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I confess I’ve been so fixated on the ongoing catastrophe south of the border that I haven’t paid sufficient attention to Canadian politics. I’m given to understand that our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who started out with so much promise, has turned out to be a huge disappointment. From what I can tell, he hasn’t delivered much, though I very much doubt he’s been any worse than his incredibly lifelike predecessor, Stephen Harper, but the thing is, I don’t know enough to have a firm view, not really. I know what I hear on the news when I happen to tune in. I’m going to have to start digging deeper, there’s an election coming up and all, but for now let’s assume that Justin is indeed a big old mess who’s been sort of corrupt and feckless and unable to deliver much useful policy despite his majority government (which in the Westminster system is tantamount to dictatorship).

Why does my only plausible alternative have to be this guy?

That’s Andrew Scheer, current leader of the Conservative Party. He looks affable enough in a snapshot, doesn’t he, but he’s practically a pre-Trump Republican, that is, not bat-shit crazy, but prone to distortions, false claims and scare-mongering designed to obscure that his primary motivation is to secure the wealth of rich white people (and though he denies it up and down, maybe start interfering in women’s reproductive choices). My twitter feed has been bombarded with Tory party messaging about how horrific the Liberals are, all of it patent bullshit, and maybe that shouldn’t bug me so much – juxtaposed with what Trump is doing, what’s going on here is merely politics as usual, circa 2000 in, say, Florida. Yet I hate like hell to see it. I hate this attack ad baloney, the florid claims, the stupid accusations. Trudeau wants to ruin your life! He’ll drive you and yours to the financial precipice with his tax grabs!

I’ve got a lot to find out about this guy, but already I don’t like him.

The cudgel Scheer and the Conservatives seem most keen to use against Trudeau is the imposition of a modest carbon tax, meant to begin the process of putting a price on pollution. Outside of politics, nearly everyone agrees that done right, through the use of government rebates, a carbon tax can change individual behaviour while remaining revenue neutral. It’s not a tax grab; it’s an attempt to make people pay a little more for the things that mete out the most damage to the environment. Then, presumably, they’ll buy fewer of those things, and in due course different products will come on line that are green enough not to attract the tax. Social engineering? Sure. We use tax policy for that all the time. To work, though, it really has to produce incentives and costs big enough to spur people to change their consumption patterns. If you ask columnist Neil McDonald over at the CBC about it, he’ll tell you the new tax is in fact “piffling”, far too small to achieve its goals, and thus nothing much beyond political window dressing intended to ease Trudeau’s re-election:

That’s not how Scheer sees it, though (nor his comrade in arms, Ontario Premier Doug Ford – listen, if you’re BFFs with Doug, that’s pretty much it for you in my book, I already know what I need to know about you). No, the Trudeau carbon tax is a massive tax grab that will make everything more expensive for consumers, especially gas and groceries (and even children’s ice cream, I bet), and the supposed rebates aren’t as high as promised, blah blah blah:

See? That’s plain enough, isn’t it? Not only is it costing you an arm and a leg, it’s not even helping the environment! This has the stink of American GOP operatives all over it, and I suspect it’s all about 25% true, but at times like this I can see why all those voters out there who hold such passionate opinions actually have no understanding at all what’s going on. Right now, when it comes to the carbon tax, I’m an average voter: I just don’t know. And think what I’ll have to dig into to form an intelligent opinion:

  • the particulars of the tax, what it now charges per tonne of CO2, what it proposes to charge in years to come, and whether that is enough, according to expert opinion, to make an impact on carbon pollution;
  • how much the current tax will add to consumer prices;
  • how much a more stringent tax would add to consumer prices;
  • the details of the rebates, whether they’re being handed out in the exact quantities promised;
  • the policy alternatives, if any, and how effective they would be, and how burdensome on the average person;
  • just how Canada really is doing on its Paris targets; and
  • what Scheer himself proposes to do instead, and what the experts say about whether that would work (I see he’s released a plan, and I wonder whether it’s more than vague targets and aspirational statements – more reading to do).


