If only we could launch air strikes against climate change

This week in existential threats to our society

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

Tom Mulcair’s fifth question yesterday for Stephen Harper was rather profound.

“How,” the NDP leader wondered of the Prime Minister, “can he face his children and his grandchildren?”

This was not quite the sort of straightforward and simple question for which the leader of the Opposition has made a name for himself. But there was a certain simplicity to it. Perhaps this is the question that should be asked of every MP, on a daily or hourly basis, or, at least, at the end of each debate. Perhaps we could permanently fill the House galleries with groups of 12-year-olds. Maybe that would impose some constant and heavy sense of consequence on the proceedings.

By a vote of 157-134 last night, the House of Commons did do something of great consequence: It endorsed the government’s plan to launch air strikes against targets in Iraq (and maybe Syria). This decision was preceded by two days of pitched debate, which were preceded by two weeks of questioning and fussing. Now Canada gets to sign its name to the latest attempt to confront one of the great existential threats of the 21st century and commit some number of soldiers and material with the intention of accomplishing something.

But Mulcair’s question had nothing to do with that; it was about that other great existential threat, climate change. The query came in the middle of some back-and-forth as to whether the ill-fated Kyoto Protocol constituted a “socialist scheme”—when the NDP leader reminded the House of the Prime Minister’s 2002 description of the accord, some Conservative MPs applauded—and was precipitated by the latest reminder that this country (not merely this government) is only sort of committed to do anything about this particular threat.

Had we figured out how to bomb climate change into oblivion, we probably would have done so by now—at least, unless someone thought to describe the expense of maintaining an army and sending it into battle as a job-killing, multi-billion-dollar war tax. In which case, we might all suddenly become pacifists.

But since this involves imposing government regulations on a national and international level, we’re all a bit reluctant to act.

For the sake of getting the gist of the Canadian situation, you might merely note the subheadings of the environment commissioner’s latest audit: “Regulations to reduce emissions have been delayed and good practices have not been consistently followed; Departments are not yet assessing the success of current regulatory measures; Environment Canada is not coordinating with the provinces and territories to achieve the national target; Environment Canada still does not have a planning process for how the federal government will contribute to achieving the national target.”

So far as achieving the government’s commitment to the Copenhagen Accord, it’s not likely going to happen, and regulations for the oil-and-gas sector remain a bit of a mystery. Despite the commissioner recommending two years ago that an overall implementation plan be drafted, the government still hasn’t gotten around to doing so.

Two years ago, the Opposition put the commissioner’s concerns to the government and the environment minister of the day reminded the House that the government was not proposing a carbon tax. Yesterday, the leader of the opposition put the commissioner’s concerns to the government and the Prime Minister reminded the House that the government would not be proposing a carbon tax. “Our objective on this side of the House is not to kill jobs and not to impose a carbon tax,” Harper assured.

So, at least as compared with the spectre of economy-destroying carbon tax, the government is doing all right.

In fairness, the government has done a few things. As the commissioner notes, it has introduced three regulations for the transport sector and one for the electricity sector, but it has so far failed to follow through on the other sectors its sector-by-sector approach is supposed to include. We are currently on track to miss our Copenhagen targets by 122 megatonnes, producing 734 megatonnes in 2020 when we should be producing 612.

That we are in this spot is not quite news. The government’s intention to regulate the oil-and-gas sector is now older than some schoolchildren (here is a report of a consultation in September 2006). And we now find ourselves in a situation not entirely unlike that of 2007. The onus remains on someone to do something.

“Mr. Speaker, our government’s record is very clear,” Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq asserted twice on Tuesday afternoon. “We have taken decisive actions in a responsible way to protect our environment, as well as our economy.”

The basics of this conversation don’t really change: The Opposition suggests the government is mistaken and must do more, the government says it is doing some things and the Opposition’s ideas are terrible.

“Thanks to our leadership and the efforts of the different levels of government, businesses and consumers,” Aglukkaq told the NDP’s Megan Leslie, “Canada’s total greenhouse-gas emissions in 2020 are projected to be 130 megatonnes lower than what they would have been under the Liberals.”

The Conservatives like this line, which no doubt sounds impressive, as long as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief sufficiently to imagine that, under a Liberal government, absolutely nothing of any consequence would have happened, either federally or provincially, in the last nine years.

As with the spectre of a carbon tax, anything can be made to seem preferable if you conjure up something worse.

“Mr. Speaker, this is an incredible question from the Liberal party, which has the worst record in the world on this issue,” Harper chided the third party when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau dared question the government’s record yesterday. “Of course, the reality is that the Liberal party signed these incredibly ambitious targets, and then went in precisely the opposite direction, seeing some of the fastest increases in global greenhouse-gas emissions in the world.”

