There is a Canadian federal election on the horizon. The campaigning has already begun. I’m a long time climate activist who thinks that you should know a very important perspective on climate change and, in particular, mitigation strategies in Canada (election issue).  

But what I have to tell you is out of the box, outside the Overton Window, heretical; and you probably haven’t even heard of managed decline before and are probably in society-wide implicatory denial wanting a climate solution that merely tweaks our very fortunate lifestyles; and you don’t want to pay more than $9 per month to stay safe from Hothouse Earth. Right? I’m going to try and explain anyway. 

By the end of my oped you might agree with Terence Corcoran that mitigation now is fantasy. Mr. Corcoran doesn’t take the consequences of climate change seriously; it is inconvenient for him to take climate seriously.  It is still not too late for effective mitigation.

So now we have seen the climate plans from all three major parties and none of these plans will achieve even Canada’s present emission reduction targets – Harper-era targets which are only around half of the emission reduction Canada really needs to make as our part of protecting climate safety. Plus, the likely election winner promises to continue to try and expand Canada’s fossil fuel production.

This climate mitigation failure is a matter of life and death – the consequences are civilization if not humanity threatening, extinction for many of the species with which we share creation too. But as climate scientist Damon Matthews explains:

” (W)e haven’t even started to talk about what might be ‘possible’ and are still mostly arguing about what is ‘feasible without compromising economic growth.’ These are of course extremely different things, and the latter will not get us anywhere near the 1.5 degrees C target.”

We are planning to fail because the dominant neoliberal ideology (the present business frame or economic mindset if you like) only allows the ‘slow transition’ mitigation path – where renewables out compete fossil fuels in existing markets, and doesn’t allow effective regulation of a now deadly toxin: greenhouse gases (GHGs) from our use of fossil fuels.

After a decade where renewable capacity increased exponentially but fossil fuel production and GHGs emissions continued to rise, and where fossil fuel use past 2040 is projected to continue at near present levels, it is clear that the slow transition will mean at least a 3C global rise in temperature and most probably catastrophe. The slow transition mitigation path is safe for business but risks civilization collapse due to monotonic warming (severe weather disruption, sea-level rise) or a potential non-linear cascade of feedbacks leading to Hothouse Earth.

(Yes, eventually renewables will out compete coal, oil and gas – perhaps as soon as the 2030s – but the damage will have been done: each year at present high emission rates uses up a big chunk of our remaining shrinking carbon budget; by 2030 there will be enough GHGs in the pipeline to ensure at least a 3C rise.)

After at least three decades of failure to act, emission reduction is now a sprint requiring major action in the 2020-2025 timeframe. The hopeful growth in renewable capacity won’t save us. The only possibility of reducing emissions to have a chance of staying even under 2C is now a global agreement to regulate a managed decline of fossil fuel production on a schedule based upon the best carbon budget science (while allowing enough fossil fuel production and use during the transition period to keep our society from energy collapse). The 2015 McGlade-Ekins paper is the prototype.

Canada is a small player emissions wise – less than 2% of global emissions, but we are presently the worlds fourth largest producer of fossil fuels. We can stay within the fetters of the neoliberal mindset and continue in business as usual(BAU)where we all eventually lose catastrophically or we could lead in escaping ideology so that effective mitigation becomes possible: a coalition emergency government, adopting a scheduled managed decline, and arranging agreement first with trading partners and eventually with all fossil producers to actually keep fossil fuels and their potential GHGs in the ground.

We can keep pretending that we aren’t failing miserably and keep on expanding fossil production to earn money to build renewable capacity, all the time being careful to continue to grow the present stuff economy – or we can get out of denial and do what we should be doing as responsible citizens conscious of our obligations to future generations and try to lead globally to as successful a climate mitigation as is still possible. (And pray that is enough to survive the worst of climate disruption already in the pipe.)

But there is still not even consideration of a regulated managed decline because such regulatory action is heretical – it could negatively effect investors. Regulation is not allowed even as a possibility even as climate change is acknowledged as an emergency.

