The new climate deniers

The new climate deniers no longer deny that climate change is happening. It’s become too obvious that it is.

It used to be that climate change deniers could ridicule the notion that the Earth was warming by pointing to cold snaps like the one in Texas where thousands of cold temperature records are being broken.

Saskpower’s Carbon capture plant

But climatologists have said all along that global warming will mean more chaotic weather: hotter, colder, dryer, wetter, stormier. The obvious makes it hard for climate change deniers to dismiss wildfires, droughts, and loss of arable land to deserts.

Instead, climate deniers have surrendered to fatalism, wishful thinking, and individualism.

Sure, Big Oil hopes that we continue to dump C02 into the atmosphere but the new climate deniers are not disingenuous. It’s just that the problem seems insurmountable. People of goodwill have come to believe that it’s too late to do anything about the problem.

Not true, climatologist Michael Mann told CBC’s Quirks and Quarks:

“That’s very dangerous because first of all, it’s not true. The science indicates otherwise. The science indicates that if we reduce our carbon emissions dramatically, we can avert the worst impacts of climate change. For example, this idea that global warming is now unstoppable, that warming is going to release so much methane from the Arctic that it will warm the planet beyond habitable levels. There is no scientific support for that contention.”

The new climate deniers are not anti-science. On the contrary, they look to technological solutions. Count me in. I wish it were true, not just because I hope that science and technology will come the rescue but because my fossil-fuel lifestyle is comfortable and I wish it would continue. If only there was some way to fix the problem without inconveniencing me.

Carbon capture is wishful thinking. The plan is to keep dumping CO2 into the atmosphere but pump it back into the earth where it came from. But the future of carbon capture doesn’t look good.

Look at Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam carbon capture plant that cost $1.5 billion to build in 2014 and still hasn’t reached its target to store 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide due to technological problems. Even if the technology worked, we would need 38,000 such plants. And that’s assuming that CO2 emissions remain low because of the pandemic.

Another way in which otherwise well-meaning climate deniers can paralyze global action is to advocate individualism. It’s a popular notion in the “me era”; that if we change our habits individually we can collectively accomplish great things.

But what did we, as individuals, do to remove lead from gasoline and paint -a toxic element that was causing neurological development in children delays? What did we, as individuals, do to reduce the chemicals that were thinning the Earth’s protective ozone layer? Nothing. We accomplished these things through our governments and international agreements.

The idea that individual choices and technology will save us is wishful thinking. The actions of individuals, no matter how heroic, cannot accomplish what we can collectively do through our governments.

Don’t despair. We can still keep global temperate increases less than two degrees Celsius through international cooperation. Now that the U.S. is back in the Paris Accord, there is hope that cooperation will work.

Greta Thunberg gets it wrong

I sympathize with Swedish teen Greta Thunberg for her outrage at the mess that my generation has left the world in. We just wanted to create a culture with every convenience that minimized effort and maximized the burning of fossil fuels.

Greta Thunberg.  image, qz.com.

But my guilt is not going to solve the problem. Neither is her panic. “I don’t want you to be hopeful; I want you to panic,” implores Thunberg.

Panic is not a useful reaction says Calgary based author Chris Turner: “No society can function on panic indefinitely, and no one writes new building codes well in a panic (Walrus magazine, November, 2019).”

What will work? Well, one suggestion is to put ourselves on a war footing as we did during World War II. Back then, when our way of life was threatened by the enemy, we mobilized resources on a scale never seen before: retooling factories for the manufacture of weapons, rationing of vital resources, putting women to work in jobs traditionally held by men.

We could retool factories for green power and clean technology; deploy an army of citizens to install solar panels and erect wind turbines; build energy storage facilities, electric-vehicle charging stations, commuter trains, and bicycle lanes.

But just who is the enemy in this green war? There’s no shortage of villains: Big Oil, pipelines, Conservatives.

We are the enemy. While we want to save the planet, we don’t act like we do. Big Oil is not force-feeding us. Just look in Kamloops’ driveways to see what vehicles are popular: trucks. Canada’s bestselling vehicle is the Ford F-150, not known for its fuel efficiency. Just look where we live: in single-family houses that cost more to heat.

