Yawn - Just Another Climate Emergency

October 8, 2010

by Guy Dauncey

If the climate-denying leaders of the oil and coal industries think they can bribe, sponsor or advertise their way out of the problem, they should think again.

Wake up! There’s a climate emergency!!! We’re heading for catastrophe!

By almost every standard of scientific diligence, the warnings are accurate and real, but the world turns over, checks that the trees are still green, and goes back to sleep.

Emergency! is a hard word to use. If you over-use it, no-one pays attention. The guy stands sadly on the street corner with his sign saying, The end of the world is nigh!, and people pass quietly by.

Thanks to our long evolutionary past, we humans are first visceral, then emotional, and only finally are we rational.

Three kinds of emergency

v When a saber-tooth tiger attacks, it’s fight or flee! There’s no moment of choice - your instinct takes over, primed by millions of years of genetic selection. It’s a visceral emergency.

v When the enemy is coming and you’ve only got a day to prepare, your instinct to protect and survive kicks in and there’s a rapid fusion of analysis, planning and action, primed once again by millions of years of genetic selection. It’s an emotional emergency.

v When your scientific analysts tell you there’s an emergency coming, however, but your senses give you no evidence of it, you have all the time in the world to think about it, and to decide on balance that it would be much more convenient if the warning was false. It’s a supposed emergency, not a real emergency, so it can be ignored.

A rational emergency is an emotional emergency for which we have advance warning.

You’d have thought we’d be grateful for our ability to think ahead, and take advantage of the lead-time this gives us, but judging by historical precedent, our ability to act in advance of a rational emergency is almost zero. Our desire to enjoy comfort now seems to be far stronger than our desire to ensure comfort in some vague theoretical future, especially if it requires getting up out of our comfort-zones, and doing something.

Did we ever heed the advance warnings of a rational emergency?

v In the 3rd century BC Mesopotamian civilization, they failed to realize that their irrigation systems were salting the soil, making the land unfarmable.

v In 16th century Spain, they failed to realize that the massive influx of gold from the Americas would cause inflation and ruin their economy.

v In 1930s Europe, they failed to heed the warnings that Hitler’s Germany was re-arming.

In all our long human history, did we ever heed the advance warnings of a rational emergency, and act appropriately? The Great Wall of China was built after the arrival of nomadic hordes from the north. Canada’s moratorium on Atlantic cod fishing was put in place after the cod collapsed. On the other hand, Alaska is managing to protect its ocean fisheries before they collapse, so there’s reason to believe that wisdom can sometimes prevail.

If our ability to respond to a rational emergency really is very small, however, is the likelihood that we will prevent the looming climate emergency by acting now to phase out fossil fuels, protect our forests, and cut back on meat also very small?

Emotional resistance

“Cut back on meat”… did you feel the emotional resistance kick in? Scientific analysis tells us that the global livestock industry is causing 20% of global warming - but wouldn’t it be more convenient if it wasn’t? Maybe the data’s wrong. Maybe this whole climate thing is wrong. This is where emotional denial kicks in. Even in the heart of the environmental movement, among activists who swear off flying since it causes 2.5% of global warming, meat is still often on the menu at potlucks and barbeques. Being an environmentalist does not grant immunity to the experience of denial.

It’s not as if there weren’t people who warned us of looming rational emergencies, as Churchill did in the 1930s, and anti-nuclear activists did in the 1970s. But the message seems not to get through until it’s too late, or until the rational emergency is sufficiently close to be upgraded to an emotional emergency.

How many light bulbs?

There’s a second problem, too. Even when individuals are motivated to act by long-distance warnings - the last time the global temperature was 3°C higher, the global sea level was 25 metres higher - they quickly realize that it’s no use acting on their own.

How many light bulbs do you have to change to prevent the looming climate emergency? Even ten million will make no difference if that’s all that happens - but ten might be enough if the world’s top leaders all changed them simultaneously on TV, while pledging to achieve a rapid transition off fossil fuels.

It is not as if we don’t know what to do. We do know what we need to do - many books and papers have spelt it out - but there are forces at work with deep pockets and well paid lobbyists who are actively insisting that climate science is junk-science, and solar energy will never replace fossil fuels.

