Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Suzuki: Too few bright ideas

Too few bright ideas
David Suzuki
Editorial - Friday, May 04, 2007

When Environment Minister Baird announced his government's new climate change plan, I was in Toronto, getting ready to shoot some television commercials promoting energy conservation. I volunteered to do the commercials because I believe that everyone has to do his fair share in reducing the threat of global warming. Mr. Baird and Prime Minister Harper apparently disagree.

Our federal government's blatantly obvious strategy is to bamboozle Canadians into thinking it's on the ball when it comes to the environment by presenting plans that have one flashy element, which everyone remembers, and then essentially supporting the status quo in everything else. The federal budget did this with the much touted, but poorly designed, feebate. Now, Mr. Harper and Mr. Baird can add lightbulbs to the list.

Switching lightbulbs is a no-brainer. Incandescent bulbs waste more than 90 per cent of the energy they use on heat, rather than light. We have much better options, such as energy efficient lightbulbs that will help save energy, so of course let's do it.

But that can't be the only thing we do.

Unfortunately, the new plan does little else. Yes, it does provide slightly better targets than Mr. Harper's original plan, but by focusing on emissions "intensity" rather than actual emissions reductions, we end up with a plan that is guaranteed to keep Canada at the back of the pack in the industrialized world. Let's take an example. Alberta's tar sands are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing intensity means a reduction in the amount of emissions per barrel of oil, and that's good. But if the total amount of oil extracted doubles or more, then any modest gains in efficiency are completely wiped out.

So once again, Canada's biggest polluters are largely off the hook. That's just not fair. If Canada's biggest polluters are responsible for 50 per cent of the problem, they should be responsible for 50 per cent of the solution. Anything else is just wrong.

But because the plan is a marginal improvement over Mr. Harper's last attempt, The Globe and Mail actually ran an editorial praising it. They even lauded Mr. Baird for "telling the truth" to Canadians that sticking to our Kyoto targets would destroy the economy.

Yet Canadians, including the Globe's own readers, don't believe the newspaper's stance or Minister Baird's outrageous claims. In fact, Globe poll results in the same newspaper show that 60 per cent of Canadians think that Mr. Baird's claims about Kyoto are "not believable" and 61 per cent say we should stick to our Kyoto promise.

I think Canadians are getting to be more than a little embarrassed by the performance of our leaders - especially if you look at it from an international perspective. The vast majority of industrialized countries that ratified Kyoto are well on their way to meeting their goals by developing technology, building infrastructure, and hiring and honing the talent to become economic and environmental leaders. Canada is missing out. Worse still, we aren't even trying.

This is Prime Minister Harper's second chance at a climate plan and his second weak effort. His first plan went through months of deliberation by an all-party committee and is now much improved. That plan, Bill C-30, is now a much more honest attempt at solving what is really a very big problem, for Canada and the world. I certainly hope Mr. Harper can put aside his partisan politics long enough to bring Bill C-30 back, rather than proceeding with this lame effort.

Practically every day we hear something new and scary about climate change. Canadians are justifiably worried. Whatever we do in response, as a country, must be commensurate with the problem. Light bulbs and feebates alone won't cut it. We need a fair, equitable and responsible plan. Canadians should accept nothing less.

David Suzuki is a geneticist and environmentalist. He hosts the television program The Nature of Things. Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

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