panel featuring Canadian Indigenous leaders discussing climate change, at the COP22 climate
change conference n Marrakech, Morocco, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016.
At the critical moment of every second-rate movie ever made, when the town is under siege from the bandits, or the maiden is tied to the railway tracks and the hero is lost on what must be done, there will come a voice from the crowd: “What we need now is action!”
With that insight, the posse forms, the hero swoops, the town is saved, the maiden rescued from the onrushing locomotive, Stetsons fly into the air, and the victors ride off into the sunset.
I thought of these old and desperate melodramas when I read of Catherine McKenna, our environment and climate change minister, on safari to save the planet, this time in Marrakesh, Morocco, trailing her own posse.
The minister signalled to the world that Canada was, again, on the case: “We’re moving forward, as is the world. Everyone is absolutely committed to climate action.” Great news. Everyone is agreed that what we need now is action. Almost makes you wonder why in all their multitudes they went to Marrakesh at all, what with everyone “absolutely committed” to … action.
Does the everyone of which she speaks include President-elect, Donald Trump? And does that “whole world” contain the greatest industrial powerhouse of our troubled globe, the U.S.? Does Trump’s charming disinclination to heed the belief that the Earth is doomed without a carbon tax subtract from McKenna’s universalist optimism? It should.
For if the U.S. decides that Paris and its tenuous, non-binding resolutions are not of interest, is not her buoyant outburst more than a little out of key? With the U.S. out of the climate game, China multiplying coal-powered plants and free to spew emissions, India emergent as an industrial power, and half the world paying lip service to the cause, whence comes McKenna’s furious optimism? From an empty place, I would offer.
But regardless of what a Trump administration might do to the concert of consensus, McKenna soldiers on: The rest of the world “recognize(s) that pricing pollution is the best way to reduce emissions.”
The minister is playing semantic shuffle here. Carbon dioxide does not make smog. She is taking the lingo of the fight against pollution, which was sensible and has had demonstrable results, and using it for brush work on the different terrain of (contested) theories of imminent climatic disaster.
Nor is “pricing pollution … the best way to reduce emissions.” The best way would be to forbid all use of fossil fuel by diktat. Or, more congenially, to ask all countries to stop all industrial activity based on the use of oil, gas and coal. This would obviously be a huge hit in China, India, Africa, Cuba — now that it is in the sunshine again — and, of course, Canada. Though drastic, it would at least have the merit of matching in substance the fever of the hyperbolic, apocalyptic rhetoric that trails around world climate conferences.
As ice to the fevered brow, let me offer a more contained understanding of what it means for the climate change file now that Trump will be adding Air Force One to his fleet. Brad Wall, premier of Saskatchewan, does not have McKenna’s gift for unmoored enthusiasms, but he does have a good eye for irresistible facts. His view is it “makes no sense for our federal government to push ahead with imposing a national carbon tax when our biggest trading partner — and our biggest competitor for investment and jobs — is not going to have one.”
Could Wall, who is not in Marrakesh, be on to something? At a time of economic stress in the Western provinces, the Alberta economy blistered by oil prices, Fort McMurray still reeling from the after-effects of the inferno last spring, Newfoundland wandering into debt hell — why impose artificial and unilateral restraints on our national economy? In particular, why impose restraints that will place us at major disadvantage with the one economy that matters most to Canada?
I doubt Wall’s more realistic take on these matters will do much to suppress the Trudeau government’s enchantment with posturing on the world stage. On this file, McKenna is clearly speaking the wishes of her prime minister, who prefers to see the election of Trump as having no bearing on his beloved climate tax. Justin Trudeau insisted in a recent interview that it is he, not Trump, who is “on the right side of history,” an awkward phrase in the best of times. Being “on the right side of history,” and Trudeau should know this, has an unfortunate provenance, and is always more of a cloudy boast than a fact.
He went on to assert that “there is tremendous economic disadvantage from not acting in the fight against climate change; for not pushing toward cleaner jobs and reducing emissions.” If he really wished to substantiate that argument, Ontario provides a perfect illustration: its green energy policy is a master plan for plunging a prosperous province into lacerating debt, while financing its dream with power bills that are stirring a populist revulsion.
The rhetoric of climate change has an aversion to reality, seduces governments into ignoring the needs of their citizens, and fires the minds of politicians who imagine themselves saving the world. In other words, it tempts them to feel they are more important than they are, that they are working with “history,” rather than operating administrations faced with more immediate, if mundane, needs. That is always a snare and a delusion.