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The Environment / Turning Points

These are interesting times. When we look back on what many of us hope will be an epic and ultimately successful struggle to adapt to the world’s climate.

Not “the” turning point, as in “it’s all downhill from here”, but an important decade none-the-less.

What seems to be happening now is a change in strategy on the part of the corporate –sponsored, oil-company financed forces that oppose real action on climate change. The days of the Climate Change deniers appears to be over, to be replaced by the next stage of heel-dragging resistance. The first position of the Do-Nothings was that the science was wrong or at best inconclusive and attaching climate change was above all unnecessary. The second stage is much nor complex (and at times even more creative).

It goes like this:

It would cost too much to address it. Addressing it would damage our economy too much for a net benefit. Even if Canada addressed it we couldn’t make much difference.

And the further fall-back position, already waiting on the bench warming up like a second string quarterback:

Well if we must address it, let’s use a combination of incentives and voluntary guidelines. That appears to be Stephen Harper’s rationale for his refusal to go along with any meaningful internationally sanctioned efforts despite the urgings of other world leaders.

I was tired of hearing from a minority of "experts" who insisted that climate change may not be related to CO2 emissions, the implication being that action on climate change is a waste of time and money. Such reports are not as prevalent today unless for some strange reason you read the National Post. The argument always baffled me. Even if the climate change we are already witnessing has nothing to do with emissions does that mean that: 1. It’s a good thing to keep spewing garbage into the atmosphere. 2. It’s a good thing to keep relying on fossil fuels. Or, 3. That we should stop worrying about the implications of climate change? 

The arguments regarding the details of climate change science were red herrings, the intent was to divert us from action. The problem was that, back in the 1990’s,  the anti-Kyoto forces had some truth on their side. We weren’t sure of the details of climate change. But all along our argument should have focused on what we do know. Poison is bad for you. Innovation (for example innovation in terms of alternatives) is good for the economy. Enough said.

But the consensus that we were the culprits and that we could have an influence by taking action now has become overwhelming. 

Today even many Conservatives seem to acknowledge human influenced climate change.

But we mustn’t interpret the Do-Nothings change in strategy as a victory.  They still would prefer to do...well… nothing. Their change in strategy means we must also redirect our efforts.

Back in the days of Kyoto, on CBC news a “Reality Check” segment looked into costs of Kyoto. One factor was the cost of tougher emission standards. We were told that upping the standards would cost $3000 per vehicle.

Wait a minute I said!  My Toyota Echo gets great gas mileage and is cheaper than most cars! What are they saying? Well what they are saying is that if people still want to drive monster SUV’s the cost will go up. And that increased cost is a part of the cost of Kyoto?

This is the kind of thinking that American car makers want to encourage. And the kind of thinking that the Do-Nothings count on.

The reality is that we could all buy smaller cars, save gas, and save on the cost of the vehicle. And there lies the central truth about combating climate change. In many ways cutting emissions would save us money, as opposed to costing us money!  And it would be good for the planet regardless of how the whole Global Warming thing turns out.

The Do-Nothings want to frame the debate in terms of what it would cost to reach Kyoto targets without changing our behavior or habits. This is like trying to lose weight without cutting back on eating.

If this kind of non-thinking gets coverage on our national broadcaster, imagine what Fox news will try.

The Do-Nothings are quick to count up the supposed costs of every action to slow climate change while ignoring the cost of increased facilities like power plants that are being contemplated to serve increasing demand.

What we need to do is start finding and broadcasting the thousands of ways in which we can have an influence on the health of the planet without the dreaded economic penalty.

For example here are just a few random things that could be done by various levels of government right away and would have only beneficial effects on the overall economy:

1. Insist upon eco-friendly buildings. I just moved into a new apartment building where the utilities are included. That is insane – I should be individually responsible for every unit of heat, light, hot water, etc. that I consume as most home owners do.

2. Install traffic cameras on highways – cities have found they generate a profit and reduce speeding. Reducing speeding on major highways would thus reduce emissions while saving lives and generating a profit. Talk about win-win!

3. Institute fair garbage disposal fees. Waste is environmentally expensive in so many ways. The point should be - You Waste - You Pay. We need rewards for people who behave in environmentally responsible ways.

There are hundreds of things we can do that don't harm the economy, and even things that might cause short-term harm will often result in long-term gains.

When oil companies speak of economic loss - they are of course referring to THEIR economic loss, which would be more than balanced by gains in the clean energy sectors.

Let's get at it.