In Defence of the Indefensible

As the public relations war over climate change drags on, it becomes ever more apparent that one side has very cleverly manipulated the other into a position where they must defend the indefensible.

You might imagine that in talking about the “indefensible,” I am referring to the “sceptic's” defence of inaction - the corporate and governmental plea to ignore certain science and honour the self-destructive status quo. But that's not the case. The villains, liars and ostriches who argue against taking action on climate change have, in fact, taken the upper hand, forcing everyone else to defend two things that are almost completely without merit.

The first indefensible target is the Kyoto Accord, an international agreement that is so lame, so complex - so entirely inadequate - that serious students of climate change dismissed it out of hand when it was negotiated in 1997. Kyoto doesn't include enough countries. It doesn't set targets that are sufficient to turn the climate changing supertanker away from the rocks. And its carbon credit system is so byzantine that any implementation plan would be doomed to collapse under the weight of its own bureaucracy. It is an embarrassingly timid first step.

The second target - equally if not more wretched - is the climate change policy record of the Canadian Liberal government of Jean Chretien. In the years after originally initialing the Kyoto agreement, then-Prime Minister Chretien set up an “implementation process” that took political cynicism to new heights. This was a strategic effort designed to compromise strategy. It was a consultation plan that invited everyone to give input, but enshrined corporate backsliding while ignoring or sidetracking scientific evidence. Prime Minister Chretien was so indebted to business, and so frightened of the provinces, that he established a huge, cumbersome and expensive process that could not possibly produce a workable result. Then, figurative moments before being pushed from power, he committed Canada to Kyoto even though his “implementation process” had served only to compromise Canada's position. Not only were we left without a plan, but our greenhouse gas production had increased unforgivably.

Yet, despite the foregoing, we stand here today and plead for the new Canadian government to respect Kyoto and to honour the Liberal record, at least to the extent of not ripping apart the few climate change programs that arose in the past decade. It's indefensible.

But here's the thing. If the Kyoto critics stood up and said, “Kyoto is bad; we want something better,” they would be credible, as well as clever. But they don't. They say, Kyoto is bad, so let's have the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Energy. Let's go from an accord that is inadequate and clumsy, to one that is a joke - an insincere effort to cripple the single (if risible) international agreement that is addressing the climate change crisis.

The only reason anyone could defend Kyoto is that it is better than nothing. The Asia Pacific Partnership - which advocates “voluntary” action by industry and which prohibits the participation of environmental NGOs - is nothing.

As for the Liberal record, the current Conservative administration has every right - even a responsibility - to be dismissive. Chretien, success as prime minister, Paul Martin embarrassed Canadians on the world stage and insulted our American friends (and trading partners) by scolding U.S. President George Bush during the Montreal meetings on the Kyoto agreement last winter. Bush may be deep in the pocket of the energy industry - he may be the single most destructive force in the international climate change conversation - but his country still has a better record than Canada when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So, again, if the Tories were to say, “The Liberal record is bad; we would like to do better,” we could only cheer the sentiment. But so far, the Tories have said, The Liberal record is bad, so we have withdrawn funding from every climate change program we could identify and now we intend to use the money to give tax credits for the expansion of fossil fuel production in Alberta.

That's appalling. It's an affront to every Canadian, as well as to the global environment.

Let's be clear, then: when the deSmogBlog criticizes those who would abandon Kyoto, it is not a defence of the indefensible, it is a plea for sanity, for honesty and for any action against climate change, no matter how timid. When we criticize the current government for it's attack on the Liberals' climate change programs, it is not an endorsement of that other, properly humiliated political party, it is a plea for sincerity - which seems in short supply in the executive offices of the Tory Environment Minister Rona Ambrose.

This is not a political game to be won by smirking strategists and spin-doctors. And if the clever dissemblers succeed in preventing any reasonable response to the climate change challenge, our children will not get the joke.


Pound for pound, the per capita production of GHGs is lower in the U.S. Mind you, if we stopped mining and refining tar sands to send the product south, we’d be in a much better position - but neither economics nor politics would allow that …