Sam Arnold and Keith Helmuth
The good news is this weekend will see the largest worldwide demonstration ever for political
action on climate change.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens in cities around the world will be joining the People’s Climate
March for climate action now. They will be calling on their political leaders to act together in
global cooperation to stem the flow of fossil fuel pollution that is wrecking climate balance.
New York City will be the epicentre of this uprising because world leaders are meeting next week
at the UN to talk about action on climate change. The People’s Climate March has been organized
worldwide to help these leaders understand that global action must be taken now to drastically
reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other green house gases that are being dumped into the
For all the research, and all the negotiations that have been going on for the last several decades,
fossil fuel pollution of the atmosphere is continuing to climb. And climate disruption is no longer a
vague possibility: It is manifestly clear that the damage and the costs of extreme weather events
Several years before hurricane Sandy hit New York City, leading meteorologists said it was only a
matter of time until a super-storm hit the area that would flood lower Manhattan and fill the
subway tunnels with water. Then it happened, and the cost of the damage for that storm has been
pegged at $68 billion. And that doesn’t even count the cost of economic disruption of businesses.
Canadian meteorologists have since pointed out that if Sandy had come up the Bay of Fundy the
storm surge would have gone right across the Isthmus of Chignecto connecting New Brunswick
and Nova Scotia. It would have taken out all of its infrastructure and disconnected the two
provinces. And think of all the other surrounding shoreline damage that would have occurred. Is
this reality just a matter of time for us?
The reality of continued fossil fuel pollution of the atmosphere is not just global warming, but
increasingly chaotic, disruptive, and damaging climate instability. More than just discomfort,
inconvenience, or even loss of life and infrastructure, the costs of dealing with and trying to
recover from blow after blow will increasingly cripple our economy. Climate disruption is now a
looming economic disaster. How will NB, already deeply in debt, deal with such a future?
In 2011 the Canadian National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRT) published
a major research report titled, Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for
Canada, which laid out the costs likely to be incurred if nothing is done to stem the direction of
climate disruption. They estimate that by mid-century costs could average up to $1800 per home
per year in New Brunswick. Householders in some regions, of course, will suffer much greater
damage than others.
By 2020 the costs nationally will be $5 billion annually. By 2050 they will rise to between $21 and
$43 billion per year. These are conservative projections. If climate damage accelerates, they
estimate the figure could go as high as $91 billion every year.
If political leaders, including Canada’s, are not persuaded to take effective global action to move
swiftly from reliance on fossil fuel energy to renewable energy, these costs will become a reality.
The People’s Climate March on Sunday is a worldwide demand for political and business leaders
to wise-up to what’s happening. As the March organizers say, “Do the math!” The quantity of
fossil fuels still in ground, if extracted and burned, will destabilize the climate to such an extent
that the damage will far outstrip any possible benefit. We’ve got to minimize the use of fossil fuels
and switch to renewable energy as fast as possible simply to save our economy.
Even the US military has done the research and has warned that destabilizing the climate is the
biggest threat to national and global security that we face. If the Pentagon is worried about this,
it’s pretty dumb for the rest of us not be worried as well.
So what’s the response of political leaders in Canada and, for us, in New Brunswick? The Harper
government has responded by “shooting the messenger.” In addition to telling the economic truth
about climate change, the NRT had the audacity to issue a major study in 2012 titled, Framing the
Future: Embracing the Low-Carbon Economy. The Harper government yanked the NRT’s funding
out of the 2012 budget, which forced it to close down in 2013.
A “low-carbon economy” is the last thing the Harper government wants to hear about when its got
the Alberta tar sands going full tilt. And in New Brunswick, the Alward government wants the
west-east pipeline to bring Alberta crude to the Bay of Fundy, and to see the shale gas fracking
boom set up shop in the province.
This is the opposite of “embracing the low-carbon economy.” It’s the opposite of a positive,
progressive response to both the challenge and the opportunities of climate change. The NRT’s
study lays out the road map to a low-carbon economy that helps stabilize the climate, and creates a
renaissance of new businesses, investment, and employment opportunities in renewable energy
Why aren’t governments listening? Why aren’t they doing their best to minimize the economic
costs of climate disruption? How can we think of them as “leaders” when they are walking
backward into climate chaos and economic ruin?
The organizers of the worldwide People’s Climate March on Sunday hope that a massive uprising
of citizen power can be a turning point, even at this late date, which gives birth to a new politics of
global cooperation on climate change action. “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.”
Sam Arnold and Keith Helmuth are members of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group. For
further information on SEG go to www.ttwnb.ca