The Walrus Blog

By 2050…

We might be burnt to a crisp, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper, if he’s still with us, will still be talking about climate change (or global warming or a strange mild night in December), rather than the obvious, planetary heat, and he will still be blaming the Liberals for the mess we’re in.

In the years leading up to his long term target of a 50 per cent reduction of 1990 greenhouse-gas emissions levels — to credit such an announcement with the term “policy” would be to discredit the more meaningful words “avoidance” and “evasion” — the polar ice cap will have melted and cartography will have become a growth industry, the mapmakers forever scrambling to keep track of vanishing islands, eroding coastlines, and the migration of people inland.

At that point, say in 2045 (to be consistent with 2007 Conservative proclamations that signing the Kyoto Accord legislating significant emissions reductions by 2012 was disingenuous, if not craven), the addled Mr. Harper will rise from his slumber to issue the following statement: “We will miss our 2050 target, because, back in the last century, the Liberal government allowed Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions to rise by 27 per cent.”

Science fiction will not be the next big thing, it will be real, but the somnolent Stephen Harper, aged and endearing in his way, will avoid being swept up like Soylent Green. Resplendent alongside the plutocrats in their gated communities, he will announce periodically, go back into his shell, and re-read (if he is so able) laudatory biographies of his time in office, those halcyon days when the world was just a bit cooler.

In real time, the current session of Parliament can prattle on, but as Papa Bear Harper “builds bridges” between Europe and the New West, or between the G8 and the big five developing countries (no one is quite sure which), he has decreed that no substantive decisions will be made in his absence. Ottawa has reached a new level of dysfunction and acrimony, and worried that the country will soon be awash in water, the Minister of Infrastructure might wish to issue grants for bridges of our own.

“In good time, old chap,” comes the reply via BlackBerry from Stephen Harper’s spokesperson. Those in charge of mines, resources, employment, and other levers of state might worry about the loss of Alcan, Molson, Stelco, Hudson’s Bay, and hundreds of other corporations, and thus be concerned further that the means of reducing emissions are slipping from our grasp.

“Not to worry,” Harper himself this time insists, our man of action (whether in Europe or Afghanistan, anywhere but home) forever promoting Canada as a “global energy superpower,” a country to be reckoned with on the international stage. Distractions from the backwater or backbenches of Ottawa will not be tolerated because, Harper chiming in, “Look at the noise I’m making, the leaders I’m meeting. In the final analysis, Canadians want a man large and in charge… and the branding I’m doing,” he enthuses, “it’s amazing!”

An ellipsis suggests the trailing off of thoughts, and one wonders, “Could he be thinking, ‘How did Germany do it? This is a country built on steel, after all, and the Black Forest was decimated by pollution resulting from industrialization. So, how has it cut emissions by 18 percent?’”

No. Harper does not, or chooses not, to wonder. In fact, his environmental delaying tactics are indeed akin to his non-engagement with regards to foreign ownership: there is nothing to be done; we cannot, must not, interfere with the market, with the highly visible hand of global corporate consolidation, or, indeed, with the pace of development here and afar.

If the prime minister is in Germany demanding recognition of Canada as an emergent energy superconductor with a growing population, if he chooses to ignore European solutions, then he must tip his hat to China, a country demanding that the world recognize its contribution to global commerce, sustainability, and the good life through its one-child policy and the prevention of 300 million carbon-producing births. Given this clawback, this coitus interruptus, China says that its coal plants and new obsession with the automobile should be overlooked. And why not? Harper’s quisling rhetoric, his positioning (with George Bush) as a fifth columnist against sustainability, has painted Canada into an unacceptable box, with little to say to the Chinese.

Beyond his sound and fury, Harper is actually positioning Canada as a developing nation and, as such, it is now clear that we will trade but not cap emissions, not reduce but, like China, “intensify”; and we will welcome foreign investment and ownership as our entrepreneurs bloom (and pay taxes) in distant markets. Better to keep burning than to shrink opportunities, and this heady globalization had better lift all boats because, with the great melt, soon there may be a need for as many boats as houses.

As the seas rise and as his theoretical prescriptions are seen for what they are, vacuous and unhelpful, Harper, suddenly the amnesiac, has begun to invoke the United Nations — that beleaguered and useless institution according to neo-conservatives (but they too can change) — saying that it must be involved in setting the climate change agenda and that the approach must be “science-based.” Well, Mr. Harper, perhaps you should take your head out of hockey research for a moment. UN-sponsored scientists have already rendered their judgment, and from the world’s laboratories the consensus is emphatic: begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions immediately or fry.

Outside, on the street and in murky chambers, the politically astute offer a warning: for solutions, be wary of involving the United Nations. There may be no greater threat to world security than planetary heat, and the international cooperation needed to defeat it may dwarf that required to win the war on terrorism, but China, the country most determined to industrialize, sits proudly on the UN Security Council, veto in hand. And right next to it sits Russia, also with the veto, and planning for global energy supremacy.

What is actually happening, Mr. Harper, is a reformulation of the East Bloc, and this time it not only owns the means of its production (and chooses not to listen to Western lectures or prescriptions), but will seize its moment in the sun because its populations demand it. Stephen, if I can call you that, please avoid being an easy mark. For history and for conservation, we are looking for a little more. Diplomacy, leading by example, and recognizing the Other for what it is would be a good start.

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