On Friday, on CBC's new show Power and Politics, Jim Prentice was interviewed about many things, especially the conflict between economic growth and environmental sustainability. Prentice made it clear that even a .3% decrease in economic growth until 2020 is unacceptable. This is the figure that the TD sponsored study of the economic and environmental future.
TD estimates that if the government is to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020, the decrease in expected economic growth will be only that of .3%, bringing the figure down from an expected 2.4% to 2.1%.
It is wonderful news that doing the right thing for our planet will cost so little, compared to what could have been expected. However, to Mr. Prentice's eyes this sacrifice is unnecessary. His reasoning is that the economy needs to be strong to encourage investment in new technologies that will save our environment.
One immediate response is that putting faith in technological advancements providing the means to combat the environmental crisis is in fact putting faith in the unknown. It is assuming, illogically, that technology will be the complete solution to our problems.
In addition, without instituting a reduction in carbon emissions, the market for sustainable technologies is much less inviting. These new technologies will probably, at first, be more expensive than conventional methods. With no incentives such as carbon taxes or cap and trade systems, they will definitely be so. So why would anyone, despite the .3% stronger economy Prentice seeks to protect, invest in this area? They would have to be sure that their new technologies would be cheaper than conventional methods. However, if a system such as a carbon tax or cap and trade were introduced, this would add a cost to the conventional technologies related to their carbon emitting ways.
One of the reasons Prentice advocates saving the .3% of growth is that he believes the year we will solve this problem is in 2050. The environment, however, will not wait that long. The crisis has now reached various tipping points, such as the thawing of the frozen peat bog that is subartic Siberia. This thawing, the first since the Ice Age, is releasing billions of tonnes of methane gas. The global temperature is changing at rapid rates. Waiting until 2050 is not an option.
If we are serious about combating climate change, we need to act now. We need to sign the document resulting from Copenhagen and push for it to be a document of real action. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are recalcitrant, focusing instead on saving the .3% of economic growth that is so important to their supporters.
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