HAD ENOUGH OF NATURAL DISASTER this week? Floods, mudslides, washouts, the Canucks.
Doesn’t help that the storm, followed by an unsettling avalanche of stories about its grim aftermath, came during a gloomy period made even gloomier by the pandemic. Call it Covember. If this month were set to music, it would be a hurtin’ country song, only with lyrics from the Book of Revelations.
The devastation must be caused by climate change, right? This is the question that gets put to Andrew Weaver, the climate scientist and former B.C. Greens leader, whenever we get baked by a heat dome, or scorched by wildfires, or drenched by record-breaking precipitation.
He always replies the same way, that it’s impossible to blame any particular event on global warming, but that we can expect extreme weather to happen more and more often. (A month’s worth of rain in a day, the kind that lets you do the backstroke down the bike lanes, would count as extreme.)
The other message Weaver is trying to hammer home? Don’t lose hope.
The COP-26 climate conference wound up in Glasgow last weekend, and from the way some were responding, decrying weakened wording over the future role of coal, you would think that we might as well give up now and hit the bottle.
This makes Weaver sputter. Having spent 40 years trying to convince Canadians that climate change is real, he now finds himself imploring them to ignore the voices of doom and keep striving to make a difference.
The greatest threat is no longer climate denial, he says. “It’s the wingnuts on the far left who, in their quest for perfection, are barriers to any progress, because they won’t accept anything other than perfection.
“It’s as though there’s nothing in between Armageddon and complete denial.”
In Weaver’s view, Glasgow gave reason for optimism. More than 100 counties, including Canada, have pledged to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent.
Despite the weakened language, he thinks the writing is on the wall for coal. Canada has promised to phase out coal-fired power by 2030 and in Glasgow confirmed it will end the export of thermal coal (as opposed to metallurgical coal, used to make steel) by the same year. That means no more shipping U.S. thermal coal from B.C. ports. “This is huge.”
Weaver senses a firmer political commitment to change. Note that all the main federal parties made climate action a central part of their platforms during this fall’s election campaign. That’s one reason the already-imploding Greens were blown to near-oblivion: They no longer had their signature issue to themselves.
Even the Conservatives, who used to treat global warming as some chemtrails-and-mushrooms hippie nonsense to which they had better pay lip service in order to satisfy the granola-smokers in B.C., had a detailed climate plan. (It included a scheme in which the government would track your individual carbon tax, then refund the money but only if you spent it on eco-friendly alternatives like bikes or bus passes. Imagine, says Weaver, what small-government Conservatives would say had Justin Trudeau proposed a new bureaucracy dedicated to telling you how to spend your tax rebate.)
Weaver emerged during the campaign as an unexpected but wholeheartedly enthusiastic cheerleader for the Liberals’ climate plan, which he characterized as sophisticated and realistic.
Likewise, he was solidly behind the B.C. New Democrats’ latest climate initiatives when they were revealed in October. Despite having butted heads with bromance buddy John Horgan over LNG, he said the latest phase of B.C.’s plan (as Green leader, he had contributed to the first) might even be better that Ottawa’s. As the Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer wrote when discussing Weaver’s approach, “in making public policy, the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Weaver’s endorsement did not endear him to those who thought neither the federal nor provincial strategies showed the necessary urgency. Some critics ripped him online. On Twitter, he found himself simultaneously labelled “an insane enviro idealogue” on one hand and a sellout to “ecocidal industries” on the other.
Given his unrestrained personality and his standing — he must know that when people sciencesplain climate change to someone whose work in the area contributed to a Nobel Prize, they can sound like anti-vaxxers lecturing Dr. Bonnie about COVID — it was no surprise that he did not hold his tongue (or keyboard) in reply.
After the province won a climate award at the Glasgow conference, Weaver sounded gleeful, tweeting: “And while there are those who are never happy unless they are unhappy, CleanBC and its Roadmap continue to win international awards.”
The thing is, it’s easy to get lost in the squabbling, the negativity, when what we all need this Covember is a dose of optimism, a push to keep going.
That optimism isn’t unwarranted, Weaver says. “I’m still very hopeful.”