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Commentary: Consider the scope of ecological crisis on our doorstep

Bob Jickling

Bob Jickling

In newspapers earlier this month, I was struck by a convergence of ideas. The Globe and Mail headlines screamed “One million species facing extinction.” From the Independent there was, “UK goes more than 100 hours without using coal power for first time in a century.” Then in swinging back to the Globe, I found a recent editorial titled, “Why conservatives secretly love the carbon tax.” It’s an interesting triad.

You can add to this a slew of angst-ridden articles and opinion pieces in the Globe and Mail about Alberta, including the recent, “Alberta is mad—and people who care about how Canada is supposed to work should be, too.”

Here, Martha Hall flails about at the federal government and those provinces, including British Columbia, that have environmental concerns about expansion of oil and gas production in Alberta (note this is about expansion, not current production capacity.) For many that care about the planet’s future, it comes across as a province-sized case of narcissism.

So, let’s take the articles in order: the extinction of species reported by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services should be alarming to anyone who has children or grandchildren. A threadbare planet is their legacy. You can add to this last October’s news from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned we only have twelve years to reverse climate change, or risk catastrophe. Some say it is already too late.

To skeptics and deniers, it is important to know that the philosophy and methodology of science is rigorous. The principles and standards of the science that brought you chemotherapy, holds up the bridge you drove across, and built the cell phone you carry, are the same principles and standards that are applied to ecology and climate science.

They include things like skepticism, falsification, replication, thresholds for probability, and peer review. You could die without chemotherapy, and the chances are rising rapidly that your grandchildren could die as a result of biodiversity loss or climate change. Tread carefully as you pick and choose what science to believe.

To the UK now. You may not think that going without coal for 100 hours is a big deal. Still, that hasn’t happened in more than a century. It does demonstrate that progress can be made when people make an effort. No step is too small. Big progress will be made when lots of countries, and people take little steps first.

Next, the Globe’s editorial about the carbon tax-loving-conservative describes the descent in Canadian politics. There was a time when reference to a common good guided politics—however warped it may have seemed, or was, at times.

Now, according to this editorial, conservatives love the carbon tax simply because it allows them to misdirect their voters—which is to say, lie. It makes political hay; and damn the planet. This is selfish now, and more so for our grandchildren. A carbon tax is an imperfect small step, but it is one step in the right direction.

This brings us to the hand wringing about Alberta. Aside from the possibility that a “National Energy Program,” had it continued, might be serving Albertans well in these times, I can’t help but wonder. Where have real conservatives in Alberta gone? There was a time when they were present, prudent, and sometimes led with inspiration.

In 2017, the Globe and Mail reported that when Premier Peter Lougheed successfully ran for re-election in 1975, he did so on a pledge to stash a 30 per cent share of Alberta’s oil revenue into a Heritage Fund. This was to be a lasting legacy and a vehicle for diversifying the province’s economy.

Foresight didn’t last long in Alberta. Contributions ceased in the 1980s, when oil prices declined and never resumed when oil prices rebounded. A golden opportunity to increase security and diversity was squandered.

I know many Albertans bristle when Norway is mentioned. Still, this small country of 5.4 million—compared to 4.08 million Albertans—modelled its “rainy day fund” largely on Alberta’s Heritage plan, and it now has more than a trillion dollars in reserve. So, we know that real conservatives still exist, just not so many in Alberta.

Consider the scope of ecological crisis on our doorstep—think about flooding and wildfires, for a start—and the enormity of the catastrophe facing our grandchildren. These realities make indulging Alberta seem a lot like pandering, Nero-like, to a toddler demanding ice cream, while the planet dies.

People who care about how the planet works are the ones who should be mad and British Columbia should be supported by all of Canada in protecting offshore biodiversity.

These are the critical issues for our times, and for the future. And as we approach federal elections this fall, it is doubtful that any of Canada’s major political parties has done enough to earn our vote. This is a good time to start asking more from them.

Bob Jickling is a Yukoner and professor emeritus at Lakehead University. His most recent book is Wild Pedagogies: Touchstones for Re-negotiating Education and the Environment in the Anthropocene.