The World is on Fire, But Don’t Worry, It’s Fine

Will the government treat the race to stop rising temperatures like the space race? Don't count on it

Once our leaders got us to the moon, now they get us only part way

Remember the moon landing?

In September 1962, President John F. Kennedy said something wild. He said the US was going to put a man on the moon. And when he made that announcement, no one knew how they would pull it off.

The race to the moon was a huge challenge.

But on July 20, 1969, US astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history. They were the first humans to walk on the moon.

Think about that for a second. It only took less than seven years to get from JFK’s famous speech about “landing a man on the moon” to Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (› Play Audio)

Today, humanity faces an even bigger challenge. Climate change—or global warming—threatens human existence on the planet. Instead of flying to a new rock in the sky, we need to save the one we’re on.

How do we do that?

Just like in the space race, we need to take some serious action, and fast. We need to stop burning the coal, oil, and gas that cause global warming.

But Houston, we have a problem. We’re still burning those fossil fuels. And governments are acting like everything’s fine.

When did our governments go from getting to the moon to getting almost nowhere when faced with a huge challenge?

Here in BC, the official climate conversation started in 2007 when Gordon Campbell’s government created the province’s first climate action plan.

Back then, Campbell’s government set a target. We were going to lower BC’s greenhouse gas emissions (the stuff causing the climate warming) by 33% below 2007 levels by 2020, and 80% below 2007 levels by 2050.

The numbers can seem meaningless. Unless you’re a climate nerd, there’s no way to picture what that looks like.

What’s important is that we missed the 2020 target. By 2018 we were 7% above 2007 levels. We were heading in the wrong direction. By a lot.

So in 2018, John Horgan’s government announced new targets. How nice, when BC fails, Horgan just sets a new goalpost.

The new target: 40% below 2007 levels by 2030. 

Again, what does that even mean?

It’s not instantly clear, but the new target is weaker. It’s a slightly higher number, which looks good! But it’s ten years later, and that’s bad. That means more heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere.

What is clear is that we’re slowly making changes so our communities are cleaner and more resilient. But slowly is the key word, too slowly. If we were a rocket ship, we would fall over on the launch pad.

But climate change is speeding up. This summer, 595 people died from extreme heat, and a third of them died just in the heat dome.

Scientists have been telling us that tackling this huge challenge will take a huge effort, unlike anything we’ve done before. They’ve been telling us this for decades. They say we need to stop the climate from warming to 1.5ºCelsius above the levels from back before we were an industrial economy.

Again, none of us were around in the 1800s. It’s hard to know what that was like.

But if we don’t stop global warming, we will face something known as “dangerous climate change.” Bigger storms. Worse droughts. Trouble with the food supply.

In the latest report about the state of the climate, scientists have literally said: “We must act decisively now, to keep 1.5 alive.”

Here’s the problem: we have already warmed the climate by 1.1ºCelsius. And the next 0.4º is probably going to happen even if we stop burning fossil fuels right now. It’s like a big fire that keeps smoking after you pour water on it.

It looks like we are in real trouble.

So do we act? Or do we give up? 

Enter Dr. Andrew Weaver. You remember him, the former leader of the BC Greens that abandoned his party and told people to vote for the NDP and rugby-buddy Horgan in the last election. He’s also a well-known climate scientist.

Weaver did his fellow rugger another solid recently when he tweeted, “1.5 degrees is not attainable. It never has been imho.” (imho is Internet speak for “In My Humble Opinion”).

Weaver’s tweet was in response to Horgan’s CleanBC plan. You know, the plan that’s supposed to reverse the upward trend in BC’s greenhouse gas emissions and save us from climate change.

Cool. The climate guy thinks we’re fucked, while applauding a plan that won’t get us there.

Some (former) leader.

That’s like Kennedy applauding a rocket that would only get astronauts halfway to the moon.

So. We know we have to act fast to avoid dangerously spiking temperatures and more weather disasters.

What do we do?

What do you do if care about climate change and want to fix things?

Think back to the space race. The moon landing was a long shot. It seemed like an impossible goal. But the spirit around the mission made it feel possible.

When it started, no one knew how to overcome all the challenges to put boots on the moon. But everyone knew we would do everything possible to make it happen.

And our governments led the way. They helped make that spirit.

Now compare that to climate action.

Our leaders in Ottawa and Victoria make half-assed plans and tell us that’s good enough. 

But it isn’t good enough. We know that. 

The race to stop rising temperatures is more urgent than the space race ever was.

History shows us we will only get there if we pull together like we never have before.

Horgan and Trudeau have long needed to step up. We’re ready with the spirit. Give us the steps needed to reach the impossible.

An ambitious climate goal would be a small step for Horgan and Trudeau. But it would be a giant leap for the planet and our kids’ future.