Citizen Action Monitor

Canadian parliament debates climate change policies: Absolute insanity on two fronts

“The ultimate irony” — MP Elizabeth May on the climate debate in the House. But it’s actually worse than ironical — it’s insane.

No 575 Posted by fw September 23, 2012

“It has been a long time since I have heard so much debate in the House about carbon taxes and climate plans. Unfortunately, none of it is focused on the climate crisis. It is the ultimate irony – I hear the words, but the issue is ignored… We have to stop the spin and focus on what matters. Science is divided on whether we still have time. For my children’s sake I refuse to accept that it is too late. I will keep telling the truth about who did what and when, but history is just that. We better start talking about what we plan to do. NOW!”Elizabeth May

Ms May details the source of her frustration and exasperation with a recent House debate in a piece posted on her blog, which is reposted below.

But first, the theatre of the absurd that passes for ‘debate’ in our House of Commons is much worse than ironical — it’s “absolute insanity on two fronts”. The phrase “absolute insanity on two fronts” actually appeared in a different context in a June 23, 2012 post on this blog — Rio+20: The epitome of insanity on two fronts. It began with this quote —

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”Albert Einstein

The House debate about climate policies rightly deserves the epithet “insanity”. To explain, I turn to American environmental advocate and civil rights activist, Van Jones. In his book Rebuild the Dream. (p. 114-115). he laments over progressives who keep repeating the same ineffective tactics in the hopes of achieving change.

His lamentation begins with this quote from linguist George Lakoff:

“…liberals have the idea that if you just tell people the facts, people will be rational and reach the right conclusion. The facts will set you free. They won’t.”

Jones continues:

Progressives find themselves constantly frustrated and exasperated when the real world refuses to conform to this mental construct. We accuse our conservative rivals of being stupid or crazy because they won’t behave as this model suggests they should…

But what if it turns out that progressives are the ignorant ones? Ignorant – unknowing of – not stupid. Maybe we are ignorant of some things – meaning we lack some important insights into the way change actually works.”

Might we have some learning, rethinking, and growing to do? After all, we are the ones who consistently do the same things in politics, often getting results we don’t like, yet we continue behaving exactly the same way, all the while expecting radically different outcomes.

The ignorant behavior Jones attributes to progressives fits Einstein’s definition of insanity.

And so does this —

Canadian environmental NGOs, independent citizen activists, and opposing parties in the House, keep expecting a combination of endless rhetoric, countless petitions, Private Members Bills, amendments to Bills, write-in campaigns, letters to the editor, protest speeches on the Hill, pundit panel discussions and variations on the same theme, will motivate Harper to depart from his right-wing, ideologically-driven policies. So far these tactics don’t appear to have had the desired impact.

Recognizing that words in one form or another aren’t enough, Van Jones developed an informed, multifaceted blueprint to Rebuild the Dream. Moreover, since speaking truth to power works best (when power isn’t listening) if you have counterpower, Van Jones has a following of more than 300,000 people who have pledged their support of the Dream’s Contract. Van Jones writes this about the counterpower of people

We tell our stories and raise our voices in national media to spread the movement. To do so, we partner with artists, musicians, filmmakers, and other creative innovators to inspire millions to join.

When the power of persuasion fails, it’s time for the persuasion of the counterpower of the people.

Turning to the second of the two fronts of the absolute insanity that took place in the House debate about climate policies, Elizabeth May characterized the “spin” debate as the “ultimate irony” because it failed to even mention the science and what we plan to do about the ominous threat that puts at risk the very survival of human civilization.

As promised, here is Ms May’s post as it originally appeared on her blog —

Climate change in the spin cycle, Elizabeth May, September 21st, 2012 in Blogs

It has been a long time since I have heard so much debate in the House about carbon taxes and climate plans. Unfortunately, none of it is focused on the climate crisis. It is the ultimate irony – I hear the words, but the issue is ignored.

We should be talking about the science. We should, as Parliamentarians, regardless of party, be acting responsibly as the evidence piles up. Every day it seems there is new evidence, always more worrying. Climate change is no longer creeping slowly. It is galloping, spurred on by dangerous feed-back loops. The Arctic ice is shrinking in ways that spell danger for all of us, permafrost is melting threatening the release of vast deposits of methane (a very powerful greenhouse gas), oceans are acidifying, food production is threatened, and around the world lives are lost in extreme events from floods to fires to mudslides to tropical storms and tornadoes. We should be talking about how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible in hopes of avoiding ever-more-likely runaway global warming. I don’t like thinking about- or worse, talking about, the worst case scenarios of global warming. But former French President Sarkozy was right: the survival of human civilization is at risk.

