By Jim Emberger – The Daily Gleaner, Tuesday, January 28, 2020
A recent Brunswick News Commentary wondered how bad must things get before the concept of ‘climate emergency’ gets traction. One depressing answer may be found in the title of a widely circulated NYTimes editorial: “Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide.” The continuing unimaginable conflagration of Australian bushfires has already burned an area much larger than New Brunswick, destroyed thousands of homes, and killed over a billion animals.
Decades will pass before knowing how many human lives will be lost or shortened by exposure to the world’s worst air pollution. An air quality index (AQI) above 200 is defined as hazardous. The AQI in Canberra has hit 4,650. Climate scientists have long predicted such events, as the conditions that created them are well-studied climate topics.
While droughts and heat waves are normal, climate warming increases the odds of their occurrence, their duration, and their intensity. A continually warming Australia experienced its hottest and driest year in 2019. Average temperatures in the 40’s have baked the entire continent for weeks. Altered weather patterns push normal rains out to the ocean.
Yet, despite scientists’ warnings, years of increasingly destructive weather, and the current catastrophe, Australia plans to expand its world-leading exports of coal and liquid natural gas (LNG).
Perhaps, the country does have a psychotic death wish. Maybe it’s contagious.
In the USA, 100, 500 and 1000-year floods are meaningless, as they occur regularly. While the southwest faces water shortages, the central breadbasket remained flooded for months. California’s fire season is now year-round. Coasts are threatened by tropical depressions that turn into monster hurricanes within a day.
America’s response? Promote coal and frack as much gas and oil as possible.
Canada watches record fires burn BC, Ft. McMurray, and boreal forests. Extreme temperatures and precipitation and record flooding are the norm. Canada is warming at twice the global rate, and three times as fast in our north, where melting ice and permafrost lead to abandoned settlements and climate refugees. Yet, several provinces stake their futures on huge new tarsands and LNG projects. The federal government, while shouting climate emergency warnings, inexplicably abets these expansions.
Maybe a mass psychosis has seized these countries. But, perhaps, there is a better explanation – the classic ’monkey trap’.
A monkey trap is an immovable trap, with a hole just large enough for a monkey’s open hand. It is baited with a banana. A monkey grabs the banana, but the hole is not large enough to allow the monkey to withdraw its clenched fist (now clutching a banana). Because the monkey can’t conceive of letting the banana go, it remains trapped, awaiting its fate.
It is the perfect analogy for humanity’s current situation. We cannot escape our trap (climate emergency), because we can’t conceive of giving up the banana (fossil fuels), even though doing so is our only means of escape. There is absolutely no doubt about the climate trap. All the recent climate disasters resulted from less than 1.5-degrees warming – considered the ‘safe’ limit.
Our current fossil fuel usage puts us on track for 3 to 5 degree warming. At 3 degrees, Australian-like catastrophes become normal. 2019 ended the hottest decade on both land and in the ocean. No one born after 1985 has experienced a month cooler than the 20th century average.
Coal, and the energy intensive processes of fracking, LNG and tarsands produce more greenhouse gases than conventional oil and gas, and make the USA, Australia and Canada the word’s largest per capita contributors to climate change.
Despite knowing this, they still can’t conceive of letting them go.
Supposedly, a monkey isn’t intelligent enough to understand how its trap works. Is it conceivable that we, likewise, lack the intellect or imagination to envision a life without fossil fuels? Or is it something more distinctly human? Are we so tied to greed, convenient habits, or misbegotten ideology that we cannot act to save ourselves?
We have a simple choice. Let go of the banana, or remain trapped. Nothing else will save us.
New Brunswick’s record floods, tropical storms, hurricanes, ice storms, and windstorms are becoming the norm. Each costs millions and affects our health, lives and livelihoods.
Our government has finally begun taking small steps to address the climate crisis. Hydro-electricity from Quebec to replace coal-fired Belledune is a good idea, as is regional cooperation. The Ministers of Environment and Energy tout their climate awareness in plans to use carbon-pricing revenue for climate action programs.
Yet, immediately upon hearing that a complicated investment deal might restart a local shale gas industry – an industry that supercharges climate warming – the Minister of Energy boasted how his Department had made it possible.
Congratulations! Have a banana! They’re irresistible.
The fossil fuels we have all profited from now threaten our existence. If you believe that we can gradually let them go, because we are superior to monkeys, let your leaders know. Act for our children instead of quietly awaiting fate.
Jim Emberger is Spokesperson for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance