Feeding the dragon

‘Nero fiddled while Rome burned’ may not be a historically accurate phrase, but it describes being occupied with unimportant matters while faced with a more urgent crisis.  That is pretty much what is happening with Stephen Harper who leads a government that has clearly demonstrated their primary concern is development of Canada’s oil and gas industry and has only paid lip service to addressing greenhouse gas emissions that are fuelling climate change.

To that end, a United Nations report on climate change, released this week, paints a gloomy picture of the looming crisis we face.  This is the 5th report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  It states that climate change is already happening and predicts significant obstacles for future food supplies and global security. The report also places a lion’s share of the blame on North American politicians for refusing to take the problem seriously or to address it in any meaningful way.  

In Canada, our problems didn’t begin with this government, but they haven’t made things better either.  You may recall that Jean Chretien’s government made a lot of hay out of signing the Kyoto Accord, but did so little to implement it that it was easy for Stephen Harper to walk away from Canada’s commitments.  The Conservatives then signed the Copenhagen Agreement, but we are no closer to matching that than we were with the Kyoto Accord.

Now we are faced with a broader challenge that includes significant adaptation in a less secure world. Last year’s huge tornado in Oklahoma or the massive typhoon that devastated the Philippines are some big examples of how costly extreme weather can be.  Canada wasn’t spared either with massive flooding in Calgary and closer to home washouts on Highway 17 at Wawa and along the North Shore of Lake Huron.  All of these come with hefty price tags and stretch our resources in ways we are not even doing a good job of planning for.  The UN report tells us we have to prepare for more of these events.

On top of that, global inequity will get worse as a result of climate change.  Areas that already have water will have more – sometimes too much – and areas that are dry will be dryer.  There will be environmental refugees from flooded coastal areas due to rising sea levels and also from areas that can no longer feed themselves.  Rivers fed by glaciers will disappear and regional conflicts over what water remains may result.

So what are we doing in Canada?  Not enough according to a report released in October that predicts Canada will only cut a total of three megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and is on track to overshoot our modest goal by 122 megatonnes.   At the same time we are subsidizing the profitable oil and gas sector to the tune of $1.3 billion a year.   It shows exactly where this government’s priorities are and also which drummer they are marching to. 

What is hard to understand is the motivation for such risky behaviour.   Does the government believe that climate change is a matter of opinion, or are they of the belief that it is unstoppable and will be so bad there is no point in even trying?  One thing is certain, they are far more focussed on the well-being of an industry that is maggoty with profit than they are with that of most Canadians and the future we face.   It is kind of like feeding the dragon that is attacking your village.