More than 500 university faculty members from universities all over Canada signed a letter to the Canadian Government calling for immediate and drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The letter points out that the time frame of reductions is critical, dictated by earth’s physical environment and not by political or short-term economic considerations. The scale is global: climate knows no boundaries; Canada’s emissions harm people everywhere.
Although the danger has been recognized for decades, governments’ reaction has been inadequate. Dr. Chandler Davis, an emeritus professor of mathematics, points out that the uncertainties in the scientists’ predictions were no excuse for inaction. As it turned out, emissions have been increasing rather than decreasing, and the effects of climate change exceed the worst-case predictions of a few years ago. Societies now face threats of unprecedented severity due to climate change, as detailed in the letter: unprecedented droughts, melting of mountain glaciers vital to major rivers, rising sea levels that threaten island nations and the deltas in Bangladesh and Egypt, and much more. Climate change and other contributing human activities are now causing species extinction at about a thousand times the natural rate.
The letter reviews recent data showing an added imminent danger of a qualitative alteration of climate. Higher than expected warming of the Arctic now leads to melting of the ice cap whose reflectivity cuts Earth’s absorption of solar radiation, and to melting of permafrost that risks venting significant amounts of the potent greenhouse gas methane. These changes would aggravate the greenhouse warming seriously and are not reversible in human time scale.
The letter reviews paleoclimate results to calibrate the task. The last time the world was 1oC warmer than pre-industrial levels for an extended period, sea level was likely five meters higher than today. Expert opinion is cited for the view that, to be safe from such a catastrophe, atmospheric CO2 must be held to 350 parts per million — a level which has already been surpassed!
The statement therefore calls for a precise timetable taking Canada to zero fossil fuel emissions in the near future. This means setting a time-profile of maximum allowable emissions, falling quickly to zero. The limits need to be absolute and not subject to trade-offs of any kind. This will inevitably mean winding down the tar sands project, and sizeable reductions of the military. It will require deep readjustment of society. Canada has shown in the past that it is capable of quick response to emergencies, and this is an emergency.
Dr. Helmut Burkhardt, Professor of Physics Emeritus, Ryerson University, Science for Peace Board member
Dr. Chandler Davis, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, Treasurer of Science for Peace