Those of us from the industrialized nations can have a pretty skewed notion of our place in the world. We've had it so good for so long we've come to believe the continuation of that imbalance our right. We are entitled to keep pursuing affluence regardless that others may be bearing the end costs of it.
We're being watched. The developing nations and the Third World are keeping a close eye on us and they don't like what they see. Now with the Cancun climate summit a week off, they're accusing the rich countries of "holding humanity hostage." From The Guardian:
Tonight the first shots were fired in what are likely to be serious diplomatic clashes at the talks. In an interview with the Guardian, Bolivia's ambassador to the UN accused rich countries of "holding humanity hostage" and undermining the UN. " [Their] deliberate attempts to sideline democracy and justice in the climate debate will be viewed as reckless and immoral by future generations," he said. " I feel that Cancún will become a new Copenhagen if there is no shift in the next few days."
" There is deep frustration among the least developed countries", said Bruno Sikoli, the spokesman for the 54-strong group of mainly African countries. " "We feel there has been far too much talking. If the rich countries put nothing new on the table, then it will be very serious. Climate change is affecting our countries hard now. It is most urgent."
If we think we've got a terrorism problem now in radical Islam just wait to see what will come out of a devastated Third World that squarely blames us for their plight.
Canadians profess love and pride for their country yet turn a blind eye to the fact that as a country we are failing miserably to consider the effects of climate change on those less fortunate.
Our government has dithered and delayed on setting and meeting targets to control GHG emissions in fear of losing votes. Our government is actively lobbying in the U.S. and Europe to promote Tar Sands oil and undermine climate change policies. The First Nations are being ignored as they warn us of the changes happening in the Arctic and the pollution of the Athabasca watershed. People here in Ontario are outraged that our electricity rates may go up as the province tries to transition to green energy. We want more and more, and are willing to pay less and less.
It is just by an accident of birth that we were born in a country blessed with an abundance of natural resources and a temperate climate. Why do we feel so entitled to enjoy the good life while the rest of the world suffers as a consequence of our excess? With privilege comes responsibility. The only hope I have at this point is that environmental activist groups such as Greenpeace will continue to fight and force us to face reality.
You're right about our government having done nothing but miss their motivation. It isn't about losing votes. Survey after survey shows the Canadian public want meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. We get that the environment is in peril but there are vested regional and corporate interests that steer our political masters. Some will come up with greenwash legislation but still enthusiastically back bitumen and coal.
"Holding humanity hostage". There is indeed a lot of truth to that. We heard a lot of BP spill along US coast. There are far worse spills in Africa and other poor countries by BP and fellow muggers of resources and not a beep.
What was the result of the Libs Green Shift platform? Wipeout. Canadians "wanting" meaningful action to control GHG emissions means nothing if we are unwilling to make any economic sacrifices. We have the power to fight corporate interests through boycotts and reducing our consumption of their products. Our government is responding to our apathy by doing nothing in turn, and we won't get change until we demand it.
Dion was instrumental in the failure of his own pet policy. He lacked the resources essential to informing and selling the policy to the public. It takes a great deal of time, effort and money to lay the foundation for public acceptance of something like the Green Shift. Dion had none of that and, instead, decided to make that a key election plank. That was worse than amateurish.
Even then, Dion failed to control the message. Weeks before he was prepared to unveil it his opponents, Tory and NDP, exposed it allowing them to frame the narrative and fix public opinion before Dion could even begin. Make no mistake, these were Dion's failures and his alone.
The public were persuaded Dion wasn't credible and that what he presented as a "shift" in taxation was actually just a tax grab. Dion simply did nothing to earn the public trust and both he and the Liberal Party paid dearly for his incompetence. His soft-spoken arrogance didn't help.
Paul Martin and Jean Chretien proved that Canadians are willing to sacrifice if they believe it is necessary. We understood we needed to save our Canada from a nosedive and we went along with their austerity measures. Dion understood neither what they had achieved nor how they accomplished it.
On the one hand you say rich nations believe they "are entitled to keep pursuing affluence regardless that others may be bearing the end cost of it", and on the other hand you say Canadians "want meaningful action to curb GHG emissions" and "are willing to sacrifice if they believe it is necessary". Sounds like we are in a approach-avoidance conflict with respect to fighting climate change.
Yes, I agree that the public panicked at the idea of a green "tax on everything", but from the looks of what is happening in Ontario, they may panic at the idea of a green "tax on anything". I never thought of Dion as arrogant, but rather committed and passionate.
It could be that we would rally if we had a leader to inspire us. I'm just not sure anymore.
I suspect it's the magnitude of the challenge that causes so many to freeze up. As some climate summit delegates argue, we can't negotiate with the climate and yet many nation's targets seem to attempt just that.
There's even a real mathematical precision to this. We know with fair accuracy the mass of carbon dioxide already in the air from our activities since the Industrial Revolution. Most of that is actually still there. We also know the concentration we need to achieve to give ourselves a decent chance of avoiding runaway global warming. That figure enables us to determine how much additional carbon dioxide we can emit.
Once you accept the remaining carbon emissions the atmosphere can bear it's just a matter of how that is to be allocated. And there's the 800 pound gorilla.
The industrialized world either has to retain its monopoly on future carbon emissions or else rapidly decarbonize both its economies and its societies. As Gwynne Dyer points out that would mean the introduction of wartime-like carbon rationing. Not carbon pricing, carbon rationing and at every level of society including you and me.
If we were put to that test there would be one certain effect. We would quite quickly drop our resistance to alternative, clean energy. We think these options are too costly but we're mistaken, often deliberately misled.
For example, our fossil fuels are subsidized, sometimes heavily subsidized although we see the cost of a litre of gas according to what we're charged at the pump. We don't see the subsidies that are passed down to us through taxation or offset by royalty concessions and we don't see the even greater and very real environmental costs that are simply pumped into the atmosphere. Once you add in those costs to the consumer pump price the expense of alternative energies becomes very competitive.
Take geo-thermal. It's an expensive technology to build but, once in operation, it yields the cheapest energy of them all. It's clean, it's cheap, it's steady and reliable and it's essentially infinite. Canadian companies produce 20% of the world's geothermal energy but there's not a single plant in Canada. Our governments much prefer to send truckloads of cash to Big Oil instead. It is more than merely conceivable that Canada could meet almost all its energy needs from geo-thermal.
My point is these options exist but they must be explained and justified to a skeptical public.
Perhaps if someone like Arnie from California were to come along we would listen?
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