Friday, December 18, 2009

E- Embarrassed to be a Canadian

As a Canadian I have almost always felt lucky for, and proud of, my nationality. There were lots of times in Europe when I really felt privileged to be from north of the 49th parallel and to be able to talk with pride about the limited, but generally very positive role
Canada plays in world politics. However, I find myself at this very important moment in time, when global cooperation has never been more necessary, embarrassed to be a Canadian.

I do not consider myself a hardcore environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination. I know I am as guilty a carbon polluter as most, although I do try to make choices that limit my carbon footprint when they don't inconvenience me too much. I don't get too worked up about my own behaviour because I know that a global treaty is the only chance we have to make a difference. I am also aware that science
isn't even totally clear about what will be the consequences of our CO2 emissions.... and won't be clear until it's far too late to make the necessary changes.

However, I feel really strongly that we don't need 100% irrefutable proof (which will never exist anyways) before humanity commits to changing our carbon based economy. To me it boils down to common sense. Everything in this world requires balance to be sustainable in the long term. We don't need scientists to tell us that what we are doing to our atmosphere, the minuscule layer of air that is responsible for sustaining almost all of life on earth, is out of balance. Basic common sense can tell us that there will be huge human induced changes if we continue to pump more and more CO2 into the atmosphere. It's also plain to see how difficult it will be for most
plants and animals to adjust to a change brought on so rapidly.

But what about the costs? Who knows how much it will really take for us to make the changes? I have heard many credible economists and scientists estimate that it would cost 2-3% of world GDP for a few years to totally wean ourselves from fossil fuels. Even if it cost us 2 or 3 or even 10 times more than that, wouldn't it be worth it just in case the Domesday scenarios are true? I mean, if we do get to that 3 degree plus increase in global average temperature that starts an irreversible warming cycle, what good is any of our wealth anyways? Since this planet is responsible for 100% of our wealth, doesn't it make sense for us to use as much of that wealth as is necessary to protect earth from a realistically severe threat? Of course it does! The fact that the fix can be done for so cheap is a big bonus. We don't need to go back to stone age or basic subsistence living to help save the planet, we just need to acknowledge that the time for burning fossil fuels has come and gone and now we need to spend the money to make a new energy infrastructure.

The funny thing is that changing our economy away from fossil fuels would probably have exactly the type of stimulatory effect the global economy needs now. Instead of money pouring into corrupt Gulf states (the US and Europe export thousands of dollars per person on energy each year), those dollars could go to local companies researching and producing cutting edge clean energy products. Millions of people would all of a
sudden have a good reason go buy a new car when a pollution free, quiet, low maintenance electric vehicle becomes available. Homeowners will be lined up to retrofit their places when they can affordability chop their energy bill by installing geothermal or solar energy. There are so many benefits to these changes that I really think they
will far outweigh the costs in the long run. However, when we pay nothing to emit CO2 despite its huge cost to the environment, and the infrastructure of the fossil fuel economy has more than a one hundred year head start on alternatives, massive government action is required to level the playing field. Which brings me back to my original embarrassed I am by our government's action both over the last couple of years and especially now with the Copenhagen conference.

I am not really surprised that a government that chose Rona Ambrose as our environment minister (who pretty much denied that climate change even existed before being laughed out of office) should be less than totally committed to the international efforts to get a treaty in CO2 pollution. However the reports I keep hearing of Canadian representatives doing their bit to block progress of the talks and fight against further cuts to carbon emissions makes me hate what these people are doing in the name if our country. I know we have allowed the oil sands to develop to such an extent that the whole Canadian economy now probably benefits from this money.....but doing the wrong thing out of self interest is not what Canada is all about....certainly not when the stakes are this high


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