Rob Ford and the planet

Apologies for the blatant exploitation of an ostensibly tangential news story to drive traffic to this blog. But I think there is a connection, and it's high time I resurrected Class M.

The spark is, of course, the revelations about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's contempt for the people who elected him. Toronto doesn't deserve to be embarrassed, at least not in this manner. The latest affront to decency comes in the form of a drunken rant during which the mayor threatens to kill someone. Sooner or later, the city will be relieved of Ford, but in the meantime, we can contemplate how it is that a man with so little common sense and respect for society norms could continue to enjoy as much support as he does.

I would hope that most of us can agree that Ford's behaviour  should disqualify him from serious consideration for political office. Why then isn't the public en masse -- not just politicians and newspaper editorialists -- demanding his resignation? It evokes the contempt so many Americans have for the "liberal elite." At some point in the past 35 years or so, intelligence, embrace of diversity and compassion became liabilities in the minds of a significant portion of the population. And progress on a long list of issues will be difficult to achieve until we remedy this problem, of which Ford is just a symptom.

Climate is such an issue. Tuesday's victory of Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor's race or climate change denier Ken Cuccinelli, a win that owes perhaps a small degree of its success to the campaigning of climatologist Michael Mann, suggests that, at least in one state, rejection of reality may no longer be as popular a position as the Tea Party once made it. But support for fossil fuel projects remains high, even among Democrats, including the U.S. President. Indeed, more oil and gas is now flowing from American wells and fracking operations than ever before thanks to support from the Obama administration. Despite reductions in domestic consumption, coal production and export continues at a furious pace. And the latest greenhouse-gas emissions projections do not paint an optimistic picture.

The UN Environment Program said that even if nations meet their current emissions reduction pledges, carbon emissions in 2020 will be eight to 12 gigatonnes above the level required to avoid a costly nosedive in greenhouse gas output.

The Emissions Gap Report 2013, which was compiled by 44 scientific groups in 17 countries, warns that if the greenhouse “gap” isn’t “closed or significantly narrowed” by 2020, the pathway to limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5C will be closed.

At UN talks in 2010, the international community agreed to limit the rise in average global temperatures to 2C by 2100, based on pre-industrial levels.

Scientists at the recent IPCC gathering warned that the world could emit enough carbon to surpass the 2C limit within 30 years, and this latest UN analysis heightens concerns that the world could be heading for a temperature rise of 4C or even 6C, triggering damaging sea level rises, extreme weather events and food insecurity. (The Guardian, Nov. 5, 2013)

We all understand why the powers that be are reluctant to stop burning fossil fuels. They make a lot of money and they know that switching to decentralized, more efficient,  clean renewable alternative source of energy and fuels is not compatible with maintaining their profit margins. Fair enough. Everyone has a right to be greedy. But too many of us consumer-citizens continue to support governments that are content to allow the status quo to continue. Too many of us have nothing but contempt for the scientists who are telling us what has to be done to prevent widescale disruption to life as we know it.

Just as too many suburban Torontonians continue to resent the liberal elite who, not too surprisingly, have determined the city's fate for so long. It's way past time to restore respect for education and the power to make a reasonable argument. It's all connected, folks.

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This is at least partly the result of an effort by the business-oriented press and politicians to denigrate science and education in favor of their own interests. This has been an effective strategy, and it may have been a realistic objection 30-40 years ago. By now they've created a constituency for this set of ideas, and any opposition is due to Liberals and Environmentalists.

Good luck finding the funding and some kind of consistent voice/message to turn this around, because, "Well, business is people too you know."

I love this satire of what the press would have written if Rob Ford lived in a third world country:…

"A powerful Canadian official has become entrenched in scandal after admitting to using crack cocaine, a taboo in this socially conservative society. In a country where dissent is limited by traditional mores, the transgression has sparked rare public outrage and raised concerns about the stability of the Canadian regime." and so on.