Climate change also a security threat

We deserve an energy plan, a climate plan, and the new industrial revolution of clean-tech and renewables. The first step is for Harper to get out of the way.

By Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Green MP Bruce Hyer

What is an environmental issue? However you define it, Harper is against it.

“Environment” means different things to different people.

To some, it is the natural world for which conservation values will protect sustainable populations and ecosystems for future generations. The roots of that conservation ethic go back to the late 1800s, and Gifford Pinchot, the first dean of Yale School of Forestry. The ethic embraces “sustainable use” of forests and fish and the renewable resources that have supported economies.

Then, there’s the more modern concept of environment, stemming from Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, published in 1962 and credited with helping launch the environmental movement in the U.S. The 1960s era of environmental awareness was actually more concerned with how human activity and new technologies-in this case toxic synthetic pesticides-threatened species, but perhaps more significantly, human health as well. Now that the publication of Silent Spring has passed the 50-year mark, it hardly is “modern” anymore. Our current use of the term “environment” has increasingly been subsumed in the media into one issue only-climate change.

Yet, climate change is not primarily an environmental issue. Sure, it involves the environment. In the same way drowning involves water, but we do not describe drowning as a “water issue.” Climate change, like drowning, is a survival issue. Climate change is an issue that can be described best as a security threat-although it involves questions of energy, economy, and the environment.

The harsh reality of our current political climate is that all the basic notions of the environment are under assault. We have entered a political era of “decision-based evidence making.” Stephen Harper’s administration has launched an unprecedented assault on government science. More than 2,000 scientists and researchers in the federal civil service have lost their jobs. Most of these scientists were working in areas of the “environment.”

All the scientists working in our national parks have been laid off. Fisheries and Oceans has lost all its habitat specialists after Bill C-38 gutted the Fisheries Act to remove habitat protection. The entire Marine Contaminants Program at DFO has been eliminated. The list is long. Mr. Harper is not just neglecting science; he is attacking any science or data or evidence that runs contrary to his beliefs or agenda.

Meanwhile, even though the only legislative change Harper has made to the Species at Risk Act was to remove the application of SARA when a pipeline is involved (also in C-38), still SARA is being more broadly undermined. Species at risk are going unprotected.

National parks no longer exclude oil and gas activity (with the tragic circumstances of the creation of Sable Island National Park.) This could be the thin end of the wedge for industrial activity in parks, in general. Meanwhile, parks are being privatized piecemeal, as is clear from the Jasper National Park “ice walk,” the Banff hot springs, and now a hotel proposal inside the national park in Jasper. Harper may have expanded national park boundaries, but he has endangered the protection of what lies inside the boundaries.

The pressure to clear away any regulatory hurdles to oil and gas expansion has led to the wholesale dismantling of decades’ worth of environmental laws and regulation. From legislation passed under prime minister John A. Macdonald (Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act) to laws passed under former prime minister Brian Mulroney, (the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and National Round Table on Environment and Economy), nothing is sacred. The last eight years bear witness to a devastating reversal of environmental law in Canada. It needs to be said that Canada’s laws never were as strong in environmental protection as those of the U.S. or other industrialized countries, such as Germany. In the race for the bottom, Canada has no competition.

Nowhere is the abdication of environmental responsibility as disturbing as in the area of climate change. Harper first cancelled our legally binding Kyoto targets, then withdrew from the treaty, adopted his own targets for GHG reductions in Copenhagen in 2009, and has now declared those will not be met either. True, he has not actually declared his rejection of his own targets, but the new timeline for oil and gas regulations, first promised when John Baird was environment minister nearly seven years ago (The “Turning the Corner” plan), make it clear no real effort is contemplated.

We all use oil. We will for a long time to come, but it must be used wisely, and we should all seek to reduce our consumption as much as possible, and shift to more renewable and sustainable energy sources. The sad and dispiriting irony is that if Canada embraced real action, we will create more jobs and revitalize our economy faster than by pursuing the mindless vision that puts all our eggs in the bitumen basket. Canada deserves better. We deserve an energy plan, a climate plan, and the new industrial revolution of clean-tech and renewables. We can still get there from here. The first step is for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to get out of the way.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May represents Saanich- Gulf Islands, B.C., and Green Party MP Bruce Hyer represents Thunder Bay-Superior North, Ont.

Originally published in the Hill Times.