illustration by Sébastien Thibault  (The Walrus)

Article by Chad Pelley

I recently explained climate change to a 5 year old, and he understood it without a single question. Yet last month, the man who ran my city for a decade made it clear he couldn’t wrap his brain around it.

I’m not poking fun at Andy, he can do that all on his own. I’m exploring the notion that the modern adult might be ignorant about climate change because they simply don’t understand it. Fair enough.

Untitled-1In a nutshell, here is a basic explanation of “the greenhouse effect” that causes climate change: burning oil releases clouds of CO2 (carbon dioxide) into the air. Have a look at your muffler next time you start your car. There is no denying it. These plumes of CO2 rise up into the sky and stay there. And that’s the trouble. These clouds of CO2 act like an invisible ceiling on planet earth. Normally, the sun beams down on the earth, hits rocks, snow, whatever, and that heat bounces back up into space. But because we are pumping so much CO2 into the sky every day, there’s a ceiling of CO2 up there, and it’s not letting the heat from the sun bounce back up into space, as it always had, prior to the advent of hauling dirty oil out of the ground and burning it to run cars and power plants. It’s a fact: 2001-2010 was the warmest decade of all time. 2011-2020 is on a trajectory to top it.

To make sure the first child I spoke with wasn’t particularly bright, I explained climate change to another kid, and again, it was understood, without any questions – “if you burn oil, CO2 is released; CO2 traps heat in the atmosphere.” So I’m baffled by politicians who deny climate change is happening. I think what confuses them is the term “global warming.” Taken at face value, it implies the outcome of burning fossil fuels is a warmer planet, and so they can deny it. “Sure it’s snowing here now, b’y! It’s cold as f*ck out there t’day, what are you on about with global warming!” To combat this logic, the science community has replaced “global warming” with “climate change.” The nastiest effects of climate change aren’t the spikes in air temperature (though drought is never good for crops), but the effect of that temperature spike on weather patterns forming at sea. For starters, and Snodden himself will confirm it: warmer seas will throw more hurricanes and snowstorms our way. All the oil money in the world ain’t gonna be enough to put the world back together once we’re pummeled and pummeled and pummeled into oblivion.

This article was written out of frustration that in April, our premier attended a national conference on climate change, and returned with this paraphrased sentiment, “We want to mitigate climate change, but we will not interfere with the oil industry to do so.” In his defense, try being the politician to say “screw oil!” in this province, and that’s part of the problem. Sure, the economy is important, but, it’s also elementary economics to say relying as heavily as we do on one thing for most of our money is no way to have a stable economy. Look at all the panic in the last year over the drop in the price of oil. Relying less on oil isn’t just an environmentally wise course of action, but an economy-diversifying one. To quote those kids I interviewed, “d’uh.”