An environmental strike against Canada’s Tories

2006-10-21

in Canada, Politics, Science, The environment

As Tristan discussed earlier, the National Post has been producing some dubious commentary on the ironically titled Clean Air Act being tabled by the current Conservative government in Canada. The paper says, in part:

Worryingly for the government, the impression has already taken hold that the Conservatives are not serious on the environment, and when [Environment Minister Rona] Ambrose says the Clean Air Act represents a “very ambitious agenda,” people smirk.

The smirking they describe is well deserved. The fact that every other party in government sees the real effect the so-called ‘Clean Air Act’ would have is not evidence of superficial thinking – as the Post asserts. The government that decided to simply walk away from Canada’s commitment to Kyoto is carrying on in past form.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the act is the way in which it confounds issues that are quite distinct. When it comes to the effect of human industry on the atmosphere, there are at least three very broad categories in which problematic emissions fit:

  1. Toxins of some variety, whether in terms of their affect on animals or plants (this includes dioxins, PCBs, and smog)
  2. Chemicals with an ozone depleting effect (especially CFCs)
  3. Greenhouse gasses (especially CO2, but with important others)

In particular, by treating the first and third similarly, the government risks generating policy that does not deal with either well. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s more liberal national newspaper, argues that this approach may be intended to stymie action towards reduced emissions, by introducing new arguments about far less environmentally important issues than CO2.

It is possible to develop good environmental policies that are entirely in keeping with conservative political ideals. Market mechanisms have enormous promise as a means of encouraging individuals to constrain their behaviour such that it does not harm the welfare of the group. While market systems established so far, like the Emissions Trading Scheme in the EU, have failed to do much good, there is nothing to prevent a far-thinking conservative government from crafting a set of policies that will address the increasingly well understood problem of climate change, without abandoning their political integrity or alienating their base of support. To do so, in the case of the Harper Tories specifically, might help to convince Canadian voters that they really are the majority-deserving moderates they have been trying to portray themselves as being since they were handed their half-mandate by those disgusted by Liberal sleaze.

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