“Why would we do this?”

There’s a feature story in today’s Globe and Mail about Dr. Gordon McBean, one of Canada’s top climatologists. Dr. McBean briefed the federal Liberal cabinet on climate change in 2002. He told them then — five years ago — that the Kyoto targets were only a first step, and that much deeper reductions in carbon emissions were needed. He also explained that climate change could mean “surging sea levels, more frequent violent storms, severe heat waves and droughts,” but added that it would be decades before the effects of any action would be noticeable.

At least one Minister was appalled. “And there will be nothing for us between now and the next election?” the minister asked. “Why would we do this?”

“You do it for your grandchildren,” Dr. McBean replied. (Fortunately for the Minister, and unfortunately for us, Dr. McBean isn’t naming names.)

That story is yet another illustration of why Canadians should be very cautious when considering the born-again policy positions of political parties claiming to have seen the light. In most cases, I suspect, all they’ve really seen are polling numbers.

Also in today’s Globe, Preston Manning argues that politicians must not do to the environment what they did to health care: produce nothing but “sterile, destructive, polarized debate,” that succeeds only in convincing the public that “their No. 1 public-policy concern cannot be resolved by political processes and institutions, and that politics is part of the health-care problem, not part of the solution.” (The fact that Preston Manning is now sounding reasonable is a good demonstration of, 1) how far off-side Stephen Harper is, and 2) how much nicer, smarter, and productive politicians are once they’ve gone through parliamentary detox.)

Keeping that in mind, I suggest there are three things people should ask themselves when assessing which party has the best environmental approach:

  1. Do they have staying power? Do you believe the party is actually committed to addressing the planetary crisis, or will their resolve melt if our next winter happens to be a cold one?
  2. Do they have the best solutions? This is different than asking if they appear to care the most, or if they have the best TV commercials. The benefit of living in a country that’s fallen so far behind on environmental leadership is that there are lots of proven solutions that can be borrowed from other jurisdictions.
  3. Do they understand how different issues are interrelated? Not just the way that the environment is linked to health and economy (though that’s important), but also how climate change relates to resource depletion, toxicity, ocean health, agribusiness, peak oil, etc. Be very skeptical of any party with an environmental platform that claims to be able to solve the climate crisis without addressing these other issues.

Today is Parliament’s first day back. Here’s to hoping they achieve at least the bare minimum.

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