Saturday, October 06, 2018

The fight against climate change is going through a scary lull

I have the distinct feeling that the fight against climate change is going through a period of retrenchment. And this comes just as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issues their latest, and most dire, warning that much more needs to be done to reverse the effects of global warming and that time is running short, and as the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to two professors working towards incorporating environmental impacts into economic decisions (including a proof that carbon taxes do in fact help to reduce climate change).
With Donald Trump in the White House, the USA is clearly not at all interested in any such fight, and is increasingly even in denial about the whole thing. (The Trump administration's latest ploy is not to deny climate change, but to admit it and merely claim that there is nothing that can be done about it.) Like it or not, the USA is still, one way or another, the leader of the free world, and its influence on the rest of the planet is palpable, even during a period where it is not an obvious role model. Any progressive advances that were made under the Obama administration - on climate change as in so many other areas - have been reversed, denied, ignored or otherwise frittered away by Trump and his cronies. The short-lived frisson of excitement and hopefulness that followed the Paris Agreement has all but dissipated. 
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Canada. After a decade in the environmental wilderness under Stephen Harper, the election of Justin Trudeau and a progressive Liberal government in 2015 promised great things. And, although.things have moved much slower than anticipated, the announcement of a national carbon tax to be levied on those provinces that do not have their own did suggest that they were at least serious about the issue. And some provinces - notably British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, even one-time laggard Alberta - were already well ahead of the curve. Things seemed to be on a roll.
But then, gradually, and particularly over the last year or so, things seem to have been unravelling, and several provinces are starting to push back against the Feds on climate change. The grand-sounding Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change has never looked so rickety. A Conservative government in Ontario has replaced the willing but rather ineffectual Liberals, and Premier Doug Ford had made it his crusade to reverse out everything the previous Liberal administration ever did, including its ambitious but chaotic green energy plan, and it membership of a cap-and-trade system with Quebec and California. Ford is launching a legal challenge to the federal carbon tax plan, along with Saskatchewan (which was always against it) and Manitoba (which has suddenly jumped on the anti-carbon tax bandwagon, despite once supporting it).
Further west, Alberta's NDP government has slowed its carbon tax progression as a petty and angry response to the federal government's lukewarm support for an oil pipeline. And, if Jason Kenney's conservatives regain power in the next provincial election, as seems more than possible, the province's carbon tax will be the first thing to go. (Doug Ford is currently on a round-Canada royal tour, on the Ontario taxpayer's dollar, specifically aimed at corralling provincial sentiment against the federal carbon tax, including a rally in Alberta with ... Jason Kenney.) BC's relatively new NDP/Green government ought to be gung-ho on the climate change file, but they have still pandered to the industry/employment faction in greenlighting a huge new LNG project (they still insist that they will be able to meet their earlier ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, but that single decision just made that goal substantially more difficult).
In the east, Quebec's new populist CAQ government is still notionally pro-carbon taxation, but I can't help but wonder how long for, and I can well imagine that, in any decision that puts the environment in direct competition with the economy, the economy will almost certainly win. The maritime province's are small potatoes, relatively speaking, but you can just see them eyeing up the burgeoning movement against the federal carbon tax, and reviewing their options.
All in all, it's a depressing and scary scene from the point of view of climate change. You could just blame it on Trump and the wave of populist sentiment he has triggered. But that may be disingenuous. It's really just a backlash, and an unfortunate slide in the political roller-coaster ride that a first-past-the-post creates. Maybe concern about climate change will resurface at a more propitious point on the ride, but whether that will be in time remains to be seen.

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