Chiding the Liberals was possibly more compelling eight years ago, before the Prime Minister’s government had its own targets that it was going to miss, with a trend line moving in the wrong direction.

Of course, as it is for the New Democrats and Liberals now, it is easier to be aspirational when your actions still exist only in theory. It is infinitely easier to promise action than to act, and relatively simple to invoke children and grandchildren until you think it might cost your party the next election.

But, for whatever reason, we seem to have hit some kind of moment of indecision (or repetition, so far as what each side has to say).

All of which might be mere rhetoric and math if it weren’t for the concerns that climate change poses a threat to our planet and our species. The government’s own climate change website suggests that “future warming will be accompanied by other changes, including the amount and distribution of rain, snow, and ice and the risk of extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy rainfalls and related flooding, dry spells and/or droughts, and forest fires,” as well as “changes in average and extreme sea level, wave regimes, and ice conditions.” In the frequently asked questions section, we learn that the predicted results include “increased smog and heat waves resulting in more temperature-related illness and death; the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria‚ dengue and yellow fever into Canada as insects carrying these diseases migrate northward with the warming climate; and the quality and the quantity of drinking water could decline as water sources in some areas become threatened by drought.” The World Health Organization figures on about a quarter-million deaths per year worldwide between 2030 and 2050 as a result of climate change. There is possibly something to be said too for simply breathing cleaner air.

We might wager that it won’t be so bad, or that achieving meaningful global reductions is impossible, or that we will certainly adapt to whatever happens, but then, we might at least be up-front with each other about that bet.

Of course, if it’s easier to join a war than to implement a comprehensive national strategy for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, that likely owes something to the more ambiguous threat of climate change and the simple reality of who would be doing the fighting: It’s one thing to send some planes and soldiers into a battle with bad guys, it’s another to compel an entire population to accept whatever new inconvenience or cost might be associated with helping to stave off future droughts and flooding.

If climate change were only being caused by a murderous gang of abhorrent maniacs, public support for bombing them into oblivion would probably be running around 98 per cent. If the president of Russia were single-handedly manipulating the world’s climate, the government would no doubt be eager to denounce him. But it is not so easy to confront a problem that implicates every human on the planet.

The government has not gotten to its current spot without the tacit approval of this country’s citizenry—or, at least, a certain lack of outrage. If we have not yet done enough to confront the problem—if we have spent decades pondering the way forward—it is surely because governments have not seen much to be gained from doing so. But if there are very difficult choices to be made here—and there are—then we might try to put them in front of ourselves for consideration.

We might get to confronting all this via next year’s election, but then, we’ll have all sorts of other issues to sort through then: tax rates, social programs, the precise look and personality we desire in a prime minister. So perhaps we should just declare some kind of new crisis on the climate change front and spend the next two weeks working ourselves into a tizzy about what will and should be done. The government could craft a resolution of some kind—even if only to explain that it’s not much interested in doing anything too dramatic just quite yet—and the Prime Minister could make a statement in the House and MPs could spend two days arguing and pleading with each other to see things one way or another. Each side would have a chance to explain the merits of their preferred course of action—the Opposition parties having to ante up and explain the details of their counter-offers. The country’s pundits and analysts could descend on the proceedings with their arguments and calculations. Reporters could be dispatched to the Maldives (or Miami) to ask the locals what they think we should do. And then the House could have a vote. And then we could spend the subsequent days watching and considering the ramifications of that decision.

After a week or so, we would lose interest and move on to something odd that Trudeau said, or some new outrageous peccadillo committed by some member of the government side, but at least we would have had a decent week or so of fussing about that which apparently threatens to reshape the course of humanity.

“If we do not deal with ISIL and its ilk, they will deal with us,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the House on Monday.

Setting aside the debate we might have about the internal coherence of this sentence, there is a simple argument here: If we don’t do something about Islamic State, it will not merely go away on its own, but rather, probably force us to deal with it.

This seems true of the threat of climate change: Either we deal with it or it deals with us, or, at least, with our children and grandchildren. If that’s the premise we’re confronted with, we might as well act like we’re serious about considering that. At least for a week or so.