“Climate prosperity”

A Canadian government body - the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy - has just created an initiative called “climate prosperity”, sponsored by the oil giant Suncor Energy, putting colour posters in every school making out that Canada could be a happy prosperous land when temperatures are warmer, even if things are a bit difficult elsewhere.

Does this make for a hopeless situation? Is Suncor right, with its sponsored message “don’t worry, be happy, and enjoy the rising temperature”?

Absolutely not. The climate emergency is getting closer every day, whether or not people have registered, and the only rational response is to persist with public education, persist with political lobbying, persist with the warnings, and persist with the vision of a world that can flourish without fossil fuels, air pollution, tar-sands, and oil-fuelled terrorism.

The 10:10:10 global work party

This weekend, people in 188 countries - myself included - will participate in over 7,000 practical climate actions as part of 350.org’s 10:10:10 global work party, including in every US state and 47 European nations. We are all focused on the need to reduce the CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere from the current dangerous level of 390 (and rising) to 350 parts per million.

No-one pretends that these symbolic actions are enough - but equally, no-one pretends that standing on the sidelines shouting Emergency! is enough. We have to go on sounding the alarm bells, so that we may finally awaken the emotional response that makes people take the word “emergency” seriously, and we have to go on promoting, building and lobbying for the solutions, showing people that a world without fossil fuels, deforestation and excessive meat consumption will be a better, healthier, happier, and more peaceful place for everyone.

For many, the climate emergency is already very emotional: we can see the future for our children and grandchildren slipping away before us. So if the climate-denying leaders of the oil and coal industries think they can bribe, sponsor or advertise their way out of the problem, they should think again. This movement to head off the climate emergency and build a prosperous world without fossil fuels has hardly begun.

Guy Dauncey is author of the double award-winning book The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming (New Society Publishers, 2009), which lays out the solutions in considerable detail for every sector of society. See www.earthfuture.com. He is President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, which welcomes your membership.


The Climate Solutions Dividend

March 9, 2010

An extract from The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming by Guy Dauncey

New Society Publishers, November 2009 www.theclimatechallenge.ca

If we succeed in this great undertaking, the next generation will thank us not only for preventing a disaster but also for the many benefits that will flow from our success.

The ecological benefits are clear, but no one has calculated the full economic benefits. These are the climate solutions dividends, the enticing rewards for success.

  1. We get to avoid the desperate scenarios laid out in Mark Lynas’ book Six Degrees, and keep human civilization intact, including many species that would otherwise face extinction. What price should we put on the ability of our children to continue the journey of evolution? The avoided costs are known: 5-20% of the US’s GDP of $14 trillion is $700 billion to $2.8 trillion a year. In Canada, it is $63 to $254 billion a year. The gains are priceless.

  1. We enjoy a managed transition through what would otherwise be the economic trauma of peak oil, avoiding the relentless waves of bankruptcies, evictions, unemployment, poverty and hunger that will be caused by peak oil’s sudden arrival, for which – at present - our societies are completely unprepared.

  1. We enjoy permanent energy security and the end of dependence on oil from the Middle East and other countries. This means we can bring the troops home, stop irritating the Islamic terrorists, stop being obsessed with security and stop exporting $300 million a day to the oil-rich states of the Middle East. These gains have been costed out by a team led by Milton Copulos, president of the National Defense Council Foundation, which spent 18 months undertaking the most comprehensive analysis of the subject ever conducted, which was “rigorously peer-reviewed”.[i] For the US, the gains come to $825 billion a year, which will be available every year as a free economic stimulus package.

  1. We protect the world’s forests, which would otherwise face being logged or burned. Under the business-as-usual scenario, the Amazon rainforest starts dying by 2050 and turns into savannah by 2100, because of a combination of drought and fire. Because tackling climate change requires that we preserve the forests’ carbon, our children will continue to be enchanted by their magnificence. We will also benefit from the forests’ ecosystem services, as a continued contribution to our economy. Globally, their 1200 Gt of stored carbon, priced at $13.60 a tonne, has a $16 trillion value. If we assume a 200 year forest carbon lifecycle, that’s $80 billion a year. For the US, with 5% of the world’s forest, that’s a $4 billion a year contribution. For Canada (10% of the world’s forests) it’s $8 billion.

