Corporate Canada's change of heart on global warming

Better late than never. Like St. Paul seeing light on the road to Damascus, Canada’s business leaders last week demanded tough action from the federal government on dealing with climate change.

"The world must act urgently to stabilize the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and minimize the global impacts of climate change", proclaimed a letter to Prime Minister Martin from such Canadian corporate giants as Alcan, Bombardier, Falconbridge, and Power Corp.

This conspicuous corporate flip-flop in advance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal is a welcome change from previous foot dragging from the business community.

Just three years ago the “Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions”, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and 40 other business groups began an on-line petition to the Prime Minister opposing the ratification of the Kyoto protocol.

The corporate epiphany last week may simply be a realpolitik admission that action on climate change is inevitable and it is more seemly to catch up to the bandwagon before it gets too far down the road.

However, it might also be a genuine recognition that climate change menaces the entire world, including the business community, their families and their children.

Whatever the reason, this latest development now only leaves one significant interest group that needs to demonstrate their commitment to dealing with climate change: the federal government.

Canada has the ignoble distinction on ranking dead last in the G8 in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That shoddy record may be difficult for Paul Martin to gloss over as he hosts the United Nations in Montreal, where our filthy linen will be on display for all the world to see.

Canada has pledged to reduce greenhouse emissions by 6% below 1990 level by 2012. They have instead risen by 24%. Ottawa spent over $3 billion of taxpayer’s dollars on various voluntary compliance programs to achieve this negative result.

One reason for our lack of progress is that Canadian government is both sucking and blowing on fossil fuel consumption.

While publicly proclaiming the urgent need to reduce emissions, Ottawa shovels $1.4 billion of your tax dollars annually to the oil and gas industry. This is much more than current government support for sustainable energy technologies that will no doubt become the cornerstone of our future economy.

It is impossible for the Canadian economy to move in a progressive direction when Ottawa intervenes in the marketplace with such antiquated, expensive, and perverse subsidies.

Meanwhile other governments around the world are seeing Kyoto as an opportunity to become global leaders in emerging energy technologies. The UK for instance has already managed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 15% below 1990, while their economy grew by 36%.

Germany has become a world leader in wind-power generation – a rapidly growing sector now worth over $28 billion worldwide. Like other renewable energy sources, it produces no pollutants to cause smog and diseases such as childhood asthma. In Europe alone, the wind power industry employs more than 80,000 people.

Here in BC, the World Energy Council has estimated that our province has the greatest potential for wind power in the world, yet we have not built a single commercial wind turbine here. Country-wide, Canada currently produces less than 0.1% of its electricity from wind power compared with 20% in Denmark.

The sad irony is that climate change actually presents a fine opportunity to improve our economy and our quality of life. A recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation showed that investing in clean renewable energy could actually contribute $9 billion to Ontario’s economy by 2010, while creating 25,000 jobs new jobs.

With this newfound support from the business community, the Canadian government should now join the global movement towards sustainability. Improved emission standards for vehicles, clear and enforceable caps for industry, progressive tax reforms that encourage innovation and investment in emerging energy technologies are just some of the policy tools that already working elsewhere in the world.

Canada risks being left behind in this shifting world economy. A recent example is the wind turbine prominently installed on Toronto’s waterfront. There are currently no Canadian companies producing such technology and the city instead had to cut a cheque for $1.6 million to a Danish company that is no doubt doing a brisk business around the world.

What is driving this global transformation is a remarkable consensus that climate change is real, it is happening now and it is very dangerous. It is not just another political hot potato to be “managed”; it is a global emergency that will define this century.

The Canadian business community should be applauded for it’s recent change of heart regarding climate change. Now that the captains of industry have seen the light on the road to Damascus, there is a serious challenge for Mr. Martin. He no longer has any excuse for inaction.

Published on The Tyee, in Nov. 2005


Galileo in Kansas - "intelligent design" and the renaissance of ignorance

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
- Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)

Galileo might find the political mood in 21st century America strangely familiar.

The Renaissance astronomer was famously convicted of heresy by the Inquisition and placed under house arrest for rest of his life. His crime? Maintaining that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. Science seems similarly assailed 400 years later.

The evangelical Rev. Robertson suggested last week that the town of Dover, Pennsylvania might expect divine retribution for voting out their entire school board who supported the neo-medieval notion of “intelligent design”.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God… you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there,” Robertson said on his daily television show.

There is little doubt that America is a strange place, and Mr. Robertson is one of its weirder fixtures. He called feminism a “socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” He has also opined for the abolition of Halloween and the assassination of Hugo Chavez.

But is he fringe? Hardly. His TV show claims to have an audience of over one million world-wide, translated into over 70 languages. As far as US public opinion, a recent poll found that 53% of Americans believe that humans were created “exactly as the Bible describes". Lets not kid ourselves – the States is weird.

Last week, the state of Kansas adopted new science standards to not only allow the teaching of intelligent design as science, but to subtly redefine the word “science” in the classroom to potentially include the supernatural.

This throwback to the infamous Scopes Monkey trial was accomplished under the pretext of a scientific controversy about the theory of evolution - perhaps the most robust scientific theory in history. So offended were real scientists about this ruse that they declined to even make submissions to the kangaroo court in Kansas –perhaps to the delight of their opponents.

Duly elected school boards should of course be allowed to teach students whatever the hell they want, but they should not truss up intelligent design as science, let alone redefine the word to accommodate their own superstitions. High school is confusing enough.

This is just the latest example of how the troubling assault on rational thought in George Bush’s America is becoming ever more mainstream. There have been even more alarming examples where brute political force was used to in an attempt to shoehorn scientific reality into a predetermined worldview.

This summer, the Republican controlled congress launched a far-reaching inquiry into the careers of three prominent US climate scientists. In a bizarre throwback to days of McCarthy, these scientists were required to provide details on their entire careers dating back decades, including all publications, sources of funding, whereabouts of raw data, and computer source codes.

Their presumed transgression? Holding scientific opinions on climate change that were at odds with the uniquely “conservative” view that unlimited burning of fossil fuels poses no threat to the planet.

Career politicians demanding to scrutinize raw scientific data is like Paris Hilton demanding to take the controls of her Lear jet. It’s not just stupid, but dangerous.

This dubious investigation is being led by Joe Barton, chairman of the House of Representatives committee on energy and commerce, and a Texas Republican long associated with the fossil fuel lobby. In his eleven years in this position, Mr. Barton has the distinction of opposing every single piece of legislation designed to combat global climate change.

Even Republican Sherwood Boehlert, the chairman of the house science committee wrote to "express my strenuous objections to what I see as the misguided and illegitimate investigation…to intimidate scientists rather than learn from them."

Controlling “truth” is of course an ancient political ploy favored by despots throughout history. Having the opportunity to objectively explore this beautiful world is a luxury that has not always been possible, or prudent.

Which brings us back to Galileo. The father of astronomy and icon of the Renaissance was also a devout Catholic. Sacrifices by him and others like him allowed rational thought and spiritual belief to peacefully coexist for over 400 years - for perhaps the first time in human history,

Is the US taking a detour towards the Dark Ages? Lets hope the Renaissance does not have to be fought for all over again.

Mitch Anderson is a freelance writer living in Vancouver. This piece ran nowhere.