The planet is the source of all prosperity

Spencer Fernando’s recent article, “A Conservative’s View on Climate Change” (Jan. 13, 2010) requires a serious response from a green perspective. First, it must be said that not everyone who showed up at Rod Bruinooge’s office to rally for a strong Canadian stance on climate change was in fact a Green Party member or supporter. Greens support vigorous debate, and within the party itself there is a wide range of perspectives on how best to create a sustainable planet.

Fernando mischaracterizes the green position on the carbon economy by implying that greens are so naive as to seek to stop the carbon economy overnight. Rather, greens wish to introduce a pragmatic strategy towards greatly reducing Canada’s carbon emissions. This program would include a revenue-neutral carbon tax at extractive sources, to be offset by reductions in income tax, primarily in the lower taxable brackets. Greens advocate an orderly transition to a green economy by granting incentives to industries willing to invest in producing economically — and environmentally — sound energy and technologies. Retooling infrastructure and retraining workers will be necessary in this transition, but will require strong leadership from the federal government — leadership not being shown by Stephen Harper.

Greens are not opposed to technological advancement; in fact, we embrace it. The appropriate technology and transition movements sweeping across Great Britain and Europe shows locally-coordinated, cooperative solutions in action, and effectively undermines the conservative fear-mongering that jobs must be lost in the transition to a post-carbon economy.

Fernando claims the conservative government’s position is “clear,” yet there are few concrete ideas that he puts forward. The only idea is the notion of carbon capture and storage. Yet in the same paragraph Fernando declares, “Now is not the time for extreme and unproven experiments.” Perhaps Mr. Fernando is unaware that carbon capture is really little more than an unproven experiment still being conducted. Even if this technology proves itself useful in the long term, it will still be a very expensive “band-aid” approach that fails to deal with the problem at its source. In essence, government support for carbon capture is a subsidy to the oil industry. How does this create a “fair market” with a level playing field? Instead, this creates an uneven playing field that unduly benefits carbon-intensive, multinational fossil-fuel companies to the detriment of our planet.

The Alberta model calls into question the notion that the tar sands benefit all Canadians. A recent report illustrates how the gains from the tar sands are private while the costs associated with social, health and ecological problems stemming from the industry are paid for by the public. The Norway model, meanwhile, illustrates how high state royalties on oil and gas development allow for industry profitability, while Norwegians are justly compensated and the funds are prudently managed: Norway invests over 95 per cent of its royalties from the industry in long-term, secure funds. A strong federal government would mitigate the oil patch profit-at-all-costs mentality by recognizing that Canadians will need a steady economy and social standards well after the boom ends. The UK-issued Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change showed the costs associated with not taking strong action on climate change are greater than those associated with regulating and moving away from fossil fuel use.

Mr. Fernando claims that the trend of human progress has been unmistakably positive. If we want to ignore the disappearance of species at a hugely inflated rate, the rapid melting of ice caps, the eutrophication of our oceans, the pollution of our air, water and soil, the rise of cancer and heart disease in OECD developed nations — then yes, we’re progressing. The rest of us working to create sustainable and just societies beyond the boom and bust cycle of linear resource extractive industries are a little more realistic. The planet is finite. Greens understand that our delicate planet sustains a complex web of living systems, which we are both part of and dependent upon. There are limits not only to the total biomass of the planet itself, but also on our planet and our own capacities to absorb pollutants and remain healthy. A wise government would understand the real source of prosperity is the planet itself.

Fernando claims that Conservatives support vigorous debate. With many Canadians disgusted by conservative obstruction of climate negotiations in Copenhagen, and with Parliament shut down, the Campus Greens will happily debate Canada’s climate policy with the Campus Conservatives, publicly. Will Conservatives rise to this challenge?

James Beddome is a law student at Robson Hall, a member of the Campus Greens, and leader of the Green Party of Manitoba.