Two independent reports, out of Japan and England, have shown that 2014 was the warmest year on record, with average global temperatures continuing a steady rise that began in the 1800s when we started burning fossil fuels. Meanwhile, lower gas prices could boost sales of trucks and SUVs - the vehicles that get the worst gas mileage - showing that the message is not getting through to consumers.
Still another report out of England put an actual number on how much of a reduction in fossil fuel consumption it would take to curtail climate warming. It says most of the world's oil and gas, including all of Canada’s oil sands, should remain in the ground if we are to avoid a 2-degree increase in the warming of the Earth’s climate - a tipping point where it will continue to warm unabated.
But with low fuel prices reducing the urge to conserve and potential sales of more large vehicles increasing the demand for that oil, the trend toward a warmer world is not going to reverse soon.
Our current situation in Canada, where our economy absolutely depends on fossil fuels, puts us in the awkward position where we are sitting on a huge resource that can provide great wealth for the country, but using it damages the environment.
It’s like loading a boat with gold.
Imagine you have a large cache of gold that could make you rich, but you have to transport it in a boat that is too small. Since gold is very heavy, as you load it the weight makes the boat sit lower in the water. Soon, you reach the capacity of the boat, but there is still gold left on the shore. And you don’t have a bigger boat.
The safer choice is to think long-term, leave the rest of the gold behind and come back for it later. But if you are greedy, thinking only about the riches to be had immediately, you could keep loading beyond the boat’s capacity to sail safely and say, “What’s the problem, it’s still floating!”
So when do you stop loading gold? Eventually, you'll come to a point where you have to trade off getting richer against sinking the boat.
So here we are, sitting on a huge motherload of black gold in Canada. Its value has kept our economy afloat through the last recession, with the prospect of sustaining it in the short-term future. No one in the fuel business or government wants to leave it in the ground. It’s too valuable, despite its burden on the climate.
But our spaceship Earth has global temperature graphs that are rising like the water creeping up the side of the hull. Where’s the turning point?
It all comes back to getting rich now without much regard for the long term consequences. We could turn to other riches, but at the moment, we don’t see alternatives because we’re blinded by the lustre of the gold.
It's time to think green instead of gold.