Why Klein’s Kyoto whine is insufferable

Kyoto 5


Where we live in eastern Ontario, trees are still dying because of the 1998 ice storm that stripped their canopies — and many more are going to die.

You can spot them easily. The few branches left have madly sprouted twigs. But the trees are 15 and 20 metres high, and they need more leaves than they can produce to transform sunlight into the amount of energy necessary to sustain their size. They’re doomed to a slow, withering death.

So I fume when I hear Alberta Premier Ralph Klein complaining that the Kyoto accord would mean economic disaster for his province, saying Ottawa should delay ratifying the agreement.

Alberta is rich because of oil, and he doesn’t want people to cut down on how much they buy. And he doesn’t seem to give a damn who or what suffers as a result.

The Kyoto accord, signed in Japan in 1997 and fine-tuned in Bonn, Germany last July, is an attempt to limit global warming. Of the 189 nations belonging to the United Nations, 178 have signed it. If Ottawa ratifies the agreement, it will commit Canada to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-2010.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main culprit in global warming, and the burning of oil-based fuels is the main contributor.

The United States, which is responsible for 25 per cent of global CO2 emissions refuses to sign the accord, and Klein says Canada should ape the United States or risk falling behind economically.

Since he wants to talk about economic disasters, we should do that, and so I offer a small selection of occurrences, so thickly clustered as to be unmistakably caused by global warming.

First of all, the ice storm: The short term cost to Quebec and eastern Ontario was $1.6 billion. No one has yet calculated the long-term cost.

On the prairies « we have areas where we had less rainfall than in the two worst years in the Dirty `30’s,’’ Bob Friesen, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said last week.

The cost of the drought in southern Alberta alone has been pegged, thus far, at $5 billion.

Two weeks ago, a scientist at the University of Colorado published findings that glaciers in British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska are melting far faster, and more completely, than expected. As a result, sea levels will rise 25 per cent higher than previously forecast.

We also learned that water in the Great Lakes is continuing to drop dramatically this winter. There has been no ice cover and, says David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, « the lakes are actually falling…’’ because « any kind of dry air mass coming through (sucks the) moisture right up.’’

Also last week, Canada’s Third National Report on Climate Change reported that more and more people are going to die from rising temperatures, with the death rate increasing 15 fold over the next 18 years.

« This weather is unheard of,’’ says Phillips.

Winter temperatures in southern Ontario have been 5.5º Celsius above normal. Compare that to the average North American increase in temperature of 10º Celsius over the ten years that ended the Ice Age 11,500 years ago.

The hallmark of global warming is chaotic weather patterns as climate systems seek a new balance. And so, two weeks ago, 270 million monarch butterflies froze to death in Mexico in a freak cold snap.

This, then, in disaster and distress, is how we calibrate Mr. Klein’s rallying call to corporate greed and government revenues. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and federal Environment Minister David Anderson seem to be listening, because they say Canada is in no hurry to ratify the agreement.

All I can say is shame on them. City Hall in Toronto has cut greenhouse gases from its operations — everything from garbage disposal to street lighting — by a whopping 67 per cent since 1990. So we know it can be done, and done profitably.

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