Graham Thomson
Edmonton Journal
A little while ago a reader wrote to me about climate change, saying something along the lines of, “Give your head a good shake Mr. Thomson. It’s been unseasonably cold in Edmonton the past few weeks. Where’s your global warming now?”
I did indeed shake my head and have been shaking it ever since at the illogic some people bring to the climate-change discussion. Yes, it gets cold in Edmonton, sometimes unseasonably so. But we’re talking here about global warming, not Edmonton warming. This year has seen catastrophic forest fires in Russia, disastrous drought in Africa and record ice retreat in the Arctic.
 
Remember the heat wave in Ontario, workers having to import snow to the Vancouver Winter Olympics and the pall of smoke from B.C. forest fires that enveloped Edmonton last summer? In fact, 2010 is set to become a record warm year for Canada.
 
“It’s a done deal,” according to a David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, who says this year “will clearly be the warmest year on record in Canada.”
 
It will also rank in the Top Three warmest years for the planet since 1850, when record keeping began.
 
Most troubling, though, is that the illogic over climate change is not limited to people passing judgment on global warming by glancing at their backyard thermometer. Governments are reacting illogically to the climate-change challenge.
 
Both the Alberta and Canadian governments, for example, have acknowledged human-induced climate change is a threat. “The government of Alberta recognizes that climate change is real and that we have a responsibility to mitigate against the effects of climate change,” said Alberta’s Environment Minister Rob Renner earlier this year, long before having a sombrero digitally attached to his head in a photo that appeared in an anti-oilsands newspaper ad this week. (The ad may have embarrassed Renner at the climate change conference in Cancun, but it also revealed that he looks disturbingly dapper in large straw hats).
 
Both the Alberta and Canadian governments talk about being responsible, but they don’t act responsibly. Alberta’s overall emissions of greenhouse gases continues to increase, and the federal government has not provided a workable plan to substantially reduce national emissions. It is the Grand Canyon of credibility gaps. The gap grew larger this week with the release of a report from the federal environment commissioner, Scott Vaughan.
“The evidence about the speed and nature of human-induced climate change has grown steadily,” said Vaughan who reviewed federal programs and discovered Ottawa has failed to take action to deal with the expected scourges of climate change which would include severe storms on the East Coast and drought in the prairies. “Unfortunately, the federal government is not doing what it said it would do to protect the environment and move toward sustainable development.”
 
So, the federal government realizes the problems of global warming but is ignoring it. There’d be a twisted logic here if the government accepted the science but because of fear for the economy didn’t want to take drastic action. In that case, the government at the very least should be preparing the country for the effects of more extreme weather. But it is not doing that, either.
 
You’re left with the impression that the government doesn’t really believe in the reality of human-induced climate change. Or it’s being wilfully blind. Or negligent.
 
The illogic of the government’s response to environmental threats can be seen in one of the case studies highlighted by Vaughan’s report dealing with a nonsensical approach to monitoring potential pollution from the oilsands.
 
Vaughan says Environment Canada has just one water quality monitoring station on the Athabasca River in Wood Buffalo National Park upstream from the First Nations community of Fort Chipewyan, which has long complained about pollution from the oilsands. However, incredible as it sounds, the station does not monitor for oilsands pollution. The station was placed there in 1989 to track effects from the pulp and paper industry and, while the department recommended expanding the role of the station in 2009 to include oilsands contaminants, nothing was done: “Consequently, the Department’s Fresh Water Quality Monitoring program has no baseline measures or long-term data to track changes in water quality and aquatic ecosystem health in the river associated with oilsands development.”
 
It is illogical and short-sighted and ultimately self-destructive. Sort of like drawing conclusions about the global climate based on Edmonton weather.