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VIEW: The next BC government will face a 400 parts per million world

[Editor's note: The Tyee received this unsolicited release from Sierra Club BC, and we offer it for your consideration. During the election season, we'll post various perspectives as we receive them on The Tyee's Election Hook, labelled clearly as "VIEW."]

In May, our planet's atmosphere will likely pass a significant threshold. Those who follow atmospheric carbon dioxide readings expect the world renowned Mauna Loa station on Hawaii's Big Island could measure the mark of 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time, up from 280 ppm in pre-industrial times. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high was 15 million years ago, when temperatures where between three and 5.5 degrees Celsius higher, with sea levels between 23 and 36 metres higher. Leading scientists consider 350 ppm a safe level to maintain the relatively stable climate as humanity has come to know it for the last several thousand years.

Mega-droughts, storms, floods and fires are already impacting every part of the planet at just below 400 ppm. And as in a slowly warming greenhouse in which windows just got closed, we are already committed to more warming in coming decades because of the carbon dioxide increase of recent years, even if we would reduce our emissions to zero today.

Global warming is a planetary emergency. So far, governments have failed to respond to the scale and urgency of the moment. We must all make radical changes towards a truly sustainable lifestyle. However, decisive government action is now indispensable to make the shift from dangerous the resource extraction to a sane, low-carbon economy.

On a hopeful note, internationally there are new signs of leadership. In his second inaugural speech, U.S. President Obama promised that "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." Also recently Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said in Davos: "Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled." World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said of the climate crisis: "If there is no action soon, the future will become bleak."

Unfortunately, here in British Columbia, we are not seeing the same leadership. The current B.C. government is focused on massive investment in five LNG terminals to enable a massive expansion of fracking of shale gas in northern British Columbia. Premier Christy Clark even stated that the province must act quickly before the opportunity evaporates like gas into the atmosphere. But building the proposed LNG infrastructure would result in a massive increase of greenhouse gas emissions both within and outside of provincial borders and would make it impossible to meet B.C.'s legislated emissions targets.

The next B.C. government must step up to the plate to fill the void in climate leadership. It is incompatible to conceive of any new fossil fuel infrastructure -- whether LNG terminals, new coal mines or new oil pipelines -- and still commit to the goal of avoiding catastrophic global warming.

British Columbians want the provincial government to take far-reaching action to reduce carbon emissions and protect life on Earth in a rapidly changing climate. Because of our abundant natural resources and extraordinary natural landscapes, our province has real opportunities to significantly reduce emissions in the short term.

By moving quickly to a low-carbon economy and increasing conservation of forests and marine ecosystems that store carbon safely, we can not only reduce emissions but also absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In a 400 ppm world we need true climate leadership at all levels (globally, nationally and provincially) to stop the growth of dangerous emissions and safeguard life on Earth.

Jens Wieting is the forest and climate campaigner for Sierra Club BC. The group's climate campaign website is here.

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