21 February 2009

Will we ever see environmental leadership in this country?

"[The oil sands] massively increases Canada's geopolitical importance, above all, to the United States. ... This is a very important partnership and they should balance their legitimate environmental concerns with an understanding of just how important the oil sands are to the future of the American economy."

This is not Prime Minister Stephen Harper extolling Canada as a world energy power, it is Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff extolling the value of the Alberta tar sands. Ignatieff goes on to say, ""The stupidest thing you can do [is] to run against an industry that is providing employment for hundreds of thousands of Canadians." So there, Stephane Dion. It would appear Ignatieff has set aside follies such as a carbon tax and embraced the Conservative environmental policy, which can be summarized as "protect the tar sands at all costs." Ignatieff reinforced Liberal acceptance of the Conservatives' cavalier approach to global warming with his support for their budget which ignored a huge opportunity for a major green shift.

We can appreciate the politics of Ignatieff's position. He sees pandering to the energy industry as the political reality of rebuilding the Liberal party in the West. Unfortunately, in this instance political reality and environmental reality may simply be incompatible. Environmentally, the reality is global warming and the tar sands are a major contributor to global warming.

During Obama's visit, Harper made the odd comment, "The fact that we have a President and an administration that wants to see some kind of regulation on this is an encouragement." So it's all George Bush's fault that Canada doesn't have a meaningful policy on global warming? We Canadians are incapable of developing a policy ourselves? Not very convincing when you keep in mind that, despite Bush, the Americans have reduced greenhouse gases more than we have over the last eight years.

Harper is right about Obama, though. Expectations for Obama generally are probably running much too high; nonetheless, he has moved firmly in a green direction with his stimulus package. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invests heavily in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green transportation. "We've never had a jobs program before in American history where the heart and soul of it was a commitment to clean energy," remarked former president Bill Clinton.

As for us, apparently we will continue to do next to nothing while the two governments explore ways to co-operate. And how optimistic can we be about that? Obama has said he wants to work closely with Canada to come up with a new strategy to reduce emissions. That may or may not be a good thing. If it means he will take Michael Ignatieff's advice and accept our tar sands friendly policy, either because of American lust for oil or because he wants to be nice to us, the new strategy may be full of holes. We must hope he will cleave to what appears to be a solid commitment to a greener future and drag us willy-nilly along. Sadly, when it comes to dealing with global warming, the great challenge of our age, we have little to offer.

1 comment:

  1. We may have to rely on US state governors to force through serious environmental regulation. Obama seems willing to defer to them rather than risk another Congressional confrontation. There are too many Dem reps and senators beholden to the Rust Belt and the auto industry.