Effective Climate Mitigation: An Open Letter To Prime Minister Trudeau


Hello Justin,

I hope you understand that while I must be critical of you and your government I have a great deal of empathy for everyone involved in this wicked problem climate change. I recognize that there are severe constraints upon you and every other national leader. But we still need effective mitigation urgently or climate change promises to become fatal.

Real politic: politicians make campaign promises to get elected and then govern as close to the practical neoliberal formula as possible hoping to keep the economy growing healthily, hoping to achieve the most practical items on their agenda. That’s the modern day government playbook and now you must be preparing for what can be accomplished in the much vaunted second term.

But Justin, I just finished seven weeks of radiation and chemo and for the first time since my oral cancer diagnosis I’m probably cancer free. Gotta wait for the PETSCAN in a couple of weeks but it is a really good feeling having the cancer treatment done and starting to feel like I can get back to normal: family, work, and kicking the ball around, free of worry that my cancer might spread fatally.

Where are we with our climate mitigation Justin? Wouldn’t it be great to be post treatment and cured?

How is our treatment progressing? Are we reducing emissions enough so that we don’t have to worry about potentially fatal ‘dangerous climate change’ ?

No, not even close — in fact in Canada and globally we are still going in the wrong direction. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise when to stay safe from dangerous climate change emissions must now be reduced something like 100% by 2030. Canada won’t even come close to what real, effective treatment could help accomplish. None of the Paris signators is even close to levels of emission reduction now necessary. Effective emission reduction doesn’t seem possible.

Your government is the fifth Canadian government in a row to sign on to or otherwise agree to international treaties reducing GHG emissions to stay safe from dangerous climate change and then fail to meet even the weak emission reduction targets each aimed for. Your government is on pace to fail to meet our weak Harper-era 30% of 2005 levels by 2030 target. Your government might be wasting our last opportunity for effective treatment.

Translating intent to successful action seems to be the problem. Even very minimum emission reduction seems to be almost impossible. We seem to be settling into a paralysis where governments basically have to sit and wait for market-led mechanisms to push the nascent decarbonization of the economy. But market-based decarbonization isn’t happening fast enough and in any case even as renewables become competitive with fossil fuels this doesn’t mean that fossil fuel production and use won’t continue to rise without widespread regulation to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Building renewable capacity isn’t necessarily the same thing as effective emission reduction.

You should know this Justin, but you are the leader of the world’s sixth ranked fossil fuel producer and several parts of Canada key to your second term success are very dependent upon fossil fuel production as is the whole country to some extent. Hence the need for a strong economy that continues to produce what is now a possibly fatal pathogen and hence your seeming lack of concern about real, effective climate mitigation even as climate change accelerates to fatal.

But your present position will be getting more uncomfortable. You had a decision upon first being elected government and you chose protecting the environment within a strong economy still dependent upon fossil fuels. A no brainer, but we still have this possibly fatal and growing worse every minute impending catastrophe over our heads.

Yes, impending catastrophe — not just extreme weather and sea level rise which are and will be still adaptable in our rich country for decades to come. We are getting deep into dangerous climate change and we risk a suite of dangers including abrupt climate change and runaway climate change. In fact, with our fossil fuel based emissions and landuse changes we might have already crossed a fatal threshold. Like untreated cancer. Already triggered, just not happening yet. We are witnessing profound changes in the Arctic that have many climate scientists concerned. Already the jet-stream driven climate patterns of yesterday are breaking down. What if this happens to the monsoon?

Canadian governments have recognized the low probability but high consequence fat tail risk of civilization or even humanity collapse as GHG emissions and warming cross thresholds and tipping points. We have agreed repeatedly to international treaties reducing emissions to stay below a guardrail protecting against dangerous climate change. Then we fail to reduce emissions like we promised we would. What if our cancer treatment planning worked this way? I and a lot of other Canadians would be dead . But this is what has been happening for three decades. We know we must reduce emissions and we do less than nothing. And you are the Prime Minister who is continuing this pattern for your own short term political interest.

We need real, effective climate mitigation. As prime minister you could provide great leadership not only for Canada but most importantly for the world if you would just explain in a frank and open manner why we continue to fail and open up a full discussion of what has to happen politically for Canada — and every other democratic nation — to build a framework for effective mitigation.

You could explain that we need something like a wartime-style coalition government with a mandate to reduce emissions of a scale needed. You could explain that this coalition government would have to negotiate agreement or at least understanding with our trading partners allowing for regulation of fossil fuel production and use while still protecting investment and businesses. That this coalition government would need to stabilize the patient — the economy and all dependent across the country — to reduce emissions and greatly speed up the promising transition from fossil fuels to a carbon free economy in our future.

I understand the pressures you must be under, the Overton Window, and why systemic change isn’t allowed, but real Paris action is probably our last chance at effective treatment and we are blowing it, Canada leading. Climate change will prove fatal to all we know and love without effective mitigation Justin and you can lead.

I know — easy for me to say. You don’t need to answer to me but I think you owe it yourself and your family if not your country.

“Burning Embers” diagram, 2001–2009. What would it be today?

Richardson et al. 2009 “Synthesis Report, Climate Change, Copenhagen”

Burning Embers diagram

Bill Henderson is a climate change activist from Canada


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