Friday, February 09, 2007

Tipping Point

"Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment, whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war."

What is so chilling about this statement is that it wasn't made in response to last week's session of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) in Paris last week. It was the concluding statement made at the Changing Atmosphere Conference in Toronto - almost 20 years ago.

The only thing that has really changed since then (aside from the relentless increase in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere) is that after two decades of denial and debate, we have finally reached a consensus. Enough scientists have said enough times that things are bad (and getting worse), and enough politicians have heard their dire warnings enough times that the message has finally gotten through. We have reached, at long last, the tipping point.

What remains to be seen is what action our politicians are prepared to take in the face of the truth that can no longer be denied. If the recent name-calling and political posturing witnessed on national television is any indication, the answer is likely to be too little, way too late. Unless a team of benign dictators dedicated to saving the planet miraculously overtakes the nations of the world, it's highly unlikely that we will see the kind of national leadership that's needed.

Nor should we expect it. The very nature of science and politics is routed in the idea of consensus, which understandably makes them reactionary. Despite the fact that respected American scientist Roger Revelle first warned us about climate change a half a century ago, his warnings were not given real legitimacy until the rest of the scientific community reached an overwhelming consensus on his finding.

Similarly, political action is built on the need for absolute public support. To take action without this support takes extreme courage, the absolute power to do so (see need for benign dictators), or a desire to commit political suicide. Since it would appear that none of the above conditions exist in this country, it is extremely unlikely that we will see the kind of political action needed to make the kinds of changes necessary to avoid catastrophic consequences.

This doesn't mean that we are doomed to catastrophe. What it does mean is that the responsibility to take the kind of action necessary rests firmly on the shoulders of every thinking, breathing, and capable person on this planet.

It would appear that perhaps the platitudes were right after all. To quote that horribly overused and abused statement by American anthropologist Margaret Mead,

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Environmentalists and social activists have been quoting this statement on bumper stickers, pins and placards for decades without fully understanding what it means. What it means is that we need to demonstrate the kind of courage that we expect from our politicians. We need to take the lead. We are the revolution.

We have to walk the talk. We have to do the "to do" list. We have to reduce, reuse and recycle all the time. Forget about drive-thru anything, automatic car warmers or taking the car out for a drive just for the sake of going for a drive. Park the car, sell the car, take public transit, invest in energy retrofits, go solar, go wind. Turn off the lights, turn down the heat on your water heater, in your homes, and turn up the heat on your politicians. Rant at them with as much force and energy as if your life depended on it. Because it does.


Write, phone, email or pester the politician of your choice. For a complete list of MPs, visit For a list of Ontario's MPPs, go to

Starting on February 1, David Suzuki is traveling (by tour bus) across the country to ask Canadians, "What would you do if you were Prime Minister?" Once the tour is complete, Suzuki plans to deliver the answers to Parliament Hill. For tour dates and locations across Canada, visit

You can also video your response to the question and broadcast it to the world. Join the youtube group and upload your own 20-second video to Have fun. It's the only world we've got.

The International Panel on Climate Change report, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, can be downloaded from


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