The Environment / July
and Climate Change Policy
that once again we are to get a new person at the helm in the
Environment portfolio. Is there any chance that this will signal less
talk and more action?
What would action look like? How will we recognize it?
There are two things we should be looking for. First, action
is immediate. Action is not consultation and study – those things
precede action, and are often used to avoid action. There are many
things that can and should be done now. Those things should involve
real caps on emissions from the most prolific polluters.
So far we’ve got a bunch of carrots, leftovers from a
Liberal banquet at that, but not a hint of the stick.
secondly, we must understand that
using voluntary restraints to stop polluters from polluting is like
asking a carnivore to adjust its diet. In fact, voluntary restraints
are often about avoiding action.
Many of the problems we
face, as a community, or as a society, can be viewed as an infringement
of the products of one group’s habits or occupations on the
rights of another group.
Today we have
individuals and, more significantly, organizations (corporations) who,
in their pursuit of their goals (profits), seem to be damaging our
world in a variety of ways. To be fair to the corporations, they have
been doing this with the permission and support of a large portion of
the population. But the relentless pursuit of profit and personal gain,
as many now have come to realize, is going to leave future generations
with an environmental bill to pay.
Whenever interested parties, from heads of state to local town
councils, get together to decide what to do about this, the result
seems to be more about talk than about action. Invariably
the law-makers discover that there are vested interests in the
pollution business. They are powerful, they are rich, and they will use
that power to get people to vote against you. In a search to find a way
to seem to act without confronting the real problem (and angering the
people causing the problem), the term “voluntary
restraints” will soon ring out.
When someone comes up with the term ”voluntary restraint”,
or it’s companion, “educational programs”, as a
solution to a problem, what we are really hearing is evidence of lack
When we, as a society, want something done we quickly move past
voluntary restraints. We move towards community-sanctioned restraints.
In a so-called “primitive” culture this might take the form
of taboos and unwritten laws, but every culture develops boundaries
based on what they need for survival. Our
society uses laws. And we’ve become quite subtle in our ability
to address complex issues through legislation.
At various times in our history we seem to have developed a national
will to do some things. (True, our will on some of the issues was
subject to manipulation). We wanted to build a national railway, to
fight in some “popular” wars, to develop a national
medicare system, to end child labour. In fact, the very creation of our
country was an act of will. As a more specific recent example, some
time ago we decided that it was time to stop allowing drunk drivers to
continue killing innocent people on our highways. After
years of pussyfooting around the issue with slap-on-the-wrist fines and
educational programs (The equivalent of Voluntary Restraints), we put
some teeth in the laws and we got results. Not only have we reduced
deaths, but more importantly we’ve changed the way we think about
drinking and driving. In my adult lifetime I’ve seen a total
change in attitude about the practice. As a society we have
accomplished something. It’s not yet perfect, but we’re
We have been able to do what we have really wanted to do, but we have
also become quite good at pretending we can’t do
some things that we just don’t want to do very badly.
Sooner or later we’re going to have to come to a simple
realization. If we, as a community, want
certain behaviors out of our citizens, we have to, at the very least,
reward the positive behaviors, discourage the negative actions, and
completely eliminate the criminally dangerous practices.
Rewarding positive behaviors is the easy part, but we need
all the parts. It’s a simple concept, but you do have to be able
to put up with the moaning and whining that will ensue.
So far what we’ve seen is an attempt to go green without stepping
on anyone’s toes. Will the new minister admit that, and move on
to some real action?