It’s hard to know whether to celebrate or to weep.
CanWest News Services reporter Mike de Souza has learned that the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is calling for a lightning fast (eight-week), bargain basement ($40,000) report on the potential economic impacts of climate change in Canada.
We certainly laud the Prime Minister’s sudden interest, but if this is anything more than a public relations exercise designed to lobby the anti-science cohort in his own caucus, it is an affront - so terribly inadequate to the task as to only further humiliate Canada on the international stage.
Stephen Harper, for the record, is the politician who just four years ago was saying that he saw no reason to rush the climate file because, “The science is still evolving.”
Asked about the “greenhouse effect” in 2002, Harper said, “It’s a scientific hypothesis, a controversial one and one that I think there is some preliminary evidence for. … This may be a lot of fun for a few scientific and environmental elites in Ottawa, but ordinary Canadians from coast to coast will not put up with what this (Kyoto accord) will do to their economy and lifestyle, when the benefits are negligible.”
Now, six years after dismissing the issue so glibly, the Prime Minister acknowledges that he really has no idea of the benefits or costs - of climate change or of trying to deal with the issue. Small wonder. Until now, Mr. Harper and his colleagues have concentrated on promoting Canada as an “energy superpower,” primarily on the strength of the Alberta tar sands, the dirtiest oil currently being exploited anywhere in the world.
But let’s imagine that this is actually good news- and not merely a cynical and laughably inadequate policy distraction. Let’s imagine that, having ignored or disparaged the much more serious economic review released in 2006 by former World Bank Chief Economist Lord Nicholas Stern, Prime Minister Harper has noticed that the entire world is ahead of Canada on this issue and that he must effect a major and immediate change to the policies (of denial and delay) that he has championed for the last decade.
If that’s what he’s doing - trying to turn around Canada’s destructive policy juggernaut - then this might be a promising first step. After all, if you look only at the current effects of such things as the mountain pine beetle infestation, it seems unimaginable that the results of such a study - no matter how quickly it is cobbled together - would not support decisive government action.
Of course, it was unimaginable that someone of Prime Minister Harper’s vaunted reputation for intellectual rigor could have kept himself so resolutely in the dark on this issue for so long. And it’s woefully easy to imagine his chosen service provider (say, someone like Robert Mendelsohn from Yale) coming back with a report that suggests climate change will be no big deal.
But let’s be optimistic. Let’s celebrate. Let’s hope that Prime Minister Stephen Harper really hopes to get a quick and dirty document that he can use to tell Canadians what he should have been telling them all along: that the cost of acting to prevent calamity will be a fraction of the cost of allowing this unprecedented global crisis to continue to get worse.
If this turns out to be just another effort to dodge Canada’s responsibility to take a leadership position on climate change, there will be time enough to weep later.
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