Category Archives: conservative party

Will we ever be on the same page?

In an extremely thoughtful piece in Saturday’s Globe, Charles Montgomery uses some of my comments from a previous blog post on Bali as a spring-board for analyzing the ethical dimensions of the climate crisis.

On one side of “the perfect ethical storm” sit John Baird and Stephen Harper, moralizing about their position:

“It is simply unconscionable to think that only the [developed] countries can do the job themselves,” John Baird told Parliament. “We are not prepared to allow the big emitters, the big polluters like the United States, China and India, to get off the hook. We need all the big emitters on board, everyone with an oar in the water rowing together.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also hinted at virtue and the ethics of his stance at last month’s Commonwealth summit in Uganda. “It’s the only right position,” he said of his efforts to block a deal that called on rich countries to accept binding targets on greenhouse-gas emissions.

The other side (where I am dutifully located) also uses “morally charged rhetoric:”

Activist Sunita Narain, for example, has warned that Canada would have “the blood of the poor” on its hands if it waits for developing nations before acting on climate change. Toronto Green Party candidate Chris Tindal has written that anything less than Canada’s full participation in Bali would be “an immoral failure on a grand scale.”

And this week KAIROS, a coalition of Canadian Christian groups, issued an open letter to Canada and the conference in Bali urging them to stand by the “obligations and moral leadership” of the Kyoto framework and to advocate for a “just” climate-change agreement.

This presents a problem, argues Dale Jamieson, a professor of philosophy and director of the Environmental Studies Program at New York University, since climate science realities (and therefore, the related ethical dilemmas) are very complex.

“If Jack steals Jill’s bike, it’s easy to see why that’s wrong and to have an intuitive sense that there must be compensation, that Jack should be punished. That’s pretty uncontroversial.”

But what, he asks, if Jack and a large number of unacquainted people set in motion a chain of events that prevents people in the future, or in some faraway part of the world, from ever having bikes? “That’s the challenge of climate change.”

And check out this disturbing observation by Donald Brown, a professor of environmental ethics, science and law at Penn State University, about what happens when we only discuss the “costs” of climate change in economic terms:

For starters, the IPCC measures benefits and harms in terms of global market value – incomes and gross domestic products – but it takes everything else off the table.

“This results in the bizarre effect that the lives of people in poor countries are virtually worthless compared to the lives of people in rich countries, since the measure of their value is their earning power.”

And here are some of the most important ideas in the story, and also one of the best explanations I’ve seen as to why the Harper-Baird approach is wrongheaded, despite sounding logical on the surface.

In October, Sunita Narain, director of the New Delhi-based think tank the Centre for Science and the Environment, flew to Guyana to brief Commonwealth finance ministers on an increasingly popular concept of climate justice among poorer countries.

It suggests that in a truly fair world, the right to use the atmosphere would be spread equally among the world’s people – an approach that takes into account not only per-capita emissions today, but how much each nation has already polluted the atmosphere.

However, by the time she was done, Ms. Narain says, the Canadian delegation had stopped listening. Perhaps, she suggests, because under either a per-capita or historic measure Canada has failed its ethics test miserably.

“Industrial countries like Canada have used the atmosphere so they could grow,” she says. “If you look at the total of those emissions from mid-1800s until recently, you find that the entire atmospheric space has already been colonized by the rich countries. Now, they tell the rest of us there’s no more atmosphere for us to use.”

From 1950 to 2000, Canadians used 707 tons of greenhouse gas per person – or about 44 times as much as the average Indian. And today we are emitting about 19 tons per person while countries such as China hover around the four-ton mark.

But the IPCC has concluded that to avoid catastrophic climate change, a safe level of per-capita emissions would amount to about two tons for every individual on Earth.

Actually, “wrongheaded” might be too generous a descriptor for the Conservative non-plan. Montgomery gives the last word to Prof. Jamieson, who’s a little more, shall we say, critical.

[The Conservative government’s suggestion that all nations must “grab an oar and row at the same pace”] is a powerful metaphor, but ethicists such as Prof. Jamieson say it is slightly “perverse,” considering our skyrocketing jump in emissions. And it is a jarring departure from the position the country has taken since 1992, when it agreed with other rich nations that it would have to start rowing first.

It could also lead to a more obvious ethical problem: total inaction.

“Now, Canada’s position could be interpreted as saying we’re not going to do anything unless other countries go first,” Prof. Brown observes. “These kind of arguments can’t be excused. They just don’t meet ethical scrutiny now that climate change is already killing people around the world.”

