Tag Archives: george monbiot

George and me

Chris and Mardi Tindal with George Monbiot in Toronto. To the left of the frame, John Ralston Saul and R.H. Thompson may have gotten a bit shoved out of the way.
Chris Tindal and Mardi Tindal with George Monbiot in Toronto. To the left of the frame, John Ralston Saul and R.H. Thompson may have gotten a bit shoved out of the way.

I went to hear George Monbiot speak on Saturday in Toronto, and was excited to see that he was there in person. Monbiot is one of the best (and best-known) climate change journalists in the world. A few years ago he swore off flying because of its impact on our planet, and since then has made most of his appearances via video conference. He is physically in Canada this week, however, because our “government’s behaviour in the (UN climate) talks is so destructive and the development of the oil sands is so damaging to global efforts to prevent climate breakdown” that he felt compelled to pay us a visit.

Monbiot’s message for us is blunt. He emphasizes that he really likes the Canadians he’s met and that he finds us to be very sensible, but that “the distance between ordinary Canadians and those who define your reputation on an international stage is an enormous gulf.” Our government’s actions are causing so much “shock and revulsion” internationally that “Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice threaten to do as much damage to your international standing as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did to that of the United States.”

His concern is both regarding our behaviour at UN climate talks and our increasing production of dirty oil. The “oil curse” is not only bad for our ecology, he says, but our democracy. International examples show that dependence on oil “brutalizes a nation…it creates a political class that owes its existence to a primitive and destructive industry.” The process has already started, Monbiot says. “No one can quite believe that this prosperous country is treating its aboriginal peoples like Nigeria treats the Ogoni of the Niger Delta.”

Read his plea to Canadians in today’s Globe and Mail: Please, Canada, clean up your act

ps. I will add that all of this has a flip side. If we do clean up our act and provide leadership, we can, as Stephen Lewis says, quickly restore our reputation on the international stage while simultaneously strengthening our domestic economy by becoming more efficient and competitive. That’s our choice: lead of follow, help or hurt, become renowned or repudiated.

Bali Verdict Roundup

When I woke up Saturday morning, the radio was reporting failure in Bali. The first agreement didn’t specify any level of emissions reductions at all, an unbelievably disappointing result. Then later in the day the news came that a second agreement had succeeded in laying the groundwork for mandatory reductions. The way the Globe and Mail tells it, it was a dramatic day, with John Baird being dragged along kicking and screaming the whole way:

Isolated Canada grudgingly accepts Bali deal

December 15, 2007 at 11:45 AM EST

NUSA DUA, Indonesia — After a failed attempt to block an agreement, Canada found itself isolated at the Bali conference Saturday and grudgingly accepted a new accord to set a target of 25 to 40 per cent for cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions by wealthy countries by the end of the next decade.

Environment Minister John Baird spoke against the ambitious target, but found himself virtually alone. Only Russia supported him – so he withdrew his objection, sparking a lengthy burst of applause from other countries.

A CP story has an amusing description of how, after attempting to sabotage the whole conference, John Baird then had the audacity to complain that the agreement didn’t go far enough. From the article: “Canada helped gut some of the substance from Saturday’s deal and then expressed regret when the final agreement was ultimately watered down even more than it had hoped.”

How positive this all is, and where we should go from here, depends on your perspective. Here are three different takes, the first from Elizabeth May:

The world community has launched the negotiations originally set out in Montreal in 2005 against a specific deadline. Agreement must be reached by the COP in Copenhagen in 2009. The so-called Bali roadmap covers agreements reached within the two binding legal mechanisms: The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (signed and ratified by Canada in 1992) and the Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated within the UNFCCC.

Until the 11th Hour (or actually the 11th Hour into over-time), the U.S. blocked progress on the UN FCCC side, while Canada blocked progress on the Kyoto Protocol side. (Since the US has not ratified Kyoto, with the change in Canadian government we are now able to do the U.S.’s dirty work for them.)

…We have a long way to go to get a solid, legally binding treaty ready by 2009 to avoid going past the point of no return in climate impacts. We now have a hope of getting there. By 2009 Bush will be gone. We must all re-double efforts to ensure that Mr. Harper joins his anti-Kyoto buddies, Australia’s John Howard and U.S. President George Bush in happy retirement well before Copenhagen!

