Time for climate change deniers to get out of the way

The world’s most fundamental problem must be solved – before we are all lost in the smog

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RED DEER, Alta. Dec 8, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Denying the existence of global warming will not rid the world of pollution.

Nor will denial save the millions of lives either lost or irreparably damaged around the world every year as the result of despoiled air, water and soil.

So why does the movement to deny the presence of climate change and global warming exist? And why have the deniers emerged from the smog again, as world leaders look for a way to tackle global warming?

As December dawned, world leaders gathered in Paris to renew efforts to arrest climate change. After the leaders left COP21, the serious work of negotiating an agreement to limit global warming began. And from all of this work, a deal seems certain.

Whether that deal results in the member nations actually reaching for or hitting the targets remains to be seen. The Kyoto Accord is proof that targets can be missed and ignored, particularly when a noisy segment of society won’t concede that pollution – never mind climate change – is a plague.

Some of the responsibility for meeting the goals that will result from the Paris talks rests with each of us. And in Alberta, where so much of our economy depends on fossil fuels, and where extracting oil sands bitumen creates an insufferable emissions volume, this is no small thing.

The effort is made more difficult because among us remains a rabble that seems to be inspired by two things: a fear of losing economic well-being, and a lack of respect in science.

It’s difficult to understand why the health and welfare of those around them, and of themselves, isn’t paramount.

It should be easy to understand how costly an unhealthy workforce is to the economy, today and into the future. If they only believe in dollars and cents, that should make sense to them.

Set aside the science that points to global warming, an increase in extreme weather events, and dramatic ecological changes that will follow from such alterations in the natural order. Drill down instead to two critical issues in this debate: the multi-pronged devastation that pollution causes versus the desire to maintain the economic status quo at any cost.

According to the Asthma Society of Canada, the “prevalence of asthma has been increasing over the 20 years and it is estimated that currently over three million Canadians have asthma.” Worldwide, asthma rates (including among children) rise on average by 50 per cent every decade, and rates are higher in urban settings. For this growing group, the future changes for the worse by the moment.

Asthma triggers include chemicals, fumes, odours and air pollution.

The cost is staggering: the asthma society says the condition is the third leading cause of missed work and the leading cause of school absenteeism in this country. And there are an estimated 146,000 Canadian emergency room visits a year due to asthma.

According to Conference Board of Canada 2010 data, chronic lung diseases (among them asthma) cost Canadians $12 billion in health-related costs.

More broadly, the World Health Organization says that in 2012, about seven million people died as the result of exposure to air pollution. That number represents one in eight deaths worldwide. WHO said, in a report in 2014, “that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.”

Water and soil pollution similarly cause profound human loss and suffering. Take your pick from a variety of cancers, multiple sclerosis, birth defects . . . the list is long and devastating.

The stories of tragic loss are repeated around the globe, from “cancer villages” in China where whole communities are doomed because of years of exposure to pollution to above-normal cancer rates in Northern Alberta communities.

In whose value system can this pollution-caused devastation be acceptable, even if it is accompanied by economic gain? We cannot blindly live in this moment. As much as deniers believe that the economic standards of today – and the status quo that includes a faltering environment – are all that matter, we really do need to be concerned about the future.

It is time for the deniers to get onside. The world’s most fundamental problem must be solved – before we are all lost in the smog.

Troy Media columnist John Stewart is a journalist based in Red Deer. John is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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