The Liberals respond to the IPCC report

Peace TowerThe Liberals respond to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and, in my view, blow it. Their news release and statements from leader Stéphane Dion focus on the environmental predictions:

The IPCC report states that the globe will warm as a result of human activity to date, but that it should be possible to adapt to that degree of change. However, if the earth warms by 2 degrees Celsius, there will be catastrophic effects that could displace hundreds of millions of people from their homes, cause the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica to melt and raise ocean levels significantly. Agriculture in warm climates would be virtually impossible, and violent weather events would be commonplace around the world. “Canada must move quickly to reduce its emissions, or we will become a very big part of the problem. This requires the kind of leadership that we just are not getting from the Harper government,” said Mr. Dion.

… and I, who care very much about this, have dozed off. The IPCC report is about the best science the experts have been able to put together, and it’s regurgitated here ably enough. But the Liberal party isn’t a scientific outfit, it’s a political one, and this statement, which they’ve had at least a week to craft, does nothing but rally the troops who are already in the party’s army.

Seriously — why do I care if the ice caps of Antarctica melt? That’s happened before, and they’ve refrozen, and melted again, and refrozen again. Big whoop. If you already care, you know that losing the Antarctic ice sheet is actually a very big deal, but if you’ve been on the fence or not paying close attention, the Liberals have just reinforced for you the idea that climate change really is an abstract problem, something that might be kind of interesting to observe, really, when they should be punching us in the gut.

Here’s what the IPCC report predicts specifically for North America:

Moderate climate change in the early decades of the century is projected to increase aggregate yields of rain-fed agriculture by 5-20%, but with important variability among regions. Major challenges are projected for crops that are near the warm end of their suitable range or depend on highly utilised water resources.

Warming in western mountains is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources.

Could we talk about the Fraser, North Saskatchewan and Bow rivers running low and Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary going thirsty? Ranchers unable to water their cattle, or feed them with hay wiped out by drought? The Athabasca River being unable to feed steam into the vast separating plants in the oilsands, where it takes four barrels of water to make one barrel of oil (there’s an irony for you)?

Disturbances from pests, diseases, and fire are projected to have increasing impacts on forests, with an extended period of high fire risk and large increases in area burned.

More of the fires that threatened Kelowna in 2003 and did burn smaller communities out. Pine beetles running amok, perhaps into the forests of Ontario and Quebec and New Brunswick. Other pests currently unimagined surviving through winter to wreak havoc on agriculture.

Cities that currently experience heat waves are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity and duration of heat waves during the course of the century, with potential for adverse health impacts. The growing number of the elderly population is most at risk.

Calling older Conservative-inclined voters in the 905 belt around Toronto and in Montreal and Quebec City. Remember the 14,000 people who died in that heat wave in France?

Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution. Population growth and the rising value of infrastructure in coastal areas increase vulnerability to climate variability and future climate change, with losses projected to increase if the intensity of tropical storms increases. Current adaptation is uneven and readiness for increased exposure is low.

Stanley Park’s seawall is closed for the summer thanks to a 100-year storm that knocked trees across the path and damaged the wall itself. Is the wall high enough, by the way? What about the dikes protecting Delta and points south? Halifax and St. John’s, look out.

I’ve written these notes in a much more alarmist tone than a political party could probably get away with. Even so, the government’s critics ought to be doing better at making the argument that Canadians — this means you — need to be worried. Our fragile resource-extracting economy is at risk. Our farmers could be completely screwed, our cash-strapped cities short billions in emergency infrastructure improvements, our seniors dying of the heat and vulnerable to diseases we’ve never before had to contend with. And what, Mr. Harper, are you prepared to do about it?

Instead, the Liberals warn us about ice in Antarctica.

Update: This is the kind of bring-it-home detail from directly affected industries that I’m talking about:

Governments and all industry sectors in Canada must quickly “re-tool” to deal with climate change, says the Forest Products Association of Canada.

Avrim Lazar, the association’s president, said the forestry industry is already witnessing a manifestation of climate change — a mountain pine beetle epidemic — destroy massive tracts of valuable forest.

A report Friday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “is an important wake-up call to all,” said Lazar.

One graphic example of the environmental impact of climate change is the mountain pine beetle epidemic that has already destroyed a forest area in British Columbia about the size of New Brunswick, said Lazar.

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2 responses to “The Liberals respond to the IPCC report

  1. Seriously — why do I care if the ice caps of Antarctica melt?

    If the West Antarctic ice sheet collapses, sea level will rise about 7 meters (23 feet). That will drown New York City, Boston, Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and a whole lot of other inhabited places. Do you care about that?

    Global warming is not a liberal/conservative issue, it’s a scientific issue. It’s also the single greatest threat to our economy in the entire world. Do you care about that?

  2. You’re making the very points I think the Liberal Party of Canada should have made.

    You know and I know the predictions of dire consequences if the ice sheet collapses, and about the surveys that found deeply buried lakes that suggest that that’s a lot closer to happening than we’d previously realized. But if you don’t already know that stuff, the Liberal Party’s attempt to capitalize on what should be a political boost for it and its keystone policy isn’t likely to resonate.

    Global warming is, I believe, an apolitical fact, but how we respond to the threat depends very much on politics, and I think at least one party in Canada’s public debate is ceding important ground needlessly.

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