Climate change: weak words, strong pictures. - Macleans.ca

Climate change: weak words, strong pictures.

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Environment Minister Jim Prentice’s remarks today to the effect that it will be years—years!—before the Canadian government implements regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions have to be crushingly discouraging for anyone who regards climate change as an urgent problem.

“The international policies, the North American policies, and Canada’s own policies, have to all fit together in a coherent way,” Prentice explained, “if we’re going to get the environmental outcomes we want and protect the economy as well.”

It’s fair enough to point out that Canada is part of a big, complicated world. But what’s stopping the Canadian government from proposing decisive measures on the international stage, even implementing some bold ones at home, to prove its seriousness? Instead, the tone of the Conservative government is passive to the point of being inert.

In the run-up to next month’s global climate change summit in Copenhagen, Prentice continues to repeat the government’s pledge to cut emissions by 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020. But what does that commitment (tepid as it is by world standards) mean if all the details around how to achieve it are left to the leadership of other countries?

One way of looking at this, I suppose, is that Canada could never be expected, as a country that derives so much wealth from fossil fuels, to take the lead on seriously curtailing the burning of them for the sake of combating global warming.

But another way would be to see that we Canadians, of all people, are bound up in the energy economy so tightly—extracting fossil fuels and consuming them like nobody else on the planet—that for us to abdicate on our responsibility to reduce emissions for the sake of future generations would be particularly shameful.

It helps to turn, every now and then, from the unavoidably abstract debates about atmospheric science and energy economics to more concrete reminders of what all this adds up to on the surface of the planet. For that tonic jolt of reality, the landscape photography of Edward Burtynsky—not coincidentally, a Canadian—is just the thing. And a good place to check out the man and some of his pictures is here.