Thursday, July 24, 2008

80% of Canada's Population and Climate Change

There is an interesting article from today's Globe and Mail, which I am reproducing below, discussing how a coalition of four Canadian provinces has joined with seven American states to form the Western Climate Initiative, set up to establish a cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions. I find it quite telling that the four provinces (Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia) representing about 80% of the Canadian population, find it necessary to use their powers to circumvent the Harper Government - a clear indictment, their rosy rhetoric notwithstanding, of the lack of action on the part of Canada's Conservative Government, which plans to force reductions in emissions, not next year, not next decade, but in another 42 years, by 2050!

Bilateral coalition unveils cap-and-trade proposal
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
July 24, 2008 at 4:05 AM EDT

A coalition of four provinces and seven states revealed a framework yesterday for a broad cap-and-trade program to reduce polluting greenhouse-gas emissions, the first such program in North America.

The Western Climate Initiative draft design proposes setting a hard cap on industrial emissions, providing cash incentives for companies to reduce their pollution levels. Following a European cap-and-trade model - by which greener companies can sell their pollution "credits" to the highest bidder - it would be the first such carbon system on the continent.

"This rewards efficiency," said Nicholas Heap, a climate-change analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. "The people that are using less fuel and emitting less greenhouse gases are going to have lower costs."

The program would grant each participating province (British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec) an allocated and declining cap for each year from 2012 to 2020, set in advance. Those caps have not yet been set, but would be based on population, electricity consumption and production, and economic activity - not on current efficiency, the WCI report says. As such, the most efficient provinces in 2012 could sooner sell credits to other regions, creating a revenue stream.

The overall WCI emissions cap - the sum of each province and state's cap - "will be set at the best estimate of expected actual emissions," the WCI report said.

It is not yet clear how each province would enforce the caps, with the draft design allowing flexibility for each jurisdiction. One carrot on the enforcement stick is set, however: Any company that did not have sufficient credits to cover its emissions would pay a threefold credit penalty the next year.

The plan is still open for review, and is the culmination of several policy briefs released earlier. It will be reviewed publicly and finalized in September.
The effect of the cap would be for polluting companies to pay for the emissions they created. They would be free to pass those costs on to consumers.

"They'll be paying a price for putting carbon in the atmosphere; that is the idea," said B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner, whose province was the first to join the WCI. "We believe there are economic and environmental opportunities that can come from a cap-and-trade system."

Emissions caused by the production of transportation fuels, such as gasoline, are included in the draft design. Others include electric generation, general combustion, industrial process emission sources and transportation fuel combustion. The gases considered as emissions are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride.

The cap would apply to all companies emitting more than 25,000 tonnes of those gases, measured as "carbon dioxide equivalents" per year.

"We recognize we're in a carbon-constrained world," said Jock Finlayson, chief economist at the B.C. Business Council, adding that it remains to be seen how the WCI proposal would fit in with the federal government's plan to reduce emissions.

"The devil will all be in those regulatory details. There's a great bit more to come."

The emissions would be regulated at the point of entry into the member province or state. For instance, emissions created by transportation fuel would likely be measured at a distributor - not car by car - but may vary from province to province. Companies would be required to begin monitoring emissions in 2010, and begin reporting them in 2011.
Emissions from the production of biofuel would not be included.

The WCI plan includes the option for provinces or states to maintain "comparable fiscal measures" for putting a price on emissions. B.C. is the only province with such a system, after introducing a carbon tax this month.

The four provinces, which joined the initiative voluntarily, make up nearly 80 per cent of Canada's population, and account for 49 per cent of its greenhouse-gas emissions. Ontario joined most recently, just last week. The participating states are Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. The eleven jurisdictions have a total population of more than 80 million people, creating a broad trading market for polluters.

The United States has a similar cap-and-trade program to reduce acid rain.

The WCI draft design will be discussed by stakeholders in San Diego on July 29. The WCI plan is open for public comments until mid-August.