George Monbiot is concerned that we’re actually moving backwards:

The destructive power of the US delegation is not the only thing that hasn’t changed. After the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, the British environment secretary, John Prescott, announced that “this is a truly historic deal which will help curb the problems of climate change. For the first time it commits developed countries to make legally binding cuts in their emissions.”(4) Ten years later the current environment secretary, Hilary Benn, told us that “this is an historic breakthrough and a huge step forward. For the first time ever all the world’s nations have agreed to negotiate on a deal to tackle dangerous climate change.”(5) Do these people have a chip inserted?

And David Reevely is ready to throw up his hands:

I say screw it. We should stop going. Stop sending words to do the work of deeds. Instead, let’s recognize that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions makes sense not only on its own account, but because it means economic improvements (in the name of efficiency) and more tangible environmental improvements at the same time. Less spewing means less wasting means more money in our pockets. We can even find ways to support investments in efficiencies abroad without having to necessarily play by the Kyoto Accord’s Clean Development Mechanism.

Do not take this as an endorsement of the Harper government’s foolishness, by the way. Canada’s Environment Minister John Baird obviously went to Bali to be a spoiler and he mostly failed and was embarrassed and that’s good. I do believe he didn’t even want to send words, let alone deeds; in the case of Canada’s current government, having to cough up some words was progress.

But for serious people, attending meetings is not a substitute for getting on with the job. That’s all.

I disagree with David that we can afford to give up on working within an international framework, since climate change is an international problem. However, I think he’s completely right in his sense of urgency and his desire for Canada to start taking a leadership role in the world. And that we need fewer words, and more deeds.

Of course, Elizabeth’s also right about the importance of getting rid of the Harper government as quickly as possible, and that Bali can and should be used as a springboard to move forward with positive action. The Conservatives are now in the ridiculous position of having agreed to emissions reduction targets that they claim are impossible to achieve, which means they have no credibility from any angle. We need MPs with a solid plan to reduce emissions while strengthening the economy and safeguarding our quality of life. And soon.

We Will Not Save The Environment Until…

With all the focus on the politics and math of mitigating climate change (which is getting exceptionally urgent, by the way), it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Last night Spacing Magazine launched their 10th issue, the “green issue.” Inside the front cover is the following, by Pier Giorgio DiCicco, Poet Laureate of the City of Toronto, edited from a speech at the Walk21 conference two months ago. It is, IMHO, profound.

After the many seductions, logical and visionary, have been played—I shall make a plea for the salvific aspect of the act of walking. Yes, salvific. Not just to save the environment, but to save ourselves, and not just by regarding the environment. We will not save the environment until we have found a reason for living together. Until we discover civic care in each other, until we restore the city to its definition as a place of unexpected intimacies, not just as a place of amenities, convenience, business, and entertainment, we will not have sustainability. For sustainability is about replacing an ethic of entitlement with an ethic of sufficiency. And sufficiency is what we find in each other. In an era that glorifies independence and even inter-dependence we are shy of admitting the awful truth: that is, we are dependent on each other, not by connectedness, but because we are one body breathing the same air. It is not cars that are the enemy of the pedestrian. The enemy is the absence of civic communion, the lack of empathic citizenship, our inability to see cohabitation as that place where we enjoy ourselves, by enjoying others. All human traffic is under siege, because it is becoming increasingly purposed, guarded, and negotiated. The body is not just a means of locomotion. It is our chief means of restoring a city to its raison d’être, its purpose. And that purpose is civil encounter.

But civic trust has been corroded. Our cities are becoming disinhabited, even when the streets are safe and landscaped; gentrified neighbourhoods are no more interactive than the brownfields and cloverleafs they replaced. The problem is not, fundamentally, to get people to slow down, or to move without being toxic to their environment. The problem is to make people aware that anonymity is as toxic to the ecology of heart as hydrocarbons are toxic to the atmosphere. The problem is how to restore intimacy, curiosity, trust, and play into the happenstance encounter of citizens, in an era when the happenstance and the unpredictable are a threat.

When all the cars will have been taxed or tolled on their way to the cities, when bike paths and parks will have reconfigured our neighbourhoods, when safe and cleaner transportation has cut emissions, a fundamental question will remain. Is the safe city, the sanitized city, the sustainable city, the same as the livable city? If all we want is clean and well-designed cities, it will likely come to pass. But in the long run, to save the environment means that we will want to save the environment not just for ourselves, but for each other. And to reverence each other means that we will have to discover each other.

I wonder if any of the delegates and observers to Bali channeled Dr. Eleanor Arroway on arrival, saying “they should have sent a poet.”