Ministering to the Environment

The Toronto Star reports that John Baird is your new federal minister of the environment. You might think this decision would be of huge importance to me, but I’m finding it hard to react. I want to be optimistic, but I don’t see how this will change anything. I hope I’m proven wrong.

For one, Rona Ambrose never had a chance. Initially, she wasn’t even supposed to be good at her job. The PMO didn’t consider it a priority to maintain our life support systems. Then, when it became clear to him that environment = votes, Harper took over the file and stopped letting Ambrose speak. My first hope for Baird is that he’ll be allowed to do his job.

Defining the nature of his job is the next big challenge. The Conservative government is yet to acknowledge the obvious fact that addressing the climate crisis is priority number one, but they’ll probably have to. Then, they, like the rest of us, will have graduated from if to how. That’s the tricky bit, because as the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment explained, the climate crisis did not develop in isolation from other problems, nor can it be solved in isolation.

For government, that means two things. First, it means that climate change cannot be addressed unless we also address other environmental problems, including toxicity, over-fishing, air pollution, access to water, etc. Second, it means that much of what has to be done falls under the jurisdiction of other departments, including the ministries of…well, I was about to list them, but I would have had to list almost every single one. (Not to mention the over-arching challenges of addressing cancerous economic growth and destructive cultural assumptions.)

So that’s why I don’t think this shuffle will matter much one way or the other. There’s a joke that the Green Party wouldn’t even have a minister of the environment if we were in government, since we’d take our species’ survival — as opposed to our political survival — into account when making all decisions. (I know, we’re radicals.) And besides, to quote Roy MacGregor, this isn’t about the minister of the environment. “This is about Canada, and the rest of the world, ministering to the environment.”

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