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The Kyoto Protocol Canada's Faltering Green Epic

Kyoto, NAFTA and Canada

by Norman Madarasz

There’s little over a month left before the Kyoto Protocol is to be ratified. As things stand right now it may instead go down as the late 20th century’s grandest testament to good intentions. In preparation for that fateful moment, the Federal government of Canada unveiled its long-awaited Kyoto technical paper on May 15, dealing with some of the economic stakes involved in caring for ecology.

The "Discussion Paper on Canada’s Contribution to Addressing Climate Change" has the stated aim of seeking public and business consultation in order to decide on whether to ratify the agreement. In it, four different "options" or strategies are given equal importance. Yet, even before the Bush Administration turned its back on the environment, Ottawa was not hiding its preference for the fourth one: a credit system that would allow as much as 30% of its Kyoto commitment to be drawn from so-called "clean energy" sources.

Sounds good. So where’s the catch? As Greenpeace-Canada has been quick to point out, Option-4 does not exist in the Protocol. The government will try to convince Europeans, who have already indicated they’re unfavorable to this option, that it’s entitled to get credit for the cleaning-power of its forests and the remote curbing influence of natural gas exports. However, it proposes no contingency plan for penalizing use or exports of energy known to produce greenhouse gas emissions.

As for the three other options, the government seems to have counted them out from the start. They would involve the delicate matters of either raising gasoline and energy prices. Their results would financially hurt the treasuries. Or, worse, they would pave the way to a doomsday scenario: the entire economy would be hit hard.

Option-4 does however make clear who the Canadian government’s partners are. As quoted in "The Globe and Mail" on May 15, the "Discussion Paper" contends that Option-4 "would appear to have the potential to reduce Canada’s [greenhouse-gas emissions] in a reasonably cost-effective way and provide the flexibility to capture the ideas and contributions from the provinces, territories and stakeholders."

It’s high time it be known that Canada, the perennial green country, has skirted the issue of being the world’s No. 2 polluter per capita (roughly 4.42tons accounting for 133.9m tons of carbon dioxide produced in 1997). The Kyoto Protocol calls for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990’s level. Yet the country’s emissions are 20% higher now. This means that leaning on Option-4 in the "Discussion Paper" is tantamount to doing nothing in real collective terms on curbing emissions.

What’s more, Option-4 would also exempt Canada from developing energy sources known to emit greenhouse gases so long as it were to export them, here complying with the wishes of fossil fuel rich Alberta. Though this province stands opposed to the Protocol it would still like to see exemption for its plans to exploit local tar sands for petrol in case Kyoto does live.

Faced with the constraints of the Protocol, the U.S. and other countries have pleaded for the misguided idealism of former leaders, when it hasn’t simply rejected the agreement. This can hardly be the case of Canada’s Liberal government. In power since 1993, its Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, has adorned many political robes. What he could never be is an environmentalist.

Chretien’s team has continually stated their commitment to ecology, as it has for public education, scientific research, artistic creation, health care, farm help and other items on the social agenda. Meanwhile, the cabinet keeps delegating real implementation to provincial governments financially strapped due to the fed’s shortening arms. For the role of environmental liquidation through limitation, Chretien has chosen the right man. David Anderson is to lull a disenchanted nation as it lives out the denouement of a faltering epic.

Mr Anderson looks like everything a green-friendly country would expect from the caretaker of its holiest mounds. Originating amongst the majestic redwood standing tall in the coastal rainforests of the West, he has been Minister of the Environment since 1999. Prior to appointment, he received recognition for working on conserving salmon stock in the waters of British Columbia. In pop terms he’s a typical West-coaster, i.e. he looks ecological. Were it not for his seat in the Federal common house, Mr Anderson would surely flinch at an invitation to change from his lumberjack shirt and Birkenstocks into suit-and-tie.

Vancourites and residents of the Gulf islands are generally the most laidback of Canadians, drawing liberally from the relaxing effect of potent greenery. Graced with Orca-filled waters, the area’s the only part of Canada basking in a microclimate reminding residents of the tropical world curving concavely below. Yet elating relaxation is not what marks the features of Mr Anderson’s otherwise clean-air filtered face. Like most urban Canadians, which generally means central-east city dwellers, he no longer knows how or what to think of the nation’s natural spaces.

