Isaac Tamblyn is an assistant professor of physics at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology
I do not believe that climate change deniers exist. I have heard the statistics and have seen the graphs, but I am not convinced. So I do what the supposed deniers do – I ignore them and move on.
A couple of weeks ago we saw the release of an annual poll on Canadian opinions about climate change and the science around it. Again this year, the numbers reveal that more than half of Canadians think climate change is happening, and is primarily caused by human activity. This has been the majority opinion since tracking began seven years ago.
If the idea of human-driven climate change were running for office, it would win by a landslide. The last time a federal party won more than 50 per cent of the popular vote in this country was 1984. The time before that was 1958. At 63 per cent, the science of climate change has been given a strong mandate by the Canadian public.
Despite this, too many discussions about climate change policy in this country still focus on the existence of the denier camp. There is a misconception that in order to fix climate change, we must first convince everyone that it is happening, and was caused by humans.
Canada is a democracy. In a democracy, decisions are not always made by achieving consensus. Everyone need not agree on an issue in order to take action.
The next time you find yourself in a conversation with friends and colleagues about climate change, I would ask that you do one thing – skip over the discussion about the deniers. By talking about the deniers, the debate focuses on how to fix the problem of denial rather than climate change itself.
Not everyone has to believe in it; what is required is that most of us do something about it.
Dealing with this issue will require money and leadership. Prevention and mitigation will mean spending money. This is unavoidable. For the past 200 years, using the atmosphere and oceans as a dumping ground for our excess CO2 has been free. Restructuring our economy will cost money. Fortunately, this is something that we have been able to do successfully in the past. Preserving the ozone layer meant changing the chemistry of refrigeration. Saving our lakes and rivers from sewage and industrial waste required substantial public and private spending on infrastructure across many sectors. Limiting the flow of CO2 into the biosphere will cost money, but it is something that we can afford to do.
Again, the numbers paint an encouraging picture for positive change. In a poll released in March of this year, Canadians overwhelmingly (70 per cent) came out in support of paying a premium for renewable sources of energy. A levy of $100 from every taxpayer would generate $2.6-billion per year. Most of us are comfortable with increased taxes if they will help prevent climate change.
To put it in perspective, $2.6-billion is larger than the annual budget of the National Science and Engineering Research Council and the National Research Council combined. These two organizations fund the vast majority of public sector research in the country. Neither has a specific directive to tackle climate change. An infusion of funds into the Canadian R&D complex focused on climate change would be an important first step along the path toward a healthy environment.
The second issue, of leadership, is one for which we are all responsible. Irrespective of their personal views, successful (i.e. re-elected) politicians respond to the demands of their constituents. When an issue is important to the voting public, political parties either address it or sit on the sidelines and watch as their successors do. Our leaders will take action only when we demand it from them.
Let's use the mandate that we have given ourselves and agree to implement what most already believe is a good idea. Canada needs to ignore deniers, hold our leaders to account, and start allocating our considerable resources to address climate change now.