  1. We enjoy a more secure global food supply by embracing organic farming, which stores more carbon in the soil, reduces farming emissions by up to 30% and increases yields in developing countries – where the food is needed - by up to fourfold. We also remove the threat to crops from smog, air-pollution and the increasing heatwaves, which reduce the yields.

  1. We eliminate smog and pollution, which cause asthma, lung disease, cancer, disability and premature death. For Los Angeles alone, this has been assessed at a $10 billion annual cost. Air pollution and smog also cause crop losses and damage buildings and forests. For Ontario, Canada, the full economic costs have been estimated at $8 billion a year, rising to $250 billion by 2030 as rising temperatures cause more smog.[ii] For the US, the full economic savings are up to $690 billion a year.[iii] In California, smog and air pollution cause 9,300 deaths, 16,000 hospital visits, 600,000 asthma attacks and five million lost work days every year.

  1. We enjoy cheaper driving, more cycling routes, more public transport, more high-speed rail and more friendly walkable communities, which build neighborhood strength. These benefits have not been costed out.

  1. Thanks to our investments in efficiency, we enjoy lower heating and power bills. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has calculated that a 15% increase in efficiency will produce annual savings worth $169 billion a year. By increasing efficiency by 30%, this could rise to $338 billion.

  1. We get to end most warfare. This may sound unbelievable, but most modern conflicts are fought over scarce energy supplies. When nations become self-sufficient in renewable energy, we can eliminate 80% of our military expenditures. The US military budget is around $1 trillion a year,[iv] of which $138 billion has been included in #3 above. This leaves $850 billion a year, which, trimmed by 80%, produces a peace dividend of $680 billion a year. When all these numbers are totaled, they come to a “free” annual climate solutions dividend of $1.5 to $2 trillion a year, which never has to be approved by the Senate or Congress.

  1. Finally, we enjoy our first proper experience of working together as a world, and we restore hope to our children. What more can we ask?

The Yearly

Climate Solutions Dividend

Low range

($ billion)

High range

($ billion)

End of Persian Gulf oil dependence



End smog and air pollution



Peace dividend



Improved efficiency






[i] The Hidden Cost of Oil, 2003, updated January 8, 2007. National Defense Council Foundation. Peer review comment from The Hidden Cost of Our Oil Dependence. Milton Copulos interview with Bill Moore, EV World, April 23, 2006.

[ii] The Illness Costs of Air Pollution in Ontario. Ontario Medical Association, 2005.

[iii] See Lives per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, by Terry Taminen (Island Press, 2006). Chapter 3 summarizes the various studies and references their sources.

[iv] The Trillion-Dollar Defense Budget Is Already Here. Robert Higgs, The Independent Institute, March 15, 2007.


It's Time to Stop the Pesticides

February 1, 2010

Over millions of years of evolution, every kind of insect and bacterium has evolved, seeking its niche in the world. There are over a million insect species - and sometimes a gardener may think that they’re all eating the roses at once.

No problem, however - we are clever. We can reach for the pesticides!

Spray, spray, spray away, gently with the breeze,

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, spray away disease.

At first blush, the magic works. The bugs disappear. Your lawn is so immaculate you could invite the Queen to dine on it. Isn’t it amazing what modern science can achieve?

But then the dogs start dying. They don’t know you’ve sprayed the lawn, and they romp and roll, finishing with a good licking to clean their paws.

Between 1975 and 1995 the incidence of bladder cancer in dogs examined at veterinary teaching schools in North America increased six-fold, with Scottish terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, wirehaired fox terriers and West Highland white terriers having a higher risk than mixed breeds.

When researchers interviewed the owners of Scottish terriers with bladder cancer, they found that dogs whose owners had used phenoxy acid herbicides on their lawns were four to seven times more likely to have cancer than dogs whose owners had not.

And then the children start getting cancer. A 1995 study by Jack Leiss and David Savitz published in the American Journal of Public Health found that children whose yards were treated with pesticides were four times more likely to have soft-tissue sarcomas.

Another study, by R. Lowengart, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1987, found that the parents’ use of pesticides during pregnancy was linked to a 3 to 9-fold increase in childhood leukemia.