A PEACEFUL BUT UNLIVABLE LAND

Internationally, Canada’s surely recognized as one of the greenest of states. For its citizens, it’s become a defining image of its youthful mingling among the mighty. Yet, prior to the 1960’s, Canada was still little known outside of its national boundaries, save for its past as England’s proudest colony. Its history, grandiose in close detail, in fact follows so much of the plight of the colonial venture in the Americas. The territory known as ‘Nouvelle France’ fell into Britain’s dominion in the 1760’s. Unlike other American tales, the French-speaking population perdured. The term used to refer to this period, ‘The Conquest’, is still ignored by most ‘Anglos’, not to mention unacknowledged by most indigenous natives who lend to it a quite different meaning.

Many regions west of the US Prairies are striking by their majesty. Canada’s lake-studded Great Shield never could reflect the manifest destiny of John Ford’s epics of Far West conquest, or the perdition of Euclides de Cunha’s time-exposed strata clashes amidst the Brazilian highlands as they erode into the drought-ridden backlands. Canada’s winter deflects and keeps repelling epic narratives into the indeterminacy of boundless unvanquished terrain best captured by painters like Lorne Harris. It’s not only Nature’s chill that has brought Canadians to the humbleness of respect. It’s their environment’s Being.

After the land had been colonized into a nation, its proximity to two Anglo powers prompted affiliation to the struggle in Europe during the two world wars. Canada’s real promotion to the international stage would still have to wait for the naming of future Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson as Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, his minister of justice and successor as Prime Minister, exploded what had stayed locked in the shell of provincialism in Pearson’s commitment to international peace. After all, Pearson had about-faced during his tenure in the top job in support of the U.S.’s nuclear arms race. Although Trudeau got his hands dirty in the hysterical reaction to the nationalist violence of the FLQ by imposing the War Measures Act and suspending civil liberties in the fall of 1970, his Canada kept its image as a broker for international peace. It’s an image it has jealously conserved up to present times.

Recent decades have shown that remaining a peace-loving nation becomes complex when you benefit from one of the world’s most privileged standards of living. Trudeau was an indignant, but careful opponent of the Cold War. A non-aligned leader in thought, he befriended Fidel and was a catalyst to Nixon’s meeting with Mao. For all his independence, he could not fail to recognize that the romanticism of Canada’s ties to England had shriveled at amazing pace in contrast to its love affair with its southern neighbor. If those of English, Scottish and Irish stock generally stood up for what it meant to be Canadian, few French Canadians did, and even less the Eastern European and East Asian immigrants and their offspring. For them, the dream was to watch the border be transfigured into the promise of a secure economic American future.

During the seventies and early eighties, Canada managed to maintain its independence from US militarism, so long as it agreed to partake of NORAD and NATO. The trade-off meant allowing extension of the American military-industrial economy well into national territory. Peace and social democracy still withstood changing times, but Trudeau’s retirement from politics in 1984 ushered in the challenges that were already gnawing at Canada’s nationhood.

FROM INTERNATIONAL PEACE TO ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Canadians often describe the essence of their country as a brew consisting of two conflicting cultures, the French and English. No matter how one wishes to reconcile the distinctions separating these two solicitudes, they remain locked in self-dependency. The diversity that Canada really is, its indeterminacy and expanse, is firmly rooted in its environment, its Nature, ‘ses grands espaces’.

You can blame the weather, you can cite stiff immigration conditions and quotas, you can even accuse French Canadian separatism, but Canada, including Quebec, are vastly under-populated lands. At barely 30m, its population remains a speck in the second largest country in the world territorially, though it frugally enjoys living off the world’s 8th GDP, being comfortably snuggled in the Top-10 rank of Purchasing Power Parity. Canada’s main player in this economy, and its overriding source of wealth, remains its natural resources.

