Another Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore has famously and correctly characterized the scientific consensus about global warming as “An Inconvenient Truth”. In today’s Financial Post, Buzz Hargrove identifies another “inconvenient truth” for Canadian progressives: “it is impossible to achieve Kyoto targets in the time frames spelled out in Kyoto.”

Canada’s Kyoto commitment was relatively modest and achievable. However, after signing it, the Liberal government spent years increasing Canadian emissions faster than George Bush II increased American emissions. Now, our emissions are way above target levels and the target period (2008-2012) is only eight months away.

To the extent that Canada is allowed to meet its commitment through the Clean Development Mechanism, we should do so. We should also make a serious effort to reduce our own emissions. However, as I think most environmentalists have quietly concluded, Canada will inevitably blow our first-round Kyoto target. Since the consequence will be a more stringent second-round target, we should start taking serious action now.

The opposition Liberals have taken the hypocritical, unrealistic position that Canada must now meet its first-round Kyoto targets. Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez introduced a bill to that effect. The other opposition parties understandably felt that they had to support this bill to keep their green credentials intact.

Theoretically, there may be nothing wrong with adopting an unachievable goal in order to prompt action in the direction of achieving it. As Robert Browning wrote, “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

Practically, the problem with this approach is that it leaves the door wide open for the Conservatives to point out, as they did this week, that severely reducing emissions in an extremely short period of time would entail significant economic dislocation. The hypothesized $195-per-ton carbon tax is far higher than needed to meet Kyoto targets in the medium term, but might be needed to get there immediately.

As long as the debate is framed in terms of meeting Canada’s first-round Kyoto targets, the Conservatives will win the argument. The debate is likely to remain framed in this manner as long as the Liberals succeed in pinning the other opposition parties to the Rodriguez position.

Progressives must reframe the debate as being about the costs of action versus those of inaction in the medium term, which is the more serious argument and one that the Conservatives cannot win. The only way to reframe the debate this way is for progressives to start publicly acknowledging what everyone already knows: that, as a result of Liberal inaction, Canada will inevitably blow its first-round Kyoto targets. We can then move forward with the reasonable, affordable measures needed to meet our second-round targets, such as a carbon tax closer to $25 per ton.


  • I was going to write something about this, but now I don’t have to. Well done.

  • I know someone had to say it this week, and finally the Buzz did. You don’t make a big deal outa signing something – photo-op – mission accomplished and than not do anything.
    Yes, we will blow the 1st-round of Kyoto targets. We need to take the hit, but you are right, we need to be reasonable, affordable measures that our second-round targets. Up until a couple of months ago Dion was already to sign on for intensity targets, and well we all know that was a non-starter.
    All or nothing is a no-win situation for people and all living things and the planet.

  • This does just go to show that as recently as a couple of months ago, even after Stéphane Dion had become leader, the Liberals were still treating the environment mainly as a stick to beat the Tories with, rather than as a genuine object of public policy.

    How they didn’t see Baird’s report as a natural and extremely damaging response, I don’t know.

  • Liberal inaction? The Liberals had a lot more programs to reduce GHG emissions in place than the Conservatives have now. All Harper has been doing since his election is repackaging Liberal programs that he axed and devising ploys that avoid any meaningful reductions.

    The Liberals are deserving of plenty criticism, but had Harper been Prime Minister when it came time to sign Kyoto, he would have joined Bush and Howard in refusing; we would be just as bad, if not worse, off.

    Getting back to dealing with the here and now, we will all do ourslves a tremendous service if we stop wasting time by looking for blame. With the amount of time that has been wasted, it’s probably already too late to stop far-reaching climate change.

    One of the most urgent things we can do when tabulating the costs of action versus inaction, is to adopt full-cost accounting. For too long industry has gotten away with externalizing the cost of natural capital onto the public. Now we are paying for that fundamental error.

    Think about what total ecological collapse means and tell me if you think we can afford to continue with these target quibbles to avoid reducing a lifestyle four times beyond our rightful ecological footprint. Global warming is a threat far greater than Fascism. So why aren’t we getting fully mobilized?

    I’m not expecting any leadership from the current crowd in power. A lot of others aren’t either:

  • As you said Romeogolf, “Getting back to dealing with the here and now” we have to deal with the ball and chain the Liberals have shackled onto us.

    As Erin Weir points out posturing that we must meet our first round targets in their entirety “leaves the door wide open for the Conservatives to point out that severely reducing emissions in an extremely short period of time would entail significant economic dislocation….. As long as the debate is framed in terms of meeting Canada’s first-round Kyoto targets, the Conservatives will win the argument.”

    Casting off the ball and chain looks the most straightforward: admitt the first round targets will not be met and focus on meeting medium and longer term.

