COMMENTARY: Climate change is a Canadian dilemma that must be addressed

A new report from the global scientific authority on climate change calls on individuals, as well as governments, to take immediate action to avoid the consequences of global warming.

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The report issued by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says that if governments do not act, the world will reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030, precipitating the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.

READ MORE: Here’s the difference in impact that 1.5 and 2 C of global warming will have on the planet

Meanwhile in Canada, the climate change debate (depending on your perspective) is either between climate change deniers vs. those who care about their children, or a debate about irresponsible governments taxing and spending their way to election success vs. fiscally responsible governments who want to lower taxes to help individuals and their families prosper. Both are strong political positions because they neatly divide people into two sizeable and motivated camps. But what the current discussion does not do is solve anything.

READ MORE: Canada must cut emissions by half in 12 years to meet stiff new targets: UN

The debate in Canada is dividing Canadians when it should be about finding common solutions. The debate isn’t adding knowledge, offering new insights or providing an opportunity to find a common denominator that might eventually move a majority to support a solution or solutions. It does not build confidence and trust in decision makers and experts who we need to show leadership on the issue.

Watch below: Recent climate change coverage

If the science is correct (full disclosure, I believe it is), Canadians are going to need a lot of help and a lot of convincing first, to change their everyday lives to slow global warming, and second, to prepare for and manage the consequences of acting too little and too late.

There are three challenges standing in the way of a climate change solution.

First, climate change is very important to Canadians, but it is not the most important issue. It trails health care, the economy, poverty, housing, taxes and unemployment. So, when politicians yell at each other over Twitter about the dire consequences of inaction or the wrong actions, most Canadians tune them out because they aren’t talking about the issues people feel are most pressing.

Second, even if they don’t tune them out, we don’t trust the major players in the climate change debate. Some 53 per cent say they lack confidence in the media (those reporting on climate change), 60 per cent lack confidence in governments (those providing information on climate change), and 74 per cent lack confidence in political parties (those proposing solutions to tackle climate change).

Third, we are asking people to make changes and accept pain today with the promise that things will be less bad in the future. That is hardly a motivating message, especially at a time when half of us expect our quality of life to be status quo or worse in 10 years’ time.

It is clear that the current message of predicting the future catastrophic impact of non-action is never going to move a majority toward a common set of solutions, let alone a common definition of the climate change problem we are facing.

At some point, if we want to act soon enough to push back the 2030 date issued by the IPCC, we need to shift the discussion and start communicating the benefits we can realize today, being honest about the trade-offs we are making and the negative impacts in the short term, and the gamble we are taking on the future. But perhaps a balanced conversation isn’t in the interest of anyone whose real deadline is October 2019 and the next federal election.

Mike Colledge is president, Canada Ipsos Public Affairs.


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