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Climate change: Economic opportunity or crisis?

UBCO hosts debate about responding to impact of climate change
Flooding that damages public infrastructure is one of the results of extreme weather events blamed on the fallout from climate change. (File photo)

Call it a draw.

A Kelowna audience was accepting of both arguments to the question of whether climate change is a crisis or economic opportunity at a signature series debate hosted Wednesday (May 15) by UBC Okanagan at the Kelowna Community Theatre.

An online response to the hour-long-plus debate saw 65 per cent respond as receptive to both arguments presented to them by debate participants UBCO economics professor Ross Hickey and lead convener with the Urban Climate Change Urban Leadership group Shauna Sylvester on the economics opportunity side and corporate lawyer Carol Liao and Kwantlen Polytechnic University science faculty dean Brett Favaro.

While the back and forth reinforced the complexity of the impact of climate change on a local, provincial, national and global level, one factor was not disputed – that the science behind climate change is clear.

But what is not quite so clear is what to do about it, how to react to it.

Hickey argued that capitalist-fueled innovation and ingenuity will generate new economic business opportunities and products that will enable society to adapt to the severe weather events created by climate change, referred to by scientists as the greenhouse effect, which is attributable to the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas along with deforestation and intensive agricultural methods.

He said climate change is not comparable to other crises we have faced - financial meltdown in 2008, the COVID pandemic, housing affordability, etc. – because there is no end to it in sight.

“We are going to be living with the consequences of climate change for some time to come,” Hickey said.

“Framing it as a crisis is not helpful, it doesn’t provide a pathway to finding solutions.”

Sylvester echoed Hickey’s sentiments, saying the sentiment that we are all “doomed” by climate change and helpless to respond is ignoring the positive changes that can be addressed to change how we live our lives and treat the environment that sustains us.

She cited the development of new technologies, from electric-powered cars to solar panel energy, recycling, heat pumps and building construction materials, as ample evidence of positive economic ingenuity reaction to climate change.

“We need to look at encouraging real action and not just making declarations…the worst thing we can do is frame climate change as a crisis…people then just think we are doomed rather than seeking new ways to think through our problems…we need to be strategic in working to keep our communities economically viable,” she said.

“An attitude of being in crisis will not get us there.”

Hickey concluded that land is immobile, people are slightly more mobile, but capital investment is very mobile.

“In the end, do you want to live in a land of opportunity or a land of perpetual crisis? For me, I would want to live in a land of opportunity,” he said.

Speaking on the need for crisis management of climate change, both Liao and Favaro were caught up in their own emotions when talking about the kind of world we are passing on to the next generation.

Liao talked about her connection to Kelowna, the community where her husband was born and raised, the impact felt by her in-laws by the Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire in 2003, and the concern that led them to move away from Kelowna in 2018.

She said delusion of reality and ignorance of science remain the greatest threat against responding to climate change, and that it falls on the government to institute changes for the collective benefit of society.

“The impact of climate change will be far worse if we don’t start mitigating the risks now,” she said.

Those risks in the Kelowna area are already evident, she cited, noting the grape and other fruit crop losses, reduction in snowfall impact on the skiing industry, and water challenges for agricultural crop growing.

“We need our governments to move in bold directions” to counter the dystopian consequences of being reticent to bring about change, she added.

“What is being said about the impact of climate change is so often dishonest but we don’t and shouldn’t be afraid of the truth…we can’t afford to be complacent anymore.”

Favaro also touched on the need for a hasty response, bluntly repeating several times: “Speed (in response to climate change) is life, delay is death.”

He said an example of rapid response is what China is doing to counter the impact of climate change, a reflection of how crisis management influences innovation rather than being paralyzed by analysis while environment management problems continue to compound.

“There is no magic silver bullet solution here,” Favaro said, saying resolving the issues posed by climate change will involve a myriad of often interlocking and off-setting decisions.

The debate was the third in the signature series of debates organized by UBCO to promote civil discourse on the issues of our time, the previous two dealing with free speech and Artificial Intelligence, both held last year.

READ MORE: Opinions needed on City of Kelowna’s climate and sustainability strategies

Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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