By Medicine Hat News Opinon on October 5, 2019.
I was a junior high student during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. I remember the air raid sirens in Medicine Hat screaming their warnings across town. I recall the drills at school where we all rushed to designated “shelter” areas in the basement of Alexandra Junior High and crouched under lunch tables. Fear and dread coloured our world far more than the falling leaves that October.
Fortunately someone blinked and the Soviet ships turned around.
More intense than the fear and dread I experienced during those 13 days was the anger. Along with the nightmares of the imagined flash from Suffield (a certain target, we thought), and the few seconds we’d have to prepare for the deadly blast, I felt an all-consuming rage at the reality of our world – a world that was now carelessly cradled in the cold arms of old men playing a deadly atomic chess match with mutual annihilation being the winner’s prize.
Old men in grey suits; old men in towers and corporate offices; old men taking us all to the precipice! How dare they! How dare they threaten to snuff out my chance at my first kiss, my chance to see the wonders of this world and the “endless” mysteries awaiting a young mind? How. Dare. They?
We all, of course, lived another day, and I went on to experience my first kiss in my 10th year of school. And of course, many wonders and mysteries followed. Thank God.
But all of these memories and feelings came back to me last week as I listened to a young environmentalist addressing the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. Greta Thunberg, 16-years-old, with an amazing display of courage, steely resolve, laser logic, and science-based information, took on the old men and women in grey suits whom she held responsible for the ruination of her world.
This frail creature sat before the delegates and, with a power a thousand times heavier than her weight, demanded action to save the planet. “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” Her words ached with rage. Her eyes flashed indignation at the moral coldness before her.
She spoke as a young person with a life ahead of her. She pleaded with the adults in the room to wake up and smell the carbon. We have less than 10 years left to avoid the worst effects of global warming, she claimed. Her belief is based on the environmental work of the United Nations, which is based on the collective research of the world’s most respected environmental scientists. She had every right to excoriate the gatekeepers of her future. My own outrage in 1962 finds a home in her heroic response to the present crisis.
In 1962 the military leaders were dangerously wrong and it turned out that my youthful rage had been warranted. After the Cuban crisis the world turned away from the nuclear abyss. By 1985 U.S. President Ronald Reagan declared there was no such thing as a winnable nuclear war. This ushered in an era of Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties and verifiable Nuclear Disarmament Agreements, and we all breathed a little easier.
Greta Thunberg’s present rage is also justified. This past March the UN General Assembly President said, “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,” She called on world leaders to make 2020 the last year carbon emissions increase due to human activities.
The world leaders in 1962 were wrong. The economic leaders of today are also wrong as they cling to the “fairy tales of eternal economic growth” and keep on riding the fossil fuel growth train.
The eighth largest bank in the world, BNP Paribas recently released a report showing that dramatic changes will be occurring in the world of energy in the next 10 years. Oil will still be needed to make plastics and other products but its role in surface transportation worldwide will shrink dramatically, and investors are taking heed.
“The BNP Paribas report calculates that, for oil to be competitive with renewables and EVs (electric vehicles), the industry would need to be able to extract oil at a cost of $9-10 per barrel. â€¦most of the oil industry’s currently planned investments are based on a price of $60 per barrel.” (https://insideevs.com/news/369024/top-global-bank-study-supports-renewables/)
To those of you with “I Heart Pipelines” shirts and signs, if you’re angry, fine, but that anger should be directed at 44 years of Conservative governments and their corporate friends who knew this would happen, who should have had transition plans for workers’ futures, and who should have had diversification initiatives 30 years ago. They let you down, not the environmentalists.
So, Jason Kenney, hunkered down in your Alberta “war room,” you’re up.
Peter Mueller is a long-time resident of Medicine Hat who, in spite of all the evidence, continues to believe we can build a better world.
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