Those are not the words of the leaders of the mainstream parties. In the House, we get a Punch and Judy show of feigned outrage. Instead of talking about what we should be doing, the main parties are stuck in a Mobius loop of distortion. Yesterday, I couldn’t finish asking a question due to the heckling of the NDP caucus. What was the trigger for otherwise civil folks, many of them people I love, to act out so rudely? I had the effrontery to mention that there had once been a plan to meet Kyoto targets.

I did not do so to laud the Liberal record. The Liberal record is one of broken promises starting when Jean Chretien dumped the promise in the 1993 Red Book to reduce GHG by 20% below 1988 levels by 2005. I am cursed with a good memory. I remember the day we found out Chretien would not allow the federal, provincial, multi-stakeholder taskforce even to analyze carbon taxes as a possible mechanism to meet the Liberal target. I remember his trip with [cabinet minister] Anne McLellan to the oil sands to drop a few billion and promise rapid development. I remember feeling like I’d just been sucker-punched. But it is absurd for the NDP to want to re-write history to say there was never a plan. I was about to say in the House, that the plan came very late – in spring 2005. But, again, I remember the struggle to get the plan approved. The day to day battle with Natural Resources Canada leaks, undermining Stéphane Dion and Environment Canada with daily front page stories in the Globe and Mail attacking a plan that was not even public yet. It was not a perfect plan. I would not have designed it the way it was designed. But, according to reliable experts, such as Pembina Institute, if the plan had been implemented, Canada would have come very close to our Kyoto targets. Of course, less than a year later, Stephen Harper killed it and the billions of dollars in programmes that had been in the 2005 budget.

The NDP is right to call out the Conservatives for lies claiming the NDP supports a carbon tax. As Jeffrey Simpson points out very clearly in today’s Globe, the cap and trade carbon pricing advocated by the NDP is no different from what Stephen Harper once said he would do.

On the other hand, while the Conservatives keep accusing the NDP of favouring a carbon tax, and the NDP deny it, what gets lost is that we actually need carbon pricing urgently – as in a decade ago. And even with a carbon price, whether through the free market mechanism of cap and trade or through the more efficient means of a revenue neutral carbon tax, we will need far more in programs, regulations, job-creating initiatives in energy efficiency and renewables, to have any hope of playing a responsible role in the world. Greens favour a carbon tax as the best way to reduce GHG and put money in the pockets of Canadians. On the other hand, if a cap and trade plan was properly designed, I wouldn’t oppose it. This is not Lilliput with a war over which end of the egg gets cracked. It should not be a phony fight over mechanisms. We should actually be talking about doing something.

And that is what is not being discussed. The Conservatives are telling lies about the NDP wanting a carbon tax and the NDP are telling a lie that there was never a Liberal carbon plan, and the Liberal attacks on Mulcair over his comments on Dutch disease (a reasonable issue for him to raise) are also spin over substance. It’s all spin.

It would be easy to say “a plague on all their houses.” But global warming is a plague on all our houses. We have to stop the spin and focus on what matters. Science is divided on whether we still have time. For my children’s sake I refuse to accept that it is too late. I will keep telling the truth about who did what and when, but history is just that. We better start talking about what we plan to do. NOW!


  • How Much Degrowth Is Enough – Video By Jack Alpert, published by Countercurrents, September 21, 2012. In a worst case scenario, Jack Alpert, Director, Stanford Knowledge Integration Laboratory (SKIL), calculates that without the creation of new energy sources, energy deliveries on the North American continent could plummet to 3% of their current levels. And three percent of our energy, claims Alpert, will only support 3% of the current North American population (US, Canada and Central America) of 480 million, or a decline to about 14.4 million people – presuming everyone on the continent desires to live the average American lifestyle. With an aggressive economic degrowth policy, it would be possible to support as many as 80 million. How much time do we have? It would have to be done within the lifetime of a child living today. And if we don’t do it? The collapse of civilization as we know it.
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