Guest column: Planet changes should not be confused as climate change

In the classic Chicken Little story you may recall how an acorn fell and hit Chicken Little on the head. Thereafter, he wandered about proclaiming that the sky was falling.

Some of our climate change activists often sound like chicken littles and this even might include a group of youths who claim their rights and freedom under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms are being violated.

Three cheers for youthful enthusiasm, they are suing Ontario’s provincial government (that means we taxpayers).

As one who survived the 1950’s when nuclear war seemed imminent almost on a daily basis and radiation levels from nuclear bomb tests lightly canvassed western Canada, I confess I am not really able to become as intensely excited as some young people over the prospect climate change may, or may not, impact me personally or my grandchildren.

I have no doubt the climate is changing and arctic seas are warming and polar bears are endangered. So what’s new?

For billions of years, since this lump of space debris coalesced from random pieces of space detritus, the planet has been constantly changing. Furthermore, it will continue to change as many earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes (among other things can attest).

As humans temporarily inhabiting the planet for our own brief individual moments we are really not capable of appreciating how the planet changes because it does so in millions and billions of years. Our life experience is that proverbial speck of sand.

In a recent Canterbury ElderCollege course held in Essex, retired teacher Paul Bourque took course participants on a romp through four billion years plus of the earth’s history.

The course titled “Earth Changes Through Time” explained earth’s ever evolving geology, environment and – when eventually appropriate – biological development.

As Bourque explained, it has only been in the last half billion years that life on the planet began to interact with its global environment.

Canadian professor of geology (he switched to geology from physics) John Tzuo Wilson (University of Toronto) outlined his theory of volcanic “hot spots” and movement of tectonic plates in an academic paper in 1965. Tectonic plate theory now seems to be widely accepted.

The earth is not static. It is constantly changing, so why should we assume that at this specific time, this decade or even century, we will experience that final nirvana of perfect global habitat and environment.

Indeed, while the earth’s current climate is warming. The average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of that warming has occurred since 1975 at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution thermometer readings around the world have risen steadily with evidence suggesting the cause as humans.

When the Club of Rome published its international assessment of the impact of human development on the planet in its 1972 report “The Limits To Growth” – the best-selling environmental book in history – it examined global warming, famines and many more human consequences of global degradation.

Have we really changed much since 1972?

Global warming is one manifestation of a much greater human origin-based global threat.

I do not doubt global warming is occurring. Nor do I have little doubt the principal aggregate cause of such warming are activities of humans.

That same Club of Rome on March 14, 2019 issued an official statement in support of Greta Thunberg and school strikes for climate, urging governments across the world to respond to this call for action and cut global carbon emissions.

The perplexing problem is there are still vast areas of the planet which have yet to begin achieving levels of development and consequent resource depletion or carbon emissions with which we have already overwhelmed the planet.

Arguably, not even the Ontario government nor our vaunted Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has the remotest capacity to make much more than a tiny dent in triggering changes in human behaviour, wants and aspirations.

Until humans finally reconcile their existence with the amazing fluidity of the planet’s geological and environmental history, we probably will not make it much beyond another couple of centuries.

It is you and I and our neighbours who need to personally accept our responsibility for our roles in damaging or enhancing the earth’s environment.

Climate change will happen regardless as long as human populations expand and consume the earth’s environment and resources.

And besides, eventually the sun is anticipated to swallow this planet.

Lloyd Brown-John is a University of Windsor professor emeritus of political science.


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