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#TheSoapbox: The Third World War is climate change and we’re in the thick of it

Economist David Robinson says the climate crisis is a war to preserve the planet and it is time people and their governments started treating it as such

The heat domes are coming! We have underestimated the enemy. California burned, B.C. is burning. As I write this, Western Ontario is under a heat dome and the fires will grow. 

Can we in the northeast be far behind? This year? In three years? Does anyone seriously think that we in the North get to dodge that bullet?

We have seriously underestimated how fast global warming is happening. We have seriously underestimated the damage it will do in Canada. And we have seriously overestimated the amount of time we have to act.

Oscar Wilde had one of his witty characters comment that “to lose one parent … may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” Wilde was joking about what counts as evidence, but the underlying statistical argument is sound: When enough unlikely events happen, you have to revise your theory. 

To have one 1000-year heat event might be an accident, but to have outrageous heat events happening repeatedly all over the world means we are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

If just one record fell this year in just one place, that could have been an accident. When record after record after record falls, year after year, month after month — well, it starts to look like we are under attack. 

The enemy is the crushing power of global warming. Here in southern Canada, we will get twice as much warming as the global average. Farther north, it will be far worse. 

In June, temperatures north of the Arctic Circle in Russia hit an all-time record, reaching 38C. The crisis is coming faster and looking worse than what scientists thought. The climate war is here and we have to mobilize. 

Right now, we are where Britain was in late 1938. German Chancellor Adolph Hitler was building a war machine and attacking neighbours. The Brits were still hoping he would go away. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from a meeting with Hitler with a signed piece of paper that he held up and uttered the now-famous phrase “I believe it is peace for our time.” 

It was obvious soon enough that no one could appease Hitler. A year later Britain was in a war for survival.

No one can appease melting icecaps, rising seas, or growing deserts. Our government — Justin Trudeau’s government — has spent the last six years appeasing oil interests. There has been some real progress, but not enough. The time for appeasement is over. It is time to declare all out war. The enemy is already on our territory. The enemy is already killing Canadians.

We have to fight this war on two fronts. Abroad, we have to build an alliance of countries willing to fight with us. It is a world war. At home, we have to invest in new energy sources and we have to upgrade our biggest single physical investment, our housing system. We have to build vast new defences against floods and fires.

Like the last two world wars, the fight is going to cost money, a lot of money. That money will come from Canadian citizens. On the one hand, we will run up huge debts. Taxes will rise. On the other hand, we will see amazing technological progress. The last world war gave us jet planes, flu vaccines, access to penicillin, blood plasma transfusions, computers and radar. After the allies won, they enjoyed the longest economic boom in centuries.

Investing in the good fight paid huge dividends. We paid our debts down in record time.
The last war was against human beings and we threw lives into the battle. Our war today is about saving lives — not just human lives, but also the lives of all the creatures with whom we share this world. And the battle isn’t happening in some other country across the sea. We are losing lives everyday right now here in Canada.

It is time to admit the war has begun. It is time to face the cost and sacrifices this war will demand of us. A people that cannot admit the war has started are a people that stand to lose much more.

Dr. David Robinson is a retired economist in Greater Sudbury.