If only we could launch air strikes against climate change

  1. Billy Bob will be appearing in 10-9-8-

  2. Where to begin, Mr. Wherry? What are the current impacts of climate change? The devastating storms that it was predicted 20 years ago would be today’s norm, have failed to materialize. Winters are pretty much the same old, same old. Ditto summer. The Eastern US seaboard has now gone over 3200 days without a major storm making landfall. “Superstorm Sandy” was anything but, by historical standards, and not really any different than “the perfect storm” of 1991, with the exception of where it made landfall. There is some evidence of earlier spring in alpine regions, but nothing that falls outside of known historical variations.
    There is no more of the world in drought today, than any other time in history. California’s current drought is still within the parameters of known droughts in the coastal history. The drought being experienced by the Colorado River Basin also falls into the same category. There is no evidence that the current lack of precipitation in the Southwest is related to climate change, nor has it ever been alluded by serious scientists that such is the case. There is no region in the world experiencing drought that has not experienced drought in the past, of both greater and lesser proportions.
    There is no one dead today, nor will anyone die tomorrow because of climate change related weather/climate events. This will be true on any given day in the foreseeable future.
    The sea level is not measurably greater than it has been at any time in recorded history. It will likely fluctuate, as it has done in the past. (see- Beringia).
    There is no evidence that the greater numbers of forest fires predicted due to climate change are occurring. Wildfires in the American West continue to be mostly human caused. Greater fire damages are the results of forest management practices, and the tendency for people to like to live in the mountains. There are literally billions of dollars worth of luxury homes in the American Southwest located in areas prone to wildfires. The situation is similar in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. The exact same scenario applies to Australia.
    There is no evidence put forth that world food production is being hampered by climate change. None.
    Nor is there any evidence that climate change might have the kinds of negative economic impacts on Canadians that fighting climate change will. The role of the Canadian government is to put the economic well-being of Canadians first. Fighting climate change is the exact opposite of that, especially in light of the fact that the supposed impact of climate change would lead to reduced consumer energy needs and greater economic output from the farm sector.
    Lastly, although there is so much more, Mr. Wherry needs to commit some journalism and take the time to examine the multiple discourses that have debunked the whole “97% of climate scientists” meme that has taken root. Start at “Watt’s Up With That”, and continue on to Judith Curry’s blog, and then get back to us. Please.

    • @Bill G very, very good factual response to Komarade Wherry’s Drivel……….

    • In ’69 we walked on the moon, just picture the technological advancvements of that, and now:
      1./ Yes, we can now affordably build and mass produce energy-efficient vehicles, -you know it’s there, and yet, we still haven’t?.
      2./ Yes, we can also affordably build near energy-free homes, solar, wind… your backyard isn’t doing anything else, so why not?
      3./ and Yes, …, we need the earth, but the earth does NOT, and never will, need US.
      – We could go on, and on.

      The real question is, since we (being corporate/gov’t whathaveyou), knows, and more importantly knows we all can do that, then why haven’t we?

      Why does Big Oil, Gas, Ontario Hydro-(Lol), …, along with their stock-holders, lobbyists, …NOT want that to happen.? -They have never answered that question.

      A potential “safe” Nuclear alternative, energy-comsumption-wise, is also a making a slow, methodical comeback, but this time, with some very big world-changing energy-efficient numbers that will eventually topple anything Oil, or Gas can give.

      You have to “balance” the science with the Wall Streets, so-to-speak.
      When one convinces you that the other is a lie, then you’ve already been duped.

    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjuGCJJUGsg

      Just why do you bother Bill? I’m pretty sure you’re about as qualified as i am to have an opinon – zilch iows.
      Assertions made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence ~ Hitchins

      Since your fond of anecdotal evidence, listen up. I live in the NWT, this year the crap finally hit the fan after a series of record warm years. No one can recall seeing such low water levels[ in fact there’s a risk hydro will become unreliable as a source of year round power. And i drove through one of only a nmber of forest fires that plagued us all summer; this particular one took somewhere between 2-3 hrs to drive through. I know, i know…it has all within historical norms, cuz you say so. Frankly there is a reason folks like you don’t get to set policy.

      • Because I’m one of the people who is being asked to fork over substantial sums to fight global warming, I believe I have a right to see substantial evidence before writing the cheque.
        The “evidence” presented to date has been thin at best, and known falsehoods at worst. The fallacy of the “97%” consensus is well established. Few journalists in mainstream publications have failed to dig into how much of the supposed “evidence” of global warming is pure conjecture by people even less versed on the subject than myself. The links provided are but the first step in having the writer do the paid research and educate the Maclean’s readership.
        It’s interesting that you don’t think that guys like me should help set policy, but you probably would sure like me to help pay for that policy. Spoken like a true socialist.

