Arno Kopecky is an environmental journalist and author. His latest book is The Environmentalist’s Dilemma: Promise and Peril in an Age of Climate Crisis.
You can almost hear the invisible conductor, urging scientists toward a crescendo as they make each new climate report more stirring than the last. The latest example, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday, is their most impassioned effort yet.
The report was introduced by Antonio Guterres, head of the United Nations, as “an atlas of human suffering,” though numbers still outweigh metaphors in the text itself: A tenth of terrestrial and freshwater species will still be at “very high risk of extinction” if we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees (a best-case, increasingly dubious scenario). Already today, at 1.2 degrees, more than three billion people are “highly vulnerable to climate change.” On our current trajectory, the IPCC estimates that up to three-quarters of humans on this planet could face an existential threat by the end of the century.
“Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health,” the report concludes. “Any further delay […] will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”
If that still strikes you as a touch understated, you should read their first few editions. The IPCC has been producing these reports for three decades, but it’s only in the past few years that images of slamming windows have been allowed to mingle with the facts and figures.
The change in tone reflects a changing planet. The IPCC’s 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees, arguably the first to really grab the world’s attention, arrived at the end of the worst fire season in California’s history. The following three years saw an unprecedented wave of “natural” disasters march across the planet. By the time the IPCC’s next report came out in August, 2021, the link between climate change and wildfires, floods and melting ice caps was “unequivocal” (another word the IPCC has recently grown fond of).
Last week’s report landed in the shadow of an entirely different disaster – war. But the two are far from unrelated. As observers from across the political spectrum have spent the past week saying, there’s a deep connection between Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Mr. Guterres’s atlas of suffering.
“As always, petroleum is driving geopolitics,” said the probable next leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre, in a video he posted Monday night. For Mr. Poilievre, Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas is a reason to produce more petroleum, not less: “Canada has what Europe needs and lots of it.”
Jason Kenney, who spoke admiringly of the way Mr. Putin jailed climate activists three years ago, is now echoing Mr. Poilievre, tweeting things like “If Canada really wants to help defang Putin, then let’s get some pipelines built!”
Never mind that Canada is already building two massive new pipelines, one each for oil and gas. Forget that it would take years for even the fastest-built pipeline in history to deliver Canadian hydrocarbons to Europe. Ignore even the fact of climate change itself for a moment. What the “More oil!” crowd gets most cartoonishly wrong is the notion that fossil fuels have any relationship at all to peace.
From the moment they were discovered, fossil fuels have been intimately tied to the largest outbreaks of violence in our species’ history. A brief scan of this century alone reveals how myopic it is to think otherwise. Remember Iraq?
That’s why journalist and pioneer of climate activism Bill McKibben was right to insist: “If you want to stand with the brave people of Ukraine, you need to find a way to stand against oil and gas.” Writing in The Guardian one day after the invasion began, Mr. McKibben argued that we should harness our collective shock to spur an industrial mobilization on the same scale as the Second World War; only this time, instead of producing warplanes and parachutes, the factories of the free world should start cranking out windmills, solar panels and heat pumps. “We should be in agony” over Ukraine, Mr. McKibben wrote. “But that agony should, and can, produce real change.”
Thankfully, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, agrees with that analysis. “The solution to global energy problems is not to increase our dependency on fossil fuels,” but rather to “quickly deploy renewables,” Mr. Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer this week.
There is, of course, tremendous opposition to that proposal. One of the more striking aspects of the IPCC’s report was how explicitly it called out climate misinformation by political players throughout North America.
“Misinformation on climate change and the deliberate undermining of science have contributed to misperceptions of the scientific consensus,” the authors wrote, adding that “Canada’s dominant influence on non-acceptance [of climate science] was conservative ideology.”
But are the odds of Canadians any longer than the Ukrainians’? Canada has already played an outsized role in organizing sanctions against Russia; as the world’s fourth-largest producer of oil and gas, we have a unique opportunity to set an example on that front, too.
Don’t take it from me. Listen to Svitlana Krakovska, the Ukrainian climate scientist and a co-author of the most recent IPCC report. On Feb. 27, four days into the Russian invasion, Dr. Krakovska joined her colleagues in a video call from Kyiv to go over the final wording of the report’s summary. The bombing of Kyiv, like the warming of the Earth, had just begun, but Dr. Krakovska was defiant, giving an impassioned speech recounted by participants to several media outlets. Human-induced climate change and the war on Ukraine have “the same roots,” originating with fossil fuels and humanity’s dependence on them, Dr. Krakovska stated.
According to participants, she added, in English: “We will not surrender in Ukraine, and we hope the world will not surrender in building a climate-resilient future.”
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