Is Climate Change Dead?
Interview with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Andrew Weaver
By Carol Crenna
If climate change is dead, according to Dr. Andrew Weaver, PhD, then we will be. I wanted to know what the evidence was, rather than hearsay, on our changing climate so spoke to Andrew Weaver, PhD, a University of Victoria professor and research scientist who, as a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a Lead Author) shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.
He has authored or coauthored over 200 peer-reviewed papers in climate, meteorology, oceanography, earth science, policy, education and anthropology journals. He was appointed to the Order of British Columbia, and has two books, Keeping our Cool: Canada in a Warming World and Generation Us: The Challenge of Global Warming.
Andrew Weaver is now running for the Green Party as candidate for Victoria’s Oak Bay-Gordon Head area in the May 14 provincial election in BC. He says he is running to “work to fight fairly but passionately for economic, social and environmental sustainability, and to ensure that evidence forms the basis of decision-making rather than decisions forming the basis of evidence-making.”
Here Weaver gives pointed remarks on what we can, or can’t, do to change the weather. Forget discussing “climate.” We’re talking about basic survival in 100 years.
CAROL: Within IPCC, you were responsible for future predictions. Will you give us some?
ANDREW WEAVER: When you turn the stove element on under a pot of water it doesn’t boil right away. Similarly, the climate takes time to warm because oceans take time to heat up.
If we maintain greenhouse gas levels at today’s values, in the next few decades the Himalayan, Andes and British Columbia glaciers will be ice-free in summer — affecting millions of humans who depend on them for water.
Lake Chad in Africa which straddles four countries is destined to completely dry, affecting 100 million people. When Pakistan and India no longer have water from glaciers, they will take it from somewhere. The problem will either become the great unifier or the great divider.
People are realizing that issues are all tied together — dependence on oil developed in unstable regimes creates more cultural tension, global terrorism, poverty and environmental collapse.
Global warming issues have been spoken the loudest by climate scientists – normally conservative academia, not fringe environmentalists.
ANDREW WEAVER: Alberta is producing the oil, but we are all demanding it, and if the inland sea was originally situated in any other province, then others would be producing it instead of Alberta.
But this doesn’t mean that Alberta should deny that its problems exist. Alberta has the most to gain and the most to lose. If it is going to deal with the problem, it has to eliminate oil fields.
Rather than go the GM route – continuing to produce a product that no one is going to want until it declares bankruptcy – the province should position itself with the wealth it is generating today for tomorrow’s marketplace, which will want sustainable, renewable energy sources.
CAROL: Were oil producers open to this?
ANDREW WEAVER: I prefer to speak not to the converted, but to those who are skeptics such as the oil industry which has questions and misinformation that need to be answered and corrected.
People don’t want to admit they are doing something bad, and inherently want to do the right thing so use excuses to justify their actions.
CAROL: People are slow to change, even though the climate isn’t.
ANDREW WEAVER: They still have no understanding of the seriousness of the problem. It’s about the survival of our civilization as we know it. Within 100 years we’ll experience a climate that Earth hasn’t seen in hundreds of millions of years; humans have flourished with little to no fluctuation in climate.
We have no choice but to change radically, overturning our current energy systems to a 100 per cent emission reduction. Few people have come to terms with the immense task of eliminating fossil fuel.
In BC, we frequently hear about our “green” energy — the rationale being that hydro dams make up the majority of electricity generation. But electricity is a small part of overall energy consumption which is over two-thirds fossil fuel.
CAROL: Is complete elimination of emissions possible?
ANDREW WEAVER: Yes, because we can also develop technologies to take carbon dioxide out of the air to reduce what is there. Solutions are already available for most issues but it’s all about price. Conservation is not going to get us where we have to go.
We also have to find ways to produce clean energy required for future generations to charge the batteries in their electric cars, for example.
It’s not a choice between wind, solar, tidal and rivers; we need them all working together, and sooner rather than later since it takes time to create the infrastructure.
CAROL: Manufacturers that promote 100 per cent electric motors haven’t done well.
ANDREW WEAVER: Transportation Canada sets arbitrary safety standards for electric cars, classified as low speed vehicles because they’re not allowed to go over 40 kilometres per hour.
It’s not that manufacturers can’t make them go faster; they have to under-engineer the engines so that they can only go that speed.
The government’s protectionist policy is designed to ensure that electric vehicles can’t be driven on city streets so the status quo continues for fossil fuel-burning automobile makers.
CAROL: It’s confusing as a consumer to know what’s more important, whether it was made 1. with renewable resources or 2. in areas that can produce it more readily with less energy consumption or 3. locally.
ANDREW WEAVER: If the federal government imposed a carbon tax on all goods imported into Canada – and there was a worldwide agreement on pricing to account for carbon emissions produced in growing, manufacturing and transporting the goods – priorities would change.
Bamboo is a very sustainable option for home decor, for example, but it can be grown in Canada, and it will only be more economical to grow and manufacture here when we pay the true costs of bamboo now imported from China including the emissions created.
China makes widgets because Canadians want to buy them cheaply ─ so we can’t blame them entirely for their carbon emissions. When consumers ask questions of suppliers, they will comply.
CAROL: What can we do?
ANDREW WEAVER: Support progressive policies. If people keep putting pressure on government, demanding change as voters, it will happen.
CAROL: Have you seen results?
ANDREW WEAVER: No. The carbon tax that was originally proposed by the BC government was the first of its kind in North America and the first economically optimal solution in the world.
The world’s governments looked to BC for leadership because its government at that time had gotten re-elected with a platform that included doing the right thing. But the carbon tax wasn’t put in place.
We needed to support the carbon tax because it wasn’t done to benefit today’s leaders in their political careers, but for future generations. The only way to deal with our environmental problem is to put a high price on emissions.
CAROL: What else can we do?
ANDREW WEAVER: Use your pocketbook to say “no” to corporate products and corporate naysayers disclaiming climate change threats.
For everything you buy, ask where it is made and what it is made out of, and then make choices to minimize your daily footprint.
When buying groceries consider where it was grown — why buy Mexican cucumbers or New Zealand apples when you could buy local ones? If you know that a product can’t be grown here, such as bananas, stop eating it as often and make it an occasional treat. Tell everyone you know to do the same.
CAROL: You said some environmental groups are becoming naysayers.
ANDREW WEAVER: Some environmental groups are campaigning against environmental threats, but not campaigning for alternatives.
Not recognizing how dramatic the change has to be in our energy sources, they’re criticizing different alternatives such as run of river. Run-of-river can be the least intrusive way to produce energy if done properly — consider water wheels used in Europe 500 years ago.
You can’t always criticize; you also have the find and support solutions.
CAROL: How did you become interested in the environment?
ANDREW WEAVER: When I was a child I got a book from Santa Claus on the oceans and then watched Jacques Cousteau TV documentaries.
Although I studied math and physics, I wanted it to have relevance for people so focused on atmospheric and ocean science and then on climate change.
CAROL: Did you get to know Al Gore well when he was in the climate-change spotlight?
ANDREW WEAVER: When Al Gore conducted training sessions in Canada, I act as his advisor for scientific questions that he didn’t feel comfortable answering. Al Gore is an outstanding communicator and not a scientist, and yet climate scientists are not the best spokespeople because our daily discourse is talking jargon with colleagues, not giving passionate public presentations.
Original article by Carol Crenna featured in VISTA Magazine