        • Where?Oh pleeeaaase! where has this 97% consensus been outed? By whom? Folks like Fred singer perhaps. Odd how that charlatan’s name keeps on cropping up on the, “these are the real scientists” lists.
          Yes you are completely entitled as a tax payer[ i prefer citizen] to be convinced by substantial evidence. You just don’t get to get your own way because just because you think you know the answers and most of the world’s scientists don’t. Interesting when it comes to contributing your share of the burden to come, you turn turtle and cry – it’s socialism, i just can’t , won’t!

        • You’re the one who is asking to continue to have his lifestyle subsidized by the rest of the world because you accept the reality that evidence describes.
          You’re happy to embrace any kook theory that enables you to keep the rest of the world paying your way.

      • That the Artic has been warming is not questioned. But the Arctic goes through cycles of warming and cooling. Alarmists are looking at the record from 1979. That was an exceptionally cold year and followed 20 years of cooling (remember if the ice age fears from the 70s?). The sun’s activity has a disproportionate effect on the Arctic (earth’s tilt) and warming when activity is high is to be expected. It has nothing to do with CO2 levels.

        • Of course, that’s complete and utter horse$h^t.
          Which I suppose is why you didn’t provide an ounce of substantiation.

    • “Start at “Watt’s Up With That”…”

      Adorable. Later we’ll go to Fox News for some Fair and Balanced(TM) coverage, then watch old Philip Morris films for the latest on the health benefits of smoking.

      No matter how many times that professional weatherman is handed his ass by actual scientists, the True Believers insist that he delivers the Truth(TM).

    • “Start at “Watt’s Up With That””

      Do you have any scientific sources to back up what you said, or just a blog run by a weatherman?

    • Garbage from start to finish.
      But, go ahead and provide evidence if you’d like any of it to leave the realm of unsubstantiated assertion.

  3. The existential threat is to to all western countries, but it is a more serious threat to some. Perhaps it is not sufficiently serious to any of them to warrant any of this. If you feel this way, vote for the dick joke guy.

    • As opposed to the almost nothing is better than nothing guy – so stop bothering me, i have another election to win…oh and stay tuned for my bribe to make you vote for…er, your lower taxes. Courtesy of your, er , my, the Harper govt….and of mumble, mumble, Canada.

    • While I share your pessimism about Trudeau taking climate change seriously enough, I don’t share your belief that he’ll do even less than Harper.

  4. Shorter AW – pity we can’t just bomb CC.

    “… as long as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief sufficiently to imagine that, under a Liberal government, absolutely nothing of any consequence would have happened, either federally or provincially, in the last nine years.”

    This tp is so embarrassingly dumb it ought to be delivered by Tony C, at the very least. Of course it must follow that a liberal govt[or an ndp one] that failed to do much about CC would carry on doing so for the next 10 years…it is simple logic – in Harperland it seems it is.
    As someone who thinks alot of Aboriginal people it pains me to see such an ineffectual MoE. But, that is clearly by design.

  5. “Dear future generations: Please accept our apologies. We were rolling drunk on petroleum.”
    ― Kurt Vonnegut

    Wherry’s writing reminds me of Vonnegut.

    • No surprise here – now – how can we make money off of this information?

      Or do we simply find some easily manipulated media outlet and have them ask the public for donations to help us study this in greater depth and detail?

      We should be able to skim off a few million – and I am happy to share it with you!

  6. Could not sell global warming although the charlatans made billions on it.

    Changed the name to “climate change” and now anyone who has seen some difficult times within the past 20 years jumps on the new band wagon – usually in hopes to make billions or because they are lost and need a cause.

    Foolish people join in simply because the weather they remember is different – which it is! Of course it is.

    The climate changes every day – but the long term trends are still the same.

    Some years good and some years bad.

    But as I said – fools jump in because they have seen the snow melt a couple weeks early or the rains stop two weeks late.

    Climate change is constant – always has been and always will be – otherwise we would not be finding tropical forest remains under the melting snows in some parts of the world and we would not be finding tropical forest remains on shores as water recedes in some places while it increases in others.

    Winds and storms have been happening since long before man – and records and archeological evidence proves this – but have a big one today and fools jump up and claim – “climate change”

    Remember – Greenland used to be farmed by Vikings.

    Now when the snow recedes the fools yell about climate change.

    Maybe it is simply going back to where it was before.

    So – my question is this – If I cannot beat the idiots who talk about things getting warmer, colder, wetter, drier, windier – or whatever – how can I fool the world like Gore did, and make a couple billion so my family can live in the lap of luxury while others do nothing more than complain while they drive their personal agenda into everyone else`s lives?

    • Heh.

      So, when did the IPCC ‘change the name to “climate change”‘?

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