What strikes me, though, is that Scheer, like all conservatives north and south of the 49th, takes it as a given that anything that increases taxes on anything is evil, that governments should never attempt to raise more revenue, and that somehow we can address climate change in a meaningful way without it needing to hurt. Suppose the carbon tax isn’t revenue neutral, and increases government resources – is that so bad? We’re currently piling up deficits, yes? There’s a lot of things we need to spend an unholy crapload of money on in the coming years, aren’t there? Suppose that the carbon tax is a bit painful for consumers – isn’t that the idea? How, exactly, do you change behaviour when the price of sticking to your ways is negligible?

The Conservatives aren’t peddling climate change denial – really, the idea that the planet isn’t heating up just isn’t saleable any more – but they downplay the mess we’re in and the price we’ll need to pay to avoid catastrophe. Not that Justin is doing much better on this score. If Neil McDonald is right, Trudeau is imposing a half-measure of little practical use because he doesn’t want to give Scheer a club to clobber him with. Scheer is clobbering him anyway, and warning that a real carbon tax would cost average folk much, much more, why five times as much, and we can’t have that, can we?

Can our pathetic political system, with its generally stunned and uninformed electorate, really grasp the potential scope of the pending emergency? Can people be stirred from their present complacency? Can electoral politics ever produce a government with the will to do what’s necessary? It doesn’t seem so, does it, and meanwhile, this was Greenland a few days ago:

There is enough frozen water in Greenland to raise sea levels 24 feet, if it all melted, and while climate scientists don’t think it will all melt, they’re starting to talk about sea level rises of seven feet this century. I’ve seen estimates of 14 feet. This is hotly debated, of course, and even the most reliable scientific sources have a hard time offering anything close to a solid prediction. None of us were here the last time this happened, at the end of the last Ice Age, when global sea levels rose 300-400 feet in a relatively short time. It’s clear from what happened in the past that big changes can come very fast, but that doesn’t give climate scientists much to go on. There are myriad variables, and they have a hard time modelling the various feedback loops at work on the ice caps – essentially, the more the ice melts, the more ice is melted – and they keep revising their predictions as to how soon and how much.

Then there’s the Antarctic ice sheet. Oh boy, is there a lot of water locked up in Antarctica. As long as the Rhode Island-sized chunks of ice breaking off of the Western Antarctic ice sheet involve floating glaciers, the ice is already displacing water, and its melting won’t change sea levels. But there’s a lot of scientific debate about the likely fate this century of the ice sheets that currently sit on rock. That’s the dangerous stuff.

Look, maybe we’ll do OK, and merely wind up with more coastal flooding, changes in ocean currents that dramatically alter global weather patterns, droughts, storms of unprecedented magnitude, the spread of tropical diseases and pests northward, huge wildfires, displacement of massive populations, that sort of thing. All of that could – probably will – arise from global warming irrespective of the level of the oceans. Rest assured, though, sea levels will be rising, and that’s never congenial to established patterns of habitation, agriculture, transportation, or commerce. The potential is there, too, for the sort of sea level rise that would deal a body blow to our whole civilization. We just don’t know, but by sitting here bickering about adding a quarter to the price of a litre of gas, supposing that’s even going to happen, we may as well be dumbasses sitting on our couch, eating Fritos and watching the gogglebox, while idly playing Russian Roulette.

There’s always the argument that it doesn’t matter what Canada does anyway, not with the US, China and India merrily laying waste to the ecosphere. I don’t hold with that. Significant efforts are being made in those countries, and we must do our part. For that, we need somebody to more or less scare the living bejesus out of the general population, and inspire the masses to action, to accept unpleasant change and some measure of sacrifice, not soothe them and promise to spare them from pain. One way or another, the pain is coming; the question is how bad. I don’t know about Justin, but I have a real feeling that Scheer isn’t the guy for that sort of inspirational leadership. Maybe somebody else will emerge. As we wait to find out, well, I’d hold off buying any 90 million dollar condos in Manhattan, you know?

Perhaps this is a start – this is from yesterday:

Great; but are we preparing the electorate for emergency measures?

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