Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet on Friday with his Canadian counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. In any such bilateral meeting, it is paramount that each participant trust the words of their counterpart. After all, when it comes to the world of diplomacy, where wars are settled and treaties are signed, there's little more than words and trust.
Every communications expert knows that truth is rarely self-evident. Indeed, no matter how hare-brained or incredulous an idea is, if it serves the interests of a particular group of people who want it to be true, they’ll ignore any and all evidence to make it so.
Paul Krugman, an influential economist and columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote about this problematic phenomenon in the American military, where it is known as “incestuous amplification.” “Highly dubious ideas become certainties,” he wrote, “when a closed group of people repeat the the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group.”
He refers, as an example, to the early days of what he calls the Iraq debacle, “where perfectly obvious propositions – the case for invading is very weak, the occupation may well be a nightmare – weren’t so much rejected as ruled out of discussion altogether; if you even considered those possibilities, you weren’t a serious person, no matter what your credentials.”
If this sounds eerily familiar, you might be thinking of the protracted campaign by Big Oil and the Alberta and Canadian governments to brand tar sands oil as a “clean, responsible and sustainable” source of energy. Earlier this week, I visited the Alberta government’s oil sands website to read about “Alberta’s clean energy story,” where we learn that Albertans “are doing our part to move the world towards a clean energy future.”
The Arctic may seem like a distant place, just as the most extreme consequences of our wasteful use of fossil fuels may appear to be in some distant future. Both are closer than most of us realize.
The Arctic is a focal point for some of the most profound impacts of climate change. One of the world’s top ice experts, Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, calls the situation a “global disaster,” suggesting ice is disappearing faster than predicted and could be gone within as few as four years.
“The main cause is simply global warming: as the climate has warmed there has been less ice growth during the winter and more ice melt during the summer,” he told the U.K.’s Guardian.
Over the past 30 years, permanent Arctic sea ice has shrunk to half its previous area and thickness. As it diminishes, global warming accelerates. This is due to a number of factors, including release of the potent greenhouse gas methane trapped under nearby permafrost, and because ice reflects the sun’s energy whereas oceans absorb it.
“If people don’t speak out there will never be any change,” says the University of Victoria’s award-winning climate scientist Andrew Weaver.
And the need for change in Canada, says Weaver, has never been more pressing.
“We have a crisis in Canada. That crisis is in terms of the development of information and the need for science to inform decision-making. We have replaced that with an ideological approach to decision-making, the selective use of whatever can be found to justify [policy decisions], and the suppression of scientific voices and science itself in terms of informing the development of that policy.”
Last week Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada announced Canada had “officially joined the latest round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations” after more than two and a half years of talks by previously engaged nations. The 15th round of talks, involving Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam, wrapped up yesterday in Auckland.
The TPP has already been the cause of significant concern in the U.S. where citizen groups and elected leaders have argued the agreement is shrouded in secrecy, leaving the American public to speculate about its consequences. This summer, after members of Congress complained corporate access to the trade documents superseded their own, leaked portions of the agreement began to circulate online.
Much like FIPA, the TPP grants unprecedented power to corporate entities with access to international tribunals that have the authority to overrule Canadian decisions regarding domestic policies that may apply to environmental regulation or reform, finance and labour policies and First Nations rights.
International investment lawyer and trade agreement expert, Gus Van Harten told DeSmog that Canada is currently on track to become “the most locked in developed country in the world in investor-state arbitration.” He added, Canada is “proceeding recklessly” into this enfeebling agreement which will give “almost all foreign corporations in the country exceptional leverage to pressure governments behind closed doors.”
The Harper government is selling out Canada's long term sovereignty and prosperity in what appears as a thoughtless gamble, without so much as a financial risk assessment. As Van Harten puts it below, “We do not intend to slip on the sidewalk in winter, but we still check for ice.”
I asked Professor Van Harten 5 questions about the TPP and its relation to the politically-contentious FIPA.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.