And then there are the golf courses. When the 10-year-old Jean-Dominique Levesque-Reneé of Montreal was in hospital with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1994, with only a 50% chance of surviving, he did some homework.

First he discovered that half the area where he had grown up on L'Île-Bizard had golf courses that were routinely sprayed with pesticides. Then he learned that the herbicide 2,4-D, linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, had been sprayed on their lawn every summer since he was a toddler.

While in hospital, he met other children with childhood cancer, and built up a map of Quebec showing where they lived. 22 came from L'Île-Bizard, where the golf courses were, and their rate of childhood cancer was 37 times higher than normal. When he left hospital, he became a persistent activist for by-laws to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides.

And this is where we come in. Quebec, Newfoundland, PEI, New Brunswick and Ontario all have legislation that bans the cosmetic use of pesticides and herbicides, and right now - but only until February 15th - British Columbia is gathering public feedback on its own proposed legislation.

The proposed legislation as it stands is not strong enough, however. The Canadian Cancer Society has joined with a number of health and environmental organizations to call for legislation that will prohibit the use, sale, and retail display of chemical pesticides for lawns, gardens, and non-agricultural landscaping. Their ideal legislation would allow exemptions only to protect public health; provide public education about the ban and alternatives to chemical pesticides; include effective mechanisms for enforcement; exclude the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which allows the use of pesticides as a last resort to deal with weeds and insects; and be passed in 2010 and fully implemented by 2012.

Barbara Kaminsky, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society, writes: “A full 76% of British Columbians support the Canadian Cancer Society’s position that there should be provincial legislation to restrict cosmetic pesticide use. And so does the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. Over 25 municipalities have adopted cosmetic pesticide bylaws, and while this is good, it isn’t enough. The BC government must act so that these products aren’t for sale in retail stores, and so that all British Columbians are protected from exposure to cosmetic chemical pesticides.”

This is politics, however, and you can be sure that the companies that sell the pesticides are lobbying for legislation that is weak and woolly.

Please, for the sake of our children, our pets, and ourselves, go to www.advocate.ccsbcy.ca and send an email to reinforce the Canadian Cancer Society’s push. Five minutes, that’s all it needs.

Guy Dauncey

Guy Dauncey is co-author of the book Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic, from which some of this text has been taken.


Climate Action - Best Practices course

January 21, 2010

Climate Action:

Best Practices

What are the best ways that governments can tackle climate change?

with Guy Dauncey

Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC.

Thursday February 4th, 1-4:30pm. $55 +GST

This course will offer a guided tour of best practices in the areas of transport, buildings, energy, farming, food, wastes, carbon pricing, and community engagement, and provide an opportunity for participants to find solutions to the challenges they face.

AND .... What will it take for BC to achieve a 100% reduction in our GHGs by 2030?

This course should be of interest to everyone who is concerned about the growing climate emergency.

Guy Dauncey is author of the newly published book The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming, and President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association His personal website is www.earthfuture.com

To register, click here: http://bit.ly/4YZYzn

or call 250-391-2600 Ext 4801 Toll-free 1-866-890-0220

Feedback about Guy Dauncey's new book:

What an amazingly (insanely!) comprehensive and useful book. This is a joyous, hope-filled manual for facing the greatest crisis humanity has ever encountered. - Bill McKibben, 350.org

Guy Dauncey has created something unique in the current literature - if you wish to grasp the mind-boggling complexity of the climate challenge, read this book. -- John Shellnhuber, Chief Sustainability Scientist for the German Government

If you are wondering what to do about climate change, here is the answer. The Climate Challenge is not only interesting and informative, it is also exciting. –Lester R. Brown, author of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

Feedback from people who have attended this course:
“Fantastic, world-changing course. Must be turned into a 2-3 part documentary.”

"Guy is a tremendous speaker, teacher, and stimulator. More people need to hear him."
“Excellent presentation – should be made into a movie.”


Make a Donation

If you can help support this blog by making a donation, whether $5 or $100, that would be most welcome.


Subscribe to EcoNews

Get EcoNews by email each month:
* EcoNews protects the privacy of its email list, and does not share it with any other group or organization.