2007 was the year of climate change.
Not, mind you, the year anything substantive was done about climate change, but rather the year climate change took centre stage: Al Gore and the IPCC scientists pointed the spotlight on the looming catastrophe, while a Greek chorus of environmental benchmarks—record-thin Arctic sea ice and Antarctic ice fields, disappearing glaciers, a spreading pine beetle infestation, wide-spread drought—underscored the drama of the impending doom.
The global audience started paying rapt attention, and, in poll after poll, regular people everywhere said climate change was among their primary concerns. Australians, in the world's first "climate change election," ushered in a government promising to take climate change seriously, but citizens elsewhere were left issuing vague appeals to their leaders via concerts and petitions.
Yet so far as most of the world's governments go, there will be no re-write of the Business-As-Usual script. Earlier this month, world "leaders" met in Bali and agreed to end the world as we know it: there will be no immediate action taken on climate change, and the announced 2050 target for greenhouse gas emissions (50 percent below current levels) is so low that even if it could be achieved we can't avoid the two degrees Celsius "tipping point" of irreversible global warming.
Canada has moved up from being a bit-player to one of the leading ogres in the play. Stephen Harper has moved on from spouting comical one-liners about "so-called greenhouse gases" to uttering more craftily designed disingenuous comments about Canada's Kyoto targets being "unreachable."
It's probably true that Canada can't meet its GHG reduction targets, but Harper is ignoring the second component of the agreement: Failing to meet the targets, we are obligated to help developing countries reduce their future emissions through the purchase of emission credits. With federal leadership, we could still meet the terms of Kyoto and help bring clarity and meaning to the trade of emission credits besides, but Harper is having none of it.
And back in the wings hides an even greater Canadian villain—the Albertan tar sands. Continuing to mine the tar sands will result, necessarily, in so much GHG being released into the atmosphere that it will be utterly impossible to avoid cataclysmic
global warming. But all our self-congratulatory niceness and concern aside, every Canadian in the theatre—in the audience and on stage alike—can't be bothered by such issues so long as the loonie and our pension plans soar to record heights.
In Nova Scotia, the provincial government introduced a new sub-plot by passing the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, which named real GHG reduction targets. Then it quickly subverted the plotline, first by refusing to require Nova Scotia Power to make any meaningful reductions in GHG emissions from its four coal-fired power plants (which are responsible for almost half of the province's emissions) and, secondly, by announcing a vast expansion of the high-speed highway system.
A bevy of minor characters pointed at the increasing carnage on the highway system as justification for "twinning" highways, seemingly oblivious to the fact that none of the deaths would have happened were the car passengers instead using trains or buses to travel.
The HRM council's song and dance routine, while entertaining, was devious in execution: First, the council "addressed climate change" by adopting a Regional Plan full of admirable targets for transit use—and never mind that the transit numbers have no meaning in the real world. In November, the council approved the Chebucto Road widening, saying future Metro Link buses out to Timberlea would cancel out any harm done by more cars through the Armdale Rotary. In December, the council completed the old razzle-dazzle with a flourish: it refused to fund the Link bus until at least the year 2012.
Will the climate change epic end as a tragic unfolding of events foretold, or rather, as an heroic overcoming of the Business-As-Usual paralysis that afflicts the political class?
It all depends on whether audience members leave their seats and take to the stage.
This is my last Sustainable City column. With the New Year, I'm taking over the news editor reins from Mike Fleury, which means you'll find me a couple of pages earlier in the paper. Now begins the search for a new Sustainable City columnist. We're looking for someone who can bring an opinionated, yet journalistic approach to environmental issues. If that's you, drop me a line at email@example.com, and we'll talk.