That’s a damning (and, in my view, accurate) indictment of this government. So, will we (meaning the human race) ever build a large enough foundation of common ground to solve the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced as a species? The answer must be yes, as failure cannot be an option. (Or, as Petra Kelly put it, “if we don’t do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable.”)

On the other hand, will this government ever “be on the same page” with reality? All evidence suggests otherwise. They oppose reality itself with a dogmatic vigilance resembling the Catholic church’s initial reaction to evolution. The continue to pontificate their talking points even when they know they’re not true. No, the government will not change, therefore we must change the government.

“Hidden Agenda” On Death Penalty: Warner

Mark Warner, the ousted Conservative Candidate in Toronto Centre, has warned in a video posted to MySpace that he is “concerned” that the government of Stephen Harper has “a hidden agenda with respect to capital punishment.” Recent actions have indicated that this government no longer opposes the death penalty for Canadian citizens or internationally.

Warner, an international lawyer, explains why he believes that recent actions by the Conservative government are designed to lay the groundwork for a long-term dismantling of the legal arguments against capital punishment in Canada. This is consistent with Harper’s leaked strategy of “incremental Conservatism,” whereby right-wing policies are introduced slowly, with increasing extremism.

The former candidate also points out how much Harper is damaging Canada’s reputation internationally, saying, “this decision has been greeted with outrage by the kind of people who normally applaud the actions of Canada.”

You can watch the full video here.

Bali Rally

Crossposted from Torontoist.

Today is the first day of the Bali United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will continue until December 14th. The purpose of the conference, which is being attended by over 20,000 delegates and observers from 180 countries, is to set out the framework of negotiations for the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in 2012. There are several events taking place this week in Toronto to mark the occasion. The first is a concert with the Foggy Hometown Boys and Autorickshaw, plus a guest speaker (some guy named Chris Tindal, who promises not to talk for more than 10 minutes) taking place this Wednesday December 5th at 9 p.m. at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West, west of Dufferin). Tickets are $15, $10 for students. The second is a rally on Saturday December 8th at noon in Dundas Square. Both are well worth attending.

The need for success in Bali is great. The concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere has reached levels we previously thought would take much longer to achieve, and the effects of climate change are accelerating more rapidly than even some of our most pessimistic projections. And yet, it’s not too late for us to seize the opportunity that crises always present. We can still make the kinds of changes that are needed to ensure our climate and economic security, and to safeguard and even improve our quality of life. For Canada, the choice is between restoring our reputation as an international leader while simultaneously positioning ourselves to take advantage of the new economy, or sabotaging international negotiations and playing a key role in derailing the efforts of the other 179 countries present. The latter would not only be a national embarrassment, it would be an immoral failure on a grand scale.

Early indications are not particularly positive. Last month, our prime minister—acting practically single-handedly—was able to cripple negotiations at a Commonwealth summit so effectively that the other 52 countries gave up trying to agree to anything at all. That event marked a significant shift; no longer was Stephen Harper merely blocking progress in his own country, he was now blocking progress internationally as well.

Shifting Language

That can’t be allowed to happen in Bali. What will happen, however, is less clear. When in opposition, this prime minister referred to Kyoto as a “socialist scheme.” As recently as January of this year he used the skeptical phrase “so-called global warming.” Then, realizing that public demand for action was not going away, the Conservatives began experimenting with new language. Environment Minister John Baird started calling for “intensity-based targets,” a scheme devised by the Bush White House that would give the illusion of reductions while allowing overall emissions to rise. Then, as recently as September, the government traveled to an APEC summit and argued for what they called “aspirational targets,” which are a step below “voluntary targets.”

Times change, however. Now, with the ouster of anti-Kyoto Australian prime minister John Howard a little over a week ago, and with growing pressure at home, Baird and Harper are suddenly calling for “binding, absolute targets” to be imposed. That sounds positive, but many remain skeptical that their new language represents a legitimate conversion, especially considering that, as far as we can tell, the prime minister is yet to receive a scientific briefing on the climate crisis.

Regardless, the key trick to the Conservatives’ demand for “binding, absolute targets” is that they be imposed on all countries or none. They argue that, since this is a global problem, all countries need to reduce emissions at the same time. As this CP story put it, “depending on your perspective, the Conservative government is either going into global climate-change talks this week as a deal-buster with unrealistic demands or a strategic bridge-builder bent on bringing various factions together.”