    I think there are political and public relations land mined in EXPLICITLY admitting what everyone has previously rallied around.

    Better I think to simply go around whether the first round targets are feasible [let the Liberals hold that baggage] and go on the offensive by putting the governments plan under the microscope.

    “OK, getting to zero growth in emmissions as you propose would indeed be progress and get us on track to meeting our Kyoto commitments. But your plan isn’t going to get us there and you can’t demonstrate it will.”

  • “But your plan isn’t going to get us there and you can’t demonstrate it will.”

    Not sure what “plan” you are referring to, Ken. What I’m trying to point out is that we face a problem greater than that at the beginning of World War II, yet the country is not even close to being fully mobilized to tackle it. Why?

    There is so much that can be done today, now, without waiting for the government. To hell with the politicians’ quibbling, people should simply critically evaluate their lifestyles and make the necessary changes. That still involves purchasing goods and services, only ones that have a low GHG footprint. I don’t see an economic meltdown in that. There hasn’t been one in Europe and many countries there are much further ahead than we are.

    The people can lead and the politicians will follow because their futures depend on it.

  • It is true that this new declaration that Harper will not move on Environment is another substitute for any action. It is a lot like pretending a high school student has graduated by presenting them with a blank certificate so that they will not feel bad, which does happen also.
    But there is definitely muddle, a sure sign that Canadilan politics is oozing forward.
    What comes out is a Harper plan not to reduce emissions, except to the extent of sending out PR material calling on householders to change light bulbs while not touching the planet killers of Alberta. But the economic study, replete with BS as it may be is nevertheless light years from the Denial rubbish of only a few months ago. Ã…nd it does come through that the idea of buying a blank certificate is all Harper will do, while the study mentions in a very low voice that such certificates are worthless and who do we think we would be fooling. Ignore the dignitaries who have given the study a sort of seal of approval. Canadians have not ever believed such “authorities” for a minute anyway. They are like the gushing praise of movie reviewers who find each new movie the best thing ever. They are just standard props.
    But now the debate moves forward into numbers. Will it be 6% of GDP or a lot less; like 1981…heck, that is not so bad; and so on. Now we need some finger pointing about what is the contribution of energy copnverters, what will be the structure of the carbon tax. Why not start with the top 300 emission point sources. And so on.
    I hope Harper leaves Cement Head Baird in Environment, as that guy is as prize a donkey as one has seen for a long time. He may totally discredit the Harper gang of Straussians all by himself. Meanwhile there are now a cluster of well defined targets.
    And maybe, at long last, we shall see an end to the tourist talky crap about Canada leading the way when we are at the back of the parade proposing only to bring our broom and dustpan.

  • My reference to “your plan isn’t going to get us there and you can’t demonstrate it will” was talking about Harpers plan.

    To rephrase it- the plan soon to be rolled out with brass bands and supporting approval from Calgary and Bay Street, calls for a target of no growth in emissions by 2012.

    There’s actually an opportunity in that:

    We’ll settle for that. It would be real progress and set us on the road.

    But the time for ‘maybe we will get there’ is over. We MUST get there.

    And the intenisty-based targets the government will announce as the means of getting there are NOT a plan. It’s more fairy dust scattering.

  • There is only one way to make any progress with our environmental challenges and that is to vote for the Green Party.

    The Conservatives will never do anything; they will just promise then not act because they are tied to the big US oil and manufacturing companies that control our government actions and policies.

    The 2nd half of our historical Libservative government, the liberals, have already proven that they have not and will not act in any intelligent way on our environment as they are controlled by the same special interest groups that control the Conservatives.

    The NDP are controlled by big labour who have the same perspective on the economy as big business. When I lived in BC a few years back, environmentalists attached the provincial house of parliament when an NDP government approved clear cutting in a provincial park. Some environmental party!

    I am 64 years old and have voted at some time in my life for all of the above parties. From now on I will only vote for the Green Party until I die (which will be sooner than later if the status quo is not changed).

    The war on the environment which is being waged by all affluent citizens and many poor citizens in the world is a threat sooner or later to the existence of all mankind and other inhabitants of our earth. This last of the great wars will continue unchecked until all governments in the world make it their #1 priority. The Green Party does does just that. All governmental policies, decisions and actions must be framed in the context of the environment.

    If you and I do not vote for the Green Party, we are part of the suicidal war on the environment not part of the solution. So don’t give me any more of the Conservative, Liberal or NDP crap I have been hearing all my life. Get off your butts and be part of the solution.

  • Well the posts started reasonably and the opinion piece was well thought out. It is great to see some rationality and critical analysis. I’m quite disappointed that the quack jobs came out to ruin the train of rational discussion. “The end is near, the end is near” 🙂

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