Monday, April 27, 2009

Don't Count on America to Save The World

The Europeans may be stumbling along independently but the rest of the world, including the three guys who pass themselves off as Canada's political leaders, waits for America to take the lead in the fight against anthropogenic global warming.

Brian Mulroney, to his credit and to what ought to be Canada's embarrassment, was the last Canadian prime minister to seriously embrace environmentalism. His counterpart, Margaret Thatcher, was the first British prime minister to really take global warming seriously.

Canada signed on to the Kyoto Accords and then pretty much put the freshly inked document in some cabinet in Ottawa to gather dust. I'm willing to cut the Libs a good deal of slack. It took time to get Kyoto ratified and, when they took over from Mulroney, they were left to save a nation staring into an abyss of debt and deficits.

Then along came Big Oil's own Stephen Harper who derided Kyoto as a "socialist plot" to effect a massive transfer of wealth. I guess we have to thank everybody's Gods that Harper wasn't from tobacco country or we might be selling cigarettes in elementary schools today. Harper knew the strongest bond he had to his American idols, Messrs. Bush and Cheney, was the Athabasca Tar Sands, a mega project that was the key to Canada's ascent to energy superpowerdom, a dream that would never be fulfilled if Kyoto was enforced.

Steve might not have delivered a majority government to his Conservative Party but he certainly ran interference for Big Oil for more than three years until the rival Liberal Party could come up with its own Athabasca-friendly leader.

When it comes to the global warming issue both Messrs. Harper and Ignatieff (along with their pound hound "Scrappy Jack") have been playing it safe. Iggy, oblivious or indifferent to the distinction between 'informed' and 'misinformed,' has even pronounced that an informed Canadian public has said "no" to carbon taxes and that's an end to the idea. So our (giggle) leaders have decided to await their climate change cues from Washington where, curiously enough, the people with actual ideas now reside while Ottawa remains an empty vessel.

But don't count on America to lead the world out of this mess. There's more than enough opposition in Congress, generously egged on by the Carbon Lobby, to thwart any meaningful action to even marginally reduce America's overall carbon emissions. R.J. Samuelson, writing in today's Washington Post, says the best-possible scenario still sees emissions growing through 2030.

Re-engineering the world energy system seems an almost impossible undertaking. Just consider America's energy needs in 2030, as estimated by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Compared with 2007, the United States is projected to have almost 25 percent more people (375 million), an economy about 70 percent larger ($20 trillion) and 27 percent more light-duty vehicles (294 million). Energy demand will be strong.

But the EIA also assumes greater conservation and use of renewables. From 2007 to 2030, solar power grows 18 times, wind six times. New cars and light trucks get 50 percent better gas mileage. Light bulbs and washing machines become more efficient. Higher energy prices discourage use; by 2030, oil is $130 a barrel in today's dollars. For all that, U.S. CO2 emissions in 2030 are projected to be 6.2 billion metric tons, 4 percent higher than in 2007. As an example, solar and wind together would still supply only about 5 percent of electricity, because they must expand from a tiny base.

If Samuelson is right and this is America's bottom line on global warming, start investing in those companies that want to put huge mirrors in the upper atmosphere. Because if America takes this position it's going to be almost impossible to get China and India to slash their carbon output. The fate of the world is very much in the hands of those three nations.

If Washington isn't going to take the lead someone else has to and in North America, that comes down to Canada. We have to at least try to lead by example or else accept our fate and the far worse fate we've bequeathed to our children and grandchildren. This is a moment in which we need the strongest possible leadership and it's nowhere to be found.

5 comments:

LMA said...

Over the weekend I watched Allan Gregg interview Ignatieff regarding his new book and his vision for Canada's future (video at TVO.org). To my dismay, Ignatieff did not mention Canada's role in the fight against global warming, but rather repeated previous statements that the Tar Sands will provide wealth, jobs and growth for Canadians in the coming century. While he has many lofty goals for Canada with regards to national unity, world class health care, education, science, and technology, his environmental policies remain vague. Very worrying for a potential PM.

The Mound of Sound said...

I would like one of these leaders to at least address this powerful scientific consensus that tells us our only hope is to effect drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions within the next ten years. They duck the issue entirely rather than explaining why they reject the warnings or, if they accept them, just what they intend to do about them.

Look at it this way. Even if we shut down the Tar Sands tomorrow, it wouldn't endanger a single Canadian life. Yet ignoring the call for action on major emitters could well cost lives in more vulnerable areas and leave a dismal future for generations of Canadians to follow.

When the stakes are this high, how can our elected leadership sit mute?

joycedell said...

Ignatieff is the corporate candidate du jour. He will replace Harper and we will have to wait yet again for real change.

Oemissions said...

These guys are sounding ridiculous. The evidence is there and here and getting worse, every week.
Why do they keep missing the boat?

The Mound of Sound said...

What's telling in the Washington Post report is our unshakeable addiction to growth. Yes, we'll learn to conserve and become more fuel efficient but we'll wipe out all benefits of that by growing our populations 25 per cent in as many years and, in that same, brief period, expanding our economies by a staggering 70 per cent.

Now these estimates refer specifically only to man-made greenhouse gas emissions. In keeping with our planning myopia, there's no discussion of all the other impacts of economic and population explosions on a nation already running an ecological deficit evidenced by such things as the already critical freshwater exhaustion issue, spreading desertification, etc. It ignores the impact multipliers of protracted drought in the south and southwest and even modest sea level increases on agricultural production and population relocation pressures.

We're still bogged down in childish debate over the mere existance of global warming while we charge ahead with our toxic addiction to growth.

And where is our leadership on this? Nowhere. You certainly won't find any trace of it in Vancouver this week. 24 Sussex is bolted and shuttered on these issues. The toddlers in their orange and brown can't get past minor carbon taxes at the gas pump.

Here's the problem. There's an enormous leadership deficit in all parties. We need to have a clear debate on these issues and what they mean. You have to create some essential conditions on which to lead, otherwise the public will not follow. We don't have a party or a leader willing, or in the case of the Greens, able, to initiate this debate. Ignatieff, Harper or Layton, take your pick. They're all too cowardly, too weak and too self-interested to act and, so long as they all remain mute, their personal ambitions can prevail. They're really quite a disgusting lot.