Climate change denial is dangerous, but just as harmful are “climate delay” strategies that merely pretend to address the climate crisis. And learning to recognize the difference between real action and climate delay tactics is critical for both the public and policy-makers, warns a veteran Canadian climate policy analyst.
“As political leaders face growing calls for climate action, we must be careful to understand where investments in technological development are, in fact, a form of climate delay, masquerading as action,” writes Sara Hastings-Simon in a recent op-ed for the CBC News. Hastings-Simon is a research fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and a senior researcher at the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines.
- Be among the first to read The Energy Mix Weekender
- A brand new weekly digest containing exclusive and essential climate stories from around the world.
- The Weekender:The climate news you need.
While climate delay may not be as overt as outright denial, it achieves the same result, Hastings-Simon notes.
The four primary manifestations of the strategy—all of which are alive and well in Canada, she adds—start with redirecting responsibility, such as the mantras that what matters is individual, not collective, action, or that small contributions from a given country or industry on a global scale are immaterial.
Likewise popular among climate delayers: the false argument that the cost of climate action is too high. “In many cases, this argument includes an appeal to social justice, such as emphasizing the costs of action borne by disadvantaged groups, when in fact the downside risks of inaction faced by these groups are typically highest, while the costs can be mitigated through policy design,” she writes.
A third tactic is “climate doomerism,” in which those anxious to preserve the fossil status quo say it’s time to surrender, claiming that “we can’t possibly make changes to reduce the impacts of climate change, therefore the only thing to do is focus on adaptation.”
Finally, there is what Hastings-Simon calls “non-transformative solutions”—that is, “taking actions and making investments in technology that won’t result in transformative change, including technologies far from market, focusing on carrots rather than sticks.” Co-existing alongside climate doomerism, this tactic “relies heavily on technological optimism to solve problems within a narrow solutions space”—and often replaces actual, real-world solutions that are simply awaiting deployment.
She cites projects like the much-ballyhooed hyperloop train between Calgary and Edmonton and the promotion of small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) in Alberta—both acting to interrupt or delay real change.
“A hyperloop would have to deliver significant benefits over conventional rail to compete with the existing low-carbon technology, particularly given the amount of new infrastructure required and the existing infrastructure in place,” she explains. “If this type of transportation is important, it should be coupled with the deployment of trains in Alberta today, or other significant efforts to reduce transportation emissions.”
And even as deployment of SMRs in Alberta is being punted to 2029, a recent study by the University of California-Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy has confirmed that a combination of geothermal, solar + storage, and wind could allow the United States “to reach 90% clean electricity by 2035 without increasing consumer bills.”
While Hastings-Simon makes clear that “not all technological development is climate delay,” she urges her readers “to be wary of plans from any government that is heavy on technological optimism to the exclusion of concrete actions for deployment and changes to the underlying systems.” For a climate plan to be credible, she adds, it must be comprehensive, “deploying technologies that are ready today along with a range of piloting and development for the future.”
Ontario is down to only 6% Nat Gas generation.
…but yet buying more expensive gas peaker plants when it would be so much more affordable and lower-emitting to restore energy efficiency funding and get serious about demand management.
Climate Change is a worldwide situation . Essentially , greenhouse gas emissions have only gone up from the first COP meeting all the way to COP26 . Despite the Paris Accords and all other international agreements seeking to begin to solve Climate Change the CO2 emissions in the atmosphere have only gone up . The Global Temperature has only increased during this time and is now coming uncomfortably close to the 1.5 degrees of global temperature at which real damage to the sustainable existence of the human community on Earth begins to be very problematic .At two degrees of global warming the coming Climate Catastrophe will begin to intensify and , perhaps , become a situation of tipping points crossed and a logarithmic rate of change . Therefore , when addressing yet to be proven technologies it must be understood that these boasts about the capacity to revolutionize the world’s ability to replace fossil fuel energy and halt CO2 emissions may very well be overstated . That is , especially , the capacity to effect this revolution and bring CO2 emissions under control or net zero within a few decades is highly improbable and , in fact , nigh close to impossible . We must not pretend that this is actually going to happen . Removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere is possible but not that quickly . The Global Temperature will rise to unlivable , disastrous proportions sooner than methods may be employed to radically eliminate the effect of CO2 emissions upon the atmosphere . In a capsule statement:: Climate Disaster will be upon us before the World and all the nations within it will be able to act effectively to halt the warming effect of Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere . Beware the false and in this case deadly premise.
Thanks, Steve. Beware also the automatic assumption that the future you describe is inevitable — because if we all convince ourselves that there’s nothing we can do to stop or limit the damage, we’ll stop taking action to change course.
I don’t think anyone can suggest that a better outcome is assured. It isn’t, and you’re right that so much of the momentum is still going in the wrong direction. At the same time, we know what needs to be done, and the steps we need first are all practical, affordable, and ready for prime time. So while the disaster scenario you paint is one important part of the effort to build political will, it isn’t the whole story. Not unless our goal is to drive climate despair, rather than taking and demanding action on faster, deeper carbon cuts.