Climate Justice

Good that our Federal Government is giving $20 million on our behalf to the storm-ravaged Phillipines. That’s about 60 cents for every Canadian, the price of half a cup of coffee at the donut shop. Good also that Canadian businesses and individuals have contributed another $20 million. Bravo!

Not to belittle those individuals compassionate enough to donate personally, but this is as it should be. This “largesse” should not be interpreted simply as a reflection of our generosity, but rather a debt needing repayment, since we are one of a number of Western industrialized countries responsible for the excess carbon dioxide driving global warming. Heat is energy, and more heat means more energetic storms. Hence the death of thousands, the creation of 4 million climate refugees, and 13 million affected by Typhoon Haiyan alone.

Andrew Ross, in Climate Change Denial, suggests that we need to take responsibility for what he calls our climate debt. If I damage my neighbor’s property, the expectation is that I will repay him for damages, even if it was unintentional. If I change my global neighbor’s climate from benign to destructive, even if unintended, it is fitting that I at least help pay for those damages.

How do we quantify this debt? What is our share of the liability? Actually, climate debt can be measured fairly reliably on the basis of atmospheric emissions estimates per capita, per country. NASA climatologist James Hansen has done the math, and come up with a $15,000 per capita debt for each Canadian if calculated from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The US share is twice that.

Are we responsible for 200 year’s worth of greenhouse gases if we were blissfully ignorant of their climate effects for most of this time? Perhaps not, but as early as 1990 we established a verifiable link between man-made atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change, yet continue to lead the way in per capita carbon emissions either domestically, or by outsourcing our pollution to other countries like China, where most of our consumer goods are made. Inexplicably our own tarsands are exempt from Canada’s calculation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Poor, mostly Southern Hemisphere countries typically bear the brunt of climate change induced by mostly Northern Hemisphere polluters. Examples of effects range from increasingly catastrophic storm events to droughts, coastal inundation, species loss, reef and other habitat destruction, and shifting agricultural zones.

What poorer countries are asking for is climate justice, the recognition that we developed countries are to a significant degree responsible for global warming, and should start paying up.

The Red Cross states that climate refugees already outnumber those from war and violence, and the International Panel on Climate Change estimates that climate change will generate between 200 million and a billion climate migrants in the next 40 years alone.

Meanwhile, back home, Black Friday looms like a cloud of soot. That is why the film Growthbusters is being aired around the world, online, free of charge this Friday at 8:00 pm in our time zone. It’s a documentary which challenges the “more is better” myth. The hope is that people will view the film and tone down their appetite for more and more consumer goods this gifting season, as this single most profitable retail day of the year promises to generate more greenhouse gases than any other day. Visit to register (free of charge) by clicking on Black Friday Free Screening.

The Canadian Red Cross continues to accept donations for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Scott Harris