Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why "Made in Canada" Climate Policy is Bullshit -- And Human Civilization Will Die Out Because of It

The election of Trudeau the Younger has put people in far too optimistic a mindset when it comes to climate policy, right in time for Trudeau to represent us in Paris. There seems to be some sort of opinion that Canada is "ready to lead" again in climate policy. Trudeau is promising to present to the world a "Canadian approach to climate change."

Leaving aside Harper's gloomy record -- Canada is actually one of the worst developed countries when it comes to getting touch on carbon emissions -- this is bullshit and I think Canadians need to stop getting ahead of themselves. This country has a long history of being preachy and pompous, though usually it comes out in talk of peacekeeping, not climate policy. The rest of the world is not looking at Trudeau for leadership. They were looking at him wondering whether he will be less offensive to them than Harper.

We can rest assured that nobody is in the slightest interested in hearing about the "Canadian approach" to climate policy. After the last decade, Canada has as much credibility in that regard as Tokyo would have proposing a new "Japanese approach" to whale conservation. Europe largely met its climate targets under the Kyoto Accord. Don't think they will be impressed that Canada, having walked out on the Accord altogether, thinks it is ready to lead them now.

So any talk about made-in-Canada solutions to climate change is bullshit. It makes about as much sense as made-in-Cameroon solutions, or made-in-Belarus solutions. You wouldn't be particularly excited about the possibility of applying such solutions in Canada. Nobody will be eagerly listening for fresh new ideas from the Canadians, either.

We ceded any pretense of leadership on this file long ago. Some people are probably quite happy about that, but all of us can at least be honest about our minor and diminished role in the climate talks. At the very least, demonstrating a modicum of humility would go a long way towards impressing our partners that Canada wants to turn the page.

It won't happen, though. I know it won't happen because we're talking about made-in-Canada approaches. There is no need for such approaches, and there are no such approaches. There is only one approach to legitimate climate policy, and it is the cutting of carbon emissions. There are a very limited number of tools that you can use to do this: direct caps through regulation, or incentivizing through artificial carbon pricing (carbon taxes or carbon markets).

This isn't just a Canadian problem, though. As a species we have an unreasonable optimism in our ability to somehow monkey our way out of problems. After all, we've succeeded at doing that since, well, since we were monkeys. But sooner or later, we will fail.  In fact, we already did, many, many times. All of us, numerous as we are, are just the descendants of the tribes that didn't happen to wipe themselves out, or get wiped out.

And the stakes are now rather higher than one tribe failing and dying out. This game is for all the marbles, and it is a fairly safe bet that there will be more games like it as our grasp of this planet grows ever tighter.

We could cut emissions tomorrow, to safe levels. There is actually a moral argument for cutting emissions to negligible levels in a country like Canada even in the full knowledge that other countries are unlikely to follow. But we won't do that, because like the monkeys that we are, our immediate future prosperity as individuals is far more important to us than our long-term survival as a species.

So forget the "made in Canada" crap. The only "made in" thing you will ever need to know about these collective action problems can be seen by searching YouTube for videos of herds of animals confronting predators. There is no good reason why predators should ever be able to kill large herd animals and survive the encounters. Except, of course, for the fact that the large herd animals aren't able to think about the good of the herd and act accordingly.

Despite occasionally impressive flashes of inspiration, human beings are pretty much the same way. We managed to evolve just high enough to put the needs of our tribe ahead of our own, but precious few of us are willing to put the needs of the species ahead of our tribe. That's what's going to do us in, in the end.

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