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Nothing more than hot air in climate talks

In a week that saw environmentalist David Suzuki draw the ire of tar sands defenders by comparing them the slave owners, the most-likely-to-be-off-base award goes to Ontario’s Liberal government.

In the run-up to the COP21 conference in Paris next week, climate change is front and center – the all-over-the-map weather we’ve seen this month might also be a topic locally. There’s a great deal of talk about the talk that will ensue, with the general consensus being that the negotiations will amount to nothing, just has been the case in every instance before.

In Alberta, the NDP government is pushing ahead with a carbon tax. Home to the tar sands, the province wasn’t universally impressed with the idea. Suzuki and fellow tar sands critic Neil Young weighed into the debate, pronouncing themselves impressed. That’s where the scientist offered up that defending the tar sands on economic grounds was akin to what 19th century U.S. slave owners said: abolishing the practice would kill the economy. Moral issues are at play in both cases, he suggested.

Back home in Ontario, the government unveiled vague plans to maybe do something, some day, about lowering carbon emissions – a so-called climate change strategy. Mostly meaningless, the plan does have one concrete proposal: a cap and trade system for emissions. This is essentially a tax grab by a financially irresponsible government. Like everything Wynne does, it will be tainted by her reputation for incompetence and corruption.

To be sure, taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are necessary. By itself, Ontario – and even Canada – can do little. Even if all emissions ceased today, an impossibility, the impact would be nonexistent. The country is a minor player, account for less than two per cent of global emissions.

And, at any rate, some projections show we’re at, if not already past the point of no return for climate change that will have potentially devastating consequences globally.

That doesn’t mean we should do nothing, of course. Ironically, nothing is what we’re doing, for the most part. The Paris conference, like many before it, will see countries reach an impasse and then eventually release a wishy-washy statement long on platitudes and short on action. It can be argued the likes of Kyoto and the subsequent follow-ups are a waste of time: more a feel-good photo op than anything concrete. That’s especially so in Canada’s case: any targets we set would be a drop in the bucket if the real culprits – the U.S., China, India and Russia – refuse to play ball.

Those opposed to fighting greenhouse gas emissions often cite economic reasons, saying we’d kill the economy by cutting back on energy production and manufacturing.

This stance ignores many realities. First off, resources such as oil and coal are finite – we’re going to run out of them eventually. In that dilemma lies an opportunity to develop alternatives, to make Canada a supplier of technology that will replace dwindling resources and help protect the environment. Technology that can be sold to the major players, where greenhouse gas reductions will make a difference.

This is, in part, what Ontario has been doing with its much-maligned green energy plan, at least in theory. In practice, it’s done little for the environment, proven tremendously expensive and created only a fraction of the jobs that were promised. We have every reason to be skeptical of Wynne’s latest plan, just as there’s little reason for optimism about COP21.

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