Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Failing Kyoto After Failing Canadians

I'm not particularly proud to be Canadian right now. It didn't take very long after Dear Leader Harper's mouthpiece announced, mere hours after returning from the Durban conference, that Canada would become the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol for the finger-pointing to start. Much of it is coming from the European Union, China, and India - understandably so, when you consider that by its actions, the government of Canada obviously doesn't care about what other countries think of it. Sure, Harper has since reared up on his hind legs and jawed about how he wants to work to create a solid framework that includes everyone and doesn't give China and India a free pass. It seems to me that he's chosen the most ass-backwards way of going about it. Why should China or India get on board with anything Canada wants now? Canada has demonstrated that it's a delinquent quitter.

Fingers are also being pointed from within the country, too, and one such point particularly infuriated me - from the Globe and Mail, Stephen Gordon's short but stunning "Don’t blame the politicians, Canadians killed Kyoto."

You hear that, Canadians? It's your fault. Yours alone. Your fault that back in 1997, Canada took on emissions reductions targets it had little hope of reaching... because of course that's the platform Chrétien ran on, wasn't it? Your fault that Stephen Harper is a relentless skeptic of Kyoto - I wouldn't be surprised if he was a full-on climate change skeptic, if only because so many people on that side of the spectrum have built this insane conspiratorial structure that betrays either their lack of understanding of the science involved, or their willingness to gamble with the future of the world. Your fault and not the government's. I mean, the people elected the government, so obviously, the people are responsible for what the government does, right?

What a world that would be to live in. Doesn't bear much resemblance to this one, though.

Who cares about the future, anyway? Industry is where it's at.

The fact is, it is at the government's feet that this responsibility should be placed, both because of what it has done since 2006 and as the successor of previous governments. Canadian governments have rarely done anything that was of wide-scale, environmental value, or ever really considered the long-term consequences of their decisions. In fact, it was the government - under the aegis of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation - that helped start the suburban explosion in Canada. It was the government that planned and built Ontario's highway systems, which through the magic of induced demand created a vast demand for use which had not been there before. It was the government that let the passenger rail system wither on the vine. It was the government - specifically, the Ontario government, but reflective of government actions nonetheless - that cancelled Toronto's Eglinton West subway project in 1995.

Sure, Canadians have "chosen" to live a lifestyle based on high per-capita carbon dioxide emissions. Really, though, how much of a choice was it for many people? Myself I count as lucky - I don't own a car, I rely exclusively on public transportation for getting around, and according to my latest bill from the City of New Westminster, over the last two months my apartment has consumed 191 kilowatt-hours of electricity - contrast this to the average consumption in the Lower Mainland, roughly 1,483 kilowatt-hours per two months. Granted, my laundry use isn't reflected in those figures, but somehow I doubt that thirty-four minutes of washing machine time and an hour of dryer time would significantly alter those numbers.

As I said, though, I'm lucky, because I had the freedom to choose to live in an area that met my requirements in this regard. A lot of people aren't. Perhaps they live in places that don't have good access to public transit and thus require them to drive, no matter what the person may want. Perhaps they did have a good thing going once, but their job relocated from downtown Vancouver to Langley or Surrey. Perhaps they're just trapped where they are and don't have the financial resources to do anything else.

The government, and past governments, could have made it easier for Canadians to choose to live lifestyles based on low carbon emissions. They didn't. The ultimate responsibility lies with the government, and to say otherwise is to give it a free pass from its misdeeds. The government is supposed to look beyond the everyday that the ordinary people are focused on; it's supposed to look ahead and work for the future.

It failed.

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