Even as the Cold War raged under Reagan, Canada turned environmentalist pride into a world political stance. The country exalts no national ‘parks’ the way the US does: the nation is but an unfolding part of the Nature that only arbitrarily bears its name. Which is why, notwithstanding the birth of GreenPeace in British Columbia in 1971, there has seemed to be no need for a dominant ‘Green’ party in its political world. Environmentalism simply blended in with the country’s social democratic history. The recent collapse of its provincial namesake, in the British Columbian provincial elections of all places, perpetuates this distance.

Soon enough, Canadian citizens began taking stands internationally on environmental questions. A moment of naive arrogance came with the ambiguous global drive to preserve the Amazon rain forest as those involved stupidly tended to override the sovereignty Brazil holds over the region. There was a chance for reparation at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro itself in 1992. Thereafter the spirit slid into remission and the nation further saw itself undergo what had been occurring with greater pressure since opening to international currents.

In a rebound, environmentalists renamed BC’s coastal temperate jungles as ‘rainforests’. Awareness grew that the ecology battle was homeward bound where nothing original, neither Nature nor Natives, was living as happily as had seemed. But Canada still saw itself as a country that made ecology a priority over the economy– an unconscious extension of its debt to the First Nations. As the effort to care was twisted by business at the expense of others, the environment began facing off with economic concerns.

Such tension may have very much to do with how oblivious the electorate is to Green and green-determined economic policies and programs. Even so, most of the country’s political parties do not fail to address the multiple facets of ecological issues. When Ontario’s Conservative provincial government did, it wound up with 7 deaths and 2 300 illnesses at a small town called Walkerton in 2000. E-coli has contaminated the town’s drinking-water system. Owing to mismanagement and budget-strapped environmental controllers, it was left to fester there for months before brutally striking.

By then, Canadians sensed there had been a change in global perception of their stance toward the gift bestowed by the Great Chief Above. As Green activists were castigated for their unconvincing economic analyses, Walkerton proved that the environment had been shifted to the intensive care of another political practice: public cutbacks and downsizing of skilled staff.

ECOLOGY HIT BY ECONOMIC ENFORCEMENT

The business and political classes, thriving through late-nineties growth, saw with conviction that the source of future wealth increasingly lay in the service sector. They caught upon the wave that the public would best gobble this idea were its ties to heavy industry downplayed. Little had changed, despite its decorative "consumer" driven dynamic.

The players in this ‘new economy’ or ‘e-economy’ may well be living in increasingly urbanized city centers, but their generative force lies in the backlands. The need to drive the service sector at speeds approximate to the US’s has to rely on energy generation from sources far beyond what the voting majorities ever have to see. As a background, government, motivated by NGOs, raised the question of developing "efficient" energy generation from "renewable" sources. Despite the tuned-in ears of public interest, the fact is that, so far, efficiency has never been implemented on even a minor scale in Canada.

As the economy heated up at a pace unseen since the early 1970’s, so did the environmental feed providing the fodder. The Toronto Stock Exchange 100 Index blew through the ceiling, passing the NYSE’s DJIA in 1998 and moving above the 10K point volume in every bit the same type of fantasy on which the southern economy was surfing.

With the quick wealth available to market players and stock option draped executives, the population confided in its business elite in a way perhaps only Torontonians or Albertans had in the past. Former conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, even saw fit to try to definitively clean his name from kickback allegations by emerging from his smoke-screened limousine. He reminded us that NAFTA stood as the raison d’etre of Canada’s prosperity, and happened to be passed through the wisdom of the government he had led.

With money to spend from the electronics and bank sector booms, Nature became a cottage playground when it wasn’t being transformed into other material for industry in less regenerative ways. As it did, its useful "consumer" products, automobiles and airplanes first among them, were engulfed in an overwhelming amount of greenhouse emissions. With the economy going strong, Canada moved into its last international conference as a world environmental leader: Kyoto, 1997.

