The many boats of climate change

Health vulnerabilities associated with climate change do not affect us equally.

Their (the IPCC’s) dramatic report on keeping that rise under 1.5 degrees C says the world is now completely off track, heading instead towards 3C.Keeping to the preferred target of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will mean “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. – Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe

Every few years, there’s a new IPCC report calling for radical decarbonization and a transformation of how “we” live in order to stave off turmoil and death from our planet slowly shifting out of its current human habitable zone. Too often, we shrug these reports off and go on with our lives.

Here in Canada, we pride ourselves in fossil fuel infrastructure, whether agitating to build large open pit mines for oil, building massive natural gas infrastructure, or equating pipelines with national pride.1

So, how screwed are we? Also, who are the “we” in this question? Are we in this together, or are we not?

We are not in this together.

BC Ferries large passenger ferry with car decks

There is no single “we” here. As this report came out, I was on a large ferry, the Coastal Celebration, so, a boat analogy came to mind.2

Which boat would you be in? It depends on where you live and how wealthy you are:

  1. Poor people in tropical countries are in leaky, fast sinking life boats. Those areas are hit the hardest, and they will not be allowed to guide these boats to safer waters. This is a terribly apt analogy given how we treat refugees who show up on our shores.
  2. Middle class in the tropical countries? Small houseboats? Better off. Some areas will still be habitable and they’ll manage. Some of the rich will escape. But, it’s going to get difficult.
  3. Middle class people in the temperate zones? Large passenger ferry? Things are not always comfortable, and service seems to get worse over time. Every year, we’re also more vulnerable as our baselines shift. Places that get flooded by sea level rise/get too hot will need to depopulate. But, these ferries, unlike the lifeboats and houseboats, will be allowed to move more freely.
  4. Poor people in the temperate zones? In the car decks of the ferry? The Canadian Arctic is going to become weird very soon. Large parts of the US South, and North American coasts are going to flood/become too hot. Large parts of Europe are very vulnerable to changes in climate patterns from slowing gulf streams, et cetera. Given the racial dimensions of poverty in North America (and Europe), I don’t know how they will do. It will depend.3
  5. Rich people everywhere? I’m thinking of an armada of cruise ships surrounded by a navy. You may have read that the super-rich are prepared for this difficult future, so, they’ll be fine. They have, in the last 40 years, systematically changed the tax structure in North America/Europe to vacuum up more money and assets. This extra money will come in handy.

My egalitarian self wants for everyone to be in the large passenger ferries. Things won’t be pretty any time soon, but these boats get the job done. But, keeping these ferries running require collective, concerted non-market based action.

How to make this happen? Well, go read the IPCC report, especially the summary for policy makers and headline statements. That’s the technical blueprint. There are thousands of good articles outlining specific policy steps that need to happen, this David Roberts post is a good one. If you’re a policy maker, or work in healthcare, there are a few seats left at this climate change symposium in Kelowna, which looks interesting.

The challenge, however, is political. Let’s start with making that cruise-ship-with-navy option unaffordable. Excess money soaked up by the rich needs to come back into general circulation. High marginal tax rates, exponentially increasing consumption taxes, financial transaction taxes, enacted on a global scale. But, controlling movement of money is almost impossible now, so, how do we make this happen?

  1. Image courtesy Scazon’s flickr stream used under cc
  2. I do love the BC ferry experience.
  3. The current strain of majoritarian nativism sweeping North America and Europe is bad news for the poor.

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