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Comment: Repeating climate truth until it sinks in

Our “folly” is that many of us have become so accustomed to comfortable, energy-intensive lives that we resist change.
Wind turbines turn behind a solar farm in Rapshagen, Germany. Michael Sohn, AP file photo

A commentary by a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with the foundation’s senior writer and editor, Ian Hanington.

Eighteenth-century French writer Voltaire once said, “Yes, I say things over and over again. That’s the privilege of my age, and I’ll say them over and over and over again until my fellow countrymen are cured of their folly.”

Amen. At my age, after decades of urging people to come together to resolve the accelerating climate crisis, I get it. It saddens and frustrates me to see the consequences of wastefully burning fossil fuels and destroying green spaces hitting with such force — especially since we knew this could happen when we had a much greater chance of preventing it or at least lessening its impacts. Now we know it will get increasingly worse unless we take immediate, decisive action!

I didn’t have access to any secret knowledge when I started learning and communicating about climate change. As a scientist who has had a number of public platforms for decades, my role has been to study and interpret the research and convey it to the public in easily understood terms.

I’m a messenger. But I’ve been repeating some messages for far too long. Given the benefits of shifting from oil, gas and coal to renewable energy — from cleaner air and better health to improved energy security and a stable climate — I was sure we’d be further along by now.

The industry that has long held sway over global economies, governments and lives isn’t giving up without a fight, though. In their reckless pursuit of obscene profits, oil, gas and coal executives are making every effort to maintain their grip on wealth and power, regardless of the risk that puts us in.

Our “folly” is that many of us have become so accustomed to comfortable, energy-intensive lives that we resist change, even if it will bring numerous benefits. It’s challenging not to be lulled into complacency and acceptance of the status quo by industry’s deceptive public relations juggernaut that falsely paints fossil fuels as necessary for years to come and a transition to cleaner energy as too disruptive.

Accepting harsh truths is difficult at the best of times. With climate, truth often gets ploughed under the enormous amounts of money and other resources fossil fuel companies put into deceptive advertising, PR campaigns, articles, speeches, front groups, media allies and politicians to sow doubt and confusion about the overwhelming evidence that using their products threatens our existence.

That’s why it’s important to speak up. We need to be louder than Exxon, Shell, Chevron, the Koch family, American Legislative Exchange Council, Heartland Institute, Fraser Institute and numerous misleadingly named, industry-funded groups like the International Climate Science Coalition and Alliance for Climate Strategies. We may not have the resources to buy politicians and influence media companies, but we have truth and passion on our side.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the climate crisis — which includes anyone who’s lived under a heat dome or been threatened by wildfires or floods — knows change is necessary, that we need to find better ways to live within Earth’s natural limits. We must quit burning polluting, climate-altering fuels and destroying green spaces.

Most of us know this, but often it’s easier to ignore the problem, or leave it to politicians and bureaucrats, who are dealing with it, but at their usual slow pace — and we’re running out of time.

When enough people speak up, march in the streets and vote, the politically powerful must pay attention. That’s why climate strikes, legal challenges, petitions, letters and voting are so important. We must keep repeating ourselves until the message sinks in! We need to drown out the fossil fuel industry’s continued attempts to stall the necessary energy transition.

Rapidly transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy is still possible and offers numerous benefits: less pollution, improved health, more jobs, better economic outcomes and — if done right — greater equality. But, as UN secretary general António Guterres said, “We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”

I’ll go on repeating myself until the human family is cured of its folly or I can no longer speak. If I fall silent, others will continue to speak up. Please join them if you haven’t already!

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