Friday, June 20, 2008

The Shift Hits The Fan...

Nation, the Liberal Party of Canada yesterday unveiled their "Green Shift" plan, to combat emissions and do our small part to save the planet.

Details are available here, and coverage is, well, everywhere.

The Greens have also released their own "Green Tax Shift", details here.

As a self-described "Christmas Tree Tory" (a Red Tory whose primary issue is Green), I have been simply DYING to see a comprehensive, workable plan to combat emissions. As I've stated on numerous occasions, sustainability isn't just the vogue thing to stand for, and it isn't just a nice bonus as part of your policy - it's an absolutely critical issue. Arguably the most critical issue of our time.

Whether or not we're causing it, the climate is undeniably changing. Whether we're benefiting (as an oil-producing constituency, in Alberta) or not, oil and gas prices continue to soar as demand rises and supply falls inexorably to the eventual well bottom.

Any, and I mean ANY, politician who makes policy without a keeping a weather eye to sustainability in this day and age is drawing dead, in poker terms.

Dion, knowing this, has made it clear that the environment is his number 1 priority. It's the hill he wants to fight an election battle on. He knows that most Canadians don't believe that Stephen Harper and the Tories "care" about the environment (ironic, since when they're not talking environment, his party mouth-pieces dismiss the Tories as farmers and rural bumpkins). So, he's formed an alliance (or, at least, a non-aggression pact) with Elizabeth May's Green Party (which should be the party's full name, by all accounts), and set out to show us he's the man to fix global warming (which, courtesy of re-branding, we will henceforth refer to as "global climate change", as some places are actually getting COLDER).

Dion's Green Shift, as announced yesterday, is the pointed end of the stick. If the electoral battle is going to be over the environment, this is Dion's heavy artillery. It forms the centrepiece of his party's environmental policy, and the branding engine is running overtime to make sure that every time people hear the words "Green Shift" they think "revenue neutral".

As I said, I've been waiting for a workable solution, to reduce our national and provincial dependence on carbon fuels and the revenue they generate.

I'm still waiting.

Politically, this plan may work well for Dion. It rewards Quebec and their hydro-powered industries, which Dion knows he'll need to off-set the losses he'll suffer in Ontario as auto plants shut down. It hurts Alberta - but to hell with those pricks, they won't elect any Liberals anyway. Hurting Alberta always plays well in the Maritimes, who think we're too cocky for our own good. And the jury's still out on BC, to see whether they react with their hearts (BC being one of the "greenest" electorates in the country) or with their heads (Campbell's provincial carbon tax has a nearly 60% disapproval rating).

The problem with the plan, though, is obvious: It's trying to make us WANT to change, by punishing us fiscally for making the same choices we've been making for years. This method works some of the time - initially, many of us buckled up for fear of a ticket if we didn't, not because we thought we'd hit a moose going 120.

However, Dion's "6 pounds of Shift in a 5-pound bag" makes as much sense as trying to get people to be skinnier by taxing potatoes. "If fries cost more, people will choose a salad". Maybe. But you're killing the farmers of Idaho, and several of my Irish friends will likely have to choose between starvation and bankruptcy. The repercussions of the tax, then, go far beyond Happy Meals.

The Tories have tried to paint this plan as a "tax on everything", and while I generally hate to agree with smarmy attack ads - it's hard to argue with the fact that the price of everything, including gasoline, goes up when the cost of delivery and production goes up.

Dion is trumpeting his plan as a "simple" solution to the larger issue of reducing carbon emissions. The problem for Dion is that complicated issues require complicated solutions, and the shift to a sustainable economy, which is critically important, can't be achieved through easily digestible sound-bytes. The "One Tonne Challenge", this ain't.

I think we can do better than this. I KNOW we can do better than this. Let's stop talking about cars that get mileage "twice as good as in 1970", and let's start talking about cars that will run 500 kilometres on 3 cups of water. Let's stop talking about "clean coal", and start talking about cold fusion.

We need to decide, as a nation, to research alternative fuels. It needs to be our own personal "space race". We have the brainpower, we have the research capacity, and we need national leadership to galvanize us in that direction. By leading the world to a future where carbon fuels are as relevant as 8-Track tapes, Canada can do much, much more than just reducing the carbon footprint of 30 million people... we can reduce the carbon footprint of 7 billion.

Will it be easy? No.

Will it be worth it? Without a doubt.

If Stephane Dion and the Liberals want to help save the world, they should announce major investment, MAJOR investment, in research for alternative fuels and energy. They should make it policy for Canada to lead the planet not just in reducing our own dependence on carbon fuels, but rather in leading the entire world away from global dependence on the fuels altogether.

Maybe wind is the future. Maybe it's solar. Maybe it's something else altogether. Maybe a research lab at the University of Lethbridge masters cold fusion.

As a nation of well-educated, well-fed consumers of vast quantities of energy, though, it behooves us to not just get our own house in order, but to try to help our whole, global neighbourhood.

In the 1960's, everyone knew that the biggest priority in the U.S. that WASN'T "beat the communists" was "put a man on the moon". They didn't know exactly how to go about doing it, but they had set their target: get a man on that big, bright thing in the night sky. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong made his "one giant leap for mankind". We in Canada are in a position to make the next giant leap for mankind - and our leaders, from whichever party is in power, should point us in that direction. The whole world should know that "Canada is trying to free us from the shackles of carbon-burning energy".

And then we should DO it.

This is beyond politics and partisanship, and beyond political ideology. This is about survival.

It took us, as a society, less than 66 years to go from the Wright Brothers' flight at Kittyhawk, the first powered flight in human history, to landing a man on the surface of the moon. Because we made it a priority... it was a call to history and discovery.

The modern internal combustion engine was patented in 1854. The coal-fired steam engine hit the scene in 1712. We've been burning wood and oil to heat ourselves for millenniae.

Let's make this a priority, rather than a political football.

History is calling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Because in this hyper-partisan day and age, with a left split two or three ways, with Exxon still massively funding the right wing denialist/inactivist echo chamber, arguing for massive government investment plans is such a no-brainer winner when it comes to elections.

You can't get policy made if you're not in power. Simple fact.

Yes, we need to change attitudes. But all you need to do is look around at any site that dares suggest human caused climate change is real to see how well *that* plan is going.

So if we can't change the attitudes of the terminally stupid, and if their stupidity dooms me too, then we need to find some other way to make them change their behavior. Making more expensive those things that will hurt us is the way to do this.

Will it happen without pain? Of course not. And nobody has ever suggested it would. But to say "Oh no! It'll put some people out of work" is to side with the buggy-whip makers. They'll suffer. No doubt.

But guess what, if the market incentives are there for lower carbon-emission alternatives, then market alternatives -- and the employment they generate -- will occur. Those buggy-whip makers can find other jobs in industries that are carbon emission intensive.

Sure, it'd be great if people woke up and had an attitude shift and realized independantly that they'd have to pony up more money for research into alternative energy sources and the like. It'd also be great if every Tim Horton's customer gave up a single donut every month and used that money to feed the homeless while shaving a pound or two off of their fat ass each year and thus lowering the money I have to spend on public health care for type 2 diabetes treatment.

And while I'm dreaming, I'd like a pony too.

Until that time? This is better than pipe dreams.