Thursday, March 24, 2011

For Partisan Political Gain, Conservatives Continue to Create False Choices Between the Economy and the Environment

I composed the following as an online response to an article published in yesterday’s Sudbury Star by Sudbury Conservative Party of Canada Electoral District Association Director, Mark Mancini. The article, about Bill C-311, entitled “NDP bill would have hurt north’s economy” unfairly (in my opinion) attacks the NDP (and by extension, all Opposition Parties, which supported Bill C-311) by using that tried and true Conservative tactic of pitting the economy against the environment, while pretending that they somehow aren’t connected. Here in Sudbury, we have an NDP MP (Glenn Thibeault) who has spoken out about the need to put a price on carbon. The Conservatives are targeting this riding as one of the ones they think that they can take in order to win their majority government.

I’m reposting my comments here on my blog, to share with a larger audience.


Here we go again with a Conservative proffering a false choice between, on the one hand, the economy, and on the other, the environment. Whether Mark Mancini is just trying to spin this situation for his own partisan gain, or whether he's really naive enough to believe that the environment and economy must always be considered issues in opposition to one another, I can't say for sure. But I do know that Conservatives and Liberals have long professed to want to take action against global warming, but haven't done so for fear of "economic catastrophe".

What Conservatives don't want to tell you, for fear that you might catch on, is that by continuing to ignore the perils of climate change, the economic health of our nation is increasingly put at risk. It doesn't take much to connect the dots, but apparently Conservatives have this real problem with the use of numbers and statistics.

Look, Canada is part of a global economy. In a warming world, there will be more severe weather events, which cause damage, and claim lives. In a warming world, food will no longer grow where it once did, sometimes due to hotter growing seasons, sometimes because of severe weather, and sometimes because of increasing drought and desertification. When people get hungry, and their homes are washed away, it sometimes causes unrest.

We need to look no further than to what's happening right now in the Middle East and Africa, and the impact that it's having on the price of oil. What sometimes seem to be far-off events can have serious impacts on our daily lives, thanks to globalization. We have pretty much shed all of the insulation which we used to have around our economy which acted as protection, all in the name of free trade and higher profits for the richest businesses.

As the world continues to warm due to increasing levels of greenhouse gases (especially CO2 and methane), we will be creating the underlying circumstances which make our globalized economy that much more vulnerable than it already is. With just-in-time supply chain delivery, and the outsourcing of our manufacturing sector, what happens in China and Bangladesh and the Sacremento Valley will impact us here in Canada. We are particularly vulnerable here in Northern Ontario, sitting as we are four hours north of most of the hubs from which our grocery stores derive their products.

Bill C-311 was a flawed piece of legislation in that while it established targets for greenhouse gas reduction, it left the planning on how these reductions would happen to a later date. Nonetheless, it was a remarkably progressive piece of legislation which was supported by all of the Opposition parties. Given the current situation, it was my opinion that Bill C-311 was a good first step towards action, despite its shortcomings.

Mark Mancini, though, probably knows that the Bill lacked anything in the way of specifics regarding a plan to actually reduce CO2, but he's not going to tell you that. Instead, he'd rather mislead you, for political gain. The Bill itself did not create carbon winners and losers; it only set out the circumstance for future planning and discussion.

There was nothing in Bill C-311 itself which would have had a direct impact on Northern Ontario's mining sector.

Keep in mind that the biggest sectors of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada are the transport and energy production sectors. For the most part, the mining sector's contribution towards those two sectors is quite small, and is already ahead of other industrial sectors (the mining sector often opts for rail for the transport of goods; it often produces its own energy through cogeneration, or utilizes renewable hydro electricity). And while it's true that the mining sector relies on one heck of a lot of electrical power for its processes, the fact is that the mining sector is one sector where there is little in the way of alternatives.

Relatively speaking, we can change our transportation and energy production infrastructure much more easily than we can find metals in the ground for our industrial needs. Yes, we could probably do a lot more with the recycling of existing metals, but if we are going to continue as an industrial society, it's not as if we're not going to keep needing to pull metals out of the ground.

Yet, not taking action to address climate change actually imperils our situation here in Northern Ontario. When the global economy slumps, metal prices drop, and the mining sector is faced with making hard decisions. In a future where the world is warmer, there isn't any question that the globalized economy we've created for ourselves is going to sputter and stall, due to climate change and to the end of inexpensive oil.

Instead of preparing ourselves for this future, Conservatives like Mark Mancini would rather turn a blind eye to it, all for short term political gains. They do so by exploiting the very real fears that people have about the economy and jobs. However, the more people begin to realize that what we have most to fear from in terms of our economic health is inaction on climate change, the less this kind of fear-mongering is going to work.

Our economic health isn't dependent on a false trade-off between the economy and the environment. It's dependent on communities being able to chart sustainable courses for their own future, in the face of a warming planet and the end of inexpensive fossil fuel energy sources. Localized decision-making which promotes a healthy and sustainable local economy is the only way that we're going to avoid the economic hardship which awaits us in the future. Taking action to reduce the impacts of the climate crisis will help, and it will require national and international-level decision-making, because we individuals can only do so much ourselves.

Conservatives don't understand this, or worse, they willfully ignore it. Mark Mancini wants you to believe that taking action on climate change is somehow bad for the economy, in order to score cheap political points in the Sudbury riding at the expense of an NPD incumbent. This kind of nonsense is so cheap and cynical, it's truly appalling to see. Yes, I know that all of the parties in parliament are prone to play these silly games, especially during an election.

That doesn't make it right, though. And it gets in the way of Canadians having the opportunity to understand issues, and to engage in ways of resolving those issues satisfactorily. Democracy is about more than taking a trip to a ballot box every few years or so. It's about being part of the discourse, about being able to understand and influence decisions. It's about caring and taking part.

The mining sector understands that it's not going to be business as usual in the future, because of climate change and the end of inexpensive energy. I'd go so far as to suggest that even the oil companies understand this. The responses of the two sectors, though, couldn't be more different. While the mining sector has decided that it has a role to play in responsible development with a smaller impact on the environment, the oil sector has gone the other way: to try to convince Canadians that there really isn't anything to worry about. Isn't it funny that our current government seems to be doing the same thing? Isn't it funny that our current government continues to subsidize the richest oil companies with taxpayer money? Isn't it funny how easily the dots can be connected, if one were inclined to try.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

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