Protecting our prosperity without jeopardizing our environment

In response to Spencer Fernando’s “Protecting our environment and our prosperity” (the Manitoban Vol. 97 No. 18, Jan. 13, 2009), it seems that Mr. Fernando has missed a few crucial points regarding the Conservative party and their stance on climate change. Allow me to clarify them for you.

First, let me say that I agree with Fernando that “the respectful exchange of ideas is important and empowering.” It is, however, massively unfortunate that our prime minister doesn’t share this view, having recently prorogued parliament to avoid just that exchange.

Secondly, let me congratulate supporters of the Conservative Party on maintaining their “class” throughout the peaceful protest outside of Ron Bruinooge’s office. While you maintain that anger doesn’t equal commitment, certainly indifference doesn’t qualify as commitment either.

Before anyone begins to debate this topic there is an important distinction that needs to be made. “Global warming” is a phenomenon that is often dismissed by conservatives who cite contradictory scientific evidence. It is important to note the difference between the term “global warming” and the term “climate change.” Every conservative standing on his soapbox for “recent university graduates and young families” would do well to research the difference before they choose to write an article about the latter. To avoid any confusion, instead of talking about global warming or climate change, it is perhaps more useful to simply discuss environmental degradation.

There are not two sides of the story with environmental degradation, and while scientists may disagree as to the extent, they all acknowledge that it is happening. As it turns out, Canada is one of the worst offenders. While it is easy to take the Pollyanna point of view and say with your head in the tarsands that “science or technology will take care of it,” some facts cannot be ignored. In the Middle East, it takes approximately one barrel of oil to produce 20 additional barrels. In Canada, in our money-making-heartland of Alberta, it takes one barrel to produce three. Why is this? Because Canada is mining “bitumen,” some of the dirtiest oil that exists on our planet. It is an unsustainable and environmentally irresponsible form of oil to “drill” for and refine.

Let’s look at this with realism and level-headedness. Green technology is not going to be economically crippling to Canada. If properly implemented it should have the opposite effect. Take the example of wind power. Think of the economic benefits of building a wind farm. The U.K. has just licensed a wind farm that will produce a quarter of the country’s total energy needs every year, and create 70,000 jobs. When was the last time Stephen Harper created 70,000 new jobs in one go? Canada could be one of the leaders in renewable energy use, with abundant fresh water for hydroelectric power, and all the space we could ever need for wind farms, much of it uninhabited. It is Albertans and their friends in Parliament who are clinging so desperately to one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth under the guise of economic stability.

For the last 40 years, people have tried to passively “shape decisions so we can have the best future possible.” What has this almost half a century of policy making and debating the issue produced? The Kyoto Accord. We are now heading into potentially the largest crisis the world has ever faced, armed with a piece of paper that is effectively useless. If the conservatives really want to make a change while they are in power they must get rid of their “people vs. the environment” frame of mind.

As a parting note, I wonder if you’ve ever heard of something called the “precautionary principle?” It states that even if there is some doubt about the consequences of our actions, we should take all possible measures to avoid permanently damaging the environment.
After reading this article you might assume that that I have absolutely no respect for a conservative point of view— deniers of climate change and the captains of industry that have repeatedly and unforgivingly abused the environment for the last 100 years — and in that you would be correct. While I still have a brain in my head, I will never support Stephen Harper. He has repeatedly embarrassed Canada, and I am ashamed to have him for a prime minister.

Kahlia Beaudette is a third-year science student at the U of M.