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“I think the blunders that the Harper government has made on the environment and on climate change in particular have, in a funny way, helped focus public concern,” he says.
The focus on climate is likely to take another big jump next week in Paris with the publication of the latest report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a collective effort by more than a thousand of the world's leading scientists to explain what is happening to the planet's climate.
Over the past two decades, 19 years have counted among the warmest on records going back more than a century, a string of hot weather unlikely to have occurred due to chance.
The IPCC has issued three previous assessments, each one highlighting with mounting certainty and concern that humans are influencing the climate by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The first report was back in 1990, when hardly anyone worried much about global warming, followed by one in 1995 that concluded the “balance of evidence” suggested humans were changing climate, a finding that gave impetus to the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol two years later.
In the third assessment, in 2001, scientists went even further and expressed certainty that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse-gas concentrations.”
The new report will summarize the research conducted since then, including the finding that scientists are for the first time able to detect the fingerprints of climate change on the scale of regions and continents, rather than just globally.
What is more, the changes are being found almost everywhere, whether it be in shrinking Arctic sea ice, the melting of mountain glaciers, or even in increasing forest-fire counts in Western Canada.
“You can now detect climate change in virtually every region of the globe,” said Dr. Weaver, one of approximately 30 Canadian scientists with major contributions in the IPCC report.
Canadians are in tune with the scientists and give little credence to the views of skeptics who say global warming isn't happening or its cause is unknown. Nearly three-quarters of those polled say human activity is to blame.
Of course, no poll can discover whether there is a disconnect between what people say about an issue with such emotional overtones as the environment, and what they might actually do.
Some observers say Canadians already have had the opportunity to take such greenhouse-gas-sensible steps as buying more efficient cars and cutting back on air travel, yet roads are packed with SUVs and airports are full.
“People do have options at this point in terms of fuel efficiency, engine size, performance, and also the kind of gasoline,” says Ross McKitrick, an associate economics professor at the University of Guelph. “You can already look at the kinds of tradeoffs people are willing to make.”
That there is urgency to the need to cut emissions is underscored by the busyness with which humans are trying to double-glaze the planet. It is truly awesome, and what's more, a collective activity.
In 2004, the latest year for which figures are available from the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration, total greenhouse-gas emissions spewed out of all the world's smokestacks, chimneys and tailpipes was a staggering 27 billion tonnes, or about the weight of 1½ Hummers for each man, woman and child on the planet.
Canadians do a lot more damage than the average planet dweller because they consume so much more energy, releasing about 758 million tonnes in 2004, or just under the weight of eight Hummers apiece.
The emission figures give some indication of the scale of what will be needed to confront the global-warming problem. Those polled, by a figure of 83 per cent, fret that humanity's tinkering with the Earth's climate system has the potential to harm future generations.
Yet scientists say that to avoid dangerous climate change, Canadians and others in advanced countries will have to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by amounts variously estimated at between 50 per cent and 90 per cent.
Mr. Bennett, the environmentalist from the Climate Action Network, predicts that fighting climate change is about to dominate the work of an entire generation, and define that generation, much like those in the past have been shaped by such events as the battle against fascism in the Second World War.
Canadians are ready to get on with the challenge, in his view. “There is a huge appetite to do it,” he says. “Our parents and our grandparents took on global issues in the past. There were wars, the whole of Canadian society has been mobilized.
“This is the same kind of threat, the same kind of death and destruction is going to be wrought by climate change, and we need to have the same kind of mobilization.”