These are scary times to be a political leader which probably explains why today's leadership is so damned timid.
We've now logged 30-years of climate research, enough that dissent is now yielding to powerful consensus. Even those who want to believe that climate change is a hoax can't keep their eyes closed forever.
The past three decades, each warmer than that before it. The 10-hottest years on record, all but one (1998) coming during this decade. 2010 set to be the hottest yet. Record floods in Pakistan, massive forest fires and crop failures in Russia, droughts and floods around the planet - weather to be sure but entirely consistent with climate models based on the changes observed over the past 30-years. Then you've got a seemingly endless list of associated issues - ice caps melting and sea level rise, oceans acidifying, the global freshwater crisis, species extinction, resource depletion, air/water/land pollution, deforestation, species and disease migration, on and on and on.
What's a leader to do with all this dropped on his/her plate? Some climate scientists, the key folks who are now pretty much vindicated, warn we've got just five years to cap carbon emissions if we're not to trigger runaway global warming. Five years, that's barely one electoral cycle. Five years in which to assess, plan and implement solutions. 2015.
Do you see any sign of urgency in Steve Harper, Mike Ignatieff or Jack Layton? I don't. They don't even want to talk about it. What's with that? Aren't these the very people we've entrusted with our welfare, the welfare of our grandkids and the future of our country? Why on earth are they squabbling over the census and whether we need to top up funding for the arts?
I'm convinced the very magnitude of the global warming problem is too much for any of them to handle. Maybe it's just too much vision to expect from any mortal wedded to existing economic, political and social models. Indeed, global warming and the host of associated troubles cannot be solved with Industrial Revolution economics or the political and social systems that has spawned. These threats are indeed global and demand truly global solutions based on strong, global consensus in which the voice of the Western nations is just that - one voice.
Take one example, the atmosphere, that onion-skin layer that supports all life on earth. We now have a pretty good idea of the carbon carrying capacity of our atmosphere, how much of that has been used up by industrialism and carbon-based societies, and how little remains before we reach a tipping point triggering runaway global warming. One thing is clear, there's not nearly enough capacity remaining for us to carry on as we have over the last century. Another thing that's clear is that we now have newcomers, the emerging economic superpowers, demanding their place at the carbon banquet table. And the Third Worlders aren't content to sit by quietly and observe the festivities from the wings any longer either. They want what they see as their due.
The real problem for us is that continuation of our lifestyle depends on perpetuating our near monopoly on the atmospheric carbon dumping ground. If, as the Third World demands, we divvy up the remaining atmospheric capacity on a per capita basis, then the industrialized major emitters (particularly the U.S., Canada and Australia) would have to decarbonize our economies and decarbonize our societies in very short order, something that Big Carbon (Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas) won't tolerate from its paid political stooges.
These issues are just too horrible to discuss. After all, if we did accept the argument that the atmosphere belongs to all mankind, equally, not just to those who can get at it first, then we stand the existing global order on its head. What's next, the water? Exactly. Who gets access to the ocean's fish stocks, those that have the far-ranging, high-tech fishing fleets to get at them first, or are these too a commons, an asset that ought to belong to all mankind? Let's face it, it's not some guy paddling about in a canoe tossing a net into the water who's collapsing global fish stocks. Yet he and his family and his village are far more dependent on his catch for survival than anyone aboard those factory ships and trawler fleets.
All of these issues demand truly equitable solutions which defeat supply and demand, free market economics. These solutions are rooted in rationing whether that be limiting toxic emissions or ensuring fair access to dwindling resources. At the heart of these solutions lie two factors utterly repugnant to free market capitalism - sacrifice and sharing - in which the powerful accommodate the vulnerable. With Harper in the driver's seat, Ignatieff and Layton must see even mentioning that as political suicide.
We get the government we deserve and this illustrates the point perfectly. Our self-interest, no matter how short-sighted and unsustainable, rules the day - for now at least. Our supposed leaders don't have the courage to stand up to us, to lead. They have no vision and that's just the way we like it.