Dieting Harper Style

I’m embarrassed to say both Canada and I need to lose a few pounds. I would be healthier if I sweated off the twelve pounds I have added since 1990. Canada has a bigger challenge. Collectively we need to chop at least 240 million tonnes a year from our carbon emissions by the end of 2012.

To address our weight issues will require Canada and I to discipline our respective relationships to carbon: carbohydrates for me and carbon emitting fossil fuels for our beloved country.

Lets evaluate the merits of climate change proposals as diet plans.
I’m sad to say that so far I’m doing better than my country. While my weight has fluctuated over the last few years, I have dropped twenty pounds by reducing my portion size, cutting my beloved carbohydrates, and exercising more. It has required personal discipline. 

In contrast, Canada’s carbon emissions have increased by a whopping 24% driven mostly by failures to conserve electricity, expansion of the tar sands and the failure to improve fuel efficiency in automobiles. Canadians are among the most wasteful per capita users of energy (ranked 5 out of 54 developed countries). And our politicians lack the discipline to move beyond rhetoric to solutions.

If we want to live a healthy life on a healthy planet,  both Canada and I have to do better with our diets.

I plan on being better with sweets and exercising more.
What is Canada’s plan?  The so-called “Clean Air Plan”, is more accurately described as Stephen Harper’s “eat more to lose weight” diet. It is the kind of diet that might be inviting to overweight carb addicts in the supermarket check out aisle, but it is unlikely to lead to reducing carbon emmisions.

The Conservative’s “intensity-based emission targets” are absurd when viewed through the diet lens. It is the equivalent of me saying if I work harder, and spend more time at the office, I am allowed to eat more. My proportion of food eaten to work done (the intensity) would go down, but my weight would inevitably go up. This isn’t speculation; I tried this diet in the late 1990s and gained a lot of weight in all the wrong places.
 But Canada, and the world, can’t afford to delay losing carbon weight with half baked fad diets.

The ersatz Clean Air Act and the upcoming BC Energy Plan illustrate that our governments are out of step with our priorities, and with the climate crisis facing us. Like many of us they need help with their diet.
Back in January, just before the federal election, Dogwood Initiative commissioned a poll to identify the BC public’s energy priorities. The Mustel Group poll of 500 people showed that over 8 in 10 (86%) BC residents say that when it comes to energy policy, Canada’s top priority should be alternatives like solar and wind power (57%), and energy efficient technologies that conserve power (30%) rather than new sources of oil (8%).

If we are serious about our commitment to reduce emissions to 6% below our 1990 levels (Kyoto), then we need to get serious about the carbon in our national diet.  Climate change scientists say we need to exceed Kyoto targets in order to prevent massive human caused change in climate and ecosystems. We need to drastically reduce the consumption of carbon emitting fossil fuels as well as their production. 

Which brings us to Alberta, the tar sands and our lack of a national energy policy. Canada has had no national energy policy for many years. Instead, oil and gas companies, Bay Street brokers and Ralph Klein’s cronies, have been de facto setting the energy agenda in our country with little leadership in Ottawa or Victoria. As a result, our policy appears to be, if someone thinks they can make money from some energy proposal, go for it.

Catering to its core Alberta supporters, Mr. Harper’s government is pushing numerous mega-projects that will add more carbon weight to our countries already obese energy physique. So the Mackenzie Valley pipeline (with $500 million in subsidies promised), twinning the road to the tar sands (with $150 million in subsidies promised) and Enbridge’s Gateway pipeline are being fast tracked. All with no public debate about our national energy priorities.

And Gordon Campbell’s government in Victoria is no better. The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources recently disclosed over $242.5 million in subsidies being given to oil and gas companies (accounting for just five of the over a dozen subsidy programs BC offers to the oil industry). Minister Neufeld is the lead cheerleader for rescinding the 34-year-old Moratorium on tankers and coastal drilling as well as the Enbridge Pipeline, and other tanker dependant proposals, that could open up BC’s fragile inside passage to fossil fuels.

It is clear that our politicians, addicted to the sweet taste of oil and gas revenues, are unlikely to become disciplined dieters voluntarily. They need help to ensure they stick to the diet, and don’t continue to binge.

It is up to us as Concerned Canadians to hold our political leaders to account. We need to engage politically, to change our voting, consumption, and behavior patterns to align them with our values. We need to help progressive leaders bring the “before” picture into better focus, and make the “after” picture more than just a pipe dream.

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