Every good lawyer knows never to ask a question unless you already know the answer. Ignore that rule and you're apt to get an answer you don't want to hear.
It's a lesson that's been lost on our EnviroMin George w. Baird. A while back he asked for advice on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Canada by 50 to 70% by 2050 and advice he got in the form of a report from Environment Canada.
From The Globe & Mail:
"The slower Canada is to put a price tag on greenhouse gas emissions, the greater the damage to the economy will be, a report commissioned by Environment Canada will say Wednesday.
"But if Ottawa acts now to put a price on emissions - either through a cap-and-trade system, a carbon tax, or a combination of both - the long-term costs will be manageable, says the paper by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy."
Caps? Carbon taxes? Say it ain't so, Johnny boy!
"'If the government neglects to clearly communicate the [greenhouse gas] price schedule well in advance, it risks causing serious economic dislocation ... because society's capital stocks will not be well prepared,' the report warns.
"Done right, however, the costs over the long term will be small. If the government gives clear signals about how emissions will be priced, and how that price will rise over the long term, then companies and consumers alike can make environmentally sound investment decisions.
"For example, Ontario and Alberta both need to make multibillion-dollar investments in energy infrastructure in the next few years. If they know what kind of environmental rules Ottawa will impose, they can invest accordingly. But if Ottawa dithers, and the provinces make inappropriate investments, the cost to fix those decisions after the fact will be enormous. Much of the country's machinery and equipment will roll over in the next 15 years, and so time is of the essence, the report warns.
"But the price of carbon, whether it is arrived at through a market-oriented cap-and-trade system or through government-imposed rules, is probably going to have to rise to levels higher than most businesses expect, the report shows.
"'On the basis of current technologies, it requires quite a price shock to lower greenhouse gas emissions,' said Don Drummond, chief economist of Toronto-Dominion Bank, who has been doing similar research himself. 'The sooner we get going, the better.'"
The report puts Baird and Harper on the edge of a precipice, right where they don't want to be. Do they take the leap, do they dither and stall for time or do they turn and run for cover?
What I don't understand about this report is that it seems to adress GHG reductions only from the perspective of the industrial sector. When it comes to 70% GHG reductions, we can't get there from here. Industrial restraint is only one part of the solution just as industrial activity is but one part of the problem.
While carbon caps and taxes for the business sector are probably a good place to start, the government can't succeed without addressing all contributing sources of GHG emissions, the fossil fuel problem, alternate energy and energy conservation issues. That means you and me but especially you. Don't think I don't know you drive a Hummer.
My guess? The report will be allowed to gather dust. Harpo will say we can't do it unless the rest of the major emitters join in. That means China and India as well as the US. Asia, of course, has already made it clear they expect us, the biggest emitters (historically and on a per-capita scale) to act first.
No, I think the advice is strong but the political courage is weak.