Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The canary in the mineshaft -- called global warming

Happy Hallowe'en.

There's an old trick miners use to find out if there's too much gas in a shaft. They lower a canary and see if it comes out dead. These days we're seeing the proverbial canary all around us in the form of global warming, especially in the mid to upper latitudes. And while some like George W Bush and Jerry Falwell continue to refuse to accept this basic fact, others including Tony Blair realize it all too well. In fact, it's this issue that actually puts Blair in the same company as his predecessor, John Major, who criticized the first George Bush and his total lack of inaction in the lead-up to the Earth Summit in 1992.

Yesterday, former World Bank economist Sir Nicholas Stern issued a report he had written for the British Government, saying the world faces a stark choice: Either we spend 1% of global GDP now to fight global warming, or we face the prospect of committing at least 10 to 15% of GDP by 2050. By that time, Stern asserts, the global economy could shrink by at least 20% of what growth would expect it to be by that time -- and there could be major consequences.

We're facing them right now here in Canada, especially in the High Arctic -- and it's become an urgent issue of national security. This past summer, two Coast Guard vessels -- the Louis St. Laurent and the Admunsen -- made their annual trek through the Northwest Passage. What should normally take at least a couple of months even during the summer was managed in about a week, as the icebreakers cut through the thinnng top sheet without much trouble. In fact, most of it had already melted and one could see the polar bears struggling to swim from one ice flow to another. This would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. Even more remarkable are the increasing frequency of thunderstorms in the Far North -- which was once considered so rare that the Inuit didn't even have a word for lightning in their vocabulary.

It's an issue of national security because most countries, including the United States, do not recognize Canada's sovereignty over the islands of the North and the waters within. They consider them to be international waters. And even if we could manage to get those countries to acknowledge what is rightfully ours, it's still a boon for terrorists who see a potential shortcut between Europe and Japan. Yet this is something a lot of people on the religious right fail to recognize ... for them, neither believing is seeing nor vice versa.

Set aside Canada for a minute. Can anyone doubt after last year's record hurricane season in the States that we're in huge trouble? The prophet Hosea was correct in predicting that we "have sown the wind" and "we shall reap the whirlwind." We keep lowering the canary in the mineshaft, and it comes up dead -- faster and faster and faster.

For once, I'd actually like to see one of those televangelists or skeptical politicians spend some time in the Arctic and see for themselves. But of course, they're too busy selling salvation and tax cuts, with a Rolex on their arms, to even be bothered. A target date of 2050 is too far down the road. We Canadians need to stick to Kyoto and meet our targets by 2013 as we promised. And we need to take a leading role for the next round of talks -- the Nairobi round -- next week.

I'm not holding my breath. Or maybe I should -- given all the gases we're breathing in right now. With guys like Harper and Dubya, it's going to get way worse before it even starts to get better.

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