View the full report or make comments at

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Dark Knight and Reflections on Human Nature

Yesterday I saw the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight, and would like to offer a few observations. First, the film is as good as the critics say, but my surprise arose from its philosophical depth, something one doesn’t normally expect in a movie of this genre.

Very briefly, and without going into too much detail, Batman is confronted by the Joker, played so effectively by the late Heath Ledger in what is essentially a battle for competing views of human nature. The Joker, a demonic figure if there ever was one, seems intent (and this seems to be his only motivation in the film) to spread terror, despair and cynicism throughout the citizenry, as if to convince everyone that goodness is no more a reality than Santa Claus. His delight arises from exposing the weakness of people, tearing through what he sees as mere facades of rectitude. Confronting and challenging this view, (as well as being challenged by it) are both Batman and another character, the crusading district attorney Harvey Dent, played very well by Aaron Eckhart.

The role of the hero and his/her importance to society is explored in depth through the ensuing conflict with The Joker, and I will offer no detail as to the final resolution offered by the film. However, aside from the entertainment value of The Dark Knight, it made me think once more about what it is people expect, want and need from their leaders. The observation is made in the film, in relation to Harvey Dent, that people need a hero, someone they can look up to, the implication being that such people have the capability of bringing out in others the best aspects of human nature. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this is, I believe, where our elected leaders, for the most part, utterly fail.

The easiest and most obvious exemplification of this failure is to be found in the past eight years under the morally bereft Bush presidency. As he prepares to leave office, it is clear to me that Bush’s main ‘achievement’ will be a legacy of hatred, suspicion, cynicism and cronyism. The fact that Democratic presidential candidate Barrack Obama has thus far inspired a great deal of hope suggests that there is a hunger on the part of Americans to be raised out of the morass into which they have fallen.

However, Bush's spectacular failure as a leader should not overshadow the fact that a lack of vision and purpose on the part of our politicians is widespread. As I mentioned in my last post, Lawrence Martin nicely captured the malaise of the governing Conservative Party in Canada. Today finds a newspaper revelation that this same Government is preparing to bury a 500-page report by Health Canada about the relationship between global warming and ill-health. Because their stance on climate change is so regressive, apparently the report will be hidden on an obscure part of Health Canada’s website, once more demonstrating that the preservation of power over principle is the ruling political ethos.

I suspect that we can all be much better people than we are. However, as long as politics remains only concerned about the acquisition and retention of power, there is little chance of that happening

Monday, July 21, 2008

What Happens When Our Leaders Lack Vision?

I read an interesting article this morning by one of my favorite Globe and Mail columnists, Lawrence Martin. He is reflecting on the leadership style of Prime Minister Harper, and how the Conservative Party lacks any sense of national purpose, or vision. He suggests that this approach has not netted him any real gains in the polls, and that people want something more from their politicians. Personally, I have always felt that those we elect, despite our democracy, are less a reflection of our wishes and more a reaction to perceptions crassly manipulated by those who either aspire to or wish to retain power. I also believe that those who are elected have a special responsibility to try to cultivate the best in all of us; unfortunately, the venal reasons so many people run for office precludes that from happening very often.

In any event, I have reproduced Mr. Marin’s article below, and although I disagree with his conclusions about the purpose behind changes in personnel such as the chief of staff (after all, Guy Giorno, a much-reviled member of the group that brought Mike Harris to power in Ontario, is hardly an improvement over Ian Brody), it makes for some thought-provoking reading:

The politics of destruction has run its course

From Monday's Globe and Mail
July 21, 2008 at 8:14 AM EDT

The governing Conservatives have discovered something of late: Their modus operandi - politics as war - isn't working as it used to.

In the winter and spring, they had the Liberals running scared from the prospect of an election. But in the soft days of summer, much has changed. A veteran pollster was saying last week that, if an election were held today, the Tories would likely find themselves on the opposition benches.

Their game plan, which served them reasonably well, was simple. Leave the ideas to eggheads, visions to dreamers. Use a superior field commander and bigger tanks to crush the opposition.

