CALGARY – Former United States president Barack Obama says failure to transition to cleaner energy sources would lead to global chaos that would be hard to reverse, but he’s optimistic fossil-fuel-centric economies such as Alberta’s can make the necessary changes.
Obama spoke Tuesday to a near-full arena in Calgary, home to several oil and gas company headquarters that are replete with empty office space due to a years-long industry downturn.
“All of us are going to have to recognize that there are trade-offs involved with how we live, how our economy is structured and the world that we’re going to be passing on to our kids and grandkids. Nobody is exempt from that conversation,” Obama said.
He said fossil fuels have provided a cheap and plentiful source of energy since the Industrial Revolution. The remark drew a loud whistle and applause from the audience.
The crowd also clapped when Obama said there is indisputable science that the planet is getting warmer.
“It is indisputable that although we can’t ascribe any particular kind of weather event to rising temperatures, that at the current pace that we are on, the scale of tragedy that will consume humanity is something we have not seen in perhaps recorded history if we don’t do something about it.”
Rising oceans will displace populations from coastal areas and climate change is also having an impact on the prevalence of insect-borne diseases, he said.
“Moose right now (have) to deal with tick-borne diseases that they didn’t have to do 10, 15 years ago. I really like moose. I assume Canadians, you, do too,” Obama said.
“These are just facts.”
He said the question becomes how to build recognition, not just generally but in places such as Alberta, that newer energy sources need to be developed and older ones have to be cleaned up.
Obama said the chaos wrought by global climate change will make politics more toxic.
“Imagine when you have not a few hundred thousand migrants who are escaping poverty or violence or disease, but you now have millions. Imagine if you start seeing monsoon patterns in the Indian subcontinent changing so that half a billion people can’t grow food and are displaced.”
“Think about what that does to the politics of the world — not just the economics of it, not just the environment.”
The same engineering prowess that’s been used to tap tough-to-access oil can be directed towards finding cleaner sources, Obama suggested.
“You guys can figure it out, but you’ve got to be open to it.”
Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015 after years in regulatory limbo. The proposed project, which would allow more oilsands crude to flow to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, has the support of his successor, President Donald Trump, but the pipeline remains mired in state-level legal wrangling.
Obama recalled with a mixture of amusement and frustration how in 2015 Republican Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, then chairman of the environment committee, brandished a snowball on the senate floor to dispute climate science.
“You laugh. This happened,” he said. “That’s not a good way of approaching problems.”