Climate Inaction Threatens the Livability of the Planet

Op-ed by Kim Perrotta published in The Hamilton Spectator, October 24, 2023 Link to Hamilton Spectator

Many people still think that catastrophic climate chaos is something that will happen in some distant future.  But that is not the case.  We are at the front end of climate chaos with a very small window to pull ourselves back from the brink of total disaster. 

On October 17th, we learned that global temperatures in September 2023 were higher than any other September in modern history, and likely higher than any other September in thousands of years.  This summer, we had a taste of the climate chaos that is to come.  This was Canada’s worst wildfire season ever.  Wildfires have grown more intense in Canada, and around the world, in response to rising temperatures and deeper droughts that are being driven by global warming.   

In 2023 so far, wildfires have consumed more than 18.4 million hectares of land in Canada.  That is nine times more than the annual average and equal to the land covered by Greece and Costa Rica combined.  Nearly 11,000 people were deployed to fight these fires.  One Helicopter Pilot and several young people in their teens and twenties died while on duty. 

Wildfires placed more than 200,000 people in Canada on evacuation orders this summer.  They forced tens of thousands from their homes.  They emptied entire communities and displaced Indigenous communities from land that that may now require decades to recover.  

This summer’s wildfires also exposed ten of millions of people in Ottawa, Montreal, and most of southern Ontario, as well Calgary and Edmonton, to extremely high levels of air pollution.  Wildfire smoke aggravates asthma, increases the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and premature deaths, and increases the chances of developing chronic diseases such as lung cancer. Researchers have estimated that wildfire smoke is already producing 600-2700 premature deaths and $4.7-20.8 billion in health-related costs, each year, in Canada.

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change has indicated that the world must cut its climate emissions by 45% by 2030, and to net zero by 2050, if we are to limit global warming to 1.5C and avoid the catastrophic and potentially irreversible impacts that would occur with global warming beyond that limit.  Climate scientists fear that we are now on track to reach 1.5C of global warming within the next five years and 2.0C of global warming within 25-40 years unless steps are taken to dramatically reduce our emissions within the very near future. 

Canada has been one of the top 10 emitting countries for decades.  While Canada has made strong commitments to reduce climate emissions, we have failed to meet those goals for over 30 years.  Ontario is the second highest emitting province in Canada; responsible for nearly one quarter (22.5%) of the country’s emissions.  And yet, the current government of Ontario has made policy choices that will both, undermine our ability to reduce climate emissions well into the future, and increase our climate emissions over the next two decades. 

The steps that Ontario has taken to extend urban boundaries, relax planning policies, and develop a new highway in the GTHA, will discourage the development of walkable neighbourhoods and transit-supportive communities that reduce car use, traffic congestion, air pollution, and climate emissions from the transportation sector; Ontario’s biggest source of climate emissions. The actions it has taken to re-direct Ontario’s electricity sector away from renewable energy and energy efficiency towards gas-fired power plants will increase climate emissions from that sector by 375% by 2030.  

We know what needs to be done to provide our children with a livable planet, but we need provincial governments that have the courage and integrity to act, and voters who will hold them to it.