When it comes to Canada and climate change, who can fault the Americans for seeing us as almost schizoid. We acknowledge the reality and danger of climate change, we worry about it, and yet we tolerate, even support, politicians who will do nothing about it. From Bloomberg View:
Last week's announcement that Canada won't match U.S. emission-reduction targets offers a fresh look at Canadians' enduring bipolarity on climate change: They're far more likely than Americans to say the problem is real, yet keep voting for a government that does nothing about it. Therein lies a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.
In a narrow sense, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's statement marks a reversal. He has long used the absence of a U.S. climate policy to justify his government's failure to introduce oil and gas regulations he first promised almost a decade ago, on the logic that the two countries are too economically integrated to pursue different approaches. Now that U.S. President Barack Obama has set an official target -- a 26 percent to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2025 -- Harper is saying the American policy is too aggressive to match.
But the Canadian decision is really the culmination of years of hostility toward the idea of fighting climate change. Harper's government pulled out of the Kyoto protocol in 2011, dismissed environmental groups as foreign pawns and gave its version of the Internal Revenue Service a new mandate and extra funding to target them. It closed climate research programs, laid off scientists and prohibited those who remain from speaking to the news media. And the latest data show that unless something changes, the country won't come close to its 2009 Copenhagen pledge to cut emissions 17 percent by 2020.
Here's what makes the Conservative government's resistance to climate policy puzzling: In poll after poll, Canadians say they support such a policy. Eighty-one percent say there is "solid evidence" of global warming, compared with just 61 percent of Americans. (Even among Conservative Party supporters, 68 percent agree -- roughly the same share as Democrats in the U.S.) And 54 percent say their country "can and should do more to reduce emissions," compared with 29 percent who favor the status quo and just 5 percent who say Canada is doing more than it should. More than two-thirds said they support "a financial incentive" to cut emissions, including 56 percent of Conservatives. Almost 2 in 3 support using taxes to do so.
That's a level of support U.S. climate advocates can only dream of. So why haven't Canadians' views translated into federal policy? The answer is that climate action is drowned out by other issues: Just 18 percent of Canadians ranked the environment among their top three priorities in a survey last week, according to David Coletto, chief executive officer of Abacus Data, an Ottawa polling firm.
That's down from 23 percent in a similar survey last year - - behind health care, job creation, taxes, debts/deficits, and "accountability and trust," and tied with middle-class incomes and retirement security. In both surveys, just 5 percent of respondents ranked the environment their top concern.
"Canadian public support for climate change action has been stable, but it is not an election issue at any level," Keith Neuman, executive director of the Toronto-based Environics Institute for Survey Research, told me in an e-mail. "So most parties can get away with saying it is important without committing to any policies."
...A corollary of the importance of individual leaders is that progress on climate isn't teleological: The endpoint isn't assured, and there are no grounds for assuming that countries will keep getting better, because voter support isn't sticky enough to hold their successors to the same policies -- something Australia's repeal of its carbon tax last year demonstrated.
The lesson from Canada will only bring more anxiety to environmentalists: Beating climate change (or, at this point, averting its most devastating effects) depends to an uncomfortable degree on whether national leaders want to. That arrangement may have the trappings of responsive government. Underneath, it looks a lot more like luck.
In other words there is no answer for Canada, no answer for our children and theirs, in continuing to back mainstream Canadian politics - Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat. They're all neoliberal and none of them has the sand to deal with this. If there's going to be an answer it'll depend on the prospects of a Green revolution.
So, know this. A vote for Trudeau or a vote for Mulcair is a vote against Canada and our kids' future. With these mainstream parties there'll be no meaningful, effective action until something cataclysmic happens and, by then, it'll be too late. I am repulsed by Andean Fatalism and its rejection of posterity. It's why I finally walked out on the Liberal Party.
To me, this is not political leadership I can support. What's your excuse?