Skewed Perspective

Perspective certainly has a lot to do with it. Canadians will often complain that we shouldn’t reduce emissions if other countries (China and India, for example) won’t do so as well. After all, what’s the point if they’re just going to move in and fill the gap? From a developing nation’s standpoint, however, this is a highly objectionable position. For the past century we’ve not only been the greatest contributers to the problem of climate change, we’ve also been the greatest beneficences of economic growth fueled by the fossil fuel era. And now that the developing world is just starting to catch up, we’re saying to them, “sorry, too bad, you can’t have what we had. You’re going to have to do just as much as us, even though we made most of the mess, and you’re starting with less.”

That’s a moral argument, but there are pragmatic ones too. The fact is that the wealthy countries are the ones who can afford to develop the new technologies and techniques that will be required to reduce our emissions by the 80% our scientists tell us is necessary. Asking the world’s poorest countries (India pointed out this week that their emissions per capita are still among the world’s lowest) to shoulder the burden while we complain about the “cost” of action is a recipe for failure, not to mention insulting.

Add to this the fact that just as the poor black population of New Orleans suffered the most from Katrina, so too will the world’s poor endure the brunt of climate change. A CBC radio news report this morning drew attention to the irony of holding this conference in Indonesia, a country made up of thousands of islands that will disappear as world ocean levels rise.

While Harper’s knowledge of climate science may be lacking, his mastery of political strategy is well known. From a tactical perspective, he understands how these negotiations are likely to play out depending on his actions. That’s why it’s hard not to believe that his “all or nothing” demands are designed to ensure the negotiations in Bali fail to come up with the kinds of commitments needed. He’s likely to team up with a lame-duck American president to ensure that the world commits to as little action as possible. Its the difference between being an international leader or an international pariah.

Model for Success

The good news is that we have a model for success. When the world confronted the challenge presented by acid rain, an international protocol was formed that saw the wealthy nations take the lead, with developing nations to follow. It worked, and led to both environmental and economic benefits. That’s what the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (of which Kyoto is a part) was designed to do. Contrary to the rhetoric coming out of Ottawa, countries like China and India actually are a part of the agreement. While they were exempt from reductions in the first round due to their status as developing nations (as well as economic predictions that did not foresee the level of growth those countries now boast), everyone has always understood that binding emission reductions will eventually be required for all countries.

Speaking of perspective, the Kyoto plan is working almost everywhere but Canada, where politicians make defeatist proclamations that become self-fulfilling. For example, the European Union has reduced emissions by nearly 5% below 1990 levels (Canada’s target was 6%), and Germany has reduced theirs by an impressive 17%, all while creating new “green-collar” jobs. Our emissions, on the other hand, have risen by 27% while we experience an emerging economic crisis. When Harper calls Kyoto a “mistake,” therefore, he’s doing so in opposition to the facts. If we want a positive international reputation and a competitive economy (not to mention a livable world), we must continue to work with the established framework (while allowing for corrections and adjustments—after all, no agreement is perfect).

And if we want our government to do that, then we’d best show up in numbers to the rally this Saturday in Dundas Square (and elsewhere across the country). If we don’t, then our political leaders will get the idea that we don’t care. And if we don’t, then why should they?

Greens denounce support of veiled voters bill

Crossposted from

For Immediate Release
November [28], 2007

OTTAWA – The Green Party today condemned the NDP for propping up the Conservative government by supporting the Conservative bill that will force Muslim women to show their faces at the polls.

“It is immensely disappointing that the NDP has joined with Prime Minister Harper in pandering to fears of Islam,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “The Green Party stands alone in strongly opposing this shameful and cynical piece of legislation.”

Democratic Reform Advocate Chris Tindal said that the bill sets a double standard, as Canadians who live abroad are not required to provide visual identification to vote and will still be allowed to vote by mail-in ballot.

“This bill has nothing to do with voting security, as the parties claim,” said Mr. Tindal. “It is about exploiting xenophobia and grabbing votes at the expense of Canadian Muslims. The opposition parties should be ashamed that they have allowed themselves to be drawn into this needless hysteria.”

Mr. Tindal added that the true intent of the bill is to hurt the credibility of Elections Canada and distract voters from the alleged “in and out” Conservative election spending limits scandal.

“This attack on Elections Canada was clearly designed by the Conservatives to distract from the investigation into whether or not they broke election spending limits, and the law. Why the NDP would want to aid them in that effort is beyond me.”

The Green Party has consistently opposed any move to force Muslim women to remove their veils before voting and first issued a statement to this effect on September 11th, 2007.