Thursday, December 9, 2010

EDITORIAL - Canada's climate of contradiction (USA climate of contradiction too?)

The joists beneath Canada's social policy framework are beginning to creak, thanks to the excessive weight that's generated when a nation's leaders house too many contradictory plans and priorities under the same roof.
We tremble before our rolling debts and structural deficits, yet don't even think about raising our taxes. We worry about our children's future, but if public investments in education necessitate a two per cent hike in the price of a bottle of gin, then forget about it and pass the martini shaker.
We know we're responsible for the shape we're in. Still, we insist in one of the many moments of pure rationalization we allow ourselves every day, some are more responsible than others.
And he always seems to be the other guy.
So it is we observe federal Environment Minister John Baird declaring - and not for the first time - that Canada will only agree to a binding set of reductions to greenhouse gas emissions when other major polluters, such as the United States, China, India and Brazil, similarly agree under a single, if virtually unenforceable, pact.
Apparently, according to government officials, this "only makes sense" as anything less would put Canada in an untenably uncompetitive position with respect to its international trading partners (read: the good old stars and stripes).
But does this argument "only make sense"?
It does if you believe that climate change is merely a figment of some grant-hungry, United Nations scientist's fevered imagination. Clearly, though, this is not Baird's position - or it wasn't on Monday when he announced a new national marine conservation area north of Baffin Island that he said, according to one news report, "will become increasingly important as the effects of global warming lead to greater human activity in Canada's North."
What, then, do our leaders want: A more stable climate or a warmer one?
If it's the former, why are they making plans to manage and exploit an ice-free Northwest Passage? If it's the latter, what are they doing at the Cancun summit this week, hashing out the terms of their endearment with the rest of the post-Kyoto world?
The simplest explanation is that they are playing both sides against the middle in a dangerous game of geopolitical poker, rather than articulating a consistent national policy on climate change.
The Canadian government's latent interest in the North is the direct result of what science has been predicting for more than 20 years: The ice is melting. That's not an opinion; it's a verifiable and measurable fact. Baird and his people know this. Indeed, they welcome it, and all the strategic oil exploration and sovereign assets it bestows.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world marvels at the exquisite irony of our position: Our leaders now actually hope to profit from a process that only scant years ago they rejected as mere conjecture.
They have become believers, where once they were sceptics. Their venal and chauvinistic interests, it seems, have shown us all the light.
Still, they also show up periodically at these ludicrous assemblies of global warming hand-wringers and teeth-gnashers to assure the international community that they're perfectly willing to work with it, if only it will work with them.
Nobody's buying this horse-pucky, so why do they bother spreading it around?
Apart from ushering an embarrassing loss of prestige on the world stage, Canada's climate change contradictions rob it of the opportunity to become a global leader in coherent, consistent environmental policy, and divert our attention from the hard, but inevitable, work of weaning ourselves from the teat of fossil fuels; from capitalizing on the enormous economic opportunities explicit in renewable energy technologies and skills.
This country - like many others - needs a framework unburdened by reflexive and dichotomous overtures to political gamesmanship.
When everything is a priority, nothing is, and nothing good, noble or even useful ever gets done under the weight of such greed.
* Alec Bruce is a Moncton-based journalist. His column appears daily in this space. He can be reached via:

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