Friday, April 02, 2010

What It Takes to Lead

The most frustrating and scary aspect of climate change is the way our political leadership does backflips to avoid having to engage the issue. They act as though, if they don't mention it, the problem will go away - for them anyway.

We don't talk about global warming in Canada except perhaps to argue whether it's real or a hoax perpetrated by an international coven of dodgy scientists out for ...well for something. Our politicians, particularly the wily Harpo, realize that, so long as they can keep the debate at the stage of doubt, they can avoid having to do anything. To hedge their bets they can claim to want to synchronize Canada's efforts with America's, confident in the knowledge that special interests (Big Coal, Big Oil) have America's bought and paid for Congress well and truly stitched up. Washington is the best rearguard Ottawa's elected Tar Sanders could hope for.

The one thing that might undo Ottawa's efforts to bury the climate change issue is leadership. Michael Ignatieff, like Stephen Harper, is a committed Tar Sander so don't expect him to do the job he was annointed to perform - lead. Somebody else is going to have to be found and fairly quickly.

Leadership on global warming begins by getting the facts out before the public. The Brits did just that for their people. They told the British people that, "based on the greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere today - even without any additional emissions - powerful change is coming. Here is the 'best possible' scenario and you need to begin planning and preparing for at least that."

We know that emissions are going to continue, that they're poised to increase substantially. So what does the British policy really achieve? It actually achieves its purpose. It gets the public engaged in the issue. It shows them a real bottom line, even if it is vastly understated. The public understands that. Once you get information out to the public, once you get the public engaged, then - and only then - can you open the discussion on the touchy subjects - emissions cuts, adaptation and remediation.

Dion's folly is that he didn't come close to fulfilling the information and engagement process before unveiling his "Green Shift" proposal. You can't sell that sort of thing unless the public, properly informed, is ready for change. Dion failed and he really ought to have known better.

During the Frost interviews, Richard Nixon opined that the true measure of political leadership was the ability to get the public to support an otherwise unpopular but necessary initiative. Dion wasn't up to that task and Iggy and Harper don't even want to try.

What issue is more important than this one that threatens the continuation of our very civilization? Day care or corporate taxation? Budgets and deficits? Afghanistan or senate reform? Somehow nothing else comes close. That'd take something like global nuclear war but that doesn't seem likely, at least not right now. So why do Liberals tolerate a guy like Ignatieff and his supporters in caucus who so brazenly shirk their responsibility on global warming?

Don't blame me. I've written to them and I've tried to get the IgLibs to follow the British government's lead and actually use it against Harper. Convene parliamentary hearings. Get people like Hansen and Lovelock and their Canadian counterparts before a commons committee to speak plainly. Force Harper to take the gags off EnviroCan and get meaningful, reliable information out before the public. I guess the genius responsible for keeping the LPC at least four or five points behind the Cons in the polls knows better. They know that if they don't rock the boat they can stay safely behind where neither vision nor courage are mandated.

Which brings me to this helpful bit of prose:

"And we find that this struggle is more complex, more awkward, and more wide-ranging than we had thought possible... What involves us today is a struggle of far greater proportions yet with fewer handles for men and women to grasp. It is not the absence from the scene of a Pitt or a Churchill that causes men and women to wonder in what direction humanity is pointed, it is the nature of the adversary. More than eloquence and more than leadership is required to come to grips with monetary imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, and environmental pollution... Yet these struggles are the essence of life on this planet today. They are not struggles that can be confined to a law court or a battlefield or a House of Commons; they require institutions and regimes of immense dimensions and novel attributes; they call - in the final analysis - for worldwide cooperation, for they demand that we struggle not against other human beings but with other human beings. They demand a common cause of humanity."

- Pierre Trudeau, from a speech delivered at Mansion House on his being honoured with the freedom of the City of London. Taken from "Just Watch Me, the Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau 1968-2000" by John English. There was a leader who wouldn't have balked in the face of global warming.


Anyong said...

The only way to get the attention of the Canadian public, and the PM and his dribblers is through the Universities. One central university is choosen to have a conference with people like Hansen, Lovelock and Suzuki in attendance as a panel across the stage where it is laid on the line in plain language why the environmental problems and how pollution from the Tar Sands can be taken care of. The PM and the Minister of the Environment are invited as observers only and should they snub the conference, they would be in a lot of doo-doo. How does the public become so involved with the Olympics? Organization that's how and this can be done as well.

stone1343 said...

I think the tactic is that every 1 ppm increase represents 8 billion tonnes more CO2 in the atmosphere. We have added almost 900 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, we are already 11.5% above the safe threshold, and increasing at over 0.5% a year.

see for some details of caluclations. I too have tried to get the attention of political leaders, media, etc...

Anonymous said...

I am 61 years old and in the 70s,when we were being lectured that we were causing the coming of an Ice age, i was skeptical that we could control the world climate. 40 years later i have not changed my mind. The PM and the Minister are invited as observers only? Then why show up? I would not ..i mean what will David S, James L and JH say that would be new?
"You said we need to get facts to the public" I think that is the big problem " Facts" because all we are getting are "emotions" and the public would be more open to listening..i know i would be.

The Mound of Sound said...

That is essentially what the British government has done, Anon. They have issued reports about minimum change to be expected in various regions of the UK over this century. It's basic information - likely sea level rise, temperature increase and precipitation changes. The Brits have pointed out coastal regions vulnerable to inundation and suggested no further building be allowed on the worst flood plains. They believe much of their country will see at least 2 degrees of warming with parts of the south, including London, apt to endure 6 degrees. Now that's tangible information that can be used for planning and preparation.

In some parts of Canada, global warming is less easily seen than in others. As a rule, the more natural the local environment the more visible is change. In BC, outside metropolitan areas, we see clear change from insect infestations to species migration to declines in our critical mountain snowpack. As a coastal resident I need to know more about what's coming, particularly in regard to storms, precipitation and sea level rise. Instead our government stands mute unimpeded by protests from the opposition.

Oemissions said...

well the pope,credible fellow that he be, did decree awhile back, "thou shalt not pollute
To be a Tarsander means that you ignore the drastic increase in cancer in the people living in the area and the water problems."
Morality is important!