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Fact from the Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change.


On a wintery January afternoon in 2007, Michael took his then 17-year-old daughter Caitlin to see the film An Inconvenient Truth. He wasn't sure if she would find the former US Vice President's power point presentation dull or if she would be scared by the film's environmental crisis message. When the film ended, Caitlin turned to him and asked: "Why aren't people doing something about the climate crisis?"

Global warming, or climate change, is the biggest environmental threat to life on Earth – including his daughter's and his own. After viewing Gore's film, they both pledged to do all that they could to raise awareness of the dangers of global warming.

Now, more than four years later, the World Meteorological Organization is warning that greenhouse gas levels are rapidly reaching critical levels that could trigger "far reaching and irreversible changes" to the planet, its oceans and its biosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is predicting more extreme climate events and disasters.

As 2011 comes to a close, the Global Carbon Project and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research issued a report indicating humans pumped 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into Earth's atmosphere in 2010. This was a 5.9 percent increase from a year earlier and the largest jump on record. The report, based on preliminary estimates of global CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and cement production, was published online in the journal Nature Climate Change. Global CO2 emissions are now 49 percent higher than those in 1990, even though the world community promised to cut emissions as part of the Kyoto Protocol.

Yet there is a way to solve this crisis; numerous reports, books and studies indicate the world CAN be powered by renewable energy with no need for oil, coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy. All the solutions are currently technologically and economically feasible. There are even business opportunities to be had by moving in this direction; Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute illustrate the prospects in the book Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era. A similar message is conveyed in the book Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change by L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen.

We are about to make decisions about climate change and human energy use that will affect not only future generations, but ourselves. For those who are living and those unborn, it is imperative we make the right decisions.

No one wants a climate catastrophe; but with 98 percent of the world's climate scientists in agreement that humans need to stop putting carbon dioxide into Earth's atmosphere, shouldn't the human family err on the side of caution? Two Swiss climate modellers have determined that at least 74 percent of the observed warming of the planet since 1950 is due to human activity.

And when study after study indicates that the world would be a safer, more equitable, and more economically productive place without fossil fuels, why aren’t we moving faster in that direction?

It is time to stop development of projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines; it is time to curtail continued extraction of bitumen from the Alberta tar sands; it is time to suspend the illusion that burning coal can be done cleanly. These efforts only prolong a commitment to fossil fuels that deny investment dollars in clean renewable energies.

It is time to move from fear to hope, from fossil fuels to renewables, from wastefulness to true sustainability. It is time to put our children’s future uppermost in our thoughts and actions.

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