Skip to main content

How’s this for incoherence?

Last week the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported that Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax – his signature initiative on global warming – won’t be nearly high enough to make a difference. To get people to change their carbon-hungry habits, the tax would eventually have to double from the $50 level it is scheduled to reach by 2022 (if the Liberals are still in power, that is).

The government immediately denied that it plans to do any such thing. “The price will not go up,” vowed Catherine McKenna, Mr. Trudeau’s earnest but preachy environment minister. Can it be that there’s an election on? Ms. McKenna, who has lately gone out of her way to link every flood and wildfire to global warming, instead promised that the Liberals will take other measures to save the planet, such as banning plastic straws. You’ve got to wonder why her head doesn’t explode.

So now, Mr. Trudeau is stuck with the worst of both worlds: a carbon price that’s irritating and also ineffective. “It’s always been something that I feared, that this government would design a carbon price … but they wouldn’t actually rely on it to do most of the heavy lifting,” Christopher Ragan told The Toronto Star. As chair of the influential Ecofiscal Commission, he has been one of the chief cheerleaders for a carbon tax.

That’s hardly the only example of cognitive dissonance in climate-policy land. This week the House of Commons approved a Liberal motion declaring that climate change is a national emergency.Mr. Trudeau could not be there because he had to fly to a very important Raptors rally in Toronto. The next day he responded to this emergency by giving the go-ahead to the much-delayed Trans Mountain Pipeline.Talk about having it both ways.

Mr. Trudeau’s strategy is in keeping with his character. He thinks he can persuade everyone to be his friend. Instead, no one is his friend. The energy industry is convinced he wants to strangle them through delays and over-regulation. The environmentalists think he wants to wreck the planet for his friends in the industry. Indigenous communities are irreconcilably divided. One Indigenous chief, perhaps predictably, denounced the pipeline as a “colonial act of genocide.”

At every turn in the road, the Liberals’ environmental ideals are compromised by messy reality. But Mr. Trudeau has simply discovered what many other governments already have. People take climate change very, very seriously – until you ask them to do something painful about it.

This inconvenient truth was once again confirmed by a new CBC poll. It found that more than 80 per cent of Canadians think global warming is important. Thirty-eight per cent said that “our survival depends on addressing” climate change, and 25 per cent said it is a top priority. But half of those polled also said they were unwilling to fork over even $100 a year in extra taxes to do something about it.As commentator Eric Grenier wrote, “The findings point to a population that is both gravely concerned about the heating of the planet but largely unprepared to make significant sacrifices in order to stave off an environmental crisis."

Translation: Despite the enthusiastic endorsement of economists, Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax is DOA.

This week, Andrew Scheer also unveiled his long-awaited climate plan. It won’t hurt Mr. Trudeau but won’t help him either. It is about as convincing as Mr. Trudeau’s is – without the aggravation of a carbon tax. Neither plan will get us anywhere close to Paris, and both leaders surely know it.

Canadians, not being entirely stupid, probably know it, too. They know that climate change can only be addressed effectively by collective action on a global scale. This will not happen any time soon. Too many countries are unwilling to sacrifice their more immediate interests. India is a good example. Hundreds of millions of Indians still live in the dark, without electricity. The only way to give them light – as well as cleaner water and better food – is to increase fossil-fuel consumption. Do you blame them?

Today, the biggest increases in CO2 emissions come not from the developed world, but from places like India and China. This means that if Canada were to shut down entirely, no one would notice the difference.

No national leader will mention this, of course. No national leader will admit that there is no road to Paris, for us or for most other countries either. In fact, some of the best ways to cut down on carbon emissions aren’t even on the table, because environmentalists don’t like them. One way is by increasing shale gas production, which employs a process known as fracking. While strongly opposed by many environmentalists, the use of natural gas produces sharply lower GHG emissions than coal so long as companies prevent uncontrolled leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that can accompany the production of the gas. Another way is to go nuclear. Nuclear power is clean, green and – despite its bad press – safe. France’s heavy reliance on nuclear power gives it much less per-capita emissions than neighbouring Germany, which has rejected nuclear power.

But don’t expect straight talk on climate any time soon. And when someone says he can make everybody happy, you can bet that he’s either dishonest, or naive.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe