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No room for cynicism

Canada’s first ministers meet to talk climate change

By Dennis Gruending

This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called first ministers together in Vancouver. There, they discussed how Canada will meet commitments made at December’s Paris Climate Conference. That gathering was a last ditch attempt to prevent the most dramatic impacts of global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels whose emissions remain trapped in the atmosphere. In Paris, 195 nations reached an accord committing them to lowering greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) although they did not say by exactly how much.

Although Canada’s record on climate change has been poor, Trudeau — along with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna — assured other nations in Paris that Canada now wants to play a leading role. Both Trudeau and McKenna went to Paris, using the Harper government’s commitment of reducing Canada’s 2005 level of GHG emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030. McKenna called that a “floor,” saying that Canada must do more than that. In recent years, rather than declining, GHG emissions in Canada have actually been increasing steadily. Meeting the promised reduction by 2030 could require GHG cuts equal to all of our current emissions from cars, trucks, electricity production and buildings across the country.

Most experts agree that the path to a low emissions future lies in putting a price — or tax — on carbon so that people use less of it, and switch to other fuels and technologies. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, however, has already said that he wants no part of a carbon tax, which would ultimately reduce the demand for the oil, which his province produces.

There are other sensitive issues on the table, too. The Alberta economy is heavily invested in the continued development of the oil sands. But the province already accounts for 40 percent of all GHG emissions in Canada, and further oil sands development would make it impossible to make significant reductions in national emissions. There is also a determined effort to build more pipelines to move Alberta oil to markets, but the mining of more oil and gas will produce an increased level of GHG emissions.

All of this appears daunting, and scientific arguments — along with the eye-glazing statistics they generate — have been difficult for ordinary people to absorb. In that regard, actions by Pope Francis and other religious leaders are proving to be of great help. For one thing, the pope’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si (On care for our Common Home) helped to move the debate from something scientific and technical to something deeply personal — grounded in religious and moral values.

Former United Church Moderator Mardi Tindal, who attended the Paris conference, said that both Trudeau and McKenna are sincere while cautioning against any cynicism. “Ultimately, we need to understand that we are all in this together,” Tindal says. “We must each commit ourselves to taking the most ambitious actions we can while remaining encouraging and challenging.”

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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