If the wartime model is wrong, what is the solution? Not individualism. We are told that if each of us were to cut back just a little, we could make a difference. It’s an appealing model because in our singular society, the individual is king. And we can be blamed for falling short of CO2 targets.

There is a way. We can act collectively –it’s called government, and you might be surprised to learn that B.C. is a North American model in reducing CO2. I’m not just talking about B.C.’s well-known carbon tax introduced by conservatives (BC Liberals) and supported by progressives (NDP).  No, carbon pricing is just part of the plan.

“In 2008, the BC government required municipalities to begin incorporating climate targets and plans into their growth strategies and community planning,” says Turner. “This triggered a wave of rethinking and new accounting methods—the kind that led to ‘sustainability checklists’ for all the workaday business of building management and construction.”

Then in 2017, the BC government became the first in North America to lay out clear, rigorous requirements and codes that would guide the province’s building industries to the construction of net-zero structures by 2032.

Panic puts people into a fight-or-flight mode. Individualism generates a false sense that something can be done. What works is the steady, almost imperceptible pace of dedicated bureaucrats writing building codes and working to achieve real change, government by government.

This kind of progress is not sensational. Slow but sure is the way but the wheels must be set in motion.

Traditional masculinity hinders productivity

The qualities that men need in the workplace have changed. A study of 16 professional Canadian men found that traditional male behaviour no longer serves them well.

image: Pinterest

Traditional male values such as infallibility, individualism, posturing, dominance and working long hours may have served men well in industrial settings but they are counterproductive in knowledge-based businesses. Automation has eliminated a lot of industrial jobs and the participation by women in the workplace has changed the culture of work.

Behaviour that was once a virtue is now a liability.

Even behaviour-changes in industrial settings can improve productivity. One study done on an oil drilling platform where macho values prevailed showed that these values could be “undone” once status was linked to learning, admitting mistakes, and collectivism over individualism:

“As a result, the company’s accident rate dropped by 84 percent, and productivity, efficiency, and reliability of production all came to surpass industry benchmarks.

Studies have repeatedly shown that working more hours leads to poorer outcomes in everything from communication and judgment calls to increased insurance costs and employee turnover (The design of everyday men -A new lens for gender equality progress by Deloitte Doblin).”

The men in the study worked for large businesses of more than 5,000 employees. They represented a range of family and marital statuses, sexual orientations, and ethnic backgrounds.

Four attitudes stood out.

  • “It’s on me.” Men place enormous pressure on themselves to handle responsibilities on their own. Corporate cultures that prioritize individualism over collectivism risk burning out their people and devaluing collaboration, where responsibilities and trust should be more equally shared.

 

  • “I’m terrified.” Men are afraid of failure, which leads them to overcompensate with hypercompetitive behaviour to mask their insecurity. The most ambitious people may also be the most insecure which puts their long-term performance at risk; they also set an unrealistic expectations for the dedication required to be successful in the organization.

 

  • “I can’t turn to anyone.” Personal relationships and vulnerable interactions help to alleviate pressure and fear, but men have difficulty building these connections.

 

  • “Show me it’s okay.” Men look to leaders and peers in their organizations to understand what behaviours are acceptable. Policies and programs for change are not enough; senior leaders need to role-model and reward the behaviours they want to see in order to establish new norms for people to follow.

 

Without a change in corporate culture, old values persist. One of the men studied, Lyron, says, “I will never ask for help. I will stay up as long as it takes for me to figure out how to do something before I ask somebody senior how to get it done.”

Anand says he talks about superficial things with co-workers like what they did on the weekend but never about deeply personal things: “The fact that we have had a miscarriage, I wouldn’t even have occasion to talk about. Nobody at work knew, except for my boss because I had to ask for time off.”

Businesses have been slow to integrate changes in male behaviour. Men can become stronger and more productive by shaking off the mantles of the past but it’s going to take a change in corporate values starting at the top.