Photo: Broken records define the climate crisis

(Credit: Gerard Van der Leun via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

We’re living in a time of records. More renewable energy came on stream in 2015 than ever — 147 gigawatts, equal to Africa’s entire generating capacity — and investment in the sector broke records worldwide. Costs for producing solar and wind power have hit record lows. Portugal obtained all its electricity from renewable sources for four straight days in May — the longest achieved by any country — and Germany was able to meet 90 per cent of its electricity needs with renewable power for a brief period. Clean energy employment and job growth now outpace the fossil fuel industry by a wide margin.

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That’s just a portion of the good news. Oil prices have fallen so low that some more damaging activities are becoming unprofitable, a record number of coal companies are going bankrupt or filing for bankruptcy, and fewer coal mines are operating in the U.S.

But are the good records enough to help us deal with the bad? Global average temperatures are hitting record highs every recent month and year, and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are rising steadily, to levels unheard of in human history. Arctic sea ice is vanishing at unprecedented levels, mass bleaching is killing the Great Barrier Reef, and record-setting droughts, floods, heatwaves and extreme weather are happening around the world.

As Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research told the Guardian: “These are very worrying signs and I think it shows we are on a crash course with the Paris targets unless we change course very, very fast. I hope people realize that global warming is not something down the road, but it is here now and is affecting us now.”

The Paris Agreement, accepted in December by most nations, offered hope that world leaders are aware of this serious problem and know that unless we quickly employ a range of solutions — from renewable energy to reducing consumption to changing dietary and agricultural practices — humanity is at risk.

Despite overwhelming evidence for human-caused climate change, the fossil fuel industry continues to employ shady people and organizations to fool fearful and apparently blind followers into believing the problem doesn’t exist or isn’t serious enough to worry about. Their messaging follows a pattern: Spread a simplistic lie until it becomes so discredited that few people accept it and then move on to another simplistic lie.

The most recent from Canadian industry propagandists like Patrick Moore, Tom Harris (of the misnamed International Climate Science Coalition) and their pals at organizations like the U.S. Heartland Institute is that CO2 is not a pollutant, just a benign or beneficial gas that stimulates plant growth. It’s true CO2 is good for plants. So is nitrogen, but when it runs into waterways and the oceans, it pollutes them. Overwhelming scientific evidence proves that increased atmospheric CO2 is a major cause of global warming. The profound effects of that warming are already here, and new and frightening aspects are also coming to light, such as ocean oxygen depletion.

Recent bankruptcy filings for Peabody Energy showed the U.S. coal company owes money to a range of deniers and their organizations, including the also misnamed Calgary-based Friends of Science. It claims the sun and not human activity drives climate change (and that the world is cooling, not warming), a ridiculous assertion, often repeated by coal companies, that real scientists have thoroughly debunked. Extensive research shows coal, oil and gas interests have pumped huge amounts of money into these denial campaigns, all the while knowing that human-caused climate change is real and dangerous.

It’s good that deniers’ voices are being drowned out by evidence and rational arguments and that solutions are becoming better, cheaper and more readily available daily. But we no longer have time to allow compromised politicians, greedy industrialists and dishonest organizations to stall progress. We need record numbers of people to do all they can — develop solutions, write letters, sign petitions, talk to politicians, vote and take to the streets — to demand that governments, industry and society treat climate change with the seriousness it deserves.

Humanity’s fate depends on the choices we make today. We can’t let a polluting sunset industry and its minions block progress to a cleaner, healthier future.

June 30, 2016

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Oct 14, 2016
5:29 AM

Thanks for a good article. Yes, we must point out the severe dangers of global warming. And yes, we must point our fingers at the masters of deceit: the fossil fuel errand boys. But we must also become better at pointing out that a good future is aaccessible if we play our cards right. A new green, responsible and just economy is possible.

Jul 06, 2016
1:50 PM

In response to Tom Harris: What he calls a “smear” is just statement of facts, all verifiable through numerous sources. The reason we call him, his anti-science organization and similar denier organizations out is that they are wilfully spreading false information that, if heeded, would be detrimental to human health and life, as well as all life on our small planet.

Harris may want people to believe it’s “respectful debate” to compare climate scientists, government leaders and rational citizens from around the world to the Unabomber or Charles Manson, as his allies at Heartland have done. He may want to fool people into thinking that repeating debunked and unscientific nonsense aimed at downplaying the serious nature of global warming and its consequences is “respectful debate”. He may think spreading blatantly false information and relying on logical fallacies while accusing others of doing the same is “respectful debate”. But it’s not.

Harris, the ICSC, Heartland and Friends of Science (another group Harris was involved with, when it was caught secretly funnelling oil and gas money through the U of C) get money from industrial players to sow doubt and confusion to the detriment of humanity. Of course, Harris and the others try to keep their funding sources secret, but enough information has leaked out to know what they’re up to.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about Harris and the various shady organizations he’s been involved with can find information from a number of sources, including here:

Ian Hanington David Suzuki Foundation

Jul 03, 2016
9:31 PM

We’re at a crucial time there is no denying! There are some heart warming statistics that you’ve mentioned in this article. I think we are finally turning the corner on the oil industry, although unfortunately it’s going to be a slow process I fear. We need to take as much action as possible, today, and not continue to put it off until tomorrow!

Jul 03, 2016
10:00 AM

Thank you for your continuous attempt to help our fragile EARTH! Through the years, Dr. Suzuki and your Foundation have been correct.

NOW, your last paragraph relates to THE life-threatening issue!

As a 76 year-old with four university-educated daughters, I am asking for your support to hold immediate REFERENDUMS, especially on LIFE-threatening ISSUES directly, using SOCIAL media, for example.

25 million Canadian voters do NOT need permission to do this in each of the 338 ridings, using DIRECT DEMOCRACY, by the people.

How much SURVIVAL TIME remains within a “business as usual” system of paid “representatives,” that is BROKEN, archaic, and outdated?

Jul 02, 2016
9:57 AM

The people I call money whores drive the fossil fuel industry. Education has been dumbed down to the point that a lot of folks can’t properly read or
understand a newspaper article. The fact of the matter on cars is that they get much better gas mileage than they did 25 years ago. There will never be the same demand again as fewer folks can afford to insure and drive a car. The fossil fuel morons have made million of dollars for year and if they are running out of money it’s their own short sighted fault. Their day in the sun is disappearing quickly.

Jul 01, 2016
8:29 AM

I hope your definition of “generating electricity from renewable sources” does not include burning wood pellets. The clear-cutting of hardwood forests in North Carolina an throughout the SE of the US to manufacture wood pellets to be burned in Europe, especially the UK, to generate electricity is an environmental disaster.

Jun 30, 2016
9:58 PM

Why does David Suzuki feel the need to publicly smear me and groups like International Climate Science Coalition with irrelevant and false attacks. Why can he not simply engage in respectful debate about the topic at hand as we do. We never smear or attack him, although we disagree with his ideas on climate change, while agreeing with him on other points.

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