Actually, There Is Just One Key Action Needed to Fight Climate Change: Vote.

CC BY 2.0. Dakota Park/

You can have five or a hundred good ideas, but really it does all come down to one.

Recently, while one of eight speakers at a Drawdown buildings and Cities summit in Toronto, I noted that Paul Hawken’s 100 things to do was too much; I narrowed it down and wrote about it in TreeHugger: Five, just five, solutions to roll back greenhouse gas emissions.

That was my pitch in my presentation, but then there was a question and answer period after, and the last question, addressed to all of us panelists sitting up at the front was pretty much “What is the single biggest impediment to doing anything about climate change?”

There was consensus from everyone there: politics. The conservative denial that climate change exists, or if it exists, there is nothing that can be done about it, or basically what it comes down to: our voters don’t want to pay for it. They like things the way they are if they have money and the way things were if they don’t.

It was very personal to most of the speakers; a new Government was elected in the Province of Ontario in June, and the new Premier, Doug Ford, immediately cancelled Cap and Trade, rebates on electric cars and just about every energy saving program he could find. A few of the speakers are going to have a lot less work trying to fix this province. But Ford was elected because of anger at high electricity and fuel prices.

At the federal level, the Leader of the Opposition is running on much the same platform: Fossil fuels are wonderful- he is complaining that Prime Minister Trudeau didn’t sing the praises of oil loudly enough, and actually calls the Alberta Tar Sands “the cleanest, most ethical, environmentally-friendly energy in the world.” This is possibly the next Prime Minister of Canada.

Australia government change

Toronto Star /Screen capture

In Australia, the Prime Minister was just dumped by his party because of climate change. According to the Washington Post via the Toronto Star,

Turnbull wanted a plan to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to be enshrined in law as part of Australia’s agreement at the UN climate conference held in Paris in December 2015. Members of his party who prefer coal power stations over subsidies for wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy threatened to vote against the plan in Parliament, triggering a political crisis that rapidly escalated into two leadership challenges.

And don’t let’s forget that there is some serious climate denial happening in the United States right now. It is happening everywhere, even in the richest country in the world, the one with all the smart scientists. A long article in the New York Times suggests that our old friend Myron Ebbell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute along with Americans for Prosperity changed the discourse in the USA back in 2008, but that is simplistic; as the Atlantic points out, there was opposition to dealing with energy issues and pollution back in Ronald Reagan’s days- he famously even said "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” This has been happening forever. It is fundamental.

So why is this happening? On MNN I have written about the demographics of baby boomers and their aging parents; they predominantly live in the suburbs in single family houses, so the costs of heating, air conditioning and driving directly affects them. Ever since the Great Recession of a decade ago, money has talked a lot more loudly than the environment. (It always talked more loudly but in 2008 the din became overwhelming.) There may now be more millennials than boomers, but they don’t turn out to vote, giving us Brexit and Trump.

Or if you read Vaclav Smil’s Energy and Civilization, you learn how absolutely fabulous fossil fuels have been at delivering wealth. He wrote:

By turning to these rich stores we have created societies that transform unprecedented amounts of energy. This transformation brought enormous advances in agricultural productivity and crop yields; it has resulted first in rapid industrialization and urbanization, in the expansion and acceleration of transportation, and in an even more impressive growth of our information and communication capabilities; and all of these developments have combined to produce long periods of high rates of economic growth that have created a great deal of real affluence, raised the average quality of life for most of the world’s population, and eventually produced new, high-energy service economies.

It has made every one of us sloppily richer than our ancestors; as Andrew Nikiforuk wrote in his book The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude, we have become totally spoiled by our oil slaves, but that it is really hard to get give up on them. As I wrote in my review of the book in Corporate Knights magazine:

Nikiforuk concludes that we have to reduce our energy consumption by changing our lifestyles in “a radical decentralization and relocalizing of energy spending combined with a systematic reduction of the number of inanimate slaves in our households and places of work.” It all comes down to the argument we are seeing played out in the streets of our cities every day now. In this regard, Nikiforuk quotes Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich:

“Each community must choose between the bicycle and the car, between a ‘postindustrial labor-intensive, low-energy and high-equity economy’ and the ‘escalation of capital-intensive institutional growth’ that would lead to a ‘hyperindustrial Armageddon.’”

Good luck with that; we can see what communities are choosing. People, especially older people who love their cars and the benefits of a booming economy, are willing to overlook what’s coming down the road. Hey, it might well not happen, or science might solve it, or I won’t be around to worry about it. They will vote every time for the guy who offers them tax cuts, economic booms, cheap gas and a buck-a-beer.

Some of the panellists suggested that the only thing that will turn this ship around is some catastrophe that shocks everyone into awareness. I doubt that; we have seen Superstorm Sandy, Puerto Rico, the wall to wall forest fires burning now; that’s not climate change, according to the American secretary of the Interior it’s the fault of environmental terrorists and spotted owls.

Recently, the Prime Minister of Samoa complained about politicians who didn’t take climate change seriously, quoted in the Guardian:

Any leader of those countries who believes that there is no climate change I think he ought to be taken to mental confinement, he is utter[ly] stupid and I say the same thing for any leader here who says there is no climate change.

Alas, they are not utterly stupid. They have their polls and focus groups and they know who their voters are and what they want now, which is to keep things the way they are, make things the way they were, and throw in a nice new SUV.

The only thing that will save us is political change, and that’s up to the young people who have enough time left in their lives to be seriously invested in this issue. I noted in an earlier post, titled Climate change is a disaster for millennials, an inconvenience for the boomers:

The younger generations that are going to get screwed by climate change the most are the ones that should be organizing now. This is not the defining issue of my generation. But it is of theirs.

Young men and women who don’t have suburban houses and good jobs and SUVs, who get mad, show up and vote them out of office. That’s the number one thing we have to do. Everything else is commentary.