No matter how you slice it, every little bit helps

Writer finds it difficult to understand the fixation on China and India shown by those who mock all attempts to mitigate our climate mess.

Re: Climate talks end 2014 in disarray (Column, Observer, Dec. 24)

I’ve always found it difficult to understand the fixation on China and India shown by those, like Tom Fletcher, who mock and obstruct all attempts to mitigate our climate mess.

It seems they expect China and India to suddenly assume world leadership in this situation. A strange position, given the tendency for folks of Mr. Fletcher’s persuasion to hold up Western democracies as the right and proper leaders of this world.

Thankfully, a bit of this confusion was cleared up towards the end of his column where Mr. Fletcher supported his “agnostic” attitude towards “human-caused global warming” by noting that the current trend of glacial recession started in the 1850s, “when a sport utility vehicle had one horsepower in leather harness[.]” At that point, it became clear that Mr. Fletcher takes his analysis to the depth of a puddle. Unfortunately, the problem is very deep.

All of the histories I’ve encountered give the late 1700s as the starting point for the industrial revolution. In 1840, Charles Dickens, an accurate and astute observer of his world, described a landscape where “as far as the eye could see into the heavy distance, tall chimneys, crowding on each other… poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air.” (The Old Curiosity Shop, Chapter 45).

Dickens’s description is of a well-established industrial economy spewing highly polluting hydrocarbon emissions night and day from the coal-fired factory power plants that ran the steam engines of the early industrial revolution.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the first retreat of the glaciers appeared after decades of such pollution. And given this history, the demands of the developing nations that we in the West acknowledge our responsibility for the current state of the climate, and for mitigating the effects already being experienced, seem to have a compelling logic. After all, the “developing nations” lack our long history of intensively burning hydrocarbon fuels.

It is this history of increasingly intensive economic efficiencies that created our current climate issue, while providing our affluent way of life.

Mr. Fletcher, however, is correct when he points out the lack of effective leadership on the climate issue. Mr. Obama is hamstrung by a Congressional leadership that determined from the beginning of his administration to block every initiative he put forward. Xi Jinping may be able to apply more effective leadership in China, but I doubt Mr. Fletcher would feel comfortable following that lead.

As Wendy Mesley succinctly pointed out, however, Stephen Harper is well positioned to demonstrate responsible leadership by slowing the expansion of Canada’s hydrocarbon economy and by developing alternatives that satisfy our northern requirements.

And regardless of how one chooses to slice and dice the scope and scale of the numbers, we’re all in a situation where every little bit helps.

Russell Dorfman

New Westminster