Carbon Tax Won’t Drive Change

(December 15, 2016)

We live between two basic truths about the choices we make: the society that lives for today at the expense of tomorrow has no future, but the society that lives for tomorrow at the expense of today will not survive to enjoy it.

Clearly, if we want both to survive and have a sustainable future, we need to find a third option, but it is not the one picked by the Trudeau government. You can’t have your pipeline and cancel it, too.

For example, take the proposed carbon tax. By itself, it will not move our society far enough or fast enough toward a sustainable future, but it helps. In addition to somewhat increasing costs for everyone, if it is spent only on reducing greenhouse gas emissions it will generate a new government revenue stream and encourage opportunities for green investment, both of which are needed to leverage the kind of changes we must make.

Continue reading

Pipeline Spending Outdated Thinking

(December 1, 2016)

With the first snow on the ground and Christmas coming, it’s time to talk turkey about pipelines, and the turkey has landed with the Trudeau government’s pipeline announcements. Two projects were given the go-ahead Tuesday — an extension of Enbridge’s Line 3 and a tripling of capacity for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain line to Vancouver.

How Canada got here is not just about the facts. It’s about the story, the moral narrative, in which facts are included or excluded as the storyteller requires.

One narrative is unfolding south of the border in North Dakota at Standing Rock. It is obviously about aboriginal land rights and treaties, but it is most importantly about whether corporate interests require a licence to operate.

Not merely a legal licence, but a social licence, as well. In other words, when resources (such as land and water) that belong to all the people are put at risk by the actions of a small group, using them for their own benefit, does the rest of society need to give permission first?

The other narrative about pipelines is the one that has brought our society to where it is today — with its huge disparity in personal wealth, between the one per cent and the 99 per cent; its prosperity with respect to other countries; and the luxuries many of us enjoy as a result.

In that narrative, economic interest trumps everything else. Government exists to facilitate the acquisition of money by those who have the means to use the taxation and legal systems to their advantage. Environmental concerns are like bugs hitting the windshield on a summer’s highway drive to the lake — if there are too many, you need to pull to the side of the road and clean them off before continuing on your journey, but you certainly don’t stop for very long.

If we don’t change the story underpinning the choices we make as individuals and as a society to move away from focusing on economics, however, we will continue to change the planet into a place where no one — rich or poor — can easily or happily live.

Continue reading

Eco-Policy Must Balance Two Realities

(October 18, 2016)

The flurry of activity around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of a federal carbon tax last Monday was followed the next day by the release of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. The FSDS received much less attention, because it was not greeted with the provincial petulance about federal decisions that tends to generate headlines.

To be fair, there isn’t a lot of drama surrounding this document. Intended as an open working framework covering the next three years (to 2019), it identifies 13 strategic areas for Canada to focus on in relation to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

I was glad to see the ongoing intention to revise and extend it — much wiser than attempting a strategy that tried to paper over its inevitable flaws — and there are some interesting tidbits buried in among the some of the unfortunate efforts to encourage sustainable consumption (like suggestions to unplug appliances and not let taps run).

For example, for Manitoba, there is a promise to continue funding the Experimental Lakes Area; another to contribute toward the reduction of phosphorus in Lake Winnipeg; money to fix the Lake St. Martin watershed problem; money for municipalities to fund infrastructure improvements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and so on. There was also the welcome intention to sign on again, as soon as possible, with the global initiative to combat desertification that Canada shamefully abandoned a couple of years ago.

But this strategy, however initial its steps, just does not go far enough. Nor does the $10-a-tonne federal carbon tax do much to save the planet, as critics have complained.

So why bother? Who cares about carbon?

 

Read More