Oh Canada…

Oh Canada…

This week, Canadian officials formally announced what everyone has known for years: Canada will withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol and renounce the commitments and promises it made in 1997 (and many times since). In fact, Canadian federal officials plan for the country’s emissions to go up. They don’t call press conferences to announce that, of course. But there it is. As the impacts of climate change become clear across North America, Ottawa and Washington do nothing and occasionally try to paper over inaction with nice words about the future.

The international community long ago said goodbye to dashing Canadian Prime Ministers who made news around the world. Now we must all say goodbye – in English, in French and a host of other languages -- to the days when Canadian officials and Canadians writ large wanted to be in the forefront of international cooperation. They used to push US officials and Americans to be better global citizens, to work cooperatively to solve common international problems, and to reinvest in global institutions. Now, they don’t.

Now we must all say goodbye – in English, in French and a host of other languages -- to the days when Canadian officials and Canadians writ large wanted to be in the forefront of international cooperation.

As in a handful of US states, some provincial efforts in Canada are impressive and making progress. British Columbia’s carbon tax is a world leader, like California’s attempts to drive down carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. In both countries, however, national officials are indifferent to these state and provincial leaders (at best) or openly hostile to such policy experiments. Pro-climate change politicians in Ottawa prove feckless and unable to inspire the nation, while their conservative colleagues barely even pretend to care if emissions go down or if energy efficiency increases. And of course, as in Washington, it is fashionable in Ottawa to blame international institutions and previous national governments for failures to act nationally in the present. After Canadian officials went to Durban and worked to avoid any serious future emissions reduction commitments, and then formally announced they were leaving Kyoto to avoid being fined for their broken promises, I can only close by saying what everyone around the world is thinking, and what Canadians most hate to hear: “You’re basically just like Americans.”



Canadians and the Canadian State

I'm delighted to see as much heat as can be generated internationally brought to bear on our federal government's disgusting and cowardly withdrawal from Kyoto (and more importantly, their hostility up to that point toward any kind of mitigation policy). Sure, we all knew it was coming, but it still hurts when the punch actually lands. The remaining difference between Canada and the US is that Canadians are still (though in declining numbers) on-board with government action to mitigate climate change. Most of us believe climate change is happening and recognize it's anthropogenic (80%), and support policy measures at the federal level to rein in emissions (65%). These numbers are much lower in the US. On the environmental front, then, the Canadian federal government is (despite Minister Kent's proclamations to the contrary) wildly out-of-step with Canadian opinion and policy preferences. That said, the fact that climate change was almost completely invisible in the last federal election, with the exception of the interventions of Green Party candidate Elizabeth May, suggests that Prime Minister Harper can feel fairly safe thumbing his nose at Canadians (and the rest of the world outside of North America), as it is unlikely that there will be much by way of domestic political damage. While we love to think of ourselves as "good citizens" of the world (this is a long-standing national myth, belied by much of our actual practice--see Todd Gordon's book "Imperialist Canada"), and as an 'outdoorsy" and nature-loving nation, Canadians are likely to roll over on this, despite our belief that bad things are likely to happen if we don't take action on climate change. So, what makes us different from our neighbours in the South? We believe that climate change is happening, we would like our governments to act on it, but we don't particularly care if they don't.