Wednesday, December 2, 2009

George Monbiot's dreadful week.

First he reacted to "climategate" by calling on Professor Phil Jones, one of the world's leading climate scientists, to resign. That article is now being quoted, gleefully and selectively, by climate change deniers all over the internet.

Then he flew to Canada.

Now, I admit that on the vexed ethical issue of flying I have reason to be grateful to George. Since moving to Alberta three years ago, I've made an annual trans-Atlantic trip to visit family in Sussex, but George has relieved me of my guilt, because in his book Heat, George sanctions air travel for the purposes of family reunions, using the buttock-clenching term "love miles". However, he is also quite clear that air travel for other purposes has to stop:

"It means that business meetings must take place over the internet or by means of video conferences."
So why did he go? Because of Canada's tar-sands and its heinous position on climate-change:

"So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I've broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto." stick it to 'em George. You show that nasty Mr Harper what for Georgie boy!

In fact, George had a gig. He wasn't the only one flying to Canada, all expenses paid. He and Canada's Green Party leader Elizabeth May, were lined up to debate Nigel Lawson and Bjørn Lomborg. And what did that achieve? Well here's the verdict from one of George's friends:
"It was a bad idea because merely taking to the stage reinforces the notion that there IS a debate about climate change. Lomborg and Lawson know theh [sic] will never actually triumph over the science. The certainty of climate change's ultimate damage will occur whether they convince us to delay mitigation or not. But the sustained confusion allows people an opportunity to turn away from the issue - to delay personal action and to forgive obstructionist politicians - on the basis that the "experts" are still arguing about all this."
So, even George's friends think he should have stuck to his principles and stayed at home.

I share Monbiot's horror at the environmental crime that is the tar-sands industry, and Canada's spoiler tactics in climate change negotiations, but let's look behind George Monbiot's trademark hyperbole to look at the reality behind his singling out of Canada for particular vilification in the run up to the Copenhagen conference:

Canada did nothing substantive to comply with its obligations under the Kyoto treaty, and since then its emissions have risen by 26%. However, Europe has done very little that is effective either. The cap and trade scheme hasn't worked at all. The only reason Europe will meet its Kyoto target is because its reduction in industrial activity. If you take into account the emissions Europe imports from China in manufactured goods, then Europe's emissions have gone up by a similar amount to Canada's.

As far as the Copenhagen negotiations are concerned Canada's current tactic is to cling on to the USA's coat-tails. Canada's emissions reduction target of 20% from 2006 levels by 2020 is on a par with the USA's (see my last post).

The prospects for real change in Canada's policy on the climate change issue are not good. Harper's Conservatives are unrepentant Bushite neocons, but the main opposition is the Liberal Party, led by Michael Ignatieff who is no less enthusiastic about developing the tar-sands.

Monbiot's characterisation of Canada as a corrupt petro-state is hyperbole he has borrowed from some of Canada's most strident environmentalists, but it is true that Canada's federal political system is disfunctional. A national energy policy is taboo because of resentment against Trudeau's NEP, which strained national unity and is remembered with resentment in the west to this day. I question whether it is possible for a country without an energy policy to have a coherent policy on climate change.

However, the tar-sands are being developed chiefly to supply the USA's need for oil. Canada is economically dependent on its trade with the USA, and he who pays the piper calls the tune. Perhaps George should have used his tonne of CO2 flying to Washington instead.


Alice said...

There was some great stuff about the Canadian tar sands at this summer's Climate Camp in London this summer, great to hear your take as a Brit on the wrong side of the pond!

I notice you have a link to the new NGO Sandbag in your blogroll - I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on them after reading this

Flattered to see that I'm in there too - thank you!

Alice x

Jane said...

Hi Alice. I am a member of Sandbag. The difference between me and Merrick, apart from the fact that I'm not a vampire, is about what politics is and how you do it to be effective.