The politics of destruction was a slice of Karl Rove, the veteran Republican strategist, come North. Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan describes the Rovian techniques in his book What Happened. In the Bush administration, "deliberation and compromise, elements central to governing, all but disappeared." Governing was turned into a permanent campaign. The "mentality of political manipulation" operated around the clock.

The war mentality of governance wasn't strictly a Republican thing in the United States, just as it hasn't been a strictly Conservative happening in Canada. Democrats there, Liberals here, lay the groundwork with their own lowering of the bar. On each side of the border, conservative governments came in promising a new way but found comfort in the old.

War politics worked here to the point where, with Stephen Harper weaving intricate plots, St├ęphane Dion almost faced mutiny. On the battlefield, the PM had cruise missiles, the Opposition Leader popguns.

But, in a signal that all has not been proceeding well, the PM has brought in a new chief of staff, a new communications director, other new faces. It's a wise move, a scaling down of the war mentality that could bring about a truce with the media, civil servants and alienated segments of the public. If the bunker mentality isn't being abandoned, it's at least being modified.

Changes are necessary for obvious reasons. The Conservatives have been sliding in the polls. Their recent series of mini-scandals, some prompted by too much Karl Roving, has clouded their image of cleanliness and competence. They are seen as being too blue when the trend line is green, they are dropping in popularity in Quebec, the economy is suspect, and the war in Afghanistan, which they enthusiastically embraced, is going badly. To top it all, they have posted no vision of where they want to take the country.

Moreover, an opposition leader once on the point of crumbling hasn't crumbled. Mr. Dion's Green Shift plan has changed the political dynamic, elevating his image from wimp to risk-taker, staking his party to a strong vision, putting the PM on the defensive.

The Conservatives were relying heavily on Mr. Harper's big lead over Mr. Dion in personal leadership rankings. But that's less certain now. They were relying heavily on making big gains in Quebec. That's not at all certain. They were hoping to be able to boast of sound economic management. But that's hard to do if the economy is sliding.

The good news for them is that, while their support numbers have been slipping, Liberal numbers have not been going up. The Tories also maintain big tactical advantages in terms of money and organization. On the political spectrum, they have the right side to themselves, while the Liberals are crowded in with the Greens and the NDP.

But momentum, which was once on the Conservatives' side, has been drifting away. Their penchant for destructive politics has hurt them ethically. But more than that, because they have placed so much emphasis on battlefield tactics, they have little in the policy vault with which to move forward. In the last parliamentary session, they had some good initiatives such as immigration reform, the residential schools apology and a few consumer-friendly measures. But there were no big-ticket items to showcase in a campaign.

The war mentality of governance can work in the short term. But, in the long term, something more is needed. With the tides shifting, the Conservatives need a bold new program, something to show the public they can do more than crack heads

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

War Made Easy

I just finished watching a documentary entitled War Made Easy, narrated by Sean Penn. While it may not break any new ground, it is very effective in demonstrating the folly of surrendering one's critical judgment and placing complete faith in the pronouncements of government. At a time when the media frequently seem to be little more than public relations arms of the government, this film is especially timely. I am reproducing a synopsis of the documentary below:

"War Made Easy" reaches into the Orwellian memory hole to expose a 50-year pattern of government deception and media spin that has dragged the United States into one war after another from Vietnam to Iraq. Narrated by actor and activist Sean Penn, the film exhumes remarkable archival footage of official distortion and exaggeration from LBJ to George W. Bush, revealing in stunning detail how the American news media have uncritically disseminated the pro-war messages of successive presidential administrations.

The film brings to the screen Norman Solomon's insightful analysis of the strategies used by administrations, both Democratic and Republican, to promote their agendas for war from Vietnam to Iraq. By familiarizing viewers with the techniques of war propaganda, "War Made Easy" encourages us to think critically about the messages put out by today's spin doctors - messages which are designed to promote and prolong a policy of militarism under the guise of the 'war on terror.'

If you are interested, you can watch the film online here.