Western economies hung on for another two years before finally starting to slip up. The Stock Market boom turned out to be a bubble after all. Ever since, countless Pension Funds invested in the pride of Canada’s economy, John Roth’s Nortel electronics, have been dragged down the slopes of the earnings inverse-pyramid right into the maze of the funeral chambers. As a provider of fiber optics hardware, the market slump that hit Nortel in the fall of 1999 was but the tip of an iceberg that is still veering uncertainly out of the subsidiary-free market. By Amsterdam 2000, Canada suffered the final blow to its green prestige, crowned by environmental activists as one of the world’s biggest polluters.

TIGHT INTERESTS AND A TIGHT UPPER CLASS

Everyday, five and a half million Torontonians awake under a sky thick with smog. And they’re not alone. Air pollution has been affecting life in many of the country’s major cities. In addition, bio-invasion has begun afflicting wildlife and shellfish stocks.

Like the rest of the world, Canada has not been spared freak climatic phenomena, all regularly cited as effects of global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. Unending rain in the Prairie provinces in 1999, unusually warm winter weather in the Saint Lawrence river valley between Toronto and Montreal, and the most troubling symptom: streaks of warming air in the Arctic. More shameful is what UNEP GEO-2000 has cited as the regional and world environmental stress that Canada and the US are responsible for as a whole. With barely 16% of the world’s entire population, it is estimated that their car, airline and industry-heavy territories produce more than 70% of the world’s pollution.

One of the long-standing truths, or half-truths, of economics may be that only with prosperity does philanthropy grow. Never mind: ecology is a matter of philosophical wisdom, not philanthropic pretension. For all the talk of globalization and world markets, Canada has balked severely at recognizing its international responsibilities and growing liabilities. In this sense, it’s merely aping the US.

Canadians can seldom be as up-front and confrontational as Americans. On May 15, the federal government basically confirmed suspicions of underhandedness. It has not come out explicitly to say it would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. But its "Discussion Paper" places acceptance conditions on Option-4 that the international community is not likely to accept.

That the government can act this way lies largely in the way the idea of citizenship has evolved in Canada. The thinking Canadian has too often mortgaged criticism to either determinist visions or statistical facts. In the ecological spectrum, the options presented either try to reduce Green voices to economic myopia, or economists to the moral obsessions of scientists. After years of touting globalization, the time has come to bring that hijacked idea back to its origins in internationalism.

That’s because being the enlightened polluter it is, Canada cannot not afford to let its educated conscience assume its responsibilities. But far into the winter hinterlands, tuning Canada to the agenda of a global village has not been as forthcoming as one would expect from the people that brought the world Marshall McLuhan.

If there were an overriding problem with Kyoto, it has to do with a missing clause on how the environment is not something to be protected only in times of prosperity, while reneging on commitment during others. The Rio Earth Summit had included a clause in which rich countries pledged support for developing ones to help them implement environment-friendly technologies. Little has been done in that way, though Mexico has benefited strongly from cleaner technologies thanks to NAFTA. Still, W. Bush’s refusal to ratify Kyoto is tantamount to declaring economic war on the world.

As for the damaging problem of the susceptibilities of consumers who don’t see reduced energy use as a matter of citizenship, let them provide some answers. Namely: why wouldn’t certain consumers be hit harder by Kyoto exigencies than others? Why is it that countries as whole have to apply for green credits, but citizens who make no concerted commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions are treated on par with those who do?

Many Establishment consultants argue that in a country like Canada, one can only make enemies by enforcing restrictions on automobile and especially SUV use. SUV owners are becoming the National Rifle Association among 4-wheelers. It’s time that Canadians and Americans realize that the same applies in every country. You can find the automobile industry pretending everywhere, through the slick absurd images of smart marketers, that their products add to environmental cleanliness. No matter how you try to square the equation of increasingly efficient car engines, the number of cars on the road worldwide more than doubled between 1970 and 1990 to about 560 million.

This is why politically and environmentally aware citizens have every right to expect recognition for using public transport. They cannot be wrong in demanding that governments increase aid to companies likely to suffer from ecological enforcement. There’s been far too many and far too liberal tax-credits given to only the most profitable corporations. Now they’re asking for ecology credits. Executive management has their part to play as well in this collective effort for the future. Show us your conscience.

