from all over the globe to party at Whistler is callous, totally uncaring behaviour sending all the wrong signals about how we should be living at this crucial time.

The Olympics is big news worldwide. It gets attention. The Olympics is also a good microcosm of the real problems we have to solve if we are going to begin mitigation of a scale necessary to get back under 350 in time:

> the 2010 Olympics is a multi-billion dollar project - like most major business ventures - already a decade in planning and now almost built;

> all the big brands are contracted and there are contracted tie -ins from virtually every major global entity;

> the Olympics are already a key date on millions of people's schedules globally including the masses expecting to watch on TV;

> and the BC economy, presently spiraling down, expects a significant boost next year from Olympic related spending.

In short, cancelling the Olympics is impossible. And so is closing the tarsands; or embarking upon a schedule to quickly phase out coal burning (without effective CSS), beginning in the US and China; or rationing carbon or effective carbon budgets in the developed world; and every other wedge needed to get back under 350 fast.

But Campbell the politician already knows about the humanity threatening danger; he knows the 350 timeline and the need for urgent action and he does and says nothing. Is it possible to use international leverage to push the Premier by confronting him openly with the science he must know and his 'delayer tactic' actions so that he has no choice but to lose big time if he doesn't follow through with the leadership role he has spun for himself on climate change?

Is it possible within a couple of months to push a very vulnerable politician to lead and send that signal to Copenhagen?

bill (at)


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