Crude, Simple and Impoverished Thinking

CanWest Global Terence Corcoran's most recent column, criticizing Prime Minister Stephen Harper for acknowledging Canada's poor environmental record, sets a new standard for information distortion. Corcoran dismisses Harper's newfound environmental awareness, saying that it is based on the “misleading indicators, warped assumptions and outrageous conclusions” contained in a David Suzuki Foundation report entitled The Maple Leaf in the OECD.

Where “misleading,” “warped” and “outrageous” are concerned, you could hardly top Corcoran's cherry-picking of Mexico as the key comparison country that he plucks from the Suzuki report. He uses Mexico (which ranked 13th) to argue that Canada scores badly in its environmental performance (28th) because it has a robust economy. He presents the Harper/Suzuki argument thusly:

“Economic progress, symbolized by the ability of people to own motor cars and travel about, live well, produce energy, keep warm and keep cool, leads to environmental failure that must be corrected. Economic stagnation and reversal produces (environmental) success. Mexico good, Canada bad.”

But the Suzuki report addresses this point in its first page - in fact, in the third paragraph of its executive summary:

“The top 10 countries in environmental performance fall into two groups. The first group includes Turkey, Poland, and the Slovak Republic, which have high environmental rankings because they have relatively weak economies, and therefore lower per capita resource use and emissions. The more relevant group to Canada includes Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Italy, and the Netherlands, which have high per capita incomes. These countries have high environmental rankings because they have strong environmental policies.”

Clearly, these seven “relevant” countries have found a way to maintain thriving economies and a good environmental record. Just as clearly, Canada compares badly, faring worse on this list to every G8 country save the United States.

But for whatever reason, Corcoran can't or won't acknowledge that reality. Rather, his column concludes that the only way to preserve a healthy environment is “to step back into the crude, simple and impoverished world of centuries past.”

There is no reason to assume that this logical misrepresentation is the product of wilful distortion rather than just ideological blindness. But as an ideologue, Corcoran is running out of allies. Politically, even the Conservatives have abandoned his illogical position. He is a preacher who has watched all his parishioners leave the church.

So, we can assume that he is growing increasingly desperate - increasingly lonely - but that does not relieve him of the responsibility to present information in a fair and accurate way. That's a mark he missed by a wide margin on this outing.


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