Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bill C-311 Defeated in the Senate

The following is largely from an e-mail I sent a friend who forwarded a message from the David Suzuki Foundation to write our MP about how the Senate has subverted democracy by voting against the House.

I'm wary of suggesting that having a Senate is "subverting democracy" - this is how we've agreed to run our democratic system. When the Senate goes against something that I don't like, I'm pretty happy to have them there. The House of Commons passed a bill to restrict abortion in Canada (only if a woman's life is threatened), and the Senate stopped that in its tracks. I was cheering for them then.

This bill calls for a cut to greenhouse gases to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 (which would be 120 ppm) - which just isn't going to happen. It's necessary, but not bloody likely. Our emissions keep rising every year! (Canadian emission levels rose from 592 in 1990 to 734 in 2008 - a 24% increase - so, to comply with the bill, we'd have to reduce emissions by almost half in the next ten years.)  If it's not do-able, the Senate won't support it. I can't convince people to share garbage sites on our environmentally-conscious street to decrease the number of times the truck has to stop and decrease the amount of gas used - a very easy thing to do - I don't think we'll convince people everywhere to restrict their consumption of fossil fuels that dramatically - although electricity prices rising by 46% will certainly help!

Think of what really has to happen for this kind of reduction - I think either we all band together for the world - unlikely - or the government has to start some kind of a totalitarian regime with laws regulating when you drive, where and with whom, how often you're allowed to use electricity in your home, how often factories are allowed to run, how many lights are on, etc. Maybe they can start by putting insulated doors on the freezer section of the grocery store; I hate having to wear a coat in summer to buy groceries!  In George Monbiot's book Heat, he suggests the only way to make this kind of decrease is to ration energy - so if you use more than your allotted share before the end of the month, you just don't get any more power. I think he's right.  Are we ready for that?

There are some parts of the bill I like, but I think a bill like this will always fail if it has targets set into it - especially scary ones, and especially when unemployment is nearing 10%. I wish they'd stop insisting on making specific Canadian targets part of the bill instead of making specific targets for different industries and areas, and instead of primarily focusing on what needs to happen to curb GHG emissions: monitor levels publicly (section 10), punish industry with huge fines if they pollute (section 12), and, what's not in the bill, stop subsidizing nuclear and fossil fuels (like the tar sands) completely, and start subsidizing renewable energy - like they already sort of are with solar.

Now's the time to get solar because they'll guarantee a high rate of return on extra energy produced for the next 20 years, which will pay off the initial investment. After that, the government just benefits from people taking care of their own energy needs - it's the same reason they support RESPs.

A big part of the problem is how tight government and industry is - they don't want to piss off the corporations that are funding their campaigns. Lobby groups are too strong for us. THAT is what's subverting democracy. But I believe it's not the only reason, or the primary reason even, that the bill didn't pass.

On the brighter side - sort of, the amount of garbage made and the amount of cigarette butts at KCI has decreased dramatically since last year. One theory for this - teenagers don't have as much money to buy packaged junk food or smokes. If the economy gets worse, people will necessarily use fewer resources. For every factory that closes, that's a lot of emissions that are no longer pumped into the air. Yesterday's Globe & Mail has a great piece about the prospects of ensuring every Canadian has $20,000 a year minimum.  Maybe not such a bad idea.

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