Over to you, Harper

“Canada’s economy is integrated with the United States’ to the point where it makes absolutely no sense to proceed without aligning a range of principles, policies, regulations and standards.

“For this reason, Canada has fully aligned its 2020 emission reduction target to reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels with the United States. This target has been inscribed in the Copenhagen Accord and is subject to adjustment to remain consistent with the U.S. target.” (from Canada’s Action on Climate Change)

“No nation can solve this challenge alone — not even one as powerful as ours. And that’s why the final part of our plan calls on America to lead — lead international efforts to combat a changing climate.” (President Obama introducing his new climate change policy, June 25 2013)


This has been quite a day.

Defense of Marriage Act ruled unconstitutional. (I cried–happy tears.) Wendy Davis’s astonishing performance to defeat proposed Texas legislation to limit abortions. (I cheered.) And President Obama yesterday finally publicly moving on the power the courts gave him to use the EPA to limit GHG emissions by deeming them pollutants. (I fell over. No, just kidding; I only wobbled slightly.)

None of these were enough, at least not for anyone I know. Too many states still do not allow gay marriage, so overturning DOMA is a partial (albeit significant) victory at best. One piece of anti-choice legislation was overturned, but only one, with far too many waiting in the wings and not enough Wendy Davises to go around. And President Obama’s proposed actions to reduce GHG emissions, while long overdue and certainly meaningful, are nowhere near sufficient.  Still, it was a day with a lot to celebrate for a lot of people, and it’s important to grab those partial victories where you can and wring every bit of good you can get out of them.

Limitations on emissions from coal power plants; quotas for renewable energy produced on crown lands and defense installations; a promise to re-engage with international negotiations–it’s all good. It’s not enough, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing, and “better than nothing” is a first important step to “now we’re getting somewhere.” And of course, given the Harper government’s continued stated assertions, repeated on their official climate change website, that we really have no choice but to proceed in lock-step with the US on climate change initiatives …


… how long do you think it’ll take? A few days? Maybe a week? Surely Harper is cooking up something to restore something of our tarnished international reputation on this issue and create some meaningful policies supporting renewable energy production and emissions standards for coal power plants. In fact, let’s check with the favoured newspaper of the Canadian neo-conservative elite, the Financial Post:

“Along with the president’s speech, the White House issued a wordy 21-page document titled “The President’s Climate Action Plan” plus a colourful fear-mongering, school-friendly graphic that made exaggerated claims about U.S. weather, storms and droughts.” (The heat gets to Obama’s head, FP, June 26 2013)

On the front page, no less, supported by so many nonsensical and easily-disproved assertions that if the FP were  a horse this lame, we’d shoot it: Obama wasn’t hot because the 33C weather was typical for June! (Washington DC average high in June is 28C.) Arsenic is toxic but carbon is essential to life and therefore any comparison is just unscientific and wrong! (Lots of things are safe in small quantities but toxic in larger amounts–like arsenic, actually. Also, even the Green Earth Society gave up the “carbon is life” line back in the 1980s.)

So who wants to take bets on how long it will take before the Tories start back-tracking on “aligning with the US on climate” so they can continue to do nothing and promote tar sands around the world?*

I’ve often wondered if opponents of climate change action have a back-up planet they’re planning to emigrate to when this one is no longer habitable. Unfortunately, if they do, it’s not a plan I’m privy to and I’m not expecting they’ll save Frances a seat on the shuttle, so I’m going to keep trying to save this one.

“And someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don’t you want that?” (Obama, June 26, 2013)


*Geeky analysis section: Part of any environmental assessment of any size is determing the scope of the project to be assessed. In my former jobs, it wasn’t unusual for an environmental assessment to focus on, say, just a bridge over a river (when the bridge was being built as part of a road to support a new mine or forestry project) or a sign (when the sign was a small part of an overall new building project) or fence (when the fence was part of a runway expansion). If the bridge, sign or fence is all that you are legally required to evaluate, then the scope of the assessment does not include the mine, logging operation, new building or runway expansion; which means that the environmental impacts are negligible and the project is all but certain to be approved. Obama’s comments in the speech yesterday on Keystone and the tar sands left this question wide open on the proposed pipeline: whether the pipeline “contributes significantly to carbon pollution” will of course depend on whether the tar sands are ruled in or out of scope for the assessment. If the tar sands are out of scope for the pipeline, then the assessment will for all intents and purposes be identical to a sewer or water pipe, and the project will be approved. So, key for the Harper government’s efforts in getting the pipeline approved will be to continue their “the tar sands will be developed whether this pipeline is built or not” message. It’s boloney, of course; if you don’t have a logging road then you don’t have a forestry operation, and if you don’t have a pipeline then you don’t have an oil operation.

The other certainty is a continued push on all the not-nothing they want us to believe they are already doing. Just remember, whenever you see those fancy stats the Tories like to pull out of a hat about their climate initiatives: a) most of the reduction numbers they quote are what we might achieve if all policies are implemented in full–i.e., we’re not there yet and there’s no guarantee we ever will be, and b) to the extent those numbers reflect actual current emissions, almost all of them are due to municipal and provincial GHG reduction initiatives that the federal government either did not assist with or actively tried to derail.

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