New climate report paints grim picture of future

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Hothouse Earth Thijs Stoop via Unsplash

Past point of no return

The United Nations released a new climate report last week, and it’s another dire reminder that we have passed a point of no return. The report lays out many instances where we will not be able to come back from, and that we have already lost valuable time. The report also says that unless drastic action is taken immediately, we might not be able to stop climate change. But there is a glimmer of hope, as the report says all is not lost and that if that dramatic action is taken, we will be able to reverse some of the ill effects.

The report clarifies that countries need to reduce their carbon footprints dramatically and that they need to begin developing ways to adapt to new conditions. For example, massive heatwaves, flooding, fires, and other climate events are going to become commonplace, and cities need to adapt. This includes creating infrastructure to deal with heat waves or relocating coastal cities altogether.

“When the first report came out, which was in the mid-nineties, it was assigned to me as a textbook for a course, and it was the, the worst textbook I ever had. It is a terrible document to read. It is a dense document. The main reason they do these things right and release these things every five, six, seven years is to continuously remind us about what we know about climate change and the impacts it’s having. And so every time this document comes out, it just adds more and more and more layers to the observations, to the challenges that we face,” said Krys Chutko, an environmental scientist at the University of Saskatchewan.

“The main thing that came out of it [is] the idea we have missed many opportunities to take meaningful action over the years, right? The first one came out in the mid-nineties, right? We’re pushing 30 years now of these kinds of warnings and [have] done very little. Europe is doing some good things with renewable energy, but globally we haven’t done a whole lot, and that’s the message that this is trying to show and they use talk about the narrowing window of opportunity, and that we don’t have much time to reduce the impacts to humans, the impacts to ecosystems and to the oceans,” continued Chutko.

In terms of Canada, the country is not well known for environmental policy. There is the carbon tax which is intended to deter the use of fossil fuels and bring down the overall reliance on them. Saskatchewan has put in places programs like carbon capture, but is notorious for advocating for the use of fossil fuels due to its economic dependence on resources.

When asked about Canada’s efforts to combat climate change, Chutko said “Saskatchewan uses bandaids for the problem. If we’re going to tackle the problem of climate change then the coal, the oil, the gas has to stay below ground. It can’t be pulled up. It doesn’t matter if you pull it up and then clean it, it’s still going to be used and it’s still gonna maintain a reliance on this stuff. We need to pull those bandaids off really quick, and transition into a different type of economy and energy system. And those decisions are very difficult to make. As we see with the Saskatchewan government, it comes down to jobs. There are a lot of jobs in that industry and, you know, there’s, those people feel threatened. I think as Canadians we’ve always thought of ourselves as being somewhat environmentally aware, but in the big scheme of things, we are not doing a whole lot. You know, the federal government’s still buying oil pipelines, and if you want to make meaningful change, then you don’t do that. And you force a transition to a cleaner environment or a cleaner industry. So, you know we talk a big talk, but it doesn’t seem to be translating into meaningful action.”

Climate change’s effect on the planet has created an immense amount of anxiety around the fate of our world. In a study done last year by Bath University in collaboration with several others, over half of the young people questioned were worried about climate change. Three quarters of them believe humanity is doomed. It’s a lingering thought in the background for many people as they contemplate their futures. When asked if he noticed a lot of anxiety around the issue of climate change throughout his career as a researcher and professor, Chutko said “I teach a course in climate change, it’s a global climate change course, and one of the activities I have my students do is write a journal, and keep the journal over the course of the term about their thoughts about climate change, their observations of climate change and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, this is the first year I’ve done this and I thought it would be interesting, you know, students go into the grocery store and looking at two products and trying to figure out, you know, which one traveled the furthest right. But actually the thing that I found is that basically [something] every student brought up was some sense of anxiety that they are worried that not just their actions, but the actions that they’re seeing their family do, their friends, other people that they interact with, that it’s not going in the right direction with respect to climate change. I was surprised by that. I was surprised by how anxious the students were coming across. I didn’t expect that,” Chutko added.

“Part of that surprise would be a lot of the students are from Saskatchewan, right. So I thought a lot of students would act more like the Saskatchewan government is acting. Where jobs are more important than the environment – but that didn’t translate, and I think that’s great, right? I think there’s a growing awareness with younger people that is absolutely critically needed in this province […] and the country, and certainly the world. So that’s the cool thing about climate change. If you watch climate change conferences and stuff like that, like the COP, that happen every year, the youth movement is huge in this, and you know, I think that there’s a growing sense of power amongst young people, which is a really, really cool thing to see.”

The time is now to change the future and, unfortunately, it’s been left up to ordinary people to demand that change.

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