September 24, 2008

Sounding Alarms

In a recent column Paula Simons sounds the alarm over a U.S. law prohibiting any federal agency from buying synthetic fuel from non-conventional sources (“Alberta blindsided by U.S. fuel law,” The Edmonton Journal, Sept. 16). The alarm should indeed be sounded, but not for this piece of legislation. In a much broader context, a more worrisome notion has started to work its way into the fossil fuel debate.

Anyone who read past the headline of Tuesday’s front page story on the tar sands must have stopped for a moment to ponder the implications of a statement attributed to Paul Monaghan, head of sustainability and social goals at Co-operative Asset Management, a UK investment house specializing in ethical funds: “The worry is that, within five years, [climate change] will be unstoppable.” (Oilsands under fire in U.K., The Edmonton Journal, Sept. 15.)
This statement undoubtedly stems from comments made by Dr. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the scientist who first alerted the general public about global warming in a landmark appearance before the US congress more than 20 years ago.

From a 2006 article in The London Independent: “We have to stabilise emissions of carbon dioxide within a decade, or temperatures will warm by more than one degree. That will be warmer than it has been for half a million years, and many things could become unstoppable.” (1)

From 2006 article posted on his website: “We are near a tipping point, a point of no return, beyond which the built in momentum and feedbacks will carry us to levels of climate change with staggering consequences for humanity and all of the residents of this planet.” (2)

At a climate change conference in California, November 2006: “I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change ... no longer than a decade, at the most.” (3)

And in June of this year, to mark the 20th anniversary of his testimony to Congress: “The next President and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation. Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide . . . to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity’s control.” (4)

For our part, this election we’re in could very well be the last opportunity we’ll have to stop runaway climate change, In which case the only real choice is this: a carbon tax, a cap and trade, or both. With all due respect to our Prime Minister, aspirational, intensity-based targets just won’t cut it.


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