George Monbiot on Canada and Climate Change

1 12 2009

George Monbiot of the Guardian has published an article attacking Canada’s track-record on the issue of climate change.

Monbiot is quite right to attack Canada’s foot-dragging on the issue of climate change. His criticisms of the party currently in power in Ottawa are also justified, although it must be said that the old government’s _revealed preferences_ were basically the same.  I find, however, that Monbiot’s article lacks historical context. I don’t know if Canada’s record on the environment is significantly better or worse than that of the other settler countries, such as the USA or Australia. These are all societies based on consuming vast quantities of natural resources. That’s how they’ve been doing things for the past couple of centuries. The people in these countries are basically the same: big farms, big houses, big cars, and, quite literally, big people.  Given the attitudes to the environment that people in settler countries have inherited from their land-raping grandparents from the period in which their societies grew mainly through extensive economic growth,  there is a limit as to how much even a centre-left government can do. After all, the government needs to get re-elected and people in new world societies are far less willing to make sacrifices for the environment than their European cousins. It’s clear to anyone who walks into a British supermarket that British consumers are more interested in helping the environment than Canadian ones. These preferences need to be taken into account in designing a climate change strategy. I admire the committment to the environment of the former leader of the Liberal Party, but I must say that running a campaign promising a carbon tax was a foolish political tactic. Sometimes I think that Mr Dion forgot that he was now back in Canada, not in Paris.

I admit that Canada’s stand on CO2 has become a little bit worse under Harper than it was under the Liberals. But the Liberals did little on the CO2 file aside from pay lip service to the issue. The Liberals of the Jean Chrétien era were astute to enough to realize they needed the votes of minivan driving couch potatoes.  But it is a bit unfair to compare white Canadians’ level of concern for the environment to that of people in a densely settled countries where most of the population is descended from people who have lived in the same region for millenia and have a deep attachment to the soil. In general, New World folk are footloose people with less attachment to particular biomes. Canadians are less interested in solving the CO2 problem and that attitude is a product of our history.  It would be foolish to predict that North Americans would behave like Europeans when it comes to political and consumer choices about the environment.

It may be that North Americans will have to be coerced into making the right choice.