Unsettled science, unsettled climate

In a manner of speaking, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is stating a truth: the science on climate change is indeed not settled.

In a manner of speaking, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is stating a truth: the science on climate change is indeed not settled. We cannot predict exactly what effects on the planet’s weather patterns can be attributed to humans burning vast amounts of fossil fuels. But we do know something is happening to our climate patterns, and we do know a whole lot of people are going to suffer as a result.

By the same token, the science on plate tectonics is not settled either. We cannot predict undersea earthquakes and tsunamis, but we do know they occur and a whole lot of people suffer and die as a result.

We can predict with some statistical accuracy how the temperature of ocean currents on one side of the globe affect winter temperature on the other. But we can be famously wrong — as we were this past winter, which was supposed to be colder than it’s been for 20 years. The science of weather prediction is definitely not settled.

We don’t even know how gravity works, but people fall down all the time. Do we do nothing about that, because “the science is not settled?”

Discussing how little we know about the mechanics of our planet’s surface turns into a phoney debate, when it becomes an excuse to refuse to use what we do know to mitigate future harm.

In the context of a provincial election, Smith’s pronounced lack of faith in science will neither doom nor save the planet. What will happen, will happen.

But having a premier who sees no urgency in reducing our pollution footprint will have immediate bad consequences for a whole lot of Albertans.

The evolution of our society is done in our cities. The idea that we need to live and develop in a more sustainable way is an idea that will only grow with time. But the startup infrastructure costs for this evolution are high.

If the premier of our province sees no urgency in starting now, those costs can be delayed for decades, trapping cities in a failing development pattern.

Why pay more for energy-efficient public transport? It’s cheaper to buy another diesel-belching bus. Why spend money for bicycle lanes or better pedestrian access to businesses? It’s cheaper just to make everyone drive everywhere.

Why support expanding light rail transit in larger cities, which reduces traffic congestion and pollution as well? If you don’t think pollution is a problem, why pay to prevent it?

Why support cities that want to rebuild their downtown core and attract residents to live there, who can walk for the majority of their daily errands? It’s cheaper to scrape off an other quarter section of farmland and build homes where just getting a litre of milk means at least a 20-minute drive.

If there’s no sense of urgency in the provincial government that change is needed — and there never has been in Alberta — it becomes much more difficult for cities to adapt to the needs of life in the 21st century.

It’s cheaper in the short term to do nothing. And if the official position of the government says there’s no urgent need for Albertans to adapt to a changing climate, the government will choose to do nothing to help them.

In other words, Smith’s phoney pronouncement on unsettled science will become an anchor tied to the butt of the leaders of our cities.

It’s the same anchor first attached when Ralph Klein laughed about “dinosaur farts” causing climate change.

It doesn’t matter whose fart is to blame, what matters is if our leaders will support the efforts of people trying to adapt. Those adaptations won’t happen in our oilsands plants, they will happen in our cities. That’s where the people live.

Smith says her government would monitor the discussion on climate change. So will we all.

Meanwhile, civic leaders will be trying to move forward with society, with an anchor tied to their butt — and take the blame for the consequences.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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