Round up the usual suspects

Maclean’s magazine, which has a fresh, new right-winginess about it since the takeover by Conrad Black’s protege Kenneth White, offers “Three smarter ways to save the world” in its latest edition. The writer, Steve Maich, has rounded up some standard-issue “climate skeptics,” including the self-styled “Skeptical Environmentalist,” Bjørn Lomborg, but most of the article is about economics, not climate science.

There are basically two arguments: First, North America could get better and more immediate environmental value from spending money fighting noxious pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, rather than working to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide.This may well be true – it always makes sense to treat bleeding wounds before you tackle cancer – but it’s not a very good argument for ignoring a more serious condition that is building strength in the background.

The second argument is that Canada and the United States are being asked to bear an “unfair” burden in a climate changing world. Why, goes the refrain, should Canada and the U.S. do anything noble when China and India aren’t signatories to the Kyoto accord?

So, what would be fair? Canadians enjoy a per capita GDP (calculated by the CIA’s new “purchasing power parity” method) of $31,500, behind the U.S. at $41,000, but well ahead of India’s per capita GDP of $3,100. (All numbers from At the same time, according to the UN Statistics Division, as of 2002, Canadians were producing carbon dioxide emissions at the rate of 16.5 metric tonnes per capita per year, less than the Americans at 20.1 tonnes, but well ahead of India’s production of 1.2 tonnes per capita.

If Canada and the U.S. – two of the world’s worst offenders, and both well placed economically – take no action to address climate change, why would India or China ever come on board.

If Maclean’s is sincere about finding smarter ways to save the planet, it might better address itself to the question of whether Canada or the U.S. have any moral authority in world debates, when their consumptive policies appear to be based exclusively on selfishness.