- cost the world 7 trillion dollars
- displace 200 million people because of flood or drought
- make large areas of the planet uninhabitable
- hit developing countries first and hardest
- cause a worldwide drop in GDP of 5-20%
- cause an economic catastrophe greater than WWI, WWII and the Great Depression combined
Europe gets it. European countries have been leading the way for decades on alternative energy sources, better transit, urban planning for the carless, and on and on.
Canada and the US don't get it.
One small example of our disastrous public policy: It was reported today that the US has strong-armed international organizations into allowing US farmers to resume use of methyl bromide, a pesticide that is banned internationally because of its potent ozone-destroying effects.
Canada and the US are now both out of Kyoto. Our record is pitiful and our greenhouse gas emissions are soaring. Prime Minister Stephen Harper just cancelled a European summit because he feared his environmental record would be publicly criticized, even though British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel just reached out to the US and Canada on environmental issues in the most positive, friendly and diplomatic way possible. (The statement said things like, "there's a real opportunity to make progress" and "there are signs of hope here.")
Why don't we get it? I mean this as a personal question too. Why am I not outside right now carrying a placard to protest the Tory's "environmental inaction" legislation?
The number one reason has to be that we enjoy such low oil prices. Europe has paid over $2 a liter for gas for decades, and that changes everything. I keep saying this - all apologies to Joe Clark, who lost his prime ministership because he tried to institute an oil tax - but we must raise gas prices. This initiative has to come from the public. We can't expect another government to commit suicide by trying to do the right thing and institute a gas tax. We have to let them know that we want to pay a higher price at the pump.
Another reason is historical. Back in the 70s there was a huge movement to convince the public that nonrenewable resources were running out. Gaining popularity just when the oil cartel created a worldwide gas shortage, there was widespread panic at the belief that everything from oil to copper was going to be gone well before the end of the century. I still have my well-thumbed paperback copy of The Limits to Growth around somewhere. It didn't serve us well.
Also, we've been talking about this for so damn long and not getting anywhere. Oh, we've done lots of other good things. Canada has a brilliant recycling program that is reducing the cost of garbage disposal. But the average gas consumption of cars keeps going up in North America, consumer packaging keeps getting bigger, we keep buying bigger houses with bigger applicances, blah blah blah.
A big part of the problem is the enormous amount of misinformation we in North America receive through our media and the internet. It doesn't help to have conservative politicians say that climate change is bunk. I read a blog recently that argued that it doesn't matter what we in Canada do because of the enormous environmental disaster coming in China, where economic growth means more cars and industry, and where environmental regulations (according to the blog) are lax. In fact, environmental regulations in China are orders of magnitude better than ours. Their limits on car emissions are better even than California's. We can't pass the buck on this. It's us - North America - that's screwing the pooch. It's us - Canada and the US - that needs to get it together and start playing catch-up with the rest of the world.
See also: Earth Day