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COMMENTARY: The political science is not settled on climate change

Greta Thunberg blasts world leaders at U.N. Climate summit in powerful speech: ‘How dare you’
WATCH: Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg opened the United Nations Climate Action Summit with an angry condemnation of world leaders for failing to take strong measures to combat climate change.

Thousands of students across Canada will walk out of class Friday morning to participate in “Fridays for Future” climate rallies, inspired by young activist Greta Thunberg.

The 16-year-old Swede grabbed the globe’s attention earlier this week, chastising world leaders in a supercharged speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean, yet you all come to us young people for hope,” Thunberg seethed.

“How dare you.”

READ MORE: Greta Thunberg wins ‘Alternative Nobel’ prize for her climate activism

The upcoming climate rallies caught extra attention in Edmonton this week, when Public School Board trustees voted 6-1 in favour of a motion asking teachers to refrain from assigning homework or tests to students cutting class (with parental permission).

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The initiative, led by trustee Michael Janz, didn’t sit well with Alberta’s UCP education minister, Adriana LaGrange, who said by way of a statement, “It’s up to parents and guardians, not an activist school board trustee, to determine if their child misses class.”

(In response to the “activist trustee” jab, Janz quite rightfully pointed out Red Deer Catholic students were bused to anti-abortion rallies in past, when LaGrange was a trustee in that Central Alberta city.)

The one “No” vote came from EPSB trustee Sherry Adams, who told her colleagues, “[climate] science is not settled. I believe we’re doing our students a disservice by not allowing them to hear a different narrative.”

WATCH BELOW: Kids answer how they would fight climate change as prime minister

So, what does this have to do with the federal election?

Most Canadians expect bold, meaningful climate policy from political parties. An Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month for Global News and La Presse saw 25 per cent of respondents identify climate change as their most important election issue, behind only health care (35 per cent) and cost of living (27 per cent).

WATCH BELOW: Climate change third most important issue for voters

Federal Election 2019: Climate change 3rd most important issue for voters, but almost half aren’t willing to pay to fight it
Federal Election 2019: Climate change 3rd most important issue for voters, but almost half aren’t willing to pay to fight it

The Liberals are aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050, standing by their carbon tax, and incentivizing corporate action on reducing emissions. The Conservatives are promising to repeal the carbon tax, and instead invest in green technology and home retrofit tax credits.

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Critics point out both plans are similar, in that they fail to meet Canada’s carbon reduction targets.

The New Democrats are taking a hard line against expanding pipeline infrastructure, while vowing to work more closely with Indigenous Canadians on issues around climate change. The Green Party, just slightly embarrassed this week after releasing a photoshopped image depicting leader Elizabeth May drinking from a reusable cup with a metal straw instead of her actual biodegradable cup, says it’s time for Canada to ramp up renewables. The Greens endeavour to see solar, wind, and hydro powering the country by 2030.

WATCH BELOW: Canada’s party leaders on climate change

But not every candidate — or party — is taking climate change seriously. In fact, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier is treating the issue like a bit of a joke.

The party’s official platform questions scientific models, calls out climate change “alarmism,” and denies a link between global catastrophes and climate change.

On Sept. 21, Bernier mocked Elizabeth May’s assertion that “no other party has a plan to avert catastrophic (climate) impacts,” tweeting, “EMERGENCY!!! CRISIS!!! It’s been raining a lot in Winnipeg. This has never happened before. We must destroy our economy to prevent heavy rain from ever happening again!!!”

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This, just days after he took a swipe at Greta Thunberg, describing the teen as “mentally unstable” and living “in a constant state of fear.” (He later said he didn’t mean to “denigrate” her).

READ MORE: After labelling Greta Thunberg ‘mentally unstable,’ Maxime Bernier calls her ‘brave’

All these storylines — the “activist school board,” the “science not settled” trustee, the populist politician — evince an inconvenient truth: Canada lacks consensus on climate issues. In fact, you could argue Canadians are further apart on climate than any other election issue. For example, we may not all agree on the best way to treat cancer, but we can all agree cancer is a problem — right?

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Prairie premiers won’t flat-out deny human impact on climate change, but there’s no doubt where they stand on Ottawa taxing carbon to change human behaviour. Most economists insist carbon pricing is the most intuitive approach to reducing emissions, while many entrepreneurs decry the impact those increased costs have on their bottom line.

Older voters lament deficit budgets (“Look at the debt you’re leaving for my grandkids!”), while at the same time attacking leaders of that next generation (like Thunberg) for expressing equal outrage at inaction on climate change.

The reality is, ​leadership on climate might be the toughest to define. Evidence suggests we’re influencing climate change, it’s an emergency situation, and we can take steps to mitigate even more disastrous consequences.

Whether or not it’ll pay off politically for a party to truly be bold with climate policy remains to be seen. What we do know for sure is that we’ll all be impacted by the result.

Ryan Jespersen is host of The Ryan Jespersen Show on Edmonton’s Global News Radio 630 CHED.