The neolib mindset is not just pervasive amongst the business elites but has permeated all sections of society – the more engaged you are, the more successful you are, the more ambitious you are to achieve whatever goal, the more skin you have in the game – the more you accept the present economic/neolib ground rules (just as once long ago the basis of these elites and rules were religious, about reaching heaven, about which priests or holy men ruled where you lived, etc.)

Engaged people in government, in ENGOs, in all walks of life, automatically try to stay within the constraints of the prevailing economic mindset and so managed decline is largely unknown, is not even considered even though we know that continuing in the slow transition means failure.

George Marshall discovered that there has not been a single proposal, debate or even position paper on limiting fossil fuel production put forward during international climate negotiations. From the very outset fossil fuel production lay outside the frame of the discussions and, as with other forms of socially constructed silence, the social norms among the negotiators and policy specialists kept it that way. George Monbiot

So how do I vote in the next election? Well it doesn’t really matter climate wise cause all of the major parties are committed to failure so you might as well concentrate on which party is best for other reasons. But voting in this election should be the least important of our governance considerations – it doesn’t really matter who gets elected if we don’t effectively mitigate climate, if we don’t stop using fossil fuels urgently.

If we could put all the possibilities on the table and if we could get to a coalition government with a mandate to effectively mitigate as primary goal, we could possibly get to regulated managed decline. Voting Green theoretically could help us but practically it’s a long shot given the small initial Green electoral baseline (analogous to renewables).

If we took climate as seriously as Greta and the kids think we should, as seriously as responsible citizens should (and not as consumers who only care for what effects them personally right now), there are activist preparations for the coming election that could educate about how the slow transition is now predatory delay and why we need managed decline:

We could try and force our present Prime Minister and pretend climate leader to resign before the election. The Trudeau government has been both incompetent and duplicitous about climate; a real climate leader would have realized there was no possibility of effective mitigation within continuing neolib constraints.

Climate change awareness has been sharply increasing and Trudeau is vulnerable. The Trudeau government is the fifth Canadian government in a row to agree to reduce emissions then miss targets that were never adequate, with each government doing all it could to expand fossil fuel production. Enough. For decades we’ve let politicians promise to reduce emissions and then cynically kick the can down the road. Make Trudeau a global example of not accepting failure anymore.

Then maybe we could have an election about real effective mitigation: managed decline – how to get there, how to make it work, a Green New Deal to build the renewable capacity needed as we regulate fossil fuels, and how to get broader international agreement.

Otherwise it’s BAU, climate mitigation is a fantasy, and we’re all going to lose and you might as well have a good time, vote as you like, and do what you want cause it won’t matter.

Bill Henderson is a Canadian who writes on Climate Change.


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4 Comments

  1. Good analysis. Canadians at all levels are too complacent and =/or too ignorant to do anything about climate change. The currently powerful and wealthy seem to think they can survive it all, the rest of us carry on like the good little capitalist consumers that we are.

  2. Avatar Paul George says:

    You forgot the Green Party. Shame on you.

    • Forgot them in a good way, or in a bad way? While they claim to be green, their policies in some areas are contra-indicators of this: generally they support the U.S. military/political actions vis a vis Venezuela, Syria, and Palestine among others. If one supports the U.S.military, the largest institutional user of carbon products, one cannot be green.

  3. You specialists have to do away with the dams and simultaneously in sync replace them with the original forests approximation for the next foreseeable future which may run from decades to millennia. That’s the rub and the enormous heat that is being observed worldwide which CANNOT be explained at all by the greenhouse gases! See Ramaswami Ashok Kumar. 2017.PERFECT DESIGNS: Ignore Root Cause, get Root Shock, dams the cause of Irma’s Fury. Link at

    https://livingnormally.blogspot.com/2017/10/ignore-root-cause-get-root-shock-dams.html
    and at
    https://livingnormally.blogspot.com/2018/05/dust-storms-and-dams-of-world.html