Université de Sherbrooke
Climate reporter Barry Saxifrage’s article in Canada’s National Observer on July 31 this year has a headline that tells us where we are in combating climate change: “Fossil fuel burning leaps to new record, crushing clean energy and climate efforts”. The graphs spell out the bad news, with one (“Fossil fuel burn per capita: G20”) showing Canadians at second highest among the G20 nations, just behind Saudi Arabians in our fuel usage!
When Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser for the UK government, called the acceleration of climate change destruction “scary”, many in the scientific community were taken aback. The reason for this is that emotive language has never been part of the scientific lexicon. Peer review and painstaking accuracy via mathematics, statistics and graphs as well as precisely verifiable fieldwork have always been the hallmark of the scientific community. As the crises facing our climate and biodiversity have become indisputable, so, too, has the desire by scientists to somehow reach the public’s heart and influence the world’s people to respond to the growing global threat. Of foremost concern is the need to radically expand this conversation to a community that we are part of: western and rich (by any global standards), and… energy gluttons. The tragic inability to confront our climate chaos goes back to Hobbes and Locke and a mechanistic view of Nature. Governments wish our scientists to use a language that will never allow the general public to connect with dry scientific research. Until the last 10 years, scientists were muzzled.
“Heart” and “scary” are among the new words being used to collectively lift us off our La-Z-Boy and Girl recliners and prod us to influence each other as well as our equally lazy and corrupt governments.
Many people claim that using emotive vocabulary depresses us and we’ll simply shut out the call to action; that children will become so overwhelmed that they will become paralyzed with fear. But Joanna Haigh, Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College London, said: “David King is right to be scared – I’m scared too. We do the analysis, we think what’s going to happen, then publish in a very scientific way. Then we have a human response to that… and it is scary.”
But are children overwhelmed? I think not. Just look at the huge response of school-age students to their fellow student, Greta Thunberg, who will be visiting Montréal for the September 27 community strike. Finally they have one of their own who hasn’t participated in being part of the climate problem, if only by being too young to pollute excessively as we do so obsessively in North America!
When the planet’s most famous climate scientist, James Hansen, wrote his book Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, it was a very human appeal by a great scientific mind reaching out to the general public to respond. Fellow American scientist Michael E. Mann has also written for the public, but the most powerful force in the world for climate justice has been Bill McKibben, who has written a plethora of articles and books and co-founded the climate group 350.org. McKibben is not a scientist, and indeed we need everyone to contribute. His newest book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? is available at the Lennoxville library. The enormous frustration by the scientific community has led other non-scientists to take up the banner to inform the public. The efforts of George Marshall’s climate education group in the UK can be viewed at climateoutreach.org, and Guardiancolumnist and author George Monbiot writes on climate at monbiot.com. Here in Canada Naomi Klein writes with intense power. You have only to dip into The Shock Doctrine: This Changes Everythingand her new book On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, to be inspired to stand up.
Now it’s up to you to come out and support our youth to have a healthy world. We can complain about governments’ ineptitude all we want, but it’s up to the individual now to demand change. Make your voice known during Canada’s federal election campaigns.
… and with your friends, family and co-workers plan to strike on September 27!