Saturday, November 07, 2009

My Climate Correspondence with Prentice

This past summer I was so appalled by the government's inaction on climate change, I sent Jim Prentice, the Minister of the Environment, a message. Surely he must not understand the danger? Why else be so ineffective on climate change? His staff person's reply troubled me so much, I wrote back. The following is the correspondence we had.

Sent June 6, 2009

Dear Minister Prentice,

I was shocked to hear that Mr. Michael Martin, Canada’s lead negotiator on climate change, confirmed that Canada will not negotiate domestic targets. As you know the targets set by your government are well below those set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to mitigate run-away global warming.

Does the government of Canada not understand the danger that human-produced greenhouse gases pose on our biosphere?

I am following the UN climate talks with great interest. I want Canada to join the rest of first world nations in committing to the targets set by the IPCC.

To assume that effectively tackling climate change will hurt the economy is short-sighted. Canada has the potential to be an economic powerhouse through green energy development and production. We need to transition from non-renewable energy to renewables – immediately. By shirking Canada’s duty to mitigate climate change demonstrates to me that you must not understand the full ramifications of the dangers we face. I don’t know about you, but when 90 percent of the scientific community that studies climate change warns of unprecedented devastation if we do not curtail greenhouse gases now, I tend to listen.

It pains me that Canada, which has a reputation for doing the right thing, is selfishly committing to targets that will hurt our children. And it’s them and their children who will experience the brunt of climate chaos. What type of people would do such a thing to their children?

Surly not Canadians and certainly not you. Which makes me wonder, do you really believe what the scientific community is telling you? I am absolutely dumbfounded by the Canadian government’s response to the very strongly-worded advice of the IPCC. Why does it choose to stall progress on the most pressing problem of our time? Is Canada so addicted to the oil sands that it is willing to put the world in danger? As Minister of the Environment during this critical time in human history, is this the legacy you want to leave?

Please reconsider Canada’s position on its domestic targets. To do otherwise will be deeply regrettable for all.

Cheryl McNamara

September 10, 2009

David McGovern, Assistant Deputy Minister, International Affairs Branch, replied to my email. Click here to read the letter.

September 22, 2009

Dear Mr. McGovern and Minister Prentice,

Thank you for your letter, dated Sept 10th, to my email from June 16th in which I expressed deep concern that Canada’s domestic targets on greenhouse gas emissions fall well below targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

I am writing to express disappointment in your response and to challenge the logic expressed in your letter.

I do understand that Canada is committed to addressing the global challenge on climate change. The problem is that the targets that you have set do not follow the science. If the world followed Canada’s lead, global temperatures will exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels. As you note, this must not happen according to the broad scientific view. If it were to happen, feedback loops would kick in, rapidly accelerating global temperatures to dangerous levels. This would commit countless species to extinction and place our own species in peril.

With this danger in mind and recognizing the broad scientific view that the global average temperature must not exceed 2 degrees Celsius, why does Canada still commit to targets that scientist tell us are far below what is required to prevent runaway global warming?

In your letter you state: “We are developing a Canadian approach that makes sense for our circumstances, and we are working closely with provinces and stakeholders to finalize that approach.” “Our circumstances” is of course a euphemism for the tar sands.

Wayne Gretsky famously said that the secret to his success was skating to where the puck is going, not where it is. It’s a great metaphor. I feel that with your commitment to the tar sands, Canada is neither going to where the puck’s heading nor where it is. It’s going backwards. And no investment in green technology will right that wrong. You know this. Otherwise you’d be committed to the science-based reduction targets.

As you point out, other G8 leaders, including those rich in coal deposits, are willing to commit to such targets (80 percent or more by 2050 compared to 1990 levels). Keep in mind that the threshold date is 1990 and not “or more recent years” that you state in your letter.

To believe that Canada is somehow magically exempt from targets to which countries such as the US, UK, Germany and others are committing is na├»ve. Do you honestly believe that Canada will get away with this? What implications will Canada’s carbon heavy economy have in trade relations? Will Canada have to pay high tariffs for its dirty oil sands and the process of tearing up the Boreal forest to do so? How about importers of our oil, such as China? Will they be dinged too for choosing dirty oil? Canada is evangelical when it comes to free trade but expects an exemption when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. I don’t think the world will let us have our cake and eat it too.

And why are you so certain that the majority of Canadians are committed to your 2006 targets? As you are well aware, Bill C-311 is in second reading. If passed, the Act would require whoever is in government to set science-based targets to fight global warming, and the government would have to implement a credible plan to meet those targets.

You claim to be working with provinces and stakeholders on your “Canadian approach”, yet isn’t the true Canadian approach currently unfolding in Parliament? I am puzzled that you did not mention the democratic process now underway, which will determine Canada’s direction on climate change policy.

The goal of “ensuring that 90 percent of Canada’s electricity needs be provided by non-emitting sources by 2020” is excellent and to be applauded. I also strongly support your EcoEnergy program, of which, as a homeowner, I am a participant. My spouse and I just installed EnergyStar rated windows and doors, as well as insulation in our 90 year old home. We’re also installing a high efficiency furnace. The work we’re doing will increase the efficiency of our home by 65 percent.

I am concerned, though, about your support for biofuels. Given the amount of fossil fuel required in biofuel production and the market incentive for farmers to grow corn for fuel rather than food, biofuels are neither non-emitting nor humane. Should people starve so others drive?

It is better to invest in public transit rather than biofuels. If all levels of government back state-of-the-art transit that is extensive, fast, affordable and reliable, you’ll find that a great many urban Canadians will chose public transit over being stuck in traffic.

The world must transition away from the carbon economy to one that is sustainable. If Canada commits to the oil sands, it commits to an unsustainable future. The very fact that Canada wants to tear into the Boreal forest, one of the world’s last remaining ‘lungs’, to get at the dregs of the fossil economy is not just foolish. It’s tantamount to suicide.

Canada must fully commit to transitioning to the green economy. We have the talent and resources to do so. We must commit to a 25 to 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases based on 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Cheryl McNamara

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