ECONOMIC POLLUTION

One of the effects of globalization has been the fading of national economic control under the intense amount of cross-border and off-shore capital transactions. While this powerlessness may not be entirely accurate, being often hijacked by politicians as better reason to return campaign-funding favors, it does underscore a vital point. Economic decisions no longer merely affect the current state of one nation’s economy, culture or territory.

Nor is a country a business. And the drawbacks of having manager-like politicians running the nation like scaled-down reengineered versions of G.E. has bared its fruits: increased profits for executives, lack of innovation among staff, downsizing in crisis times…. Canadian cities, with the direct assistance of both federal and provincial governments, must now begin to invest again in public transport on a large scale. The federal government must stand by its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and take leadership over polluters– regardless of the costs. They’re being paid to govern for the people: we’re expecting innovative funding schemes for pollution control, not some sad-faced story about the billions and billions of lost corporate income. If that’s the only alternative, it’s the whole economic system that’s the cause of the pollution. That’s where the buck must stop.

The "free" market picture has hit full steam into an illusion festering at the highest tiers of the economy. The time has come for the American corporate consultant, posing as experts on international news programs, to quit weaving the free market fantasy. W. Bush’s protectionism has even eliminated the need to call its bluff. Steel import tariffs, $70billion agriculture subsidies all added to October’s $600billion increase in the US defense budget in a time of recession! All without tax increases!

The US administration is putting the future of the US and its world domain on credit. It’s a system in which only the wealthiest individual investors stand to profit. As a population, though, Americans are bound to benefit from it more than others. Countries with poor fiscal policies, or poor countries period, are already enslaved to the absurd interest that American bank-funded multilateral organizations such as the IMF are charging them. Emerging nations haven’t seen anything yet as subsidy-raised cheaply priced products begin to flood their domestic markets, sending manufacturers into ruin by being forced to seek out handouts or loans.

Canada is unreasonably reliant on that economy, as far as a sovereign nation is concerned. It would be hasty to dismiss its sovereignty here, but the Canadian politician is hedging on the bet that innovative politics doesn’t pay. Health care will have to take up the fiscal slack in the future due to the side effects of uncontrolled air and water pollution. But who cares, Canadian public healthcare will be privatized by then, too.

Cynics from the US are adding insult to injury. V-P Cheney sent awe-inspiring insults to the South when calling for Latin American economies to withdraw from subsidizing their own industries, after being forced to swallow the recent wave of U.S. protectionism. On this, Canadians have given up asking the right questions. Although this is assuming that at this point they have any remaining control over their own government.

Kyoto is an investment for Canada’s future, and the fact that Canada will inevitably be led back into massive debt due to the current conduct of the American government, it would be wise to at least be a debtor nation with a population that’s as healthy as possible. Economic recovery and performance depends also on a nation’s physical and moral health.

There are some smart events occurring in the flux, which will have to be dealt with in a subsequent article. To the government’s credit, though hushed up at home, the "Jornal do Brasil" reported on May 9 that Canada has moved to engage in bilateral trade negotiations with the Mercosul, the South American free-custom zone. Thanks to the Cheney-clan, the FTAA can only be said to have died. This time it’s happened regardless of the protests in Quebec City. It’s happening because of economic cynicism. Canadians have got to keep their eyes open.

To Americans, it has to be made clear that their jobs are at risk not owing solely to environmental concerns, though it is that too, but to the lack of state and federal social planning essential to living a healthier future.

To Canadian politicians: remember your vocation, not your campaign financers. Even with the money of the latter, you depend on the votes of the former.

The bitter irony to this fading epic is that the more Canada turns inward upon itself the more its loses its distinction and claims for sovereignty in the eyes of the world. Without ratifying its Kyoto commitments, the Canadian government is opening the environment to intense commercial exploitation at the hands and ownership of Americans and Germans, the silent amigo. The malaise and illness to which it is prepared to subject its population may ultimately be slight in comparison with the long-term collective effects of an erased border and the forgotten distinction of once having been an environmental beacon.

Norman Madarasz is a philosopher, and a Canadian. He welcomes comments at: normanmadarasz@hotmail.com