Much Hot Air About Global Warming

Worth A Look, Climate, Frontier Centre

It’s one of Stephane Dion’s favourite pitch lines. The Liberal leader uses it regularly in speeches, in media interviews and in editorial board sessions, including one he held at the Journal three weeks ago. Canada, the former environment minister vows, will make “megatonnes of money” by developing new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — technologies that can then be exported around the world. Dion’s alluring message: Not only will we demonstrate our moral and technological superiority to the rest of the planet, but we’ll make a pile doing it. As Mad Money host Jim Cramer might say, “Booyah, baby!”

I take it Dion doesn’t own any shares in Ballard Power, Westport Innovations or any of the other spectacularly unsuccessful clean-energy companies so fervently endorsed by his Liberal predecessors.

Regardless, you’ve got to give him credit. That’s great spin. He promotes a soothing, quintessentially Canadian kind of message. One that appeals to pliable voters on several levels. Instead of pain, Dion promises a free lunch.

Rather than plug real-world solutions, such as nuclear power, punitive taxes on gasoline consumption, hard carbon caps for industry, personal limits on jet travel or the size of new monster homes, Dion delivers the fuzzy, feel-good message that Canadians can have their cake and eat it too.

Well, there’s just one problem with that. We can’t. Dion knows it. So does Stephen Harper, and new Tory Environment Minister John Baird. But don’t expect any of them to admit it. They’re too busy slagging one another in a bid to score cheap political points.

Besides, Canadians — boy scouts that we are — couldn’t handle the truth. We prefer fiction, spoon fed to us by politicians who can feign sincerity.

Well, I, too, used to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. But eventually, I had to grow up. Sure, technological innovation will play a role in reducing Canada’s emissions, particularly in areas like carbon capture or home retrofits.

But it won’t be enough. Not by a long shot. Canada’s emissions are 35 per cent above the 1990 level — versus the six-per-cent reduction targeted for 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol — and they’re still growing.

Fact is, if the pollsters are right, and if Canadians truly believe greenhousegas emissions now threaten the future of the planet, they would give up their SUVs and their 3,000-square-foot vacation pads in Whistler, Muskoka and Canmore.

They’d ditch their sprawling suburban homes, cut their 90-minute commutes by moving to the inner city, and push governments to accelerate use of wind power and other so-called green technologies.

They’re not. That would require real sacrifice. And that, my friends, is where the rubber hits the road. As a nation, we don’t do sacrifice, sorry.

Until we reach that juncture, the quasi-hysterical, trumped up debate on global warming, and Canada’s infinitesimally puny role in resolving it, is little more than a side show, fueled by a self-serving national media that knows how to exploit a good story when it sees it.

I was reminded of this last week, while idling for 90 minutes on the giant parking lot known as the Queen Elizabeth Parkway. That’s how long it took me, in the middle of a weekday afternoon, to drive from downtown Toronto to a friend’s office in suburban Oakville. Along the way, I’d estimate that every third or fourth vehicle was a giant, road-hogging SUV, lumbering along, as I was, at 20 kilometres per hour. Unless the pollsters are all wet, I’d have to assume that many of these SUV drivers would insist, if asked, that the environment is the most pressing issue of our time.
Canada’s new-found commitment to environmental sustainability would also explain, I suppose, why Epcor Utilities shelved plans last week for its $300-million Kingsbridge II wind power project on the shores of Lake Huron. In doing so, Epcor incurred a $20million pre-tax writedown. “In the absence of a reasonable level of certainty about a construction commencement date, it is prudent for us to reexamine the project design and schedule,” a company exec said in a statement.

Translation: Provincial and municipal government agencies in Ontario, along with local stakeholders and landowners, can’t get their act together to approve this thing, so we’re out of here, baby. Sure feels good being green, huh? You might find this outcome a trifle inconsistent with all the sanctimonious huffing, puffing and hand-wringing that’s so fashionable in the national media these days.

Canadians are undergoing a profound shift in their attitudes toward the planet, we’re told. They’re ready to sacrifice, and sacrifice big.

Well, pardon me if I don’t buy it. If Canada’s politicians can’t even summon enough courage to discuss the issue honestly, what does that tell us? It tells me that Canada will play a bit role on the globalwarming file.

For real solutions, expect the U.S. to lead the way. Canada will follow. And our politicians, as always, will take whatever credit they can for doing as little as possible. Who can blame